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Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009

Have your say: Back to the baths

Following are a selection of responses to Paul de Vries' "Back to the baths: Otaru revisited" (Zeit Gist, Dec. 2).

Unsound rationale

Using Mr. De Vries' rationale, it would be OK to ban Japanese school kids from Italian monuments because of their propensity for graffiti or from duty-free shops because some shoplift. Even worse, the same rationale would allow the banning of not only Japanese, but also all those who have an Asian face or even look Japanese.

Foreigners in Japan are regularly denied housing based on the premise that they do not know how to take their shoes off in a Japanese home. Should it then be OK to ban Japanese (or those that look Japanese) from Western housing or hotel rooms because some do not know how to use Western toilets and might stand on the seats?

The Japanese hotels solved this problem not by banning Japanese from modern rooms, but by putting instructions on the toilets on how to use them. They did not hold a whole group accountable for the actions of a few in that case just because those few were Japanese, and rail companies did not ban men from whole train lines because of a few perverts. They merely created an limited and safe option for women without infringing at all on the rights of Japanese men. I can't see the women-only cars as being at all comparable to the banning of those who look foreign from using a public facility.

The fact remains that discrimination is illegal in Japan and it is rightly up to the brave few to have the Japanese government enforce its own laws.

JOHN SELLER, Honolulu

Racial homogeny no solution

I found your article interesting, especially as an attorney who will be moving to Japan this summer, but clearly misguided on a number of points and really supporting ideals that further cement the notion that the Japanese are just racists who hate everyone who is not like them. Hopefully your upcoming book will not be about how racial homogeny is really the best course of action for any nation wishing to compete on a global scale — although I seemed to detect a hint of that toward the end of your essay.

The first of two key points I took issue with was the fact that you seem to support the idea of the "onsen" banning individuals who "don't look Japanese." That means that the policy was not being applied evenly to foreigners as there are many other Asian races whose people can be easily mistaken for being Japanese. Since the key plaintiff in this case was a naturalized Japanese citizen, these practices really are just racial discrimination. He was Japanese for all intents and purposes even if he doesn't look like 98 percent of the population. He was being discriminated against based on his skin color, not because of some group identity.

The onsen could have easily made rules that addressed the issues they were having with the Russian sailors, much like what other onsen do with the yakuza (no one with tattoos allowed): make barriers of entry based on non-racial or non-ethnic traits. They could have banned people who appeared intoxicated or unruly, or kicked those sailors out for violating the regulations of the facility.

Also, the implication that foreigners — just because most al-Qaida members are foreigners — should just accept the application of group accountability that allows them to be treated as potential terrorists or people to be fearful of is a tad over the top. Maybe Japanese shouldn't allow any foreigners on their soil, if that is the case, and return to the "good old days" before Perry's warships made them open up to the rest of the world.

DANA JOHNSON Evanston, Ill.

Lessons from Little Rock

In the case of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to integrate the segregated public schools in the '50s, black children had to be protected by the National Guard in order to enter Arkansas schools. Will the police accompany the foreigners to these "no foreigners allowed" onsen?

Your article led me to read Hannah Arendt's "Reflections on Little Rock" again and consider her support of the right to free association in the social realm. I found that her distinctions between what is political (all men are equal), what binds a social group (to feel the same), and what belongs to the private life (each human being is unique) apply to the onsen issue.

JEAN-ANTOINE ENRILE, Paris



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