Sunday, December 14, 2014

No Foreigners! - not the usual welcome from Japan

I love Japan and I choose to be guest in this country. 2020 will see the Olympics held in Tokyo, the most international of sporting events. There is nothing that compares to it except possibly the World Cup to introduce somewhere new to the world. And yesterday was not its finest hour. As my friend and I walked into a small restaurant saying "futari desu" (table for two please) we were greeted by the manager with the phrase "no foreigners" (ironically in English). Somewhat stunned we left.

When I arrived in Japan some twenty years ago this type of response was rare but not unheard of. Taxis would occasionally drive straight past me and car parks would have signs saying "no foreign cars". But today? This was a throw back to the Jurassic era (and ask a dinosaur how that went). This is not the welcome Japan normally extends but sadly is a cliche somewhat believed by the many who have not had the opportunity to visit.

Japan is a warm and welcoming country despite the best efforts of a vocal minority to portray it as a xenophobic nation. The vast majority of people have always been thoughtful, kind and friendly to me but with an Olympics comes a responsibility. During World Cup in 2002 some police forces (in)famously ordered extra-large size handcuffs for foreigners and distributed training videos to bars on how to deal with the "hooligans" who were about to arrive. Let's see if it can do better this time around. Tokyo, over to you. 

No foreigners - dinosaurs still live...

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