Debito Arudou marking a 10-year anniversary

Debito blog

Not just when I am drawing a blank on post, I like to see what Debito is writing about.

This week he is marking the 10 years since he had the situation with the onsen (hot springs) owner in Otaru.

As I remember the story, Debito at the time was married. And he had his two kids. The onsen owner was either not letting him and his family in (his wife was Japanese, as were his kids), or they would only let in the people in his family who looked Japanese (which I think was his wife and one of his two daughters!)

As my longtime and very rare readers of Hoofin know, you can’t just always go drawing lines in the sand. But sometimes the line is asked to be drawn, in a phrase.

So what happened next is that Debito and some other friends who were with the family that day decided to make a court issue out of it. In America, a denial of service in an establishment that is open to the public, because someone doesn’t look a certain race or ethnicity, would be a serious legal matter of course.

But in Japan, these things are rarer, probably because there are fewer non-Japanese around.

Myself, I heard about this case via the internet or maybe the New York Times in the early 2000’s. Honestly, my feeling was that I thought MacArthur and the post-War Japanese had settled this issue a long time ago. But it was no surprise that some Japanese practice an exclusionary, um, way of life. Living here, I would say there is a good-sized minority of people who do this. And it’s a problem if they have any kind of power!

Let me repeat that: most Japanese I think have no problem dealing with non-Japanese. I am talking about that group that has a problem with it.

Debito Arudou decided to take the issue of half his family (the Caucasian-looking side) being excluded–as well as his non Japanese friends—and make it a big issue.

I know it received considerable attention (still does) on the internet and blogosphere. It made news in several outlets of the traditional media. In the end, I think he forced an apology and a $10,000 judgment on the onsen owner for what happened that day.

I don’t know if the Woolworth’s lunch counter-type practices are still going on at the hot spring—I don’t really go to them and certainly I am not in Hokkaido—but I think the protest was fair and the result a point well taken.

Everyone seems to have special views on the issue, whether they are pro-objection to the rule of excluding foreigners, or whether they side with the hot spring.

Myself, like I say, I thought Douglas MacArthur and the post-War Japanese government settled these kind of issues. Which meant, basically, that all the human beings that show up in Japan get a certain set of rights. Yes, legal and illegal aliens are always an issue everywhere.

But if someone is entitled to be in a country, and businesses hold their establishments out as “places of public accommodation” as New Jersey civil rights law puts it, then you can’t really refuse people except for very specific reasons going to bad behavior. Not who they are or what they look like.

For most of America’s 20th century, in the places that counted to be emulated (i.e. not the deep South), that was the general rule. And I thought the Occupation-era Government here, as part of the, um, agreement, you know, agreed to that.

So to me, these kinds of stories are upsetting, because it just sounds like America was being played for big suckers by the Japanese to whom we handed back sovereignty of Japan.

Everyone said “Hai! Hai!” to the 1947 Constitution, which was part of the package of getting a country back. And then once other issues, like the Cold War, or re-industrialization, or the ’60’s etc. came to the fore, then all the bad practices that marked some parts of pre-War Japan started sneaking back in as acceptable practices.

As if MacArthur was some doofus like this guy:


And that as soon as one gaikokujin foreigner starts asserting any kind of rights, the crybabies among the Japanese start wailing that they “have lost their sovereignty!”, or making that suggestion, even.

Sh*t like that.

Sometimes you get some mumbling about how Japan is this racially pure society, and then a few other mumbles. I actually had that happen once at a lunch meeting in a company I worked for here.

I feel that litigation is a hard way to solve anything. But I have to hand it to Debito for taking a stand. If people don’t take a stand, then bad things continue that shouldn’t. But taking a stand costs, you have to be brave, and quite often the outcome is much less than what you would have wanted.

So a point was made in Otaru. And a stand taken, and an event remembered this week.