Foreigners Welcome?

Many readers are aware of the occasional problem in Japan concerning “Japanese Only” establishments. Businesses such as bars, public baths, and other establisments will post signs that explicitly refuse foreigners, for a variety of stated justifications. Debito has chronicled this phenomenon on his website in a “Rogues Gallery“, displaying all sites where discriminatory signs have been discovered. In addition to personally investigating most instances, Debito has proposed one remedy/countermeasure to this problem that storeowners display a “Non-Japanese Welcome” certificate.

welcome non-japanese

It just so happens that I was walking through a trendy part of the Akasaka neighborhood in Minato-ku in Tokyo today, and I came across this sign at the entrance of a hairdresser’s studio:

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Reading this should make us happy, right? It’s the opposite of “Japanese Only,” it explicitly welcomes foreigners with the same spirit as the certificate proposed by Debito above. But it actually makes me feel uncomfortable and apprehensive. Here’s why:

  • Are foreigners so unwelcome in establishments that such a sign is even necessary? This is the only such sign I’ve ever seen in Tokyo. The implication is that stores without such a sign (basically all of them) do not welcome foreigners. How would you feel if American stores had signs that said “Blacks Welcome” or if Paris had signs that said “Muslims Served”?
  • The sign is only aimed at English-speaking foreigners. If they really felt the need to say foreigners are welcome, surely there should be a Chinese or Korean equivalent, as such speakers make up a majority of the portion of the large foreign population in Minato-ku.
  • The sign is inherently different from the Debito-approved certificate, which welcomes foreigners in Japanese and English. This sign assumes that foreigners are not going to speak Japanese. And if they just want to say that they speak English, then they could say just that—“English Fluent Staff” or some such equivalent.
  • As I see it, the biggest challenge for Japanese society is not the acceptance of foreigners—it’s the acceptance of the fact that many foreigners speak Japanese conversantly or even fluently, and to get over it already.

(I know that the mere mention of Debito’s name in a blog post, even in a wholly neutral way, tends to bring out enthusiastic detractors and supporters of him personally, who go off on tangents that ignore the topic at hand to talk about Debito and his activities. I challenge those who feel inclined to give us their personal opinion on how amazing/evil Debito is to focus on this topic, which is the merits and demerits of signs that explicitly welcome foreigners, and signs that explicitly welcome foreigners and assume they don’t speak Japanese, and avoid any conversation about Debito’s activities on “Japanese Only” phenomenon. Thanks.)

67 thoughts on “Foreigners Welcome?

  1. I think you should ask the staff of this studio why they’ve put this sign in the window. Would be interesting to know the reason behind it.

  2. “Are foreigners so unwelcome in establishments that such a sign is even necessary?”

    Yes, and no.

    The problem is the ambiguity. You never know when you’ll be refused or accepted. And, yes, I’ve been refused entry into restaurants before for being a foreigner and was refused repair service at a bicycle shop because I was a foreigner.

    Can you imagine signs like this in a Western country which said, “blacks accepted” or “Asians accepted”. The fact that such signs are posted is a clear indication of the relatively quiet, but real, situation with racism in Japan.

  3. I think they are just trying to advertise the fact that someone at the salon speaks English and are trying to drum up some business from the English speaking community. Yes the second line “Foreigners are welcome” is a bit off but combined with the “appointments can be made in English” it doesn’t bother me. Asking for the sign to simply read “English fluent/speaking staff” just strikes me as a bit nit picky.

    But yes yes yes and yes, Japanese need to realize that many foreigners can and do speak Japanese. And even more importantly, the ones who can’t speak as fluently as Dave Spector could be understood if the Japanese listener stopped freaking out and actually thought about what the foreigner was trying to communicate.

  4. Wow, a bicycle shop refused you? That’s stone cold.

    While I don’t think that sign is too bad, they should have stuck with the “We speak English” message but left out the “come on in foreigners” part. Sure, it’s problematic for the reasons you mention, but I can understand the hairdresser wanting practice his English skills or just exploit them to attract a specific clientele.

    Some of the taxis in Bangkok have signs that read “We (heart) farang” to mean the cab driver speaks English and will take Western passengers. Linguistically, it is the Thai equivalent of “We (heart) gaijin.” In one sense it’s just as misguided as that sign, but in Bkk there really is an issue of cab drivers refusing to serve westerners. Plus using the word “farang” limits the discussion to Western-looking foreigners (or maybe African and Middle Eastern looking etc) and not Asians from other countries.

  5. Well some businesses in the US have a ‘Se Habla Espanol’ sign (‘spanish is spoken’)

  6. I’ve gone off about this at length at Debito’s blog in a different Internet incarnation. As I thought Debito himself would agree, ethnicity or nationality isn’t relevant in commercial transactions, and to make it relevant in these cases only serves the purpose of underscoring differences where they shouldn’t exist.

    Maybe there are times, when, as a customer, I’m happy to underscore those differences—talking about “home” to enliven a conversation with bar staff (although this too, gets tired), or having a chat to the ojii-san selling me pencils about what we foreigners eat that makes us so big. However, these conversations occur spontaneously and I am in control of them. I am not necessarily singled out a priori as being extra specially welcome on the account of my being “non-Japanese”—a term which causes as many problems conceptually as it tries to solve.

    I am also a bit perplexed as to what qualifies Debito, or anyone else, for that matter, to “certify” an establishment as foreigner friendly—pieces of paper with the character 「証」 on them usually denote some kind of certification in Japan. Is there some sort of cultural sensitivity training that goes along with the 500 yen per sticker fee? Do they get a free copy of “Japanese Only” and sit an Internet test afterwards? What if I go into one of these places and I don’t feel welcome? Can I complain to debito.org as the certifying authority, and will the owners thenceforth be compelled to take the sticker down?

    And why is it that these stickers are alright, but landlords telling you that foreigners are welcome aren’t?

    I think the best solution for businesses that want to encourage multi-ethnic use of their facilities was one that was mentioned by a contributor to Debito’s blog. Just put up a sign that says “welcome” in as many languages as possible. No assumptions there, and in fact, I’ve seen many such signs before.

  7. I’ve been here in Miyazaki for 11 years now, and I have never (and I mean never) been refused entry/service anywhere (well, there was that one time I was really drunk and tried to buy smokes in a bookshop… but I digress!). In fact, I’ve traveled quite a bit in Japan and have never experienced the “no foreigners” phenomenon that I read so much about on the web. Believe me, I’d be the last guy to claim Japan is “perfect,” but it doesn’t seem particularly odd to me that there are a few Japanese who don’t like foreigners. I say this as a Canadian, where there has never been, and never will be, through to the end of history itself, a recorded case of someone not liking someone else. Unless they played for Montreal…

  8. One thing that we have to take into consideration is that, while Japan maybe advanced in the areas of technological development, there is a common consensus among westerns who reside here that society in general, is lacking far behind in the areas of socialization, emotional expression, and ways of breaking through the culturally imposed barriers of interpersonal relationships. For example, on one hand, children are taught to always be considerate of what other people are thinking and to methodically “fit in” to society. For a majority of their pre-adult lives, children are taught to think, act and perform as a part of a group. On the the other hand, once they reach university, students are required to take classes which teach them how to form and express their OWN personal opinions…..which are generally considered extremely difficult. Imagine that happening in Canada or America…...yeah right….

    Cultural reminisces of it feudal era can be found in a number of aspects of contemporary society, especially in within the overly hierarchical and bureaucratic systems “business” culture. So, what the hell am I trying to say? During periods of recent history, the average Japanese person spent years isolated from actual social interactions with “foreigners”. Foreign concepts were carefully adapted to fit the needs and goals which the times called for, and nothing else. Therefore from Japan’s moment in the international spotlight during the bubble onward, less than 30 years ago, foreigners (particularly the western, english-speaking ones) were merely tools for helping the Japanese place a sense of practicality to the methodical system which connects them to the “world”. I hate to say it, but it seems to me that “Japan” is not really ready to accept foreigners as “people”; or in other words, as an accepted part of society. You would never see a sign in Tokyo written in Japanese saying that a business accepts people who are from Osaka…. Aside from being a novelty to show off to their friends or an unwanted guest, a number of Japanese who have been isolated within the confines of “Japan” their entire lives, simply do not yet have the perspective to realize what they are really saying or doing when they try to interact with westerners…..So seeing signs like the one posted above does not surprise me at all…..

  9. The only place that I’ve been refused service is a 893 shop….
    Once they realized I spoke Japanese, they were more than happy to let me in.

    Don’t ask me why I was there

  10. I think you’re thinking about it too much; the hairdresser sign “All appointments can be made in English” is useful, although the “Foreigners are welcome” after it is superfluous. Debito’s sign (ignoring the design issues) is just as good/bad as the hairdresser sign, so I think you’re just trolling by using it in this post.

    On a tangent, when I was growing up, in my home town in the heart of the Gaelic-speaking world a campaign started having signs in shop windows, in Gaelic, saying “We speak Gaelic”.

  11. I think the whole “problem” is very exaggerated. I have never seen a Japanese only sign, and never been refused service because I’m a foreigner. Not even on the few occasions I’ve visited “Fuzoku”.

  12. @David
    Do you live in Tokyo? Most of the time, this doesn’t effect people living in the bigger cities. If your a country bumpkin, then you will probably have seen this more than big city folks.

    @Ken Y-N
    True. True. A “We speak…” is much better than saying “We accept foreigners” (etc), which has the tone of, “everywhere else doesn’t much accept you, but we do!”.

  13. I think that the “Don’t let anyone convince you that the problem isn’t spreading nationwide in Japan..” “Last revised October 2008” is telling.

  14. Come to think of it – I haven’t really had the feeling that people aren’t taking me seriously as a Japanese speaker for a long time. Not since back in the day when I just wasn’t very good. This could have to do with living in the inaka – without many foreigners, perhaps shopkeepers and the like aren’t used to getting ones that don’t speak Japanese so don’t make any assumptions. In fact, I get the opposite feeling – that because a high percentage of foreigners here speak Japanese (there are only something like 25 so I’ve done a pretty good survey) that there is more of an “all foreigners speak Japanese” feeling.

    Come to think of it, the last time that I had a bad vibe from a server was the last time that I was in Tokyo… and the last time that a Japanese started talking to me in English when I began in Japanese was at a hotel in Kyoto.

    “Unless they played for Montreal…”

    I don’t even like hockey, but I feel obligated to say “Leafs suck”.

  15. As Curzon requested:

    ‘focus on this topic, which is the merits and demerits of signs that explicitly welcome foreigners, and signs that explicitly welcome foreigners and assume they don’t speak Japanese, and avoid any conversation about Debito’s activities on “Japanese Only” phenomenon’

    Didn’t take long for that to be voided.

    I was looking forward to reading and participating in this conversation (Curzon contacted me directly). Ah well. Bye.

  16. “Didn’t take long for that to be voided.”

    Wasn’t it voided twice in the first paragraph of the post?

    As someone who wrote one post concerning the Rogue’s Gallery and one concerning the language issue generally, I don’ think that it was a good idea to start by talking about the Rogue’s Gallery, frame the issue around the Rogue’s Gallery and then say ‘no talking about the Rogue’s Gallery.’ No talking about Debito personally’ is fine, but for those of us that don’t live in Tokyo and have never seen one of these signs, I think that the issue of prevalence is very important (especially since the discussion of these signs is being framed as a discussion of Japanese society’s reactions to foreigners in general) and should be a part of any discussion as said gallery is the main source of information.

  17. I think signs indicating that English, or other foreign languages, are spoken for tourists can be useful, but aside from that I really don’t see the point – particularly as the “Japanese-only” issue is far overblown. I’ve personally never seen it anywhere, and never personally heard of it except for a) the famous onsen case, b) rental housing, c) brothels.

    “Well some businesses in the US have a ‘Se Habla Espanol’ sign (‘spanish is spoken’)”
    And that’s perfectly reasonable and useful- and nothing about it implies that other stores don’t WANT to serve Spanish speaking people, only that if they want to get efficient service without a lot of annoying hand-waving and guessing then they should go to this place that speaks Spanish instead of the one down the block that doesn’t.

  18. I agree with the idea that if you just want to say that you have English speaking staff, then saying “English is OK” and leaving it at that is the best, but I think the real issue here is Curzon’s last point:

    “the biggest challenge for Japanese society is not the acceptance of foreigners—it’s the acceptance of the fact that many foreigners speak Japanese conversantly or even fluently, and to get over it already.”

    Seriously, just get over it already. I live in the Tokyo area, and the places I have the most problem is not the “Japanese Only” places, which are few and far between and not usually places I’d frequent anyway, but places in Akasaka outside of Roppongi. I used to have to go through there for work and would stop for lunch on the way back to the office sometimes, and some of the wait staff there were a real chore to deal with. To be fair, given the location they probably get ex-pats who could barely muster a ‘konnichi-wa’ all the time, but not everyone needs English to read the menu and if they’re reading Haruki Murakami’s latest novel waiting for you and order in Japanese then it’s ok to respond in Japanese instead of broken English. I really don’t mind if they can actually speak English, but most of the time that’s not the case.

    I don’t know if this is something drilled into them by government/education or what, but too many Japanese just can’t seem to tell the difference between internationalization and English-ification, and it shows in that sign. To them, allowing foreigners is the same as speaking English, so putting one or both of those facts is synonymous.

    So yes, putting “we speak English” is sufficient and is probably more what they’re trying to say, but they simply don’t understand the reasoning in why that is.

    And you know, I’ve never really asked non-English speaking foreigners about this, but I wonder how they feel (if they feel anything) about this whole issue? Do they feel jilted or less welcome if they see writing in English without a Japanese translation? I’m guessing not.

  19. @Curzon – “Congratulations to Bryce, Ken Y-N, and M-Bone—you fail!”
    Hardly fair – you dragged He Who Shall Not be Named into the discussion, both literally and figuratively, and then criticize others for talking about him?

    お前だけに言われたないわ。

  20. @Debito – you wouldn’t have stuck around anyway, you have repeatedly said you won’t debate or discuss outside of Debito.org (or any site you don’t have moderation control over). Curzon set up parameters that he knew would fail, and that gives you an excuse to not participate. That’s all.

  21. Grasping at the chance that this might get back on track and hoping that no nast remains in the usually wonderful debate/discussion enviornment that we have going here –
    Rather than the signs, interesting points here have focused on Curzon’s last one – the issue of Japanese taking foreigners seriously as Japanese speakers. We’ve seen the possibility raised here by me and Darg that this could be a big city thing (“To be fair, given the location they probably get ex-pats who could barely muster a ‘konnichi-wa’”) – are people getting this more in Tokyo and Osaka? Have people who have been here for decades seen a decline or an increase in this type of thing?

  22. “Curzon’s last one – ”

    ...Which never ceases to amaze me. Especially the hand signals. Sheesh.

    I think I probably got less of it in rural Nagano in the early 90s than I do now in the Nagoya suburbs. Kyoto in ‘91-’92 wasn’t much different than when I visited last year, which is to say that there was a lot of it. I think Kyoto folks pretty much tend to assume everybody they don’t personally know is a tourist. At some times and some places that’s not such an unsafe assumption as I’d like it to be.

    Also, personally, I tend to dress like a typical mid-western American, middle-aged goofball on vacation because I just don’t give a damn anymore. I know this puts me at a disadvantage in many situations, but I mostly work at home and can’t be bothered to make more of an effort.

    I agree with Darg that it just has a lot to do with the individual’s previous experiences dealing with foreigners. Another factor, I think, would be what brand of wisdom their jii-chan might have dispensed over the years.

    As usual, I base these not very bold statements on absolutely nothing even remotely resembling science.

  23. The sign Curzon spotted is fine by me. As others have said, it simply advertises “English spoken here”. Rather than seeing anything sinister about “Foreigners are welcome”, I would just take it to mean the shop actively wants foreign customers. They may believe there is a commercial opportunity in Akasaka or, as tony says, the staff may want to try their English. A reasonable number of hairdressers and nail artists go overseas to work (illegally and legally) so it’s possible there’s someone there who wants to brush up their skills before a trip or maintain them after one.

  24. I think the biggest problem with the signs (either Debito’s one or the one Curzon spotted) is that they reinforce the dangerously wrong-headed notion that “foreigner = English speaker” when the VAST majority of foreigners in Japan on average know as little English as the average Japanese does, if not less. While I do believe that signs indicating English speaking staff are handy in tourist shops, the notion that being friendly to rich Western tourists (or even the Western Eikaiwa teacher making a modest but comfortable living) is in any way generally equivalent with a definition of being “friendly to foreigners” that also includes Brazilians, Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, and all of the other significant groups of foreigners living in Japan who are often the target of the REAL discrimination that ex-pat Westerners only very rarely get a small taste of.

  25. “I think Kyoto folks pretty much tend to assume everybody they don’t personally know is a tourist.”

    Yeah, I tend to think that Kyoto should be dropped from the discussion because of the huge number of tourists.

    “Also, personally, I tend to dress like a typical mid-western American, middle-aged goofball on vacation because I just don’t give a damn anymore.”

    You just described me!

    “As usual, I base these not very bold statements on absolutely nothing even remotely resembling science.”

    Let’s face it – nobody is doing phone surveys asking 2000 Japanese if they use hand signals with foreigners and why, we pretty much have to go with anecdotes here.

  26. I also question the utility of signs that exclusively promote English even for tourists, when many parts of Japan already see more tourists from Korea or China/Taiwan than from Western, much less English-speaking countries. While tourist maps and signs, or brochures at tourists spots, in Kyoto (and I assume some other parts of Japan, although I can’t recall) are already quite good at labeling things in Chinese and Korean as well, private businesses still tend to fetishise English.

  27. Re: Roy’s comment – down south, lots of the signs will be in English, Chinese, and Korean. I got the feeling that Kyoto also does Chinese and Korean pretty well – at least the tourist spots (Kiyomizudera, etc.). Places like Fukuoka and Nagasaki have an “Asian” side – mostly in a happy way.

  28. ““I think Kyoto folks pretty much tend to assume everybody they don’t personally know is a tourist.”

    Yeah, I tend to think that Kyoto should be dropped from the discussion because of the huge number of tourists.”

    I find this is only true if you happen to be in the tourist areas. If you’re more than a 10-15 minute walk from any of the major temples then things get pretty much back to “normal”, and large swaths of the city, seeing a foreigner would be kind of unexpected. In fact, in the area I’m living now-near Kyoto University, I find that people are much less surprised to see foreigners speaking Japanese, because they’re used to the large number of Japanese-speaking foreigners affiliated with the university. Of course, we’re also practically right next to Ginkakuji, so there’s also plenty of clueless tourists, so maybe it’s more like people just aren’t surprised either way.

  29. Come to think of it, the times that I have gotten the English treatment in Kyoto, I actually HAVE been a tourist.

    I like the Kyodai area and fully agree that it is almost like another city from the gaijin POV.

    Of course, the tourist areas really are different in a lot of ways – I saw a KFC in Nara honor a massive “no wings” order by a bunch of Mexican Americans, despite having posters up (in Japanese) nation wide saying the keigo version of “you don’t get to pick, eat what we give you goddamit”.

  30. “Curzon set up parameters that he knew would fail, and that gives you an excuse to not participate. That’s all.”

    Actually, I stayed well within those parameters. Curzon asked us to stay away from “any conversation about Debito’s activities on “Japanese Only” phenomenon.” I never once strayed from the issue of the “merits and demerits of signs that explicitly welcome foreigners.” I simply refered to the most prominent example of such, as Curzon himself did.

    Anyway, as to the discussion that has unfolded, Osaka has to be the worst place for Japanese people assuming you can’t speak or understand Japanese, or at least it was when I lived there. I thought Tokyo was an oasis of cosmopolitainism by comparison. But even in Osaka northern cities like Minoo or Ibaraki weren’t too bad. Again, these places are pretty close to university campuses.

  31. “And you know, I’ve never really asked non-English speaking foreigners about this, but I wonder how they feel (if they feel anything) about this whole issue? ”

    Just run into an adult video viewing-room in Yatomi,Aichi with “No Foreigners”sticker at the door a few weeks ago.Didn’t go inside and couldn’t take a look.But the area does have certain amount of Brazilian population.

  32. Having taken my meds, let me attempt to address Curzon’s points/questions:
    “Are foreigners so unwelcome in establishments that such a sign is even necessary?”
    No, not really, although I realize thei may have been a rhetorical question.

    “This is the only such sign I’ve ever seen in Tokyo. The implication is that stores without such a sign (basically all of them) do not welcome foreigners.”
    That’s a bit of a stretch, and IMHO if that is what someone thinks then they are thinking too much. Someone who sees “foreigners welcome” and thinks “Aha! So we’re not welcome in stores without such a sign!” probably has a massive chip on their shoulder and walks around thinking everyone around them is discriminating against them anyway.

    “How would you feel if … Paris had signs that said “Muslims Served”?”
    Depends – served how? Broiled, fried, baked?

    But seriously, I do see Curzon’s point. Acceptance of paying customers should be the norm at most any shop – that’s basic capitalism. If one believes that businesses should accept any customer without discriminating based on someone being or apparently being from a “different group”, it would seem highly contradictory to encourage them to have signs announcing that they “accept those from or apparently from a different group”.

    “The sign is only aimed at English-speaking foreigners. If they really felt the need to say foreigners are welcome, surely there should be a Chinese or Korean equivalent, as such speakers make up a majority of the portion of the large foreign population in Minato-ku.”
    Perhaps – but those people are more likely to speak Japanese anyway. So if you really want to say “foreigners welcome” just put it in Japanese. Curzon’s point is one I use myself, though. Native English speakers are fairly low down on the “foreigners in Japan” if you consider language. We are roundly beaten by Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese and Pilipino speakers – and there may be one or two others ahead of English speakers. So whenever I see or hear of some idiot complaining that their city hall or immigration or anyone else should have materials in English/have English speakers available at all times I just say “And why should your needs be moved to the head of the line? Learn Japanese or take responsibility and have a Japanese speaker accompany you.”

    “The sign is inherently different from the Debito-approved certificate, which welcomes foreigners in Japanese and English. This sign assumes that foreigners are not going to speak Japanese. And if they just want to say that they speak English, then they could say just that—“English Fluent Staff” or some such equivalent.”
    Basically agreed that the sign should stop after the first sentence “Appointments can be made in English” since that seems to be what they are trying to emphasize.

    “As I see it, the biggest challenge for Japanese society is not the acceptance of foreigners—it’s the acceptance of the fact that many foreigners speak Japanese conversantly or even fluently, and to get over it already.”
    Now see, this is something I run into very rarely. Granted, there are doubtless a lot of people who look at me and are not thinking “This guy can speak Japanese”. And while I have had someone go “Ai donto supiiku Ingurishu” after I already addressed them in Japanese, in 15 years it has only happened once or twice and in one of those instances the Japanese person involved clearly had other “issues” with comprehension that came into play even if they were dealing with their fellow Japanese.

    The vast majority of people I see everyday in stores or situations that require conversation do as I would expect people to do – they just start talking to me in Japanese. Once in a while they are clearly unsure if I am going to understand, but once we start talking that dissipates.

    Again, there are exceptions – there used to be a manager who worked at the McDs on Showa Dori just outside the Akihabara station who was infamous for switching into English (she was actually pretty good) and turning the counter menu to the English side as soon as a foreigner arrived at her register. I had heard about her before the first time I went there, and sure enough she did it to me as well (even bumping the girl behind the register out of the way so that I had to talk to her). I just glared at her and said “No hablo Ingles… 日本語でいいです。”

    Sadly, as had happened to a coworker who was also a fluent French speaker and tried the same trick, she just kept it up in English. Fine – look her in the eye and order: “Dame un cheeseburger doble con patatas fritas y un café de hielo, por favor.” Count to three… “だから、英語わからん。日本語でいいですか?” Got an apology, but I don’t doubt she kept right on defaulting to English as soon as she saw a foreign face. (shrug)

    That said, if I was sitting in a restaurant yakking away in English with friends at the table and the waitstaff came over and started speaking English based on the obvious and demonstrated fact that I speak it, it wouldn’t bother me at all. Nor do I necessarily mind English menus, as I don’t actually have to “read” them, I can glance over them and plan my order much faster than I can with a Japanese one which I have to “read”. As long as the Japanese is written along with the English so I know what to ask for if the dish has an unfamiliar name. I have occasionally encountered pure English menus, which are loads of fun when the staff is unable to speak English or read the menu – I mean, what’s the point of giving the customer an English menu if they aren’t going to be able to make themselves understood by at least pointing to the Japanese so the waitstaff can read it?

  33. Whatever meds you are on, LB, they must create an urgent need to type….

    In about two decades here, I have noticed a slightly greater increase in the acceptance of the idea that white people can speak Japanese. I say “slightly” as I am seldom in the main centres to check, but I have never ever had (to the best of my recollection) someone not realise I was speaking Japanese to them.

    Talking of non-English, as M-Bone has pointed out, Kyushu has a lot of Korean, and Niigata has a lot of Russian, and when I was at Tokyo Disneyland for the first time in about 15 years I noticed they are now tri-lingual, more or less: Chinese has been added to the park.

    Talking of tourists, when my family were over here in April we went to a lot of the touristy areas, but in 90% of cases the shopkeepers addressed them in Japanese first. Some did use English, but I was surprised how few. It seems the language of commerce is international. Station signs are now quadrilingual in many areas, and really, there is not a lot preventing mainland East Asians from getting around, language-wise. It’s just that English-speakers have been customers for longer – the Asians were more in labour or small-time commerce (thinking of things like Korean labourers or Chinese workers at various times, going back basically to Chinatown’s origins).

    “...probably has a massive chip on their shoulder and walks around thinking everyone around them is discriminating against them anyway.”

    Doubtless this is true. If
    Everyone did this, then we would think them quite
    Barmy. You can’t live with those levels of paranoia. At least
    I know that I cannot. To tell the
    Truth, it is far easier to sense discrimination if you are
    Often told you are being discriminated against.

  34. In addtion to that,here in Tokai area we have lots of Latino workers who no longer “lool like”Japanese,but said to be ethnically Japanese origin.People ask them in Japanese first.I was actually surprrised to find “no foreigner signs” since a Brazilian journalist made this into a legal action about a decade ago in Shizuoka and that gave a huge lesson to the local shop owners.However,sex oriented porn shops not included it seems.

    My prediction.This thread willl go 150 by wednesday.

  35. Being presented with an English menu and being spoken to in broken English actually bothered me quite a bit in my early days studying abroad in Japan, when I actually was still struggling to put together basic sentences in Japanese and thought I needed every scrap of practice that I could get. Now that I’m writing research papers and giving presentations in Japanese though I really couldn’t care less-and if someone tries to get a few sentences of English practice in I tend to let them.

  36. I actually find it annoying, as almost all the time I can communicate better in Japanese than English with them, and don’t want to fart around with broken sentences.

  37. Oh, sure it’s kind of annoying but it bothers me a lot less than it used to.

  38. I have yet to meet a white person in Asia that didn’t speak English, in Japan or anywhere else. (I’m sure they exist, though.) If you are a native English speaker, it’s easy to forget that English is part of any serious education virtually anywhere in the world, and the countries with mostly white people tend to be better educated – and the average white person in Tokyo is pretty well educated (the major exception to this might be American military, who of course know English anyway). So the assumption that white people (which is what Japanese people usually mean when they say 外人) speak English is generally correct.

    So from one perspective – whoever is running the business sees white people walking around the neighborhood, and decides “hey, I know some English, I can get some more customers if I put up a sign advertising it!” From another perspective – some white girl with slim to no Japanese, maybe she’s just here because her husband is working here temporarily – she might see the sign and think “oh, hey, I can go to this place and not struggle with the local language.”

    By standards of my home country (the US), it’s actually rude to refer to people as foreigners like is done in this sign. In fact, it’s pointless – since refusing service to foreigners is illegal, and people take the law seriously. And so this is good example of someone using the “translation model” of communication and getting the typical result – they thought about what they wanted to say, in Japanese, and then they translated it literally to English. It’s understandable on one level, but its unconventionality can remind you of precisely what the sign is not aiming at – discrimination.

  39. “In fact, it’s pointless – since refusing service to foreigners is illegal, and people take the law seriously. ”
    Ah, but only if you define “refusing service to foreigners” as someone who is stupid enough to put up a big sign saying “No foreigners”. Now, put up a sign saying “If you want service – speak English!” and you’re scott free. Or just have a sign saying “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” That’s legal too. Or become a “club” with “membership”, and refuse service to non-members. There are any number of such places in the US, and not just golf clubs. I’m talking local watering holes in towns of a couple of thousand people.

  40. @Jade: “You can’t live with those levels of paranoia. At least I know that I cannot.”
    Nor can I, but there are people who do it. People who have convinced themselves that if they take out their garbage without their Gaijin card on their person they will be pounced on by the cops, arrested, and hauled away.

    “To tell the Truth, it is far easier to sense discrimination if you are Often told you are being discriminated against.”
    Or, it is far easier to imagine discrimination if you are often told you are being discriminated against. I am not so naive as to think discrimination does not exist, and freely admit I myself discriminate from time to time (Show me someone who has never discriminated and I’ll show you a liar – its human nature). Like on trip on the Shinkansen when a devout Muslim suddenly started his evening prayers in his seat. My first thought: “He makes one fast move for that big bag he brought on and he’ll be meeting his 40 virgins without a some vital equipment.” Hey, I’d rather be wrong than dead. But I digress…

    Discrimination does exist, but there are those who were best described by someone else on another blog as being like those psychotic girlfriends we all have heard of – endlessly agonizing over the meaning behind every word said, every gesture used, picking everything apart over and over and over in search of some hidden meaning they can use as a weapon.

  41. If you are thinking about how people`s atttudes may have changed towards foreigners with regard to service and Japanese skills, you are probably using you own experience as one benchmark. If you have lived in Japan a number of years, it is likely that you are more comfortable with the language and people but another point to consider is that you have got older.

    Certainly, Japan has changed a lot over the years but you need to take into acount that people treat you differently when you are older, no matter how much of a blow it might be to your “forever young” self-image. Combine that with the fact that you might – as Roy describes – have less of a chip on your shoulder than in your younger years and it`s easy to see other ways in which the dynamic will change.

  42. LB: There’s a reason for the odd line breaks and capital letters after “Doubtless this is true.” (Here’s hoping MF shows the same for everyone). What I wrote there, while more or less true, was largely to get the snide result I wanted.

    And how could a muslim pray on a train? He’d have to shift position every time the train went around a bend….

  43. @Jade – perhaps the Mullahs have provided an exemption for those who are riding on mass transport, the individual in question never left his seat although he did bow at the waist and raise his hands to his face as you see Muslims doing in mosques. He also seemed to choose a seat right at the front so he’d have a bit more room to genuflect without banging a seat in front of him, so I guess he was trying to be considerate. To be honest, though, the thought that went through my mind is he was positioned right next to one of only two ways out of the car….

    @Mulboyne – agreed (sigh). ;-) I have noticed that often those who complain the loudest about “discrimination” are those who have come to Japan fresh out of college and who are as a result largely lacking “real world” experience. They are also often those who would not have experienced discrimination in their home cultures (i.e. white males from the US/UK/Oz). So they spent the first 18 years of their life at home, living with their parents and going to school and largely blithely unaware of how the world works (completely understandable, by the way – one of a parent’s primary jobs is to protect their children from some of life’s harsh realities until they are old enough to deal with them). Then they go off to college, another semi-sheltered environment and one in which most people of that age are more interested in seeing what they can get away with now that their parents aren’t watching them than they are in the Big Issues in their society. And from my own experience in college, a lot of them are idealists – like most of us at that age they are full of a completely baseless confidence in the infallibility of their knowledge of “how things should be” which is matched only by an equal absence of any real knowledge of how things actually are, and why.

    Now, if they stayed in their home culture they would, as they turned into true adults, be tempered by exposure to the realities of their own society. I suppose in a way it is a form of culture shock/acclimatization, but since it is the individual’s own culture and society we usually just call it “growing up”. But if you take these people and immediately dump them into a completely foreign environment you start having problems. Culture shock gets worse because in effect they are getting a “double dose” – exposure to a foreign culture and simultaneous exposure to the way the world really works. Some people unfortunately never seem to get past this – 10, 15 or 20 years on they are still railing about how “things like this would never happen back home!” despite the fact they have never lived “back home” in decades, and their entire perception of how things are “back home” is based on hazy memories of how they as a child viewed things and not a clear adult picture of how things actually are.

  44. “Japan has changed a lot over the years but you need to take into acount that people treat you differently when you are older, no matter how much of a blow it might be to your “forever young” self-image. ”

    True.But I also feel there are many who feel being “betrayed” by Japan when they get older….

  45. LB: You make some good points. I actually came to Japan right before university (well, after one year of it) and am a white male from an upper middle class background. I used to think that, for example, Japanese immigration was onerous and punishing, an impression fuelled by the frequent reports in my hometown media about overstayers getting breaks or being allowed in on the most tenuous of excuses, coupled with a very real and rapid rise in the number of resident aliens. However after hearing from friends, both white and Asian, how many hassles they have had getting visas (or not, as the case may be), I have revised my opinions quite some way. Perhaps I am lucky as I spent my formative years in Japan before the Internet became so big, and was able to mature in my own way, by meeting each situation as it came on its own merits.

    One things I have found interesting as a parallel to the sites based in Japan that do that is sites by people who have emigrated to my home country, and have nothing but negative things to say about it. It has its flaws, but it is not remotely as bas as they make it out to be. So by contrasting these sorts of sites for your onw home country and ones in Japan, you can better understand the extremism of them. And it shows that there are always jerks who complain about anything. And what I hate about the ones in Japan that do it is the climate of persecution and fear that they do their level best to engender while cloaking themselves in righteousness.

  46. Fear of Japanese (language) seems to be especially prevalent amongst the monolingual ex-pat community with regards to hair stylists.

    Many people who can’t speak Japanese are afraid to go to Japanese barbers/hairstylists because they’re afraid that their inability to communicate in the language of the land will result in a bad trim—or at worst, a bowl cut.

    A sign welcoming English outside of health care, hair stylists, or tourist districts would be more interesting.

    I think this sign reveals more about foreigners fearing the use of Japanese for service rather than Japanese fearing foreigners as the default mode of business.

  47. “Fear of Japanese (language) seems to be especially prevalent amongst the monolingual ex-pat community with regards to hair stylists…I think this sign reveals more about foreigners fearing the use of Japanese for service rather than Japanese fearing foreigners as the default mode of business.”

    Bullshit. Monolingual ex-pats have no problem at finding palaces to go in Tokyo.

  48. Some ranting about English from three years ago.

    For the record, I don’t particularly care about the sign that Curzon spotted. It’s innocuous enough. I agree that “foreigners welcome” is a bad thing to have in one’s window, but the point here clearly seems to be to show that the shop has English-speaking staff. (Whereas the point of Debito’s sign seems to be to advertise his web site. Oops, there I went.)

  49. Joe! There was a fine run there for a while!

    “Many people who can’t speak Japanese are afraid to go to Japanese barbers/hairstylists because they’re afraid that their inability to communicate in the language of the land will result in a bad trim—or at worst, a bowl cut.”

    Well, that can’t be true. How many foreigners walk around with long hair and massive ‘fros? They must learn to have their hair cut somewhere after the first couple of months. Are they really too scared to buy a copy of GQ, and walk into the salon while stabbing their finger at a picture of a model saying, “I want a haircut like this guy”?

    And often language skills aren’t necessary even when you don’t have a magazine. Often when I went to the barbers, the guy would simply say “sho-to katto?” and I would nod and reply “un!” That was the extent of the conversation.

  50. I think that was referring to the Nishi-Azabu/Hiroo crowd who go to special expat barbers. These are also the folks who believe that Japanese hair products will destroy their honky hair.

  51. I just got harassed by a homeless guy who wanted to practice his English. There’s only 3 homeless people in this city and I’ve been harassed by two of them.

  52. Here is an interesting counter-example. I was in a Japanese cafe north of DC with my significant other yesterday. I picked up a copy of that day’s Asahi that was in the cafe (a satellite service, subscriptions are mad expensive, apparently) and start flicking through the paper. The waitress, without batting an eyelid asks my SO, who is very white (as am I), what she wanted to drink in Japanese. My SO had to explain that she couldn’t speak the language. They must get a lot of Japanese-speaking non-Japanese in.

    They were also showing Japanese variety shows on their TV featuring a hell of a lot of Kusanagi Tsuyoshi. Has he been rehabilitated and resurrected to public life? I ask because I wasn’t I sure if the programs in the cafe were on DVD or whether they were showing live broadcasts.

  53. “These are also the folks who believe that Japanese hair products will destroy their honky hair.”

    Joe I take it you don’t get your hair coloured, straightened or permed then. Individual variations aside there are differences in hair from different ethnic groups with Asian being the strongest, African the most fragile and European somewhere in the middle. Anytime someone is chemically altering your hair – you do want him/her to be familiar with your type of hair. In India – I did get to see a few colleagues who had a disasterous encounter with the local hair stylists – where the treatments that worked fine on indian hair turned their hair orange.

  54. “Has he been rehabilitated and resurrected to public life?”

    He is 95% back. The other 5% will come when he stars in another film. Mabye he can be Dessler in Yamato.

  55. “Joe I take it you don’t get your hair coloured, straightened or permed then.”

    I don’t, but I refer to a different issue. There are many who believe that Japanese shampoo, conditioner, gel, mousse or hair wax will kill their hair.

  56. A note on the sign: remember that this sign is in Akasaka – one of the major havens for monolingual expats in Tokyo. While all the points made about Japanese attitudes may apply, what happens in Akasaka is not necessarily relevant to the rest of the country. This is closer to the barber shops outside the dorms for Disneyland actors than the ones in Aomori.

    Personally, I love it when Japanese people can speak passable English but HATE it when they insist on speaking awful English. It is a fine line.

    The people who insist often give me attitude for being able to speak Japanese. This is rare but it happens, especially with people known as “Eigoya” i.e. people whose livelihoods or reputations depend primarily on their English abilities. If I am talking to such people in Japanese, there tends to come a moment where I stumble on a word. At that point the Eigoya there will give me a “gotcha” look and start talking to me in English, as if it were some kind of contest.

    A note on Kyoto – The foreign tourism situation is one way to measure change in Japan that removes the bias of personal perspective.

    Kyoto is a lot more tourist-filled than it used to be. The number of foreign tourists to Kyoto (who stayed in hotels) has more than tripled since 1988. That is just under the 3.5-fold increase for all of Japan over the same period.

    http://www.kankokeizai.com/image/top/080913_08.pdf

    http://www2.ttcn.ne.jp/honkawa/6900.html

    Japanese hair products – Recently I have been OBSESSED with finding out what kind of hair tonic makes ojisan salarymen smell as bad as they do. It mixes with the sweat and grease to create something truly foul. Anyone got an idea?

  57. It can be comforting to see that your language is spoken when you enter a place like a barbershop. In the states, if staff happens to speak more than one language it gets advertised in the window, i.e., “Se Habla Espanol.” Of course, a sign like that differentiates between foreigners, unlike the sign you pointed out. “Foreigners Welcome” is meant to be a nice thing – i don’t think the fact that it is written in English is meant to suggest that foreigners can’t speak Japanese, but more to prove that they themselves can speak English. However, it lumps all foreigners together into one English-speaking whole. That’s the part that always annoys me.

    Still, baby steps in progress, ne?

  58. @Adamu: Years ago I asked my wife about that omnipresent oyaji-hair-tonic smell, and she said it was “Mandam” – which, AFAIK, is a line of hair care products; which single tonic with which oyaji here douse themselves remains a mystery.

  59. Thanks for that, catoneinutica.

    I asked the same question on Twitter and received two competing theories:

    1) The Durf theory: It’s アラミス cologne, “quite popular among the aging サラリーマン set” which can be found here:
    http://beautyfactory.jp/hinban/FR0022548004913.html

    Not sure what that smell like yet, so no way of knowing if that’s the same smell.

    2) The fukumimi theory: It’s ポマード, a hair grease used by badasses to create the bosozoku リーゼント style. Says fukumimi: “the smell is likely oxidized vegetable oils in the ポマード , especially with dubious hygiene prevalent amongst tired salaryman types”

    Pics of ポマード in action:

    http://images.google.co.jp/images?sourceid=navclient&hl=ja&rlz=1T4ADBR_jaJP227JP227&q=%E3%83%9D%E3%83%9E%E3%83%BC%E3%83%89&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wi

    So far, I am leaning toward the fukumimi theory because it’s definitely coming from the heads of older men with greased hair. But your Mandom contribution is well-appreciated, and I WILL get to the bottom of this.

    http://www.mandom.co.jp/products/search/cgi/index.cgi?mode=product&no=10763&from=search&brand=マンダム&category=&sex=&keyword=&tmpset=&listStart=

  60. Wow. When you get all of the evidence together, give it to me and I will write it up as a parody academic article called “Salaryman Stank – Hermeneutics, Hegemony, Hair Tonic”.

  61. I cannot remember the name, but I bought a bottle of some green hear liquid (at least the bottle was green) that was that smell, assuming the smell you mean is the same one I remember from my commutes. It was cheap, which would be why it is popular.

  62. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090727a5.html

    Apparently there’s already an official government program to certify hotels as bilingual with English, which is being expanded to include Chinese and Korean. It seems like the ministry of tourism will also do random checks to see if bilingual staff are really present.

    “Under the new system, hotels with Chinese and Korean-speaking employees will be newly registered, and hotels will be asked to inform customers which languages their staff can speak, the sources said.”

    This makes a lot more sense to me than Debito’s sign, as it’s focused purely on language and not being “foreigner friendly.” You can assume that places that go out of their way to offer foreign language services ARE foreigner friendly, but there’s also no implication that Japanese language-only places are UN-friendly, just ill-equipped.

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