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RACIAL PROFILING AT TOYOKO INN, HIROSAKI, AOMORI PREF: AGAIN
WHAT I DID ABOUT IT; BOYCOTT RECOMMENDED UNTIL THEY FOLLOW THE LAW
By Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan (firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.debito.org)
December 2, 2007, freely forwardable
SUMMARY: Toyoko Inn (http://www.toyoko-inn.com), a high-profile nationwide chain of hotels in Japan, have a clear policy of racial profiling at their hotels. They illegally demanded a passport from the author on the basis of his race alone on November 30, 2007, reflecting their history of even illegally threatening to refuse accommodation to NJ residents unless they provide Gaijin Cards at check-in. This systematic harassment of NJ clientele is unnecessary and unlawful, especially in the face of hotels increasingly refusing all foreigners accommodation across “Yokoso” Japan. Toyoko Inn’s continuing refusal to abide by the laws, despite advisements from NJ customers in the past, forces this author to conclude that NJ residents and international Japanese citizens, not to mention supporters of human rights in Japan, should take their business to hotels other than Toyoko Inn–until the chain at the national level agrees in writing to improve their services.
I went down to Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture last weekend for a December 1 speech at Hirosaki Gakuin University (sponsored by Professor Todd Jay Leonard) on racial discrimination in Japan (download Powerpoint presentation in Japanese at http://www.debito.org/arudounewpresentationj.ppt). After a six-hour train ride from Sapporo, I was met by my hosts at 11PM AT Hirosaki Station, who accompanied me to the neighboring Toyoko Inn (#164 O-aza Ekimae 1-1-1, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori-ken, Ph 0172-31-2045) where they had made my reservation.
At the counter, a clerk (a Ms. Ishi-oka) gave me a check-in slip. After filling out my name in Kanji, and just before I was to write out my Japanese address in Japanese, the clerk said, “May I see your passport?”
Todd and his friends looked to each other, sighed, and said to themselves, “Oh boy. Here we go…”
BEING GIVEN THE THIRD DEGREE, BEYOND THE PALE
The conversation between the clerk and me proceeded something like this:
ME: Why do you need my passport?
CLERK: It’s required by hotel policy and by Japanese law.
ME: Let me see the laws.
CLERK: (producing a countertop stand with the text of the hotel request for passports in English, Korean, and Chinese) Japanese law requires that all foreigners at check in–
(see the letter of the law yourself–and download it–at http://www.debito.org/whattodoif.html#refusedhotel)
ME: Is there a Japanese version? (She pointed to the Japanese she had been reading from on the back of the stand.) Right, so as you can see here, it requires passports from people “without addresses in Japan”. I have an address in Japan, but you asked me before I even had a chance to write it.
CLERK: We have a policy of asking all foreigners for identification at check-in.
ME: That’s illegal. You can only ask tourists for ID. Or can’t you read the law in Japanese here? Also, how do you even know I am a foreigner?
CLERK: Because you wrote your name in Katakana–
ME: (displaying the check-in slip) I wrote my name in Kanji. Can’t you see?
CLERK: (taking a closer look and uttering a demurrer)
ME: I am a Japanese citizen. I do not have to show you a passport or any other form of ID.
CLERK: Do you have a driver licence to prove that?
ME: Do you require driver licences from other Japanese at check-in?
CLERK: It’s just that we have a policy of asking for identification from foreigners.
ME: Clearly I am not getting through to you. Call your manager.
CLERK: Our manager is not here at the moment.
ME: Then get him or her on the phone. You are racially profiling me. This is racial discrimination and a violation of Japanese laws. Give me your full name, please, and the name of your manager.
CLERK: (running behind a partition) Please wait a minute.
My friends and I then sat down in a connected anteroom for a glass of water and an animated discussion of the proceedings for about five minutes, before the clerk shouted down the hall that she had an answer for me.
CLERK: Our manager is too busy to come to the phone right now.
ME: Okay, then I’m not too busy to contact your headquarters (honsha), to tell them that your manager refused to discuss a serious issue of customer relations with a customer. Your full name please and your manager’s full name, please.
CLERK: (running behind a partition) Please wait a minute.
A few minutes later I was on the phone with a Ms. Obara, the assistant manager of this hotel. She opened with the standard apologies. I said she should hear me out before apologizing. The issues were: 1) deciding whether or not a customer was a foreigner or not solely based on face, therefore race, 2) enforcing a law, which applied only to tourists, upon all people deemed “foreign”, 3) enforcing a nonexistent law requiring proof of Japaneseness even after said customer says that he is Japanese. This was customer harassment on the basis of racial profiling, and done to an egregious and unprecedented degree in my experience at any hotel in Japan.
And given that Toyoko Inns in Sapporo have illegally required passport/Gaijin Card for reservations from NJ residents of Japan (in violation of the Hotel Management Law, Article 5, which does not permit refusals of customers on this basis), this chain’s systematic policy of targeting foreigners or foreign-looking people as suspicious is unnecessary and illegal.
Not to mention the fact, of course, that the clerk personally tried to shirk her duty of connecting a customer to the manager. This was irresponsibility that should not be allowed to pass without complaint.
Ms Obara indicated she understood the issue and apologized for the poor training of her employee. She said she’d like to see me face-to-face the next day for a personal apology. I said I would be out all day the next day, arriving late back from a house party at Todd’s after my speech, but would leave my meishi with keitai number at the counter should she wish to arrange a time for meeting. She said, no matter, she would wait until I got in. Then I went back to the anteroom for another hour of water and jawing with Todd and company over what had just happened.
Said they, “This has never happened to any of us before at a hotel in Japan. Why does this keep happening to you?” they said. “Never mind, we got to see Debito in action…”
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BOYCOTT RECOMMENDED UNTIL THEY FOLLOW THE LAW
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Okay, then I’m not too busy to contact your headquarters (honsha), to tell them that your manager refused to discuss a serious issue of customer relations with a customer. Your full name please and your manager’s full name, please.
This strategy works universally it seems.
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