SAPPORO – The Sapporo District Court on Monday ordered a bathhouse in Otaru, Hokkaido, to pay 3 million yen in damages to three men for refusing them entry because they are not Japanese, but did not uphold the trio’s claim against the city for its failure to uphold an international pact against discrimination.
A lawsuit seeking 6 million yen in damages from the private bathhouse and the municipal government was filed Feb. 1, 2001, by David Aldwinckle, 37, a U.S.-born local resident who became a naturalized Japanese under the name of Debito Arudo; Olaf Karthaus, 39, from Germany; and Ken Sutherland, 38, of the United States.
Presiding Judge Mitsuru Sakai said in the ruling, “The action barring foreigners of the defendant’s company is a form of racial discrimination, and refusing to allow people to bathe is beyond the limit of permissible conduct in society.”
The court rejected the damages claim against the Otaru government, which the plaintiffs argued has a duty to meet the requirements of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Japan signed in 1995.
The judge said the convention does not require local governments to institute an ordinance to stamp out discrimination, and there had been no omission on the part of the city, which said in court it has taken some action on discrimination.
Aldwinckle, while still a U.S. citizen, and Karthaus visited the Yunohana Onsen bathhouse in the seaport city in September 1999 and were refused entry, according to the suit. Sutherland was denied admission there in December 2000.
The bathhouse had a posted sign in English reading “Japanese Only.” It gave as a reason that it had observed that trouble with drunken Russian sailors at similar facilities in the region caused Japanese customers to stay away.
Arudo visited the bathhouse again in October 2000 after becoming a naturalized Japanese but was denied entry, despite presenting his driver’s license to show he was a citizen of Japan. The posted sign was later withdrawn.
In the court, the plaintiffs argued that Otaru, which claims to be an international city, has not taken any effective action and failed to meet its obligations under the international convention.
The city argued that it has attempted to issue instructions to the bathhouse to educate citizens about such discrimination, and taken other steps but said the convention does not require local governments to resolve every single case of discrimination.
Hideko Ito, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said, “The illegal nature (of the action) by the bathhouse was acknowledged. But it is extremely regrettable that the claim against Otaru was rejected.”
Tadaaki Suzuki, a municipal official, said he is not yet aware of the ruling’s details but believes the city’s argument has basically been accepted.
A representative of the bathhouse commented that the facility is not happy with the ruling.
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