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.
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:
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.)