Facing Racism in Your Own Country

A ramen shop in Ishigakijima, Okinawa, run by a Japanese owner has a notice outside its shop that reads, “No Japanese.”

This is an oversimplified translation of the actual notice but that’s what the notice reads. The owner, in spite of being Japanese, doesn’t want to serve Japanese people. In fact, he even took it to the extent to make it such that the menu is only in English and Mandarin. No Japanese menu is available.

When interviewed, the owner said that the reason for his decision was due to the poor mannerisms displayed by Japanese tourists.

Some of these tourists bring outside food and drinks in to consume despite being told not to do so. Others leave trash behind on the tables when they leave the eatery. As the shop is only big enough for eight customers at any one time, turnover rate is very important. However, in spite of the notice to request all customers to order something, some of these Japanese customers go in with their friends but do not order anything.

Obviously, this created a lot of unhappy Japanese people who called in to complain. But the owner says that the behavior of foreign tourists are getting better and better while Japanese people are behaving worse. While he understands that not everyone is like that, it was a decision he arrived at after considering what was best for his shop.

I find this issue a very difficult one. While both Dirty Shoes and I have discussed about how we do not think not renting out your house to someone of a certain nationality isn’t considered racism, this seems a little different. Home rental isn’t exactly a service line but ramen shop is in the service line and rejecting people based on specific nationality does feel like racism. It’s a little like how black people weren’t allowed to visit certain establishments in the past by virtue of their skin colour.

I can see how this can be a huge issue if instead of “No Japanese,” the shop’s sign reads, “No foreigners” as with the Urawa Red Diamonds’ scandal when fans put up signs that says “Japanese only.”

Because this wasn’t announced on news as racism, it made me rethink what exactly racism is. At the end of the day, I guess it boils down to how one person is made to feel and the fact that Japanese people don’t see this as racism probably means that racism is only felt when discrimination is done by someone of a different race.

Perhaps, it’s inevitable that certain actions be deemed racism when we set out to get rid of false positives. Like the ramen shop owner, he doesn’t have the time to vet whether each Japanese customer is a nice person or go handle each one depending on how they behave. Since many of them behave unacceptably, the most productive way to handle it is to stop them from entering altogether.

When grouped differently, the owner might notice that only tourists in their 20s behave poorly and use a notice to ban all customers under 30 years old. Or that Japanese people with coloured hair behave poorly and ban them. But unfortunately, we don’t all have big data to make the most efficient decision, so more often than not, we end up classifying people based on what we have been taught and what is the most obvious to us: nationality, gender, race.

In this light, I think it’s possible to reduce racist behavior but I find it highly unlikely to be eliminated entirely.


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