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.
An important book that belongs in the curriculum of courses on Civil Rights2013/5/6
Debito Arudou's tenth anniversary edition of "Japanese Only" is a book that belongs in the curriculum of courses on Civil Rights. Though Japanese racial discrimination is not as well known as the history of racism in the US or Europe, it is just as prevalent - if not more so.
In this updated version of his book, Arudou tells the story of a lawsuit he and some friends engineered against hot springs in Otaru, Hokkaido that refused entry to foreigners and the "foreign-looking." He meticulously documents court transcripts, emails, conversations and news stories. Though it is a disturbing story, I believe it is uplifting in the end - because we see that someone has the courage, tenacity and intelligence to take on injustice and make a mark, even though he doesn't completely win in the courts. (His case against the city of Otaru, Hokkaido went all the way to the Supreme Court of Japan.)
We see the many difficulties he dealt with in his pursuit of justice, such as infighting among those of his activist group, hate mail and even one letter to him that states, "WE WILL KILL YOUR KIDS." These are things that would have made many give up the fight. Arudou, however, seems to have been mentally prepared for all this, and prevails in the end, I think, by simply telling his story.
That being said, Japan still has a long way to go before it truly embraces the foreigners and the foreign-looking (Arudou is a naturalized Japanese citizen, but a Caucasian), and he articulates this sad state of affairs within a new conclusion at the end of the book.
I salute Arudou for writing this important work and for paving the way for those who wish to partake of the good things Japan has to offer, including the Japanese custom of bathing in hot springs. I believe you will see that we owe him a debt of gratitude for his activism after you have finished the 2013 edition of "Japanese Only."