Returnee livid after ugly treatment at TBC beauty salon in Tokyo


TBC is a nationwide chain of salons offering beauty treatments and hair removal. The company promotes a cosmopolitan image, with David and Victoria Beckham having appeared in their campaigns in the past.

Their current celebrity face is Rola, the bicultural model and “It Girl” who seems to be everywhere right now. However, Lifelines reader MQ had a less than beautiful experience after showing up for her appointment at their Yurakucho branch in central Tokyo a few weeks ago.

First-time customers are required to fill out several forms, including one asking about medical conditions. MQ, a returnee, speaks Japanese fluently and reads and writes at a high level, so although she had no real problems with the majority of the paperwork, she was stumped by some of the medical terminology.

“They tried to ditch me, insisting that without a translator or proper Japanese reading skills, I was unable to enroll for their services,” she writes. “I then asked if they had either an English form or if someone could possibly help me by reading the kanji I didn’t understand. They simply refused.”

Frustrated and angry by now, MQ left the premises. She wonders if her outwardly “American” appearance and accented Japanese worked against her.

After cooling down, she called the salon and attempted to talk to the manager, only to be told the manager was away that day, so she obtained TBC’s customer service number instead.

While the customer representative did call the Yurakucho office on MQ’s behalf, no apology or explanation was forthcoming, and she was simply invited to make another appointment.

“They just made me out to be a complaining American,” she says. MQ wonders if all their non-Japanese customers are given the same runaround.

TBC have a short explanation in English about their treatments at www.tbc.co.jp/english. No mention is made of the procedure for setting up an appointment, however.

For those booking online via the Japanese site, it does mention that TBC cannot accept customers with a pacemaker or HIV/AIDS. Similarly, women who are more than seven months pregnant or have given birth in the last two months are also excluded.

Lifelines called TBC’s customer service center on our disgruntled reader’s behalf. The representative was able to confirm the date of MQ’s call to their center, but said the agent who had dealt with the complaint was away. “In any case,” she said, “the company cannot reveal the contents of the conversation between your reader and our staff member due to customer privacy.” She was, however, able to answer general questions about their procedures in relation to non-Japanese clients.

The agent stressed that due to the nature of their services, all new clients are required to fill out every form in full. “The ones relating to health are particularly important to ensure the safety of our valued customers.”

While nobody is disputing this fact, what about those who don’t understand the forms?

“Our advice to our foreign clients is to have a partner or friend who can read Japanese accompany them on their initial visit. In fact, that is what most of our foreign clients usually do anyway. If they can’t fully understand the forms, we ask them to take the forms away and reschedule their appointment for another day.”

In MQ’s case, since it was only a few kanji she needed help with, surely one of the staff could have taken a couple of minutes to read them for her?

TBC’s representative agreed that yes, this approach would have been possible. However, she didn’t know how busy the salon was on that particular day and assumed the staff at the Yurakucho branch were just following standard procedure when they wouldn’t treat MQ.

The conversation finished with the representative assuring Lifelines that TBC values all their clients equally and has many foreign nationals among their customer base. However, all the paperwork is in Japanese and they can make no guarantee about the foreign language skills of their staff at any given branch.

As for MQ, the representative apologized for the poor customer service and expressed hope that our reader will give them another chance. MQ, however, says she will not be returning to TBC in the foreseeable future.

Finally, one beauty salon in Tokyo with fully bilingual staff is Boudoir in Shibuya (www.boudoirtokyo.com). If readers have any other tips to share, please contact us.

Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on NHK’s Nodo Jiman show, among other things. Send comments and questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp

  • Cypriot Physician

    It looks like the staff at TBC did MQ a huge favor. Their services are clearly a rip-off and many of the over-priced services are designed to prey on the insecurities of young women.

    MQ would be better off trying to find a decent dermatologist who won’t be trying to fleece their patients. Dr. Kae Wakita, MD was interviewed in the Japan Times seven years ago and enjoys an excellent reputation: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2006/05/09/people/kae-wakita/#.UhwpMBsydjg

    Her clinic is here: http://www.skinsolutionclinic.com/

  • Samuraijamie

    Good article – it is great that the JT is participating in consumer activism for the foreign community – let’s hope it continues.

  • Guest

    The truth is that even in services like Japanese Post Services, that are recognized by their politeness level, you can easily get treated differently being a mixed person or just foreign. It doesn’t matter if you can speak Japanese or English if they decided that they can pass you and your complaints by because in the end you don’t care as much and doesn’t know your rights as the Japanese as you’re not one of them, they think.

    • Sam Gilman

      In rather more than a decade, I’ve never had a problem with the post office because I’m a foreigner (my not understanding something in Japanese is not a problem they create.) More importantly I’ve never heard of one either. They’ve been very patient when I couldn’t understand something.

      Could you explain what happened to you?

      • Juanita Magalhães

        They simply refused to receive the 2 packages I wanted to send by saying that wasn’t enough time to do the procedures before the closing hour. I got there 4:45pm and the shift supposed to end at 5pm. And even calling at the customer services to have they explain to me what was that not made any difference. No one apologized. Just to make sure I ask a Japanese friend to do the same in the next day, she had no problem. I also ask her to call to customer services and explain the situation I went throught as it happened to her and again no problem. My point is that I don’t think people should put Japanese services in a pedestal as I often see happening. Japanese services, important ones fail too.

      • Mark Makino

        I had a similar experience at a train station once… after arriving early in the morning after taking a night train to Toyama, I went to the ticket counter to buy my next day’s train ticket before going to check in at my hotel. The man working at the ticket counter, for unknown reasons (but possibly because my Japanese was rather poor at the time) signalled for me to move aside when I got to the front of the line and let those lined up behind me go first. I did so for 5 or so people, and when no one was left behind me, he closed the window. I was too tired (and lacking in Japanese skills) to argue, but the experience has stuck with me, obviously. I suppose some JT authors think I should track him down and thank him…

      • Sam Gilman

        You mean your friend tried again at 4.45pm the next day??

        I’m very surprised they didn’t say any word of apology. Not even a “sumimasen” or “moushiwake gozaimasen”? That does sound rude. I’d be surprised at that, as I think any native Japanese would be. You had these conversations in Japanese?

      • Juanita Magalhães

        Yes. No apology at all. And yes I talked in Japanese at the post office but with the customer services I talked in English. Oh well. Another face of Japan.

      • Sam Gilman

        Hold on. Someone was rude to you once, and it’s the responsibility of the whole country?

        If it was a regular occurrence, I’d see your point. But “Another face of Japan” after one poor experience one time in one post office? Wow.

        I can think of a few times people have been rude to me here over the years. I had no idea they were part of a national racist conspiracy to alienate me over a period of geological time. I just thought they were rude individuals.

      • Juanita Magalhães

        Wow that escalated fast! It’s another face for those like I said put Japan in a pedestal when it’s just a country, maybe better than others, but just a country with all kinds of people. And for the love of God who said ONCE? Or one? Well, whatever. I thought we were talking about one experience in particular.
        And for the part ” I had no idea they were part of a national racist conspiracy to alienate me over a period of geological time.” I didn’t know either! Who told you that?
        I’m done here.

      • qwerty

        now you’re defending the beauty salons and post offices.. how do you feel about the politicians / tepco here in Japan?

      • Sam Gilman

        I do find you fascinating, qwerty. You follow me round on the Japan Times – which is your right (I think “stalking” is such a vulgar, overused word) – accusing me of slavish obedience to and defence of everything and anything Japanese. It doesn’t really matter what I write – whether I accuse TEPCO’s awful management of almost certainly causing cancer in its workers (which you describe as “defending TEPCO”) or politicians of cynical media manipulation, or whatever – it appears I have offended you because I don’t share your deeply cherished belief that Japanese people on the whole are out to dehumanise and humiliate all non-Japanese.

        You fascinate me (for those who are not stalking this stalker-stalkee thing, I’m going to bring things together from several comments he’s tried to get through to me) because you claim to be happy to bring up children in a society where you think that 98% of people – including half your children’s family – view those children as not fully human. You fascinate me because you believe that learning one of your children’s two native languages is a matter for nerds and freaks and worthy of ridicule (although I did like how in another comment on another thread you tracked me down on, you authoritatively dismissed Japanese media coverage on Fukushima even though your own admission there is no way you could read or comprehend the language at that level.) You fascinate me because of your quite apparent inability to see Japanese people as individuals, some of whom – just like the people from whichever country coughed you up – are rude, grumpy, or racist all by themselves, without it being part of a national programme.

        Basically, you fascinate me because you are so clearly caught up in severe chronic culture shock paranoia, yet lack the self-awareness to deal with it.

        Please, for the love of God, take some time out to evaluate who you are and where you want to be. If you decide to stay here, make an effort to learn the language. Make an effort to accept your children are not going to be American/Australian/Canadian/British/whatever, but Japanese with a nice twist. Look at people as individuals. Some people here are ghastly. Most people here are not. Most people here are not racist, just like back home. If you decide to leave – good luck. There is no shame in leaving either, although somehow some people feel pressure to justify themselves in doing so.

        And if you cannot leave for various circumstances even though you want to – find a better way of coping than this. I click on who’s replied to me, and it’s basically a list of comments by you insulting me because I’m not anti-Japanese. Most of them don’t get through the moderator. Now, why is that?

      • That sounds about right to me if one was trying to send two international packages and didn’t have any of the paperwork done before arrival. When the post office says the front desk closes at 5, they mean it closes at 5. Sure, it may have been an inconvenience to you, but where would you have them draw the line? They tend to you, which pushes them to, let’s say, 5:10, then there’s the person behind you, and so on, until they get to someone who claims they were in-line and waiting at 4:59 so they must be helped today!

        And was this a small post office? Most medium-sized to larger ones have an after-hours window that is open until 8 pm or so on weekdays as well as shorter hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Now *that’s* service – I can’t recall seeing after-hours staffed windows outside Japan, although they may exist somewhere.

  • Sam Gilman

    I don’t mean to be funny, but if she’s a high level writer and reader, how come there were so many words she could not understand? After all, these forms are not meant for specialists.

    In any case, would it have been a good idea for the company to accept her application knowing that she could not understand the medical declaration forms?

    “Why don’t you get someone to help you with the forms?” seems a reasonable response to someone who can’t understand them.

    There may have been some bad customer service going on, but given the details we have, it actually looks like a returnee caught out by the formal Japanese language education she missed.

    • TVJapan

      “Only a few kanji” doesn’t equal “so many words’. But you’re right; these kinds of forms have kanji that any educated Japanese person will probably be able to read without a problem. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean a foreigner, even if claimed to be a high level reader/writer, will be able to read every single kanji (especially medical terms). That’s all MQ seemed to be having trouble with. And like the article says, the representative said they didn’t know how busy the salon was at the time so maybe they couldn’t get someone to help–but even if they were busy, it would’ve only taken a few seconds for someone to read the kanji to MQ–because maybe she would understand it if she heard it. Who knows…
      Kind of an unnecessarily long article IMO.

  • robertwgordonesq

    Hmmm…seems like an odd story.

    My intuition is the purpose of this story was to hype up discrimination by the Japanese.

    In law (litigation) we’d call this a “loaded story”…meaning there is more to it than meets the “ear”.

    For example, the article stated: “In MQ’s case, since it was only a few kanji she needed help with, surely one of the staff could have taken a couple of minutes to read them for her?”

    (sure…entirely possible….but the article goes on to say…)

    “TBC’s representative agreed that yes, this approach would have been
    possible. However, she didn’t know how busy the salon was on that
    particular day and assumed the staff at the Yurakucho branch were just
    following standard procedure when they wouldn’t treat MQ.”

    A perfectly reasonable explanation. So why immediately jump to the (tacit) conclusion that this was racial discrimination?

    Like Sam Gilman said, it probably would not have been a good idea to accept a person who could not understand the forms, especially medical forms. Though Japan is generally not a litigious society, in the U.S.A. accepting her when she could not fully understand the forms could have resulted in a lawsuit if something went wrong during the procedure.

    What was so bad about bringing the forms home, getting the words translated properly (and taking the time to learn what the words meant) and then returning to the salon at a later date?

    Was the beauty treatment really that important?

    Everything doesn’t have to be a cry of “racism”.

    There was nothing “ugly” in the salon’s treatment based on what was presented in this article.

    The only “ugly” thing is the article’s slant towards victimhood.

    Beauty, I guess, really is only “skin deep”.

    • Jameika

      I’m trying to work out why you would think people need to ‘hype up’ discrimination. Either it exists and not many people talk about it, so someone might need to highlight it, or it is rare and someone is trying to make it seem like there’s a lot of it. Would those definitions match your meaning?

      The latter doesn’t work because this is the case of one person. So she felt that they were discriminatory. Let’s accept that in her case study of *one*, she’s right. It proves nothing. It is simply one person’s experience. That’s fine.

      Now, for the former, discrimination definitely exists. Would you say that it doesn’t? And what would be the basis of that? Talking about it makes some people aware or makes people who have experienced it feel that they are not alone. I don’t think it’s promoting anything. And you’re right, the explanation from the company about its procedure is logical. Then again, blaming rules is an easy out for a company that is not about to say that they discriminate.

      • robertwgordonesq


        Your definitions do not exactly match my meaning.

        My definition of “hype” is to create discrimination in a particular instance where none actually existed so as to make it seem like there is more discrimination than there actually is. This is slightly different than your definition #2 because I’m not necessarily saying discrimination is “rare” in Japan.

        I didn’t say they *need* to hype up discrimination. I said that my intuition tells me the *purpose* of this article was to hype up discrimination.

        I will explain the difference.

        First, there are some people who do in fact *need* to hype up discrimination.

        For example, African-Americans in the United States.

        There is no doubt that this group has been systematically discriminated against. The documentation, evidence, and proof is clearly there.

        However, that does not make every single event a racial event. That community has leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who literally *need* to hype up discrimination because it is virtually their livelihood. Their careers are based on discrimination, hence they are constantly on the look out for it and even turn non-discriminatory events into discriminatory events. The same goes for “Japan’s” Debito Arudou. He apparently lives by wearing discrimination tinted eyeglasses such that it seems that is all he sees.

        Those are examples of people who *need* to hype up discrimination.

        However, that is not what I said concerning this article. I said the purpose of the article was to hype up discrimination. If they need to to that, that is a different matter.

        The purpose was clear to me because of this phrase:

        “Frustrated and angry by now, MQ left the premises. She wonders if her outwardly “American” appearance and accented Japanese worked against her.”


        She WONDERED.

        No indication that she asked.

        No indication that she investigated the experience of other western looking customers.

        She just *wondered*.

        Now, if you really wanted to PROVE discrimination….what should she have done?

        1. Go home.

        2. Translate the documents.

        3. Fill out the forms.

        4. Sign them.

        5. Come back the next day.

        After doing that, if she still received “cold” treatment then we could say there is really some evidence of discrimination.

        However, instead of taking these pro-active steps first and giving TBC the benefit of the doubt (since after all this was her first time there) she instead “runs” to Lifelines to complain.

        Lifelines investigates and receives a perfectly reasonable explanation.

        Instead of leaving it at that, they publish an article on it which slants the story towards TCB being deliberately discriminatory when in fact there is no evidence of such.

        Hence the “hype”.

        None of us (presumably) were at the salon when this initial conversation took place.

        We have no idea exactly how MQ spoke to the personnel.

        Perhaps *MQ* was rude.

        We don’t know.

        Perhaps MQ speaks Japanese with the Southern drawl of someone from the state of Mississippi in the United States making her speech difficult to understand.

        We don’t know.

        Perhaps she walked in with three nose piercings and tattoos all over her arms.

        We don’t know.

        Now of course you might say “Well it doesn’t matter how she looked, how she spoke, or how many tattoos she had.”


        Sure it does.

        It may matter a lot on how you are perceived.

        Discriminating against someone because they are rude is much different from discriminating against someone because they look “Western”.

        However I am not saying discrimination took place here at all.

        The point being, is we only have one side of the story.

        And based on the evidence presented, I see a deliberate attempt to “hype” up discrimination, when such may not have actually been the case.

        People can create discrimination in their own minds where none exists objectively in the real world.

        Is there discrimination in Japan? Sure.

        Was there discrimination in *this* particular case?

        Based on the evidence presented, it is highly questionable.

        In fact, I’d say there was none.

        Hence the “hype”.

      • Jameika

        Thanks for the clarification. You have a lot to say on the matter.

        I’m a bit dubious about telling someone when they have or have not been discriminated against. It is often very vague.

        We agree that it is unclear what had happened and that we don’t know if there was any discrimination. At least I thought that was what you were saying, but then you said that you thought there was none. As you said before, I don’t think you know.

        What I got from that, though, is that you are skeptical of people claiming that there is discrimination (and I’d reference your claims that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton ‘hype’ discrimination, and your dismissal of Arudo Debito–I don’t think you or I can claim that none of these people or the groups that they advocate for do not experience discrimination), but I don’t understand why.

        I am more inclined to believe the people who experience discrimination since it can very easily happen when some individual with power (a store clerk, a person at a restaurant, etc) without that person’s conscious knowledge, but just by following ‘rules’ or ‘impressions’ or ‘feelings’, does the wrong thing. It’s not the overt kind of discrimination, but it still exists. That doesn’t make it right, nor faultless, nor does it excuse the discrimination.

        I don’t know what happened here. I have seen plenty of people in this country be outwardly very rude to people who don’t look Japanese. That very easily could be the issue here. I don’t know.

        I certainly wouldn’t go out on a limb and say that it didn’t happen.

      • robertwgordonesq

        The purpose of the article seems to be to persuade readers that TCB discriminates as a conclusive fact. And I am responding that the author(s) have not proved their case.

        I’m not saying that MQ was not discriminated against. I can’t possibly know that in the metaphysical sense.

        I am saying however that based on the *evidence presented* in the article, I would conclude that she was not discriminated against.

        “Real” discrimination is in the mind of the discriminator. You have to have a discriminatory intent and a discriminatory action.

        I don’t have enough information to divine a discriminatory intent by the individual working at TBC that day.

        On the other hand, neither does Lifelines have such information (well, if they do have it, they have not presented it in the article).

        So Lifelines shouldn’t be able to conclude that discrimination did take place. Which is what this article subtly tries to do.

        Further, calling out a company as being discriminatory is a pretty serious allegation. If it is not true, the article just injured a company’s reputation and perhaps its earning capability as well. In the U.S.A., TBC might seriously consider suing for libel or at least requesting a retraction.

        If you make a serious claim like that, you should have some serious evidence to back it up.

        I agree with you 100% that companies and corporations are very adept at hiding discriminatory practices. I believe you! Simply because I’ve experienced it first hand myself and I currently have legal action pending. So I take the issue very seriously.

        Having said that, I don’t reflexively claim any and every slight as discrimination.

        Since companies can effectively hide discriminatory practices, if you want to prove discrimination, you need to be more adept than simply saying “I felt discriminated against” and then have an article published which is accessible to all of the free world, making such damaging claims without more substantial evidence.

        What to do?

        For example, find other mixed race Japanese and recruit them to go to TBC and feign ignorance of kanji and see if they are treated the same. Two or three people like this would suffice. Add a hidden camera for good effect.

        Then have a native born “full blood” Japanese
        go in a feign ignorance of kanji and see what happens. You have to make sure that you deal with the same sales person so that your evidence is consistent.

        If the “full blood” is treated differently than Japanese of mixed heritage, then you have some real evidence of *possible* discrimination.

        So do you now run and publish an article?


        BEFORE you publish something accusing someone of discrimination, give them an opportunity to save face. Say to them “we have this evidence which seems to indicate discrimination by your company. Is this practice condoned by your company?”

        Give them a chance to respond. If it is condoned, then you should publish an article so the consumer can beware and choose accordingly.

        If it is not condoned, give them an opportunity to make things right and change their practices. Six month later, you send in another mixed heritage “spy” to verify if they have changed their ways.

        If not, then go public.

        However, if they have changed their ways, then you’ve really won a true victory.

        That to me is a responsible, pro-active way to act.

        Sometimes people may not even be conscious that they are acting in a discriminatory fashion. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

        If you want people to understand you and treat you with dignity, then you should also be someone who seeks to understand others and treat them with dignity as well. (By “you” I mean a person in general, not you personally).

        I am not skeptical of people who make claims of discrimination. Like I said, I’ve experience such myself, so I can in fact identify with people who are discriminated against. However, I choose to respond to it differently that how it was handled in this article.

        Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have undoubtedly experienced discrimination. However, since their careers seem to depend on the existence of discrimination, they seem to actively make things racial, when they really are not. The Trayvon Martin case is an example.

        Debito Arudou is prolific and had done a lot of beneficial things for “foreigners”, however when you strain to make things racial, and try to
        force people to change to accommodate you, it just seems that you become guilty of what you accuse others of. Meaning, people like Debito Arudou seem to fail to try to understand others, the way they want people to understand them. To me, it makes *their* efforts appear racist and insincere and I can’t subscribe to that type of “reverse racism”.

        Now, lets take the opposite extreme. Let’s pretend I interviewed TBC and all their personnel, and they all confess to me that they are rabid nationalists who despise the very idea of mixing Japanese blood with foreign extraction and they deliberately conspired to make life miserable for all people who even look like they are mixed and in fact were directed that day to make MQ’s experience humiliating and miserable. I get the verbal confession on video tape, signed and notarized confessions on paper and the CEO even cuts off his or her pinky finger as proof of his or her convictions and gives me the severed tip as evidence.

        We got the “smoking gun” as they say.

        We got conclusive evidence.


        Now what?

        Do we force them to change?

        Do we protest the store?

        Maybe, maybe not.

        I think though you should 1) first try find out why they feel the way they do (i.e., try to understand them maybe they were all beaten by a mixed race nanny when they were 5 years old…I don’t know), 2) treat them the way you want to be treated, 3) if and only if after trying steps 1 and 2 and you fail to convert them, then make their policies public and go associate yourself with people who actually respect and appreciate you.

        You can’t control the discriminator. However you can control how you choose to respond to it.

        I did not like this particular article because it seemed to promote a reactionary response rather than a pro-active one. It seemed to promote more ill will than it resolved. That kind of attitude solves nothing. It just keeps the cycle of animosity flowing.

        In the U.S. they just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington
        and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. In that speech he said:

        “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.”
        [Fn 1]

        I felt this TBC article however was more vindictive than vindication, it drank from the cup of bitterness. The response to the alleged discrimination did not seem to take the high plane and to promote such (bitterness and vindictiveness), does a disservice to everyone, especially to people who suffer true discrimination as it tends to make their claims less believable in the eyes of the public.


        [Fn 1] “I Have a Dream” speech found here: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/aug/28/martin-luther-king-i-have-a-dream/all/?print

  • Brett Ramsey

    In hindsight, she should have pointed to the kanji she couldn’t read and asked for their colloquial meaning, then carried on completing the application form as normal. Her mistake was in asking for an English form. Nevertheless, it’s clear that this company has a problem with customers who don’t quite fit!

    • Rune Madsen

      In the future, may I suggest you read carefully before commenting?

      “They tried to ditch me, insisting that without a translator or proper Japanese reading skills, I was unable to enroll for their services,” she writes. “I then asked if they had either an English form or if someone could possibly help me by reading the kanji I didn’t understand. They simply refused.”

      Let me repeat and highlight the part pertinent to your misplaced criticism:

      “I then asked if the either had an English form or if someone could possibly help me by reading the kanji I didn’t understand. They simply refused.

      Got it? Fine.

      • Masa Chekov

        Well, I think we know who “MQ” is now.

  • hudsonstewart

    I think it is wrong of the returnee to ask for assistance from staff in filling out a medical questionnaire. That shifts responsibility onto the staff so that if they incorrectly explain something then they can be held liable if something goes wrong.

    The alternatives of bringing a friend to help or taking the form home to fill out are perfectly acceptable. If those alternatives were not presented to the returnee, then the staff are guilty of poor service.

    I cannot even imagine what would happen in the US if someone asked for help filling out a form like that. The staff member would probably chuckle and walk away.

    • tokyo hamster

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. If this situation was reversed and a Japanese customer was having trouble with an English form in the US, the response afterwards would probably be nothing short of dismissive and condescending (in most cases).

      Being an English speaker myself with little Japanese ability, I’m also guilty of being frustrated with the lack of English resources and speakers, but I remind myself that I’m in Japan after all and have no right to get angry over these situations – much less claim discrimination.

      TBC suffers from bad or sketchy customer service, but this article suffers even more from bad journalism. If you’re going to claim discrimination, you better have more proof than what’s written here.

  • Lucie Lavoie

    sad story. It is hard for me to understand that this kind of situtation still takes place in Tokyo…

    • Steve Novosel

      It’s one side of the story, Lucie. Don’t look too much into it until you read both sides. Who knows what really happened.

  • Steve Novosel

    Does MQ not have a smartphone or electronic dictionary? I’m far from a fluent reader/speaker but i’ve been able to use the many free smartphone apps to look up kanji I don’t know. It’s not difficult to do, and anyone with a knowledge of stroke order (as MQ should have as a high level speaker) can do the same.

    I don’t know why she chose to push the responsibility of understanding the forms on the staff rather than trying to use available technology (or a friend) to help.

    • Sam Gilman

      This was my thought too. There are certainly some odd things here. I’m also not sure what “an American appearance” means for a returnee, especially in Tokyo, or how she has such accented Japanese if she’s a fluent returnee. I’m speculating, but are we dealing with an American of Japanese extraction rather than a returnee? Is this someone who thought their Japanese, learnt from a parent, was good, before they arrived in Japan? It’s a common phenomenon for people going back to their parents’ country to be taken aback by the gaps in their language knowledge.

      • Christopher-trier

        Absolutely! My first language is German, but I have lived in California for much of my life as well. I don’t have any difficulties surviving in Germany and getting by, but every now and then I am at a loss about what something means or how to say something — especially very technical things which are not commonly used.

  • The Apologist

    I would say that my Japanese level sounds similar to MQ’s. In over twenty years here I have filled out pre-service forms hundreds upon hundreds of times. I too have tried to solicit clarification about a ‘difficult’ kanji on several occasions but have never received less than kind help in return and I have always apologized (as per my handle) for my shortcomings.

    The obvious retort to this is that it doesn’t deny the fact that others may have had a rude service experience in Japan. True. But those rare occasions can hardly be said to be indicative of some underlying national characteristic or hidden agenda. Perhaps the shop or clerk was in a particularly busy situation. Perhaps the customer came off as a bit haughty (asking for an English version could appear that way). Perhaps the worker was simply rude. But applying the ‘D’ word or the ‘R’ word to such a case seems to be a desperate reach (especially given that the company rep is bi-cultural and David & Victoria have been clients). Searching for racial discrimination by publishing anecdotes like this only serves to underscore the fact that a pernicious anti-foreign agenda does not represent the status quo in Japan.

    And let’s face it, if that wasn’t the intention of the article, if it was intended merely to convey, ‘Customer receives bad service at beauty shop’ JT would never, ever have run it.

  • OniLX

    In the states, I belive it is illegal to refuse services to people based on their HIV/AIDS status. Is there any such protection in Japan?

    • Christopher-trier


    • Masa Chekov

      I don’t think that’s the case in the states – until a few months ago foreign visitors with HIV were denied entry into the country, even.

  • I used TBC in Mie prefecture when I lived there. They had this offer on these weight-loss massages, and an old flatmate of mine said that they can be very good in losing a little weight.

    I am a UK size 12, and was told I am too fat to participate. After checking over my forms and noticing my generous salary, they decided to take me on anyway.

    After I signed up for a course for a few months, I noticed that they were charging me twice for each treatment. When I phoned to complain, they told me I obviously didn’t understand something. When I went there in person, with a Japanese friend, with proof that they were wrongly charging me twice, they just issued me with a “whoops, sorry”. I asked my friend if I could officially complain and they said that that’s not the “Japanese way”.

    Long story short – that’s a really stupid company and people shouldn’t go there.

    • ranma

      Ummm, this story is not really clear. Did you get your money back? Did they offer you any other compensation?

      • “they just issued me with a “whoops, sorry””

        No, I got nothing.

      • James Burke

        your friend is ridiculous and you need to go with someone smarter. being double charged for something isn’t normal and it’s the law that they pay you back if what you were paying was not what you contracted for. “not the japanese way” – oh brother. tell someone from osaka about that and watch them explode in a ball of laughter.

  • ranma

    If it was just the case of “a few kanji” that she didn’t understand, then why could she have looked them up on her cell phone or something? I have been in Japan 15 years and I STILL use a dictionary from
    time to time. (I have even heard tell of NATIVE SPEAKERS of Japanese
    using them as well, especially for medical terminology). I mean, come on! If you have a cell phone, you have a dictionary!

    Also, the front counter at these places are usually manned by a 20-something freeter, so when they told her that they couldn’t help her, they probably meant that they were not able to because even THEY didn’t know what the terms were. Even if they did, she STILL probably wouldn’t know the meaning if they pronounced the kanji 気腫<きしゅ>(kishu) and even still, I think it would be difficult for even English speakers to explain 'emphysema' to someone.

    Just because you THINK you know Japanese doesn't mean you KNOW Japanese. Japanese language is not just about what is said, but also what is NOT said. There are a lot of 1kyu holders out there who are terribly 空気読めない!

  • ranma

    Too bad we don’t have a transcript of the actual Japanese used, only her interpretation of what she THINKS they said to her. If she already had a chip on her shoulder going in, this could all be in her head.

    YES, there is discrimination in Japan, but this is not it.

  • Masa Chekov

    All caps, unwarranted defensiveness. Dead giveaway, friend.

    • Rune Madsen

      You are new to the internet, aren’t you? If not, responses like this should not surprise you.

      I can tell you that I am not the person in question, but what’s the point? You have made up your mind and in this world everybody feels entitled to their opinion, even if it’s made up of speculation and conjecture.

      Was I polite? No. But as they say euphimistically in obituaries, I do not suffer fools gladly.

      The difference between you and I is, that even though we both saw samething that stuck in our craw, for you it was the delivery in form of all-caps, while for me, it was the message, in the form of an ignorant critique that was countered in the article.

      I have since hence found out that I can use italics in disqus. So Therefore I will edit the post you find so objectionable to use italics to emphasise text and not all-caps. That might keep someone of an over zealous disposition from having a fit because of the way the message is conveyed and instead see the message.

      As Isaac Asimov said, your ignorance is not as good as someone elses knowledge.

      Got it? Good.

      • Masa Chekov

        “You are new to the internet, aren’t you? If not, responses like this should not surprise you.”

        Well that’s an interesting defense. ‘Everyone else is a loudmouth fool so I can be one, too.’ Not very flattering of yourself.

        “I can tell you that I am not the person in question, but what’s the point? You have made up your mind”

        No, I haven’t, and if you say you are not I will take your word on it. See? This isn’t hard.

        But when someone issues a reasonable critique and a third party responds in a 120dB, all caps manner it’s reasonable to assume that person might actually be the one being critiqued, no? After all, sockpuppets are certainly prevalent on the internet, right?

        “for you it was the delivery in form of all-caps, while for me, it was the message, in the form of an ignorant critique that was countered in the article”

        Didn’t stick in my craw at all. There’s too much yelling on comment sections and I don’t like that, but it’s far from my first day on the net.

        I’m not sure why you find this critique so “ignorant”, either – after all it’s also far from uncommon to see someone exaggerate their claim to make a point.

        Let me ask you this: why would a business refuse a customer they had already given forms to and whose custom they presumably wanted? Why the about face? Could it be there’s quite a bit more to the story than what’s being told?

        I think that’s quite reasonable to assume. Apparently so do many others, most others commenting in fact.

  • There isn’t a lot of details given about the exchange and we only really hear one side of the story, so my best guess is that the truth lies somewhere in between. The salon probably could have done more to assist the young woman and the young woman probably could have done a bit more to calm herself down.

    Not to bash the salon, but being as massive of a brand that it claims it is and having the Beckhams and a bi-cultural woman represent their brand, you would think they would at least have English forms for non-Japanese speaking individuals.

    • James Burke

      why would you guess that? did we forget that this is japan? 99.9% of their customers are japanese. this story reeks of exaggeration – if that lady was truly nearly fluent as she claims in the story, i seriously doubt that the staff would have treated her the way they did.

      if she couldn’t understand how to read it nor speak japanese at a level high enough to ask (correctly) what the medical conditions on the form were (i.e. in furigana) then i think the salon had every right to refuse her.

      why should they be held liable if she has an allergic reaction to a chemical listed on the form she couldn’t understand?

    • goatonastick

      Just because you have a bi-cultural person who represents your brand, it has NO bearing on how your company actually operates with bi-cultural people.

  • George Argonaute

    Instead of complaining I would try another salon where I had a marvelous
    experience. Not only they spoke English but they were kind and made the effort
    to assist a male foreigner over and above their customarily female clientele. That
    is what I call professional service, try NUA in Omotesandō

  • Don Largo

    Hmmm…doesn’t seem like intuition so much as having read the article.

    Of course the story is about discrimination, and, of course, the most common type of discrimination in Japan (and probably elsewhere) is racial discrimination.

    This is not a court of law and in this context it is appropriate to reach a verdict without having to determine which testimony will be allowed and which will not according to the rules of a technopoly (Neil Postman). Your interests may be more in the suppression of the obvious, but mine is in the exposure of it.

    I know a lot of young people–people referred to by the Japanese as “halfs”–who, judging from their view of life in Japan, would doubtless feel that Rola’s experience is racially based and quite common in this culture.

    As a “law” buff, I am sure that you must also be aware that Japan has laws against discrimination but no punitive recourse for it. I am also sure that we will all agree that this must have been an accidental oversight. By now, you are certainly aware of the United Nations Special Rapportuer, Doudou Diene’s comment, at the conclusion of his investigation in 2005, that “…authorities were not doing enough to tackle what he called Japan’s “deep and profound racism” and xenophobia….”

    I wonder what kind of person vests so much energy in denial of the obvious. But fret not. Japan has 7 years to prepare itself not to expose the International Olympic Committee for what it is.

    • Children Of Nephilim

      The story isn’t about Rola, it’s about a girl named “MQ.”

  • Nevin Thompson

    I wonder what would have happened if the customer could read Japanese? The language on these sorts of forms is not particularly high-level or advanced (ie, it’s newspaper-level), so I do wonder about the customer’s grasp of the language, and also her ability to communicate effectively in Japanese.

    • Children Of Nephilim

      If they’re asking about certain medical conditions, then no, it isn’t the same as reading a newspaper. I’ve had my husband with me to help out with paperwork, and there have been times he had to look the word up because he didn’t have any idea what it was (he’s Japanese).

  • Heather Heller

    I’m a white American and I speak accented Japanese but I get treatments at TBC no problem. I imagine that the writer asking for English forms probably freaked out the workers at the salon. The classic “can’t handle anything that’s not in the manual” reaction. Maybe she just had bad luck with the staff at that particular location.