Ise Shrine, Racism, and Reporting

The former president of Akafuku, a traditional Japanese confectioner that sells its goods in the Okage Yokochō shopping area adjacent to Ise Shrine, apparently doesn’t seem to want foreigners coming around the place. According to this article, Hamada Masutane stated at a November 26 forum held in the city of Tsu: 

“I don’t want to see foreigners coming into Okage Yokochō. It’d be strange to see them there, don’t you think? I’m aware that we can’t come out and say ‘don’t come here,’ but we shouldn’t be posting signs in English and the like to make things more welcoming for them.” 

When interviewed by the Mainichi Shimbun and asked to clarify his remarks, he said: 

“Ise is the spiritual homeland of the Japanese people, and I want to make it a place pleasing to the people of Japan—this is what I was saying. It wasn’t discrimination against foreigners.” 

Hamada headed Akafuku until October 2007, when he stepped down as chairman following a food labeling scandal. (In local media reports soon after that he was quoted as saying that this was a temporary state of affairs: that he intended to keep his grip on power behind the scenes, set up lots of subsidiaries, and make his way back to the top office eventually.) He’s now president of a smaller company affiliated with Akafuku, and he has given the post of “special worshipper”—the 特別奉拝者 (tokubetsu hōhaisha) invited by the shrine authorities to take part in the Shikinen Sengū ceremony held every 20 years—to his son Noriyasu, currently president of Akafuku. 

So far the Western media coverage of Hamada’s statement has been kicked off by Martin Fackler’s tweet here:


He got the “no foreigners” part right, but it wasn’t the shrine that said it, and dogs don’t appear anywhere in the story he links to. But maybe 33% accuracy is the best we can ask for from him. 

The best we can ask for from Hamada, meanwhile, is to just go away already. It was his idea to build Okage Yokochō in the first place, and under his direction Akafuku invested some ¥14 billion to purchase the land and set up the shopping area in 1993, just in time for the last Shikinen Sengū event. (I’m assuming it was not under his direction that the company prepared an English-language website for all us non-Japanese folks.) The guy seems to see all this as a reason for him to offer iffy input on how the district should be managed today. Let’s hope the district ignores him and continues welcoming all visitors to one of the country’s most important shrines.