Sign refusing Japanese customers at Calgary karaoke bar prompts outrage

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

It was supposedly a drunken prank but in the age of the Internet and amid the high-stakes brinkmanship between Japan and China over some disputed islands, it's become something else.

A Calgary karaoke bar is getting heat after a sign appeared telling Japanese patrons they weren't welcome.

Lips KTV and Club is under fire over the message in Chinese characters that read: "Diaoyu Islands belong to China. Temporarily not serving Japanese people."

It refers to the flareup of a longstanding dispute been the two Asian powerhouses over some tiny islands (called Diaoyu by the Chinese and Senkaku by the Japanese) in the East China Sea that both countries claim. The seas surrounding the rocky islands are rich fishing areas and the seabed holds potential untapped energy reserves.

Tensions have escalated in recent weeks with large anti-Japanese demonstrations in major Chinese cities, confrontations on and around the islands themselves and tough talk from both governments.

The dispute has spilled over into Canada, where last week about 70 members of Ottawa's Chinese community held a demonstration outside of the Japanese embassy, the Ottawa Citizen reported.

[ Related: China to use drones to monitor disputed islands ]

The notice written on a message board at the Calgary karaoke club entrance was there only briefly, apparently, but long enough for someone to take a picture and post it on Reddit under the heading "Racisim in Calgary."

"This is racism and discrimination," Thomas, a first-time patron who took the shot but didn't want his last name published, told the Calgary Herald. "To see something happen like this in Calgary is completely wrong."

After a spasm of social network outrage, the club apologized on its Facebook page.

"Please take our excuse for being careless," it said.

Ken Oishi, former president of the Calgary Japanese Community Association, said such incidents of discrimination against Japanese in Canada have been rare since the end of the Second World War.

"It's the owner's loss. If they don't admit certain customers, it's their loss because the patrons will go elsewhere," Oishi told the Herald.

Ken Lee, president of the Calgary Chinese Merchants Association, said this is the first he's heard that the island dispute has surfaced in Calgary.

"It's a hard topic in Asia. I'm surprised to hear that they have a sign like that, especially from a business point of view," Lee told the Herald. "I don't think it's appropriate."

Lee worries about the impact of such a sign on tourists.

"We want to show them Calgary is a very diverse, multicultural place," he said.

As the media began asking questions, a manager at Lips owned up posting the sign. The woman, who did not want to be identified, told the Herald she wrote it as a joke while singing, off duty, with some Japanese customers.

She claimed she was drunk when she wrote put the message on the notice board but forgot to erase it.

"We are so sorry about that. This is an accident," she said. "I didn't mean it."

The club, she said, would never turn anyone away based on ethnicity.

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