School axes policy of barring foreigners

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

The operator of three cooking schools in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, is scrapping its long-standing policy of barring foreign students, its chairman said Friday.

Ever since its establishment in 1976, Konsho Gakuen has maintained a Japanese-only policy “without thinking it’s a big deal,” Chairman Akio Imai told The Japan Times on Friday.

“I’m very sorry that I was immature and stubborn,” he said, pledging to overcome what he described as his own long-standing fear of accepting foreigners.

In November 2012, a 19-year-old Peruvian student complained to the Saitama Prefectural Government that he tried to take classes at one of the private schools but was rejected. This prompted the prefecture to urge Imai on several occasions to revise the policy. He ignored it.

The discriminatory policy then started drawing attention from local media.

When contacted by The Japan Times, Imai said he had decided to ditch the policy and said all three schools would start accepting applications from foreign students from the next academic year.

The decision came only a few months after an incident at a J. League soccer game fueled a nationwide debate about racial discrimination. At the game, fans of the Urawa Reds hung a banner above the stadium entrance declaring, in English, “Japanese Only.” The J. League punished the team for failing to remove the banner by forcing it to play its next home game in an empty stadium.

“I acknowledge that the (‘no-foreigner’ part) of our admission policy was terribly misleading,” Imai said without elaborating.

Imai said the remote location of his cooking schools in Kumagaya kept them somewhat isolated from the trends of globalization, making the mere thought of taking in foreign students “inconceivable.”

“I also acknowledge that we’ve had this fear about what would happen if we accepted foreigners. We’ve been afraid that there will be unpredictable consequence if we do,” Imai said without elaborating.

As for the no-foreigner policy, Imai said he never thought it would be considered discriminatory or xenophobic, despite warnings from the prefectural government, which has no authority to order a change in the private school’s policy.

“I thought other schools were doing the same, too,” he said.

After media pressure built, however, he spoke with the schools’ principals and decided Friday that he should make the admission policy “fairer” and bring it “up to date.”

  • Ron NJ

    “I thought other schools were doing the same, too,” he said.

    Pretty poor attempt to absolve oneself of responsibility there. “Everyone else was breaking windows on Kristallnacht so I did too”, “All the other plantation owners had slaves”, “I thought other sweatshops used forced labor and participated in human trafficking too”, etc etc.

    “Everyone else did X so I did too” is one of those ridiculous statements that I remember my mothering mentioning to me a handful of times back when I was about 5 or 6 years old, after which point I got the point, realized that it was an incredibly stupid argument, and learned that we all have to take responsibility for our own actions. What’s this guy’s excuse for being a grown adult and still making such childish arguments and refusing to take responsibility? “I never bothered thinking about the fact that racial discrimination isn’t a big deal” isn’t a valid excuse because he obviously thought it was a big enough deal to make a policy for it, so I’m kind of at a loss here.

    Also, being isolated on an island doesn’t somehow make things okay, and “we never thought saying “wrong race, sorry!” was discriminatory” is complete bollocks. This guy’s pseudo-apology is just that, a fake, half-hearted apology only because he got caught – from his statements here it’s clear he doesn’t get why racial discrimination is unacceptable nor does he understand the gravity of the situation. Shame on him twice over for having the policy in the first place and then again for failing to properly address it and rethink his opinions and position after being called out. And shame on the staff of the school for not standing up against this kind of flat out xenophobia and racism as well. It’s a really despicable situation all around, top to bottom, all the more because they got called out and even still are trying to dodge responsibility by feigning ignorance and “lack of globalization” rather than just fessing up to it and going “yeah, that was really inexcusable, we are truly sorry” without offering all of these terrible excuses.

    • Steve Jackman

      Ron NJ, your mom’s advice to you as a kid was certainly correct. However, I do think that things take on a different meaning within the Japanese context.

      You have to realize that in a conformist and group-based culture like Japan, the argument that it is OK for someone to do something wrong since everone else is also doing it is perfectly logical and acceptable. It is the collective group and society which dictates what’s right and wrong, not some higher moral reasoning. Perhaps, it is because of the absence of organized religion in Japan, like Western cultures that are based on Judeo-Christian values of right and wrong.

      This is the same psychology which makes bullying, xenophobia, racism and discrimination so widespread and acceptable in Japan. It is also why change is so hard to come by in Japan, since there isn’t a strong concept of individual responsibility.

  • Steve Jackman

    Yet another reason why Japan needs to enact laws against racial discrimination. Come on Japan, it’s time to join the league of civilized nations!

    • FunkyB

      As long as something is legal, then to a certain extent the argument can be made that is isn’t such “a big deal.” If an action is legal, it means the person has the right to do it. Maybe this case will shine a spotlight on the lack of anti-discrimination laws here.

      • Steve Jackman

        Yes, it is an absolute travesty that the Japanese can deny employment, housing, entry to restaurants, shops and other businesses, and admissions to educational/vocational institutions to non-Japanese, and it is all legal since Japan has no laws against racial discrimination.

  • itoshima2012

    This is truly disgusting. The man is now trying to talk himself out of his racist choice. I think he only starts to accept ALL people because his business is facing problems because of Japan’s demographics. Shame on this CEO and this company! All foreigners should boycott it!

    • Steve Jackman

      “I think he only starts to accept ALL people because his business is facing problems because of Japan’s demographics.” Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, since no non-Japanese student has been accepted yet. Let’s wait and see if it actually happens. Secondly, I think it has nothing to do with Japan’s demographics, but rather the fact that the “Japanese Only” policy of the school was reported in several media outlets.

  • itoshima2012

    We’ve been afraid that there will be unpredictable consequence if we do, => like what? Jesus, foreigners are not martians! I really don’t get this idiotic behaviour! These are exactly the kind of people that hopefully will go bankrupt! Thumbs up for the local government doing all that was in its power, but with no law in place they couldn’t press for enforcement. A law is needed NOW!

  • Steve Jackman

    My point is backed up by the generally accepted fact that Japanese culture is based more on shame (as in, exposed by the group for doing something against group norms), as compared to Western culture which is based more on guilt (as in, personal responsibility and individual accountability). I think this much is pretty well established.

  • Steve Jackman

    You say you’ve been in Japan for seven years, so you must know of honne and tatemae by now.

  • Steve Jackman

    As the Japanese say, “reflect” on the situation and you may see the answer right in front of you.

    • Jeff Worst

      Were you a writer for Karate Kid? Even Japanese politicians aren’t this vague. Please enlighten me sensei.

      • Steve Jackman

        I was just trying to see if after living in Japan for seven hears you had picked up on the art of vague communication to get the point across. I guess you still have work to do in this area.

      • Jeff Worst

        Well, I guess that’s one way to not answer a question.

        “You just don’t understand what I haven’t said”

      • Steve Jackman

        Duh!!!, I have answered your question, that is, if you bother to read my comments more carefully. Readers of The Japan Times are expected to have some basic knowledge of the topics they discuss here and to use their reading comprehension skills and intellect. Sorry, can’t spoon feed you anymore.

      • Jeff Worst

        All I’ve been getting spoon fed the past few days is a big helping of “you just don’t understand” and spooky mysticism.

        If you think you possess some type of deep insight into Japanese interpersonal relations that the Western world just can’t possibly understand, then you’re greatly deluding yourself.

        I do agree w/ you that this is over.

  • Steve Jackman

    On the heels of this story, comes another disturbing news report at a different school in Japan. Japanese news media reported yesterday that three Japanese teenagers have been arrested for firing an air gun, and for throwing gravel, eggs and mayonnaise at nineteen foreign students at a Japanese-language school in Saga, Japan since December, 2013.

    According to Police in the latest incident, the three Japanese hurled eggs from a car at a foreign student in his 20s, who was on his way to school in Tosu by bicycle. When the victim attempted to escape, the suspects overtook him, got out of the car and further hurled eggs at him.

    In other similar attacks, the assailants asked the victims where they came from and suddenly hurled eggs or threw mayonnaise at them. At least one of the victims was targeted on several different occasions.

    Way to go, Japan!

  • Mike Wyckoff

    Its 2014, but most of the “long-stayers” on here will agree that Japan is still at about 1960 in terms of equality….