Debito Arudo, a naturalized Japanese hailing originally from The States, is a well-known civil rights activist in Japan. In 2002 he decided to sue a hot spring business for refusing him entry on the basis of his appearance, and the city of Otaru for failing to pass laws that would make such practices illegal. The story is an intriguing one, tied to a wider discourse on Japan's slowly-dawning awareness of its heterogeneous nature, and the nascent call for fair and equal treatment from minority and marginalised groups in Japanese society. Arudo is a vocal and tireless campaigner, somewhat polemical in the style of Michael Moore, who shows vision and sensitivity in the way he raises important issues and keeps them in the public gaze. The tale of the Otaru Hot Springs case is one no foreigner living long-term in Japan can ignore, and should be common knowledge to all Japan-interested commentators worldwide.
While the book is a valuable documenting of the case, the format is regrettably turgid. Arudo seems driven to record all minutiae of the event in print. As such we are subjected to detailed exchanges from online mailing lists, telephone calls related as if verbatim, and newspaper reports providing information read on the previous page but in a different setting. Use of paraphrase, rigid editing, and a third party telling the story in detached narrative would make this tale much more compelling. A personal feud with Tony Laszlo, petty and bizarre as all such feuds are, is presented in mind-numbing detail. It should have been relayed as a paragraph, or one page at most. Quite simply, the 407 pages could be cut to half without losing any of the emotional or social resonance of the tale.
As off-putting as the length and format is, once started the book is fairly easy to skim through without missing out on the facts. The story is interesting enough to overcome the format. Arudo also deserves the recognition and income that your purchase of the book will provide, for his pioneering, indeed brave, stance in an apathetic and often hostile environment.
I have no doubt this tale will be re-told at some point in more attractive prose. For the moment, Japanese Only is the record by default, and therefore should not be missed.