Sign was up since at least a year ago.

Outside an izakaya (Japanese pub) in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa Prefecture, a notice had been posted the management. At the top was an illustration of a cute cheerful samurai, bowing deeply as in greeting, but the words below were decidedly less welcoming.

The first line of the notice, written in Japanese, translates to “Because our staff can only speak Japanese,” which is repeated immediately below in English. After that, though, the notice continued in English only, declaring:

Japanese Only (sorry)
We don’t allow customers from overseas to enter our bar.

▼ A photo of the notice

Bars with Japanese-customers-only policies aren’t unheard of in Japan, but they’re becoming increasingly uncommon in the modern age. Moreover, when you do come across such establishments, they’re generally dedicated bars, with menus almost entirely consisting of drinks, and often the presence of hostesses or “floor lady” pseudo-hostesses. Izakaya, on the other hand, are essentially restaurants, where customers are expected to order both food and drinks, and it’s competitively rarer for them to have such exclusionary admission policies.

According to local newspaper Okinawa Times, the notice had been posted since at least a year ago, during which the management has turned away non-Japanese would-be customers. Eventually the sign came to the attention of two members of a Naha residents group that reported it to various government departments, including the Naha City Tourism Division and Okinawa Convention Bureau. This prompted a visit by members of the Tourism Division in August of this year in which they asked the owner to take the sign down, especially in light of increasing numbers of overseas travelers visiting Okinawa following the lifting of pandemic protocols, but the owner refused to do so.

The owner claims that the notice wasn’t meant to be taken as discriminatory intent, saying “We only have one person working the dining hall, and one person in the kitchen, so we don’t have time to spare for customer interaction. We have no intent of discriminating.” Coupled with the sign’s disclaimer that the staff only speaks Japanese, that would seem to indicate that the aim of the no-customers-from-overseas rule was to eliminate time-consuming communication problems, but if that’s really the case, the more appropriate policy would have been “Customers must order in Japanese.” It’s pretty short-sighted to make a blanket assumption that all non-Japanese diners will be unable to speak Japanese, given that the number of people living outside Japan who’ve still acquired some basic proficiency with the language is higher than it’s ever been, as is the number of non-ethnically Japanese residents of Japan, most of whom can order food and drinks in the language without difficulty. Even if the owner’s concern was foreign customers asking for changes in how their food is prepared, something far more common at restaurants outside Japan than within it, a sign saying “No menu substitutions allowed” would be sufficient and succinct.

With the sign getting increased attention, the owner has apparently rethought the Tourism Division’s request to remove it, and at some point in September it was taken down, with the owner saying “The writing was incorrect.”

▼ When in doubt, blame the translator, eh?

However, he also added “What I want the government to do isn’t to try to attract travelers from other countries, but to teach people about izakaya culture.” But if what he really wants is a broader understanding of izakaya drinking and dining traditions, presumably on a global scale (since Japanese people are already familiar with those traditions), it’s hard to see how turning people away because they’re not Japanese was going to accomplish that.

Source: Okinawa Times
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso
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