Monday, May 4, 2015

Tokyo Sushi Joint Owner Tells Foreigners To "Fish Off"

And He Has No Reservations About It

"So what can I get for you to - Hey! How did you gaijin get in here?!"
With everyone caught up in the racial tension exploding all over the streets of Baltimore many seem to have missed what is going on across the globe in Japan. While people share videos and trade commentary on rioting and looting and an empty baseball stadium there's barely been a whisper about the injustices happening right in the heart of the ritziest section of Tokyo.

According to this article in the Japan Times there's some guy with a sharp knife and fingers that reek of tuna refusing to play nice with certain non-Japanese people. His heinous crime? Maintaining a policy of not accepting reservations by foreign would-be patrons of his fancy-schmancy sushi bar.

All hell broke loose recently when a Chinese man, who has been a resident of Japan for 30 years, was unable to snag a dinner reservation at Sushi Mizutani because his name wasn't Japanese, even though he had his Japanese secretary call and make the reservation. Mizutani-san offers the simple explanation that “Non-Japanese customers may not show up for their reservations.” Apparently his Japanese customers always do.

But let's set aside this powderkeg for a second and highlight a couple other bits.

First off, one of the few people who work at high-dollar, small-scale Mizutani says “We have an increasing number of cases in which people are abandoning their reservations.” We the readers are left to fill in the blanks and assume the abandoners are all non-Japanese. This person goes on to say that "Japanese-speaking customers are called for reconfirmation a few days before their reservation." From the choice of words one of three things, or maybe all of three things, would logically follow:

1. Non-Japanese are not called for reconfirmation.
2. Everyone is called for reconfirmation because only Japanese are able to make reservations.
3. At Sushi Mizutani "Japanese-speaking" is synonymous with "Japanese".

Or maybe the whole thing has come about because no one at Sushi M. speaks anything but Japanese.

So why was a 30-year resident of Japan given the Heismann, even with his Japanese (speaking) assistant making the call? Check this line:

"The number of foreign tourists coming to Japan has rocketed in recent years as the value of the yen has fallen and as tensions have eased between Beijing and Tokyo."

Time for more logic games:

1. More foreigners to Japan means more foreigners trying to make reservations at Su-Mizu.
2. The foreign tourists coming to Japan are coming from China. Otherwise why mention Beijing?
3. The reservation-abandoners are all Chinese.

Okay to be precise none of these follow pure logic. It's all pretty much circumstantial evidence of the crime - kind of like the guy in the article getting the stiff-arm is Chinese. More than mere coincidence, methinks.

Over the years I've had more than a few students who were from China. For the most part they were great, engaging, energetic people. I despise China the political entity. I like the Chinese people I meet. Most of them anyway, just as I like most of the people I meet from any other country. And in my travels I've met a lot.

But I've also been on airplanes with large groups of Chinese people. As a group their behavior was annoying at best though abhorrent is probably a better term. I've seen them in crowds in various countries, in Asia and in Europe. They tend to stand that undisciplined little brat in the restaurant who won't shut the f**k up and sit down. Sorry to offend anyone who would rather turn a blind politically-correct eye but like I said, the Chinese people I've met I've liked. A lot. The groups I've come in contact with, on the other hand, remind me of this fun look at Chinese tourists in action.

Mizutani-san waits for a no-show party-of-8 "for the last effing time."
Now look, before you start whining and calling me an ignorant racist (the correct term would be enlightened prejudicial ass by the way) let me tell you about a guy I used to know.

He held a full-time university job - but not the kind with a decent paycheck so he drove a taxi on the side. And he always told his black customers to pay him before he took them where they wanted to go. Because he was a prejudicial ass? No, because he'd been screwed too many times, and always by black people. These were his own words. And by the way, he was black.

Was his practice a commentary on all black people? No, it was just how he chose to do business. He got called some colorful names (no pun intended). He lost a bunch of customers. He also stopped getting shafted.

Think Mr. Mizutani simply hates the idea of foreigners (ahem, Chinese people) in his sushi shop? For no tangible reason? No, he hates the trend of foreigners (ahem) bailing on their reservations. He hates losing money to people who can ask for something but can't hold up their end. How to end the trend? By cutting off the trendsetters.

As for this latest guy who got the palm: what if had every intention to honor his reservation?

This is Tokyo for Christ's sake, sushi ain't too hard to come by.

But really, what's the big deal if someone bails on their dinner reservation?

Good question. Except this isn't the Olive Garden we're talking about, there aren't hordes of hungry middle-class families hovering over the hostess stand waiting to be called so they can go try the new (and microwaved) Fettuccine Festa Plate. Sushi Mizutani has a grand total of eight seats. Dinner starts at around $200 a pop. Jackie Chang and his buddies don't show up and Mr. Mizu is out several hundred bucks. Plus he's got some of the best sashimi on the planet turning into dollar-a-plate sushi train material back there in the kitchen.

Eight seats. $200 or more for dinner. This isn't the kind of place people just decide on a whim to go

Mizutani's first name, Hachiro, means 'Eighth Son'.
Growing up, brothers 1-7 rarely left him more
than dinner scraps. This may help explain things.
to and then when they roll through the front door write their last name on a piece of paper with how many in their party and whether they want smoking or non-smoking. This is a place where you either make a reservation weeks in advance or you go somewhere else.

Comments at the end of the article suggest taking deposits by credit card. Great. 50% down on dinner. The guy is still out $100 minimum for each no-show, with the sashimi already bought and no one hanging out at the hostess stand that doesn't exist. Commenters cry about discrimination and racism and Waah waah waah take their Michelin stars away! Whatever. You run your business how you see fit, this guy has no obligation to cater to your ideas of justice.

If his stance does eventually bite him in the ass then that is just the price of his business philosophy at work.

Bottom line, this Mizutani character is just watching his bottom line.

And if he also has a distaste for Chinese people, or Americans or Zimbabweans and doesn't want them in his place, so what? If I owned a fancy-schmancy sushi joint I would have a firm policy of not allowing in anyone named Lindsey Lohan. Discriminatory? Maybe. But not without reason. And if it's my place then I get to decide on the reasons.

Lindsey can go eat somewhere else.

NOTE: This 'Tiny Urban Kitchen' blog post from January 2012 lends an interesting inside look at Sushi Mizutani. It may or may not alter your opinion on the matter though the blog author (an American of Taiwanese descent who DID eat there by the way) gives a much clearer picture of the nature of the place than the scribbler of this article manages to