Japanese Izakaya: “We don’t allow customers overseas to enter our bar”, so Why?

"Japanese Language Only"
"Because our staff can only speak Japanese. We don’t allow customers overseas to enter our bar"...

In February 2024, Japan witnessed a significant surge in tourism, with a record-breaking 2,788,000 visitors reported by the Japan Tourism Promotion Agency (JNTO). Leading the influx were travelers from South Korea, totaling over 818,000, followed closely by visitors from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Notably, the United States emerged as the top English-speaking country, ranking fifth and contributing 148,700 tourists to Japan’s tourism statistics.

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The increase in tourist arrivals is generally viewed positively, often prompting countries to implement supportive policies for the tourism sector’s growth. However, Japan faces challenges post-epidemic due to returning tourists, leading to various issues, such as restaurants displaying signs declining foreign patrons.

Things need to know about Japan to make your travel easier

An Izakaya in Naha City, Okinawa, recently gained attention for displaying a sign that read:

This sign sparked concerns, and a local activist group raised the issue with the city authorities. Subsequently, the restaurant removed the sign and clarified that their intention was not discriminatory. The owner explained that due to limited staff—a single chef and server—they are not equipped to serve non-Japanese-speaking customers.

This issue also surfaced on social media platform X, with users sharing images of similar notices from a restaurant in Teramachi, Kyoto.

The notice mentioned the staff’s proficiency only in Japanese and advised non-Japanese speakers to reconsider dining at the other restaurant.

The reactions to this news varied. While some individuals felt offended, others saw no problem. They argued that the sign merely indicated the staff’s language limitations and did not intend to turn customers away. Foreign customers with some knowledge of Japanese were still welcome.

To ensure a welcoming environment for foreign tourists, especially those unfamiliar with Japanese, businesses should consider including English translations or using easy-to-understand illustrations. Additionally, when hiring service staff, it’s crucial to assess their English proficiency. However, this poses challenges for small businesses, such as family-run stores.