and Tony Show
Japanese Only: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination
By Debito Arudou
Akashi Shoten Inc.; ISBN: 4-7503-2005-6; October 2004; pp.
My Darling is a Foreigner
By Saori Oguri
Media Factory; ISBN: 4840106835; December 2002; pp. 159
is the Weakest Link?
By: Yuki Allyson Honjo
“How” of it All
the film critic Roger Ebert noted, it’s not so much what a
movie is about, but how it is about it. That is, a mark of
a good film is defined not so much by its subject matter, but rather
by how the story is told.
The same could be said of good books, be it fiction or non-fiction.
Some of the most mundane subjects can be the most beautiful of books.
Take, for example, Edward Tufte’s Envisioning Information;
it tackles the seemingly dull topic of how to make effective charts,
graphs, and tables.1
Yet, the resulting volume is sublime, the perfect combination of
art and science, and delightful and surprising as a child’s picture
Arudou (né David Christopher Aldwinckle) and Saori Oguri
both tackle similar issues in their books: racial integration and tolerance
in Japan. Arudou, in his 400 plus page tome Japanese Only,
seeks to chart the “emergence of volunteerism and civil society in Japan
through one particular event—the Otaru Onsens Case” (Arudou,
p. i). In this lawsuit, Arudou sued a bath house in Japan because of
its “Japanese Only” policies. Oguri’s Darin wa Gaikokujin,
or My Darling is a Foreigner, is a slim bestselling comic (manga)
book in Japanese on her life with husband Tony Laszlo, who also happened
to play an instrumental role in Arudou's activism. “Upon getting married,”
Oguri writes, “I think the issue of a life together is not so much whether
you are a Japanese or a foreigner, but how your personalities are alike
or different” (Oguri, p. 2). But, like every marriage, occasional misunderstandings
and frictions occur in the Oguri household.
their media and methodology are dissimilar, both Arudou and Oguri offer
us case studies in Japanese racial tolerance towards "foreigners." Nevertheless,
it is in the “how” that both authors not only go about telling their
stories, but also in how they diverge; one succeeds, one does not.
First, a disclosure:
I know Arudou personally and have sympathy for his lawsuit. I firmly
believe that Japan has little excuse to allow businesses to openly
reject patrons based on race. I have very little time for apologists
such as former Tama University President Gregory Clark: he implies
that discrimination is a justifiable defense to preserve Japanese
culture. “True, discrimination against foreigners can be unpleasant,”
Clark argues. “. . .But as often as not, that is because they do not
want to obey Japan’s rules and customs” (Arudou, p. 95). Nor do I
give much credence to the idea that it is “un-Japanese” to sue: the
lack of Japanese lawsuits is more a reflection of inefficiencies in
the Japanese document-based court system rather than some amorphous
and undefined notions of “culture.” Given my contact with Arudou,
I think his commitment to this lawsuit is genuine and sincere. It
should also be noted that JapanReview.Net co-editor, Paul
J. Scalise, had vetted a draft manuscript and is included in the acknowledgements.
I have—to the best of my abilities—tried to set aside
my personal biases and empathies in this review: if I failed, it is
solely my responsibility.
...In judging the merits and demerits of Japanese Only
one has to decide the standards and benchmarks from which to guage it.
Arudou gained domestic and
international fame through his protests against anti-foreign sentiments
in the port city of Otaru, in northern Japan. In Sept 10, 1999, Arudou
came across an anonymous e-mail post to the Issho Kikaku
Mailing list by a South American woman married to a Japanese (Arudou,
pp. 14-5). The multinational family was ejected by a hot spring in
the Otaru area for being “foreign.” In reaction, Arudou and his colleagues
created an informal group to test this assertion. Arudou, who is Caucasian
and a long-term resident of Japan, was ejected from a hot spring bath
house (onsen), Yunohana Onsen. A movement was born.
onsen owners, who had claimed to have problems with inebriated
and rowdy Russian sailors, asked Arudou, his Japanese family, and his
non-Asian looking cohorts to leave. The businesses had posted signs
stating that bath facilities were for "Japanese Only" (see photo Arudou,
pp. 31, 39, 113). The onsen owners argued that it was discriminatory
to reject only Russians, so they turned away all foreigners.
and his future co-plaintiff, Olaf Karthaus, together with the head of
Issho Kikaku, “dapper and intelligent, European-born [Tony]
Laszlo,” worked on the BENCI (Businesses Excluding Non-Japanese Customers
Issho) Project. Issho Kikaku, according to its website, is
a Tokyo based NGO “that aims to monitor issues related to human diversity,
language, culture and coexistence worldwide, and strives to facilitate
a greater recognition and understanding of these issues, both in the
East Asian region and worldwide.” It was a sensible alliance: Ana Bortz,
a Brazilian journalist and Issho Kikaku member, won one of
the first lawsuits in Japan that ruled the refusal of service based
on nationality was illegal based on the UN Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD).2
While in the course of events, two onsen voluntarily lifted
their bans, disagreements with Laszlo, et al. later erupt over how to
proceed: he becomes the villain of the piece, and Arudou and Karthaus
Arudou became a naturalized Japanese citizen and changed his name from
David Aldwinckle to Debito Arudou. When he returned to the onsen
wielding his new citizenship, he was again rejected based on his “foreign”
race. Arudou and his two co-plaintiffs (Olaf Karthaus and Ken Sutherland),
in reaction to Yunohana onsen's continued discrimination, sued
the business for damages and the city for violation against the UN CERD.
Arudou and his partners then win the initial case against the onsen,
but not against the city. Arudou, who once enjoyed a wide base of support,
eventually finds himself alone, abandoned by his lawyer and co-plaintiffs,
begging an anonymous government clerk to help him file his appeal against
Otaru in Japanese. (Arudou, p. 365).3
all seems like gripping material for a book and, indeed, could (and
should) be. However, Japanese Only never works—and on several
operating levels, at that.
judging the merits or demerits of Japanese Only, one has
to decide the standards and bench marks from which to gauge it.
Just as a bubblegum horror movie is not judged on the same standard
as an art house film, so the basis on which one reviews a work of
social science (with its demands for rigor and hypothesis testing)
must be suspended for the navel-gazing travelogue.
therein lies the problem: what is Arudou’s book? Is it social science,
a handbook for activists in Japan, a primary resource cum compendium
of media reports, didactic literature, propaganda, autobiography or
a public policy memoir? Is it an impassioned plea for the end of discrimination?
Does it argue for the merits of tolerance in Japan? It is unclear to
the reader, and perhaps to the author himself, what the book is meant
Only is loosely structured as a narrative in chronological order.
Arudou tells us a story because “it reads better and sounds less tendentious
than an essay” (Arudou, p. 391). To some extent, characters and a story
unfold. Arudou is most effective in drawing Karthaus, his German co-plaintiff.
He succinctly captures Karthaus’s quiet faith and humanity. In a few
deft strokes, the reader has a glimmer of understanding Karthaus’s commitment
to stopping racism and his largely Burkean world view. Sutherland, the
other co-plaintiff, remains a fun loving but ultimately flat character.
key problem with the narrative is development of the main character:
Debito Arudou himself. First, Arudou’s name changes, almost inexplicably:
Dave, Debito, Me, David, the translator, the transcriber, etc. We never
truly understand what drives him nor the true costs of his activism,
personally or professionally. For example, the author has said multiple
times that he embarked on this journey to save his two young daughters
from racism. Yet, he deliberately placed them in a situation where he
knew his children would be discriminated against when he first took
them to Yunohana Onsen to “make our point clearer” (Arudou, p. 23).
The onsen manager looked at Arudou’s children and declared
that older Japanese looking daughter could enter the onsen,
but her younger Western looking sister could not.
(so the whole room could hear): “Okay kids. We’re being ejected
from the premises. For reasons we were born with.” (Arudou,
is an extraordinary decision and deserves explanation: facing such blatant
discrimination at a young age (both were under 7 years old at the time)
must have had a profound impact on their lives. Moreover, from his narrative,
Arudou seems to be forever off on fact-finding missions and dedicating
his time and energy away from his young family and career. His very
understanding Japanese wife is only given passing mention, although
she too fielded harassment. His family receives death threats in the
mail: “FUCK YOU. . .WE WILL KILL YOUR KIDS.” (Arudou, p. 304) Arudou’s
response is a rather bland cliché: “You don’t make deals with
terrorists. . .stay the course.” (Arudou, pp. 305-6).
simply follow one after the other, and introspection or in-depth commentary
is scant. Arudou’s mistakes are never acknowledged, his flaws (aside
from a weight problem) are never sketched. Indeed, one suspects the
reader is deliberately treated to a one-dimensional character with neither
rhyme nor reason beyond the occasional sound bite: “it’s all for his
children.” He almost never looks back. We wonder, Does he have a life
outside of activism?
in one section Arudou muses that his friend thought that he may have
been used by his fellow activists. He takes comfort in the fact that
“human rights activism” has a common pattern of “dissent and discordance”
(Arudou, p. 255).
B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus
Garvey and Booker T. Washington, Mohandas Gandhi and Muhammad
Ali Jinnah, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Seale, Malcolm
X and Elijah Mohammad and even Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin,
they all dissented—often bitterly. (Arudou, p. 255)
would think that on this journey, Arudou would have made a misstep:
no one was hurt? No one was left behind? He does not respond to many
of his critics and justifies this with a quote from Martin Luther King,
Jr.: “Seldom if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and
ideas.” (Arudou, p. 299)
At almost every step, the reader is treated to a litany of clichés
from a group of mostly anonymous4
cheerleaders that he labels as "Friends" (viz. Arudou, p. 285).:
like a BENCI Hurricane.”; “Amazing how you find the time to
type all this stuff, Dave.” (Arudou, p. 58); “Thanks for the
report.” (p. 85); “Well done! Looks like we’re gaining ground!”
(p. 88); “Great report, Dave!” (p. 126); “Bravo, Dave. Don’t
take this lying down.” (p. 96); “Dave. . . you’ve been doing
a Herculean job.” (p. 106) “. . . You work like a bicycle.”
(p. 108); “Dave, thanks for all you have done on this issue.”
(p. 137); “Dave, don’t let this go unanswered.” (p. 193); “Attaboy,
Dave. Keep it up.” (p. 194); “Yes, we’ve accomplished miracles.”
(p. 241); “No, you [Dave] will be the lightning rod, as usual.”
(p. 283); “Stay the course you three!” “You are doing a great
job!” (p. 290)
he dislikes or disagrees with are relegated to the “Peanut gallery,”
which he abbreviates as “PG” (viz. Arudou, p. 285): “Well congratulations.
Signs are down. . .Now are you dropping the suit?” (Arudou, p. 285).
the narrative may be unfair. The author states in the first paragraph
that the book is “a record of how social movements rise and fall in
the age of the Internet” and a case study so that readers too can “make
the world a better place” (Arudou, p. i). If we take Arudou at his word,
the book is indeed a record, in as much as he does reprint the media
reports, old e-mails sent to his “Friends” mailing list, transcripts5
, court documents and other miscellany. Many of these items can be found
on his website (www.debito.org)
for free, thus saving the reader 3500JP¥ (US$1=105JP¥, $33)
to purchase the book. On his website, one can use a search engine making
it a useful resource: lacking an index or a developed reference list,
the same cannot be said about the book.
a primary resource, Japanese Only is virtually unusable. The
appendix, which contains two excerpts of the court judgments, is curiously
underdeveloped. Many of the newspaper clippings incorporated into the
text belonged in this section. An unwieldy chapter/sub-chapter structure,
an addiction to random capitalization, all uppercase text, bold print,
and shifting fonts: hunting for information in this book is tedious.
Arudou quotes long passages in full that could have been summarized
in a few sentences. He also uses a number of unsuccessful stylistic
devices that detract from the “record.” His Japanese father-in-law,
for example, appears to have an Italian accent: “Hey shaddappa you face.”
(Arudou, p. 312). The self-indulgent writing is in desperate need of
an editor: “One lit kiss later, they took deep breaths of shared fire”
(Arudou, p. 101). (Would you know a couple is smoking cigarettes?) He
finds it necessary to tell us that we have reached the end of a chapter
by writing, “END OF CHAPTER ONE” (Arudou, p. 109). And the glossary,
bizarrely, is in the front with what seems like a random selection of
words, such as “snakku” (hostess bars) that are only peripheral
to the issues at hand. One wonders why he found it necessary to point
out that “girls” in the snakku will “probably not put out”
(Arudou, p. x).
for the claim of Internet activism, the book does not provide much useful
information for the activist-to-be, aside from a few short passages.
It seems unlikely that this book would help a would-be Algerian activist
facing discrimination in France, or a Turk in Germany. The book remains
focused on the specifics of Arudou’s case and makes no effort to contextualize,
compare or contrast it to other movements.
advice he does give is sensible: keep the main points of e-mail articles
on the first screen and write stand-alone articles with “snappy writing”
and a “sunny style” (Arudou pp. 111-2). He also gives a few tips about
dealing with the press and press conferences. The serious internet activist
may, however, find it more useful to go to NetAction’s website (http://www.netaction.org/)
for stereo instructions on writing effective activist e-mail and other
comprehensive guides to Internet outreach and advocacy.
the post “Battle of Seattle” age in which tens of thousands of people
rioted on the streets, many linked by cell phones, instant messaging,
GPS, PDAs6 , and
laptops, Arudou’s brand of “Internet activism” of cranking out “Nyuu
for his “Friends” e-list seems almost quaint. Arudou makes little use
of technology to organize flash mobs, blogs, google bombs, or wikis8:
he remains the old-fashioned pamphleteer. Unfortunately, his thorough
and comprehensive website with thousands of pages of material, which
is by far one of the most effective tools in his Internet arsenal, gets
short shrift: the book has only passing references to this excellent
resource within the main text (Arudou, pp. iv, 13, 57, 281, 307, 376-7).
then, this book is best understood not as a narrative, nor as a handbook
for activists, but as a personal account of intolerant attitudes in
Japan. It would be unfair to judge the book as social science, as it
is clearly not designed with structured analytical content in mind.
This is not as criticism per se, but simply an observation:
Arudou himself writes that he aimed to create a book in which “a nonfiction
event [was] told as a story with characters and a narrative” (Arudou,
p. 391). It is somewhat of a pity that Arudou did not take advantage
of his training from his Masters course under political science professor
at University of California San Diego and develop some of the intriguing
themes he introduces in the book. He posits, for example, that anti-foreign
sentiment was spreading in Japan, yet offers little except anecdotal
evidence. One could see future graduate students investigating his claims.
yet, Arudou makes some not so easily overlooked errors: in the glossary,
he writes within the context of defining Zainichi Gaikokujin
Japanese citizenship laws are jus sanguinis, only those
with blood ties to Japan may be Japanese (as opposed to just
about every other developed country, where if you are born there,
you are automatically a citizen). This means that if Japan behaved
like a normal developed country, the Zainichis would
be Japanese citizens. (Arudou, p. vii)
posit that “just about every other developed country” does not base
citizenship on jus sanguinis is simply incorrect: citizenship
in countries such as Austria, Israel, South Korea, Singapore, Norway,
and Italy (to name just a few) is not automatically based on
place of birth, that is jus solis, but rather jus sanguinis.
All would argue that they are “developed.” In fact, no country solely
bases their citizenship on jus solis: many countries use a
combination of jus sanguinis, jus solis, and/or a
process of naturalization. While in the New World jus solis
is commonplace—77% of countries in the Organization of American
States (OAS, a mix of developed and undeveloped states) has jus
solis—only 8% of countries in the European Union (EU) and
20% of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD) apply this law. (For a JapanReview.Net analysis of jus solis/jus
sanguinis in the world, click here).
I point out the problems with this definition, not for gratuitous stone
throwing, but to highlight a key underlying premise of the book: Japan,
Arudou implies, is an outlier in its legal treatment of foreigners.
Yet this implication is simply wrong in the above case. Moreover, the
concepts and definition of citizenship are fundamental to this argument.
Arudou should get them right: in failing to do so, his credibility is
undermined. Such mistakes and omissions further undermine his credibility
when he reports that "Japan happens to be the only OECD country
without any form of domestic law against racial discrimination" (Arudou,
p. 306) and neither provides a single citation to support his claim
nor outlines how he arrived at this conclusion in the first place. A
argument that racism is wrong, especially for non-ethic Japanese citizens,
is presented clearly: both ethic and non-ethnic Japanese carry the same
burdens of citizenship. Article 14 of the Japanese Constitution does,
after all, guarantee racial equity to Japanese nationals: “All of the
people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination
in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex,
social status or family origin.” One of Arudou’s complaints was that
Japanese legal scaffolding was not sufficient to enforce Article 14.
Moreover, non-citizens are unprotected from racial discrimination.
his arguments become far more cloudy when he calls for a civil rights
act that is “effective at all levels of government, enshrining the basic
rights for Japanese residents, regardless of citizenship” (Arudou, p.
398). He mixes together an anti-racism message, the rights of non-ethnic
Japanese citizens, and “pro-foreigner” rights. While few would disagree
that an anti-discrimination law is desirable, broadly undefined “rights”
for non-citizens are another matter altogether. Arudou posits that it
should be mandated “simply because it is a good idea” (Arudou, p. 398).
But it begs the question: Why? On what basis is it good? Good for a
small minority of foreign residents? (Click here
for Japan's Non-Citizens: Facts & Figures) Good for the economy?
Good for Japan over all? And what exactly are “basic rights”—does it
include rights to welfare? Should the Japanese government, for example,
fund foreign schools? Arudou mentions political rights (Arudou, p. iii):
which political rights? Should foreigners be allowed to vote or hold
office? What do non-citizens have to do to earn these rights? Taxation,
draft, or social service? Arudou does not attempt to distinguish between
negative rights (i.e. do not discriminate) and the positive rights that
would flow from his proposed civil rights act.
often the need for tolerance is presented as a feel-good sound bite;
however, it is a complex issue. Given all the problems that Arudou faced,
it is odd that he does not present a case for why tolerance is a “good
thing” for Japan. Questioning the limits, successes, and failures of
cultural tolerance is no longer just the realm of the ultra-right. Take,
for example, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh’s assassination in which
he was allegedly shot and stabbed by dual Dutch-Moroccan national Muslim
Mohammed Bouyeri in 2004.11
This murder sparked a wide debate: many feared that the one million
Muslims in the Netherlands were eroding traditional Dutch values of
tolerance and liberalism. Many “native” Dutch felt that traditional
Muslims did not respect key values such as equality of the sexes, religion,
or sexuality. Holland is not alone in this debate. Similarly, France’s
wrangling over Muslim girls wearing headscarves in school has polarized
debate. In Thailand, after the East Asian currency crisis, Thais were
not necessarily xenophobic (in that they welcomed tourism and foreign
visitors), but were chary of foreign capital. Would Arudou debate that
this too was a violation of civil and human rights?
book does not do the thought-provoking and complex topic of racial integration
and cultural tolerance justice: Arudou merely sings loudly to the choir.
...Obviously, Oguri's work is not meant to be particularly deep.
To some extent it induldges in feel good multi-culturalism. However, Oguri succeeds where Arudou fails: She maintains a sense of scale and does not overreach.
mentioned above, Tony Laszlo, the head of the mailing list Issho
Kikaku, emerges as the villain of the narrative in Japanese
Only. We realize quickly that Laszlo is different, as he is
“Mr. Tony Laszlo:” the non-Japanese whom Arudou likes are referred
to by their first name, for example, Ken, Olaf, Mike, Natasha, etc.
being initially ejected by the Yunohana Onsen, Laszlo invited Arudou
and Karthaus to combine resources with Issho Kikaku to
create the BENCI project. Arudou depicts Laszlo as the wet blanket:
Laszlo, in Arudou’s version of events, slows progress by asking
for information and coordination: “David, once again, please stop
charging forward without waiting for group consensus.” (Arudou,
p. 86) Laszlo is also painted in an unflattering light when he asks
for Arudou to remind the press that the BENCI project is in fact
a group project, and not just Arudou acting on his own initiative.
Arudou finds this petty. “Just who does this Laszlo think he is?”
asks his friend Natasha (Arudou, p. 101).
Things eventually come to a head at what can only be termed as a
misunderstanding. While the BENCI group was temporarily in recess,
Laszlo went on his own fact finding mission using BENCI contacts
that Arudou and Karthaus had gathered. Laszlo did not contact the
other men in advance of his plans. According to Arudou’s version
of events, he chose not to do so as Arudou was out of the country
and Karthaus was mourning the recent death of his young son. Arudou
is incensed and feels that they were deliberately left out of the
loop: “That does it. I will not remain in a group where the leader
can justify anything by saying ‘I am boss, and I can do what I like
because of it’. . .This is not how a volunteer organization treats
its volunteers.” (Arudou, pp. 253-4) They storm out of BENCI. Accusations
and recriminations ensue: like a bad divorce, they wrangle over
custody of BENCI and Issho Kikaku. One is tempted to recall
the bon mot commonly attributed to former US Secretary of State
Henry Kissinger, “The battles are so fierce because the stakes are
Thus it is odd to see Tony Laszlo again as depicted by his wife Saori
Oguri’s manga, Darin wa Gaikokujin, or My Darling
is a Foreigner. A slim 160 page volume of rough drawings, it was
a nationwide best-seller of over a million copies. It was even advertised
on the Tokyo subway system. Not surprisingly, in his wife's book, Laszlo
is not the Svengali-esque character of Arudou’s work, but sweet and
slightly kooky: at one point she points out his resemblance to an alpaca
(Oguri, p. 71).
My Darling is a Foreigner
Oguri’s work is not social science or even meant to be particularly
deep. To some extent, it indulges in feel-good multiculturalism. However,
Oguri succeeds where Arudou fails: she maintains a sense of scale and
does not overreach. On the other hand, Arudou seems self-important:
“[saying] that it’s only an onsen. . .[is] just like Rosa Parks’
action was ‘only about a seat in front of the bus.’” (Arudou, p. 313)
book, first and foremost, is a story of a relationship. The situations
are well observed domestic humor in the same vein as Dave Barry or Erma
Bombeck. In one particular strip, she talks about her resentment, as
a working woman, of doing most of the housework. Laszlo offers to do
the dishes: initially, they never get done, and he inexplicably does
not wash the back rims (Oguri, p. 59). I laughed out loud as I had a
nearly identical conversation with my own partner. In another, she complains
to Laszlo that he doesn’t call her “Honey” or “Darling” (as in American
TV shows such as Bewitched). Laszlo points out that Americans
haven’t done this since the 1950s (Oguri, p. 67).
knows her audience—she is speaking to a nation of Japanese. She answers
the usual round of questions (“Does Tony eat nattou (fermented
soybeans)?”) (Oguri, p. 73) and gently points out that Tony likes and
eats many things, not so much because he is a foreigner but because
he likes to eat (Oguri, pp. 76-77). Does she speak English? “A little
desu!,” she answers (Oguri, p. 96). She doesn’t have to, as
Laszlo speaks fluent Japanese. Unlike what Japanese women imagine the
stereotypical foreign male to be, Laszlo can’t cook (although he admits
this is not a good thing) (Oguri, p. 74), nor does he bring Oguri breakfast
in bed (Oguri, p. 73). Sticky situations such as her mother’s initial
misgivings (won over by Laszlo’s charm offensive) (Oguri, p. 41) and
the father bemoaning that his daughter would soon move away to a faraway
land (they live in Kawasaki, a Tokyo suburb) (Oguri, p. 44), are treated
with humor. She scatters the text with mini-household tips from housewives
around the world (Bangladesh, Cote d’Ivoire, and Germany).
is clever with her message of tolerance. She does not bludgeon the reader
with the message, and instead points out the unreasonableness of a given
situation by showing how it affected the relationship. After introducing
the reader to their romance and announcing their intention to live together
to her parents, Oguri finds out that many Japanese real estate agencies
will not rent to them because Laszlo is a foreigner. The reasons cited:
1. They don’t understand Japanese
2. They have parties
3. It becomes a nuisance when foreigners leave for their home
country without paying. (Oguri, p.53)
of a new life and romance with Laszlo are smashed. Disappointed,
she curls up into a fetal ball. She points out that “rules” are
completely unreasonable: Laszlo speaks fluent Japanese, they don’t
have parties, and Oguri’s Japanese parents are the guarantor on
the lease. All ends well: someone is eventually willing to rent
to them. A smiling cartoon Oguri and Laszlo ask potential landlords
to “not lump foreigners in one group” and “look at each person
as an individual” (Oguri, p. 55)
message that “We are all individuals”12
(thus stereotypes are unreasonable) is woven seamlessly into the
entire work. The resentments and fights that occur in the relationship
are not so much because Laszlo is foreign, but because he is, occasionally,
a thoughtless, inconsiderate mate.
The three steps to a fight:
1. When I talk to him, he doesn’t answer. We get to the
next step when
2. I have to repeat myself. Then
3. He doesn’t remember what I just said to him (p. 132)
Being an inconsiderate
mate is clearly not restricted to foreigners: there is a certain
degree of universality to this trait. This format is even more
effective as Oguri allows her own faults and peccadilloes to come
through: for example, she can’t stand it when Laszlo eats his
grated radish (daikon) separately from his grilled fish.
She knows she’s being silly, but it still drives her mad (Oguri,
p. 144). Most can empathize when a mate does something that annoys
for completely arbitrary reasons. Again, “foreignness” is not
Arudou who tries to use folksy mannerisms (“There is usually something
to watch—a silly program on the boob tube, braless ladies in bathrobes
jiggling about,” Arudou, p. 4) masquerading as humor, Oguri does
one better: she is genuinely funny and revealing.
The “What” of it All
an audience of millions of domestic Japanese, Oguri’s manga
may be a far more effective bully pulpit than Arudou’s. Both books
have essentially the same simple take home message: “Tolerance is
good; stereotypes and discrimination are bad.” However, by illustrating
it with specific examples from Oguri’s life with Laszlo, the message
is clear and focused. Arudou’s book is far more ambitious. It wants
many things: to make you laugh, to educate you on the law, to tell
you about Arudou, to give a history about “the movement”—the list
goes on and on. By trying to be a little of everything, the message
is lost in the muddle.
it is worth discussing the “what” that Arudou was trying to do:
one should not be so quick to dismiss the issues surrounding the
Otaru onsens’ discrimination.
Arudou right to sue the onsen? Unequivocally, yes. What
the establishments were doing is unacceptable among developed nations
and illegal under international law: they were discriminating based
on race. Also, one can only imagine a furor that would ensue in
Japan if, for example, shops in the US denied service to Japanese
because of perceived shoplifting problems from Chinese gangs.
rights were violated. The Japanese Constitution, however weak it
is, still guarantees racial equity. The onsen was not a
private club with a member selection process, it had no real right
to refuse service. As a paying customer, he had the right to enter
the onsen. Arudou had the right to demand redress: the
onsen deserved to be financially punished. While one could
imagine a convoluted legal argument that could have been made in
defense of the onsens when Arudou was a foreigner, there
was even less of a case once he naturalized.
Is it “un-Japanese”
to sue? Perhaps, in that few “average” Japanese would subject themselves
to the hassles and costs of hiring a lawyer and suing, but what
exactly is being “Japanese?” Many, including Japanese themselves
like to say that they are a nation that dislikes confrontation,
thus pursuing a lawsuit is “un-Japanese.” Fingers are pointed at
Americans for being overly litigious and some have accused Arudou
for importing his American world view to the issue. And yet, such
cultural arguments belie the facts. According to the Supreme Court
of Japan, the number of total civil lawsuits in Japan has materially
risen since the late 1960s. Assuming it is "un-Japanese"
to sue, one would expect the number of civil lawsuits in Japan to
be virtually non-existent, let alone rising. (Click here
for a link on civil lawsuits in Japan).
Japan had adopted, at the turn of the century, document based jurisprudence.
Compared to the testimony based system in the US, it is a much slower
process. For various reasons (including possibly self-interest on
the part of lawyers) the number of attorneys and judges per capita
is low compared to that of the US. All these factors lead to high
costs (after all, time equals money) which in turn, results in relatively
lower numbers of lawsuits. There is little credible evidence that
stands up to statistical scrutiny that supports the idea that “culture”
is the reason why Japanese do not sue.13
and his cohort were simply more willing to put up with the cost
in both time and money to bring the issue to trial. While Arudou
does not give us the break down of the time and money involved,
it appears that he invested a large amount of energy and man hours
to “earn” 1m JP¥ (US$1=105JP¥, $9523) from the court case.14
A true commercial venture would have quit due to the inefficiencies
involved. This may sound cynical but it is not meant to be: it merely
points out that suing is not an attractive option because it is
inefficient in Japan. But, Arudou and his band were not seeking
redress in a business deal gone sour: they were forcing the court
to rule against the onsen. The onsen and the city
of Otaru were embarrassed in the process, and rightfully so.
this case matter? Arudou, of course, thinks that his case is important:
“For the first time, even disenfranchised non-native speakers of
Japanese could turn the domestic media into a fulcrum, getting the
word out so effectively we could influence public policy, even alter
the very perception of a ‘foreigner’ in Japan” (Arudou, pp. 13-4).
However, will the court case cause the social reform that he is
so desperately seeking? Arudou places great weight on the courts
to provide justice and reform: “We need a law or racial discrimination
will not be eliminated.” (Arudou, p. 384) His world view is legal-centrist
in the sense that he believes that government (which includes the
courts) is the chief source of rules and enforcement efforts (Ellickson,
p. 138). This seems to be an overly simplistic response to an extremely
Arudou himself points out, the importance of case precedence in
Japan is weak compared to that of the US legal system. Thus, the
legal impact of his win is unknown or at least, unexplained. Arudou
for one is treating the loss to Otaru City as an opportunity to
press his case. He seeks an appeal to the Japanese Supreme Court15
; failing that, the United Nations. At present, he is starting proceedings
against the Japanese national government for failing to pass anti-discrimination
laws. (For further information, please click here)
However, aside from himself and the onsen owners involved,
it is unclear if the case really makes much of a difference in Japan.
Arudou, aside from his article news clippings, fails to provide
evidence that it does.
the seminal work The Hollow Hope16
, Gerald N. Rosenberg argues that significant social reform through
the US Supreme Court is difficult, at best. In Rosenberg's view,
using the courts to create significant reforms in civil rights,
abortion, and women's rights were largely failures. Rosenberg posits
that the cases themselves made little impact. Using both quantitative
and qualitative measures, he shows that landmark cases such as Brown
v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade did not generate
major social reform. In fact, vindication of constitutional principles
accompanied by small change may have been mistaken for widespread
significant social reform, inducing reformers to relax their efforts.
Also, Rosenberg found that there is no evidence to suggest that
Court decisions mobilize supporters of significant social reform,
but data suggest the opposite can be true: opponents do
The court cases trailed the social movements, not the other way
around. Movements and social mores had already made major headway
before the court rulings were made. The faith placed on the court
to create social reform may be unproved and suggests that it may
be largely emotive.
a related vein, in Order without Law18,
Robert C. Ellickson, discusses the fact that while laws may exist,
legal knowledge in the general population (in the US and abroad)
is scanty, at best (Ellickson, pp. 144-6). Everyday best practice
is based on a system of norms: when those norms come into conflict,
various methods (including the courts) are used to coerce behavior.
Ellickson suggests that legal case law is largely ignored in norm
depending so heavily on a visible sovereign for foreigner/non-ethnic
Japanese rights, one wonders about the real success of Arudou’s
campaign. Japan and the US have different legal systems, so direct
comparisons with Rosenberg’s arguments are problematic. However,
Arudou’s faith in the Japanese court system may be misplaced. Without
the mass support from a significant majority, the legal case alone
seems unlikely to produce wide-reaching and sustainable reform.
But, with increasing immigration perhaps necessary to sustain Japan’s
economy, Arudou’s tireless activism, and book's such as Oguri's
manga, there is hope for mass support.
the Otaru Onsens Case made a difference for one man and
his family and for one community, and that is what may matter most
in the end.
Edward R. Tufte, Envisioning Information (Graphics Press
1990). Tufte's work has won over a dozen awards for both design
and content. For more information, see: http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/index.
In her lawsuit, the courts ruled that the International Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (which
Japan ratified in 1995) applied in this case. This case later became
the precedent and backbone of Arudou's legal complaint.
Addendum: time-line clarifications were formally made on June 30,
2005. For the original text, click here.
According to Journalism.org,
professional journalists should refrain from using anonymous sources
in their narratives unless (a) the quote is of major importance
to the community at large and will not be repeated routinely, (b)
every effort was made to get the source on the record, and (c) a
top editor is convinced there is absolutely no other way to get
the main thrust of the story into the publication. If, however,
what is being rendered is opinion, including personal attacks, praise
and other normative judgments, as opposed to specific facts that
can be verified elsewhere, the rendering of anonymous sources in
objective print narratives compromises the "theory of journalism"
and its professional guidelines.
A good fraction of this volume are so-called "transcripts" of various
private and public conversations.
GPS stands for "Global Positioning System," a device that gives
location coordinates anywhere in the world. PDA stands for "Personal
Digital Assistant." One such PDA is a personal palm pilot. PDAs
can double as telephones as well as send and receive text messages,
thus instantaneously coordinating people over large areas.
This Japanese phrase is a bilingual pun on The New York Times,
meaning "Bathing Times."
A flash mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a given
locale, do something unusual or notable, and then disperse. Members
are usually organized via the Internet or other digital communications
networks such as instant messages. A Google bomb or Google wash
is an attempt to influence the ranking of a given site in results
returned by Google. A blog, or "web log," is a web application that
contains periodic posts on a web page. A wiki is a website that
allows users to add content, as on a forum website, but also allows
anyone to edit the content.
Chalmers Johnson also comments on the case: "But please do not hold
your breath for the American Embassy to help any American citizens.
Its sole function is to sell arms to the Japanese and keep the officers'
clubs for the 39 U.S. Marine, Air Force, Army, and Navy bases in
Okinawa open and functioning. The U.S. ambassador [Tom Foley] is,
after all, the man for whom term limits were invented. . .He couldn't
give a cold dog turd whether or not you, your wife, and children
get a bath at an onsen or are in other ways being treated
in Japan as all Japanese insist on being treated when they are in
the United States. We have had lots of experience trying to get
the American Embassy to represent Americans rather than the military
industrial complex but I cannot think of a single success. . ."
(Arudou, pp. 174-75).
Addendum: According to the Migration
Policy Group (MPG) in Brussels, Belgium, there are several OECD
countries "without any form of domestic law against racial
discrimination." In contrast to Japan, for example, Turkey
has "no provision on ethnic origin, sexual orientation or age
in the Constitution." Moreover, "there is no separate
anti-discrimination legislation in the Turkish legal system."
Other OECD countries where the laws are either ambiguous or not
clearly defined to outlaw racial discrimination per se
include, inter alia, Germany, Hungary, and Finland.
notes that (decidedly right-wing) Independent Dutch member of parliament
Greet Wilders advocated a five-year halt to non-Western immigration
after Theo van Gogh's death: "The Netherlands has been too tolerant
to intolerant people for too long, we should not import a retarded
political Islamic society to our country."
With apologies to Monty Python.
For analyses of such myths and their counterevidence see, inter
alia, Yuki Allyson Honjo, Japan's Early Experience of Contract
Management in the Treaty Ports (Routledge Curozon 2003); Willem
Visser t'Hooft, Japanese Contract and Anti-Trust Law: A Sociological
and Comparative Study (Routledge Curozon 2002); Frank Upham,
"Weak Legal Consciousness as an Invented Tradition," in Stephen
Vlastos ed. Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern
Japan (California Academic Press 1996): 48-64; and John Owen
Haley, "The Myth of the Reluctant Litigant," in Kenneth Port ed.
Comparative Law: Law and the Legal Process in Japan (California
Academic Press 1996): 108-122.
Arudou and his co-plaintiffs initially sued for 2m JP¥ (US$1=105JP¥,
$19,047) each at their lawyer's suggestion. The court awarded them
each 1m JP¥ for their mental duress. Initially, Arudou and his
co-plaintiffs won their case against Yunohana Onsen, but lost their
suit against Otaru in which they sued the city for failing to uphold
UN CERD. Arudou notes that Japanse civil suits require plaintiffs
to sue for either monetary damages, for mental duress, or for defamation
of character. (Arudou, p. 297)
Addendum: on April 7, 2005, the Supreme Court of Japan rejected
the appeal by Arudou seeking damages from the city in connection
with Yunohana Onsen's policy of barring foreigners from the facility.
While it upheld the lower court ruling, calling the onsen's refusal
to admit non-ethnic Japanese "unreasonable discrimination," it also
addressed the plaintiffs' argument that the city had a duty to meet
the requirements of the UN CERD, which Japan signed in December
1995, by introducing an ordinance to ban racial discrimination:
"The convention has only general, abstract provisions recommending
appropriate measures to eliminate racial discrimination, and the
Otaru government does not have any obligation to institute ordinances
to ban such discrimination."
Gerald N. Rosenberg, The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring About
Social Change? (The University of Chicago 1991)
It would be interesting to test Rosenberg’s argument on Arudou’s
lawsuit. Did it (or will it) mobilize opponents to anti-racial discrimination
legislation and crystallize “racist” beliefs? Yunohana Onsen certainly
did mobilize with a “counter-lawsuit petition” (Arudou, p. 296).
Moreover, it would be interesting to see if any of the photographs
displayed on Arudou’s “Rogues
Gallery” were at all motivated from his lawsuit.
Robert C. Ellickson, Order without Law: How Neighbors Settle
Disputes (Harvard University Press 1994)
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