Akio Arima runs a ramen restaurant on Ishigakijima, one of the most beautiful islands in Okinawa Prefecture. Ordinarily, his restaurant, called Yaeyama Style, should be packed with summer travelers, but on a recent day the 42-year-old Arima only served noodles to two diners, and that was the total for both the lunch and dinner “crowds.”
But it’s not that customers don’t want to eat at Yaeyama Style. Arima himself is turning them away.
Since July 1, would-be customers walking up to the restaurant entrance have been greeted by a notice, written on a bright yellow background to make sure everyone notices it, which reads:
“To Japanese customers,
Japanese tourists’ manners have been becoming progressively worse year by year, and so we will not be allowing Japanese customers to dine at our restaurant until after September.
We will only be accepting overseas customers, and we apologize to local Japanese and customers who have eaten here every year, and also ask for their cooperation.
We are currently thinking to resume regular service from October.”
Ishigakijima is a popular tourist destination for both foreign and domestic travelers, and while Arima apparently has no problem with the former, it’s his fellow countrymen who’ve gotten under the ramen chef’s skin, at least the ones who’re vacationing in Okinawa. So what are his specific grievances?
Well, like a lot of ramen joints, Yaeyama Style is a small restaurant, with less than a dozen seats. With seating space so scarce, the restaurant asks that each person in the customer’s party order a bowl of ramen. But even though Arima has put up signs announcing that requirement, he still gets Japanese customers who insist that they’re going to split a single bowl between two people, as well as those who bring in outside food and drink to consume inside the restaurant, and also coming in with babies and toddlers, both of which the restaurant does not allow (and, once again, has written notices explaining the rules).
Staff have cautioned customers who break the rules, but that sometimes results in the customers responding with outrage and anger, and mercilessly enough that Arima says he’s had part-timers quit from the stress, and so he’s now running the restaurant entirely by himself.
In contrast, Arima says he’s had no major problems with foreign customers, many of whom come to Ishigakijima as part of cruises from Hong Kong or Taiwan, and so he’s happy to keep serving them through the summer, which is traditionally the restaurant’s busiest time. “Japanese people think ‘The customer is God,’” laments Arima. “Many people are aggravated by the poor manners of [Japanese] tourists, so I think my actions are justified.”
As mentioned above, turning away each and every prospective Japanese customer has had a marked effect on Arima’s revenue. “I don’t have any customers. Yesterday, only two came. And as I expected, a lot of people have complained to me about the new rule. It’s tough from an economic standpoint, but I’m going to stick with it for now, and take some time to relax and clean the restaurant.”
However, Arima himself seems to perhaps be reevaluating his plan, as while he’s only had problems with Japanese customers, that doesn’t mean all of his Japanese customers have caused problems. He’s now thinking of allowing Japanese customers to dine at Yaeyama Style on a membership basis, under which he’d continue to serve Japanese customers who’ve registered with the restaurant and he feels can be trusted to follow proper customer etiquette. What the exact requirements for such a privilege would be, however, as well as whether members would be allowed to eat at Yaeyama Style during the summer or would still have to wait until October to get their noodle fix, are unclear, though, so for now it’s only foreigners who Arima is willing to serve.
Sources: Yahoo! Japan News/J Cast News, The Yaeyama Mainichi, Yahoo! Japan News/Okinawa Times via Jin