A few years ago, lawsuits by foreigners against businesses that barred their entry gained public attention, and while the litigation may have faded from memory, not so the discrimination they fought — just see the signs.
Paul Shepherd, 41, of Britain said that when he tried to enter a nightclub staffed by foreign hostesses in Koshigaya, Saitama Prefecture, in mid-February, the Japanese manager refused to let him in just because he is a foreigner.
The same night, Shepherd, who speaks fluent Japanese, said he was turned away by two other hostess clubs in the city — both boasting no-foreigner signs.
Shepherd said one of those clubs used to let him in until about three years ago, when he started bringing English-speaking clients from his motorcycle export business there to entertain them.
Then one day the club suddenly began barring foreign customers, he said. Now the three clubs only allow foreigners in if they have a Japanese escort. He went to other nightclubs in neighboring cities, only to find that the exclusion policy was a general trend.
“I thought it was about time something (was) done about it before it gets worse,” said Shepherd, who has a Japanese wife and a son.
The type of discrimination Shepherd faced is not limited to hostess clubs, however.
American-born Debito Arudou says he has been barred from other establishments nationwide, ranging from bathhouses to pachinko and mah-jongg parlors to barbershops, hotels and restaurants.
Arguably one of the nation’s most high-profile champions of the fight against discrimination, Arudou has not only taken on such establishments but has made a point of doing so as a Japanese.
The Hokkaido Information University lecturer, who launched a closely watched legal fight against a bathhouse in Otaru, Hokkaido, that barred his entry, now runs a Web site on discrimination.
“If you don’t stop this, other people would realize ‘why not refuse (foreigners)’ because it’s easier to refuse than explain rules to deal with difficult customers,” said Arudou, who has lived in Japan for more than a decade and acquired Japanese citizenship in 2000.
The hostess clubs that barred Shepherd had a litany of excuses for banning foreigners who don’t have Japanese companions.
“We used to have a lot of trouble with foreign customers. (Some) didn’t have money and (some) claimed our charges were too expensive,” the manager at one of the clubs said, adding that the language barrier is also a problem.
The proprietress of another club said the ban is necessary because she needs to “supervise” the foreign female dancers dispatched from a so-called entertainment agency.
“Foreign customers and dancers can converse in English, and they may even get together outside the club and start a relationship,” she said, claiming this poses problems for the club in its relations with the agency.
She said the club refuses foreigners “in the same manner” as it refuses yakuza and drunks.
For lawyer Yasushi Higashizawa, who represents Arudou and two other plaintiffs suing the hot spring bathhouse in Otaru over its Japanese-only policy, such excuses are no justification for discrimination.
“Japanese customers also cause trouble at clubs, and Japanese men also meet foreign hostesses on the outside,” Higashizawa said.
One such encounter in fact proved fatal for British hostess Lucie Blackman, whose dismembered corpse was found in a seaside cave near a condominium owned by Joji Obara, who allegedly drugged, raped and killed her during a “compensated date” after meeting her at a club in Tokyo’s Roppongi district.
She was not his only victim, according to prosecutors.
Regarding all foreigners as troublemakers is wrong, Higashizawa said, noting that unlike yakuza or drunks, who can change their ways, there is no way to change one’s race.
Businesses should make it a point to stress that certain rules of proper behavior must be followed, and withhold service to those who don’t comply, he said, adding that being sued for discrimination can be a losing proposition.
The Shizuoka District Court awarded 1.5 million yen in damages to a female Brazilian journalist who sued a jewelry shop in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, in 1999 that refused to serve her because of her nationality.
In 2002, the Sapporo District Court ordered the Otaru bathhouse to pay 1 million yen in compensation to each of the three plaintiffs. The owner has appealed the ruling.
Before more cases are brought to courts, however, experts say the national and local governments should establish laws banning racial discrimination.
Japan ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1995. But legislation that embodies the convention has yet to be introduced.
“The convention was used by the district courts to rule in the racial discrimination suits,” Higashizawa said. “But without laws and ordinances prohibiting racial discrimination, it is difficult for local governments to force businesses” not to post signs barring foreigners.
Arudou plans to sue the government, demanding establishment of such a law, after the Sapporo High Court rules on his suit this summer.
He said that although it is necessary to enlighten Japanese about racial discrimination, foreigners must also take some responsibility.
At the least, they must try to learn the language and some of the social conventions, he said, adding that foreigners now facing discrimination from businesses should also calmly lodge complaints.
If this fails to get a situation corrected, the next step would be to bring a problem to the attention of local authorities, including legal affairs bureaus and human rights sections of local governments, Arudou said.
Shepherd went to those authorities in Koshigaya a week after the clubs turned him away. While they are investigating his case, he is considering taking legal action if nothing changes.
“Everyone should be free to go anywhere, regardless of (whether they are) Japanese or foreign,” he said. “I have only just started to take action in hope that my son or (other) foreigners will not face the same discrimination in the future.”