Michelin restaurant in Ginza refuses reservations by foreigners

Chinese journalist Mo Bangfu finds the policy of Sushi Mizutani to be 'discriminatory'

Sushi Mizutani
Sushi Mizutani (r.gnavi.co.jp)

On April 8, the secretary for Chinese journalist Mo Bangfu telephoned Sushi Mizutani, a 10-seat restaurant located in Tokyo’s ritzy Ginza district, to make a reservation for four people.

The reservation was on behalf of Bangfu, who was hosting three guests from the Communist nation. The secretary, a Japanese female, was told that seats were available on the requested day.

However, once the course of conversation revealed that the party would in fact consist of foreigners she was informed that the restaurant has a policy of refusing reservations from non-Japanese.

Mo, a 30-year resident of Japan, then telephoned the restaurant himself and received the same information. “It was disappointing,” Mo told evening tabloid Nikkan Gendai (April 26).

With Sushi Mizutani having received a two-star ranking in the “Michelin Guide Tokyo 2015,” the paper finds the policy disturbing as Japan is continuing a push to attract more visitors from overseas.

In a phone conversation with the head of the restaurant, whose typical meals runs around 20,000 yen, Nikkan Gendai learns that issue involves problems that occurred in the past.

“In order to preserve the atmosphere of the restaurant, we try to maintain that the total number of guests are split between Japanese and foreigners,” says the representative. “Since we’ve had foreigners make reservations and not show up and other problems, we only take reservations through a hotel concierge or (through a service provided by) a credit card company.”

Mo’s status as a permanent resident is irrelevant, according to Sushi Mizutani.

“Whether one is a tourist or not cannot be determined over the phone,” the representative says. “So this is an across-the-board policy.”

The appeal of Japanese cuisine has been one factor in the recent rise in travelers from overseas coming to Japan. Earlier this month, the Japan National Tourism Organization said that the 1,526,000 tourist arrivals for March set a record.

That record will likely fall again soon. For the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, the government expects 25 million foreigners to arrive in Japan. By comparison, last year the figure stood at 13 million.

Perhaps ironically, Mo works as a tourism adviser for Yamanashi and Kagawa prefectures. He finds the behavior of Sushi Mizutani baffling, though he does have some sympathies regarding problems that may have taken place in the past.

“However, I, a permanent resident, find the conscious separation of foreigners and Japanese to be discriminatory,” he says.

The matter is not just a problem just for Sushi Mizutani, the journalist continues.

“For the betterment of the entire image of Japan for visitors, conscious change may be necessary,” he says. (K.N.)

Source: “Sabetsu? Yoyaku kyohi sa reta gaikoku hito ga ikidoru mishuran sushi-ten no taio,” Nikkan Gendai (April 26)

Note: Brief extracts from Japanese vernacular media in the public domain that appear here were translated and summarized under the principle of “fair use.” Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy of the translations. However, we are not responsible for the veracity of their contents. The activities of individuals described herein should not be construed as “typical” behavior of Japanese people nor reflect the intention to portray the country in a negative manner. Our sole aim is to provide examples of various types of reading matter enjoyed by Japanese.

Comment On This Article

24 Responses to "Michelin restaurant in Ginza refuses reservations by foreigners"

  1. Bobby 道勢 (@TeaTownCowboy)   April 27, 2015 at 3:42 am

    This baffles me…..guess they’ve got all the business they need but it’s just not good business.

  2. bob   April 27, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    ok this is Japan.. yes Japanese do discriminate,, and when a head of a sushi master says no .. its no.. thats the Japanese way of eating sushi. he is the boss and he chooses who can eat. If we dont like it too bad.. If you want to take the restaurant to court go ahead.. The act of suing not a Japanese style anyway.. and if we change that by its western way of thinking it does not become Japan anymore. You expect and want Japan to be on the world level. But Japan is Japan.. When you change it .. its New Japan. not authentic.

    • ファクトリアル ジョン   April 27, 2015 at 9:43 pm

      bobs a big fan of racism, going so far as to describe it as essential to being japanese.

    • Shaun   April 28, 2015 at 1:55 pm

      Such a paper-thin argument. Would this be OK anywhere else in the world? What if Per Se in New York stopped taking reservations from long-term foreign residents because of a couple of “misunderstandings”. “Oh, you just can’t distinguish the good ones from the bad ones, so we just banned all of them. We don’t want to disturb the harmony of the whiteness.” I don’t think Japanese people would be too impressed if they were excluded from a famous restaurant elsewhere in the world either, particularly if they lived in that country for 20 years and spoke the language fluently.

  3. Kato-san   April 27, 2015 at 11:29 pm

    He should’ve just made a reservation at Sushi Saito, which is SO MUCH BETTER. And he’s a very modest, friendly fella who speaks a little bit of English. Mizutani was definitely not worth 20,000yen. Not even close.

  4. Not Bob   April 28, 2015 at 12:23 am

    Wow bob – that’s a great attitude you have. I’m going to try it on my wife when she tells me to lose weight or to stop beating neighborhood dogs with a baseball bat. “Sorry Honey, if I did that I wouldn’t be authentic me anymore. I’d be New Me, and that’s no good.”

  5. Vince   April 28, 2015 at 10:56 am

    I feel it is very common issue in Japan, though the main problem with this one is, it should not be in Michelin Guide if it has “across the board” policy of not accepting non-Japanese (foreigners? of what race?).

    Had same issue with Heinchinrou in Yokohama where we had made prior reservation 10 days before and received confirmation. On the day of reservation where we arrived on time, the guy at the front desk just sent us away saying no such reservation etcetc.

  6. Matt   April 29, 2015 at 10:53 am

    This restaurants policy doesn’t seem all that unreasonable. They don’t care if you are foreign per se but have had to implement rules due to some bad experiences to help ensure attendance to bookings. I see this as more of a case of some bad visitors ruining it (or at least making it harder) for us all. On the other hand, I am not well travelled around Japan but there are restaurants down around Yokosuka that have small signs at the door that say “No Westerners”. I just assumed that many Japanese people were racist enough that this was considered necessary. I also accepted that every country is different and was just glad I was only visiting.

  7. Tina   May 12, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    My husband and I went there last year. We are (more or less) American, and we were seated (if I remember correctly), next to a Brazilian couple. Our reservations were made by our hotel concierge 2 or 3 months in advance. Mr. Mizutani has quite a severe aura to him, but I don’t think he discriminated against me or my white husband.

  8. Kay   May 13, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    There were a reason why Mizutani has started rejecting a booking directly from foreigners. This is because some wealthy arrogant Chinese travellers book their restaurant and cancel it 5 mins before they supposed to show up. It may be fine in some other country or other restaurant but they only have 10 seats in Ginza district where rent would be so expensive. It’s not like they hate foreigners or being racist towards them, but they just try to protect their business. When my friends visited Tokyo and ate at Mizutani, they had excellent experience as well.

  9. Hanna   June 8, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    It is NOT racism. It is NOT a problem of the language. It is because some foreigners, who do not know what real Sushi is, often cancel the reservation just before the booking time. Sushi cannot be preserved in a fridge, the life of real nice Sushi is really short. A Sushi restaurant with a limited number of seats turns out losing all ingredients, money and time to prepare them, and other customers who wanted to make a reservation at the time. Such a restaurant will end up being bankrupted by such rule-breaking people without an action. And the owner is not such a harsh person.

    Reservation is like a promise between customers and a restaurant. After years of struggling with such foreign customers breaking the promise, it is reasonable to have a strategy to keep running the restaurant. Actually, they accept any customer and serve incredible Sushi when the customer keep the promise.

    I also have similar experience. It is sad and disappointing. But we have to think about our own behavior and the background before criticizing others action.

    • evianonly   June 9, 2015 at 3:47 am

      Guess what, Hanna.
      You’re prejudice, if you assume that any group of people is more likely to cancel early.

      And you’re wrong about sushi, BTW.
      All expensive sushi you eat WAS not only refrigerated but was also frozen. Blue fin tuna, the most expensive sushi is ALWAYS frozen. Please don’t comment in MY language. Please use Japanese because your grasp of the English language makes you appear extremely ignorant.

      • Keisuke   June 9, 2015 at 10:08 am

        My Australia friends have visited Mizutani last year and they had best experience of their stay in Tokyo. Their booking was made by hotel concierge and they had no problem with that. I have booked another sushi restaurant for my western friends in Azabu area where they don’t understand much of English but they were fine with me booking for them and just leave my number. It’s not that they refuse all westerners or be racist, they are just trying to protect their business from bad customers which are mainly from bad experiences. Every culture is different and maybe they can cancel the booking in last minutes or not even showing up but it doesn’t happen often in japan and you gotta respect the culture and the way they operate the business there.

        • evianonly   June 9, 2015 at 1:41 pm

          You’re not giving foreigners the OPPORTUNITY to “respect the culture” if you don’t let them in to your restaurant, Keisuke.

          FYI: A lot of Japanese are completely clueless about how prejudice they really are. I am very fluent in Japanese and understand and respect its culture very well but was still treated poorly by surprisingly large number of undereducated Japanese. To deny that racism in your country exists, is to be completely ignorant to reality.

          Read this article and have a look at this related video made by Nikkei, Miki Dezaki, for reference:
          http://kuow.org/post/how-japanese-american-burst-japans-bubble-racism

          • aussierules   June 9, 2015 at 3:56 pm

            物事を点でしか捉えられない人が物事を面で(even立体というべきかな)で捉え発言している人の意図するところを理解するのは困難でしょうね。より多くの人たちに読ませる・見させるために作られたあえて誇張してある正しいとは言い切れない情報をあたかも事実真実かのように捉えてしまう人もいる残念な現実。

  10. Hanna   June 10, 2015 at 2:48 am

    1) Ingredients are, of course, frozen. However, once they were prepared for Sushi, they cannot be frozen again. It lose the taste. Imagine the owner unfreezes the fish for the expecting customers, and some did not show up. The unfrozen fish can no longer be served another day, especially at a Michelin restaurant. I partially agree a certain opinion, but correctly, “the ingredient of the most expensive sushi is ALWAYS frozen”. Not Sushi itself.

    2) If he were very fluent in Japanese for real, why didn’t he cross-check the article of Japanese version? This article is too unfair. The author didn’t mention how frequent they cancel the reservation and how much it affects the restaurant.

    3) If those without prefect fluency of English should not express their opinions in English, the idea is exactly discrimination.

  11. evianonly   June 14, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    If “he?” Do you mean me? You’re asking why I don’t crosscheck other reports? Take a guess. If they’re written by Japanese, then they’re taken from Japanese point of view and will be entirely biased perspectives from an already close-minded community of people … To be frank, as they’re not (and you’re not) gaijin and I’m not interested in their lack of understanding of what it means to be gaijin (or even what it means to be referred to as “gaijin” [which is especially weird when Japanese living in the U.S. still refer to Americans as gaijin but that just goes to further prove how poorly educated they are]). Also, I haven’t lived in Japan for 5 years and thus I really don’t care all that much anymore.

  12. evianonly   June 14, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    ところでさ、
    僕の日本語能力を確かめたかったらどうぞ。
    外人より

    • 大川周明   June 16, 2015 at 1:55 am

      知ったかぶり屋の「外人」様へ
      ソーシャル・ジャスティス・ウォリヤーを日本に導入する?
      人気者にならないよ。日本文化知っておけ。
      Miki Dezakiはただのバカ。尊敬したら負け。
      ところで、俳句は普通に五七五。
      異人拝

  13. Zaki   December 28, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    I think the main point is that many high-end restaurants in Japan have experienced a problem where foreigners don’t turn up. These restaurants tend to have very few seats and prepare their expensive ingredients specifically based on the number of guests arriving. They need more financial security. This is exactly why most of them only accept reservations for foreigners through hotel concierges. I have done this several times with no problem. You just have to sign an agreement form with the hotel so they can deduct your card for the restaurant in case of no-show.

  14. Concierge   March 12, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    If people didnt keep cancelling reservations it wouldnt be an issue. As a concierge I have been asked to book the major sushi places all the time and 9 times out of 10 foreigners or at least Americans have no regard for the reservation and dont show up at all. Then they complain like crazy about the fee that is charged because they didnt show up until it gets removed. They are spoiled brats and I wouldnt let them dine either. I understand when we make 100 reservations a month and 80 of them are no shows. If you owned a restaurant you would be pissed too and you would want to figure out a way to stop it. Maybe instead of being so judging and self righteous your should put yourself in their shoes