Friday, April 23, 2010

Adventures in homophobia - Japanese Edition

Yes, my blogging has been light recently - chalk it up to marking season. And this post isn't even about Canadian politics. It's about my upcoming trip to Japan, and how I sometimes forget how good we gays have it in Canada. I recently had a rather shocking experience involving a hotel booking in Tokyo, which demonstrates that homophobia is alive and well, and running hotel management in some Japanese companies.

Based on the recommendations of Lonely Planet, back on March 8, we booked a 5 night stay at the Sutton Place Hotel Ueno, a business hotel in downtown Tokyo. We booked a room with a double bed, described on the hotel website as suitable for 1-2 people. On the online form, we indicated that 2 males would be sharing the room. So far, so good. We thought we were set for accommodations during one of the busiest travel seasons in Japan (Golden Week, which features 4 national holidays in the span of 7 days).

Two days ago, I received a reconfirmation email from the hotel. In this email, they indicated that the room I had booked was:"not for 2 male guests. Suitable for couples or 2 females only. We recommend you to change it to a twin bed room or 2 single bed rooms. Your cooperation and understanding is sincerely appreciated." By this point, all of the hotel's twin rooms were booked, so we were being asked to book a second room - and to sleep apart while on vacation!

Thinking perhaps that this was the hotel's way of trying to avoid our discomfort, I replied that we were, in fact, a married couple, and used to sharing a bed. The hotel replied with the exact same reply. Apparently married couples, or two "lady travelers" (or two lesbians, as my sister chortled with glee) can share a bed in this hotel, but not two gay men (or two straight men trying to save on accommodations in a rather expensive city).

We booked another hotel room, at a place which explicitly replied to my query that they had no trouble with us sharing a bed. I sent an angry cancellation message to the Sutton Place, indicating my anger both at their no-room-sharing policy and at their appalling customer service, which left us high and dry less than a week before we were scheduled to arrive. The epilogue to this story is that 24 hours after sending the cancellation message, the hotel sent me an email indicating that they would make an exception to their rule because of the poor customer service (although standing by their basic policy). We have decided to stick with the other hotel, which treated us well, rather than spend an awkward 5 nights at a hotel that didn't want us.

The irony of all of this is that Lonely Planet touted the fact that, apart from Thailand, Japan is one of the best places to visit for gay travelers, since there are no laws against homosexuality. Meanwhile, on a trip to Malaysia four years ago, where homosexuality is actually illegal, we had no trouble staying in rooms with only one bed in two separate hotels. Cultural norms, it would seem, are just as powerful as formal laws, at least at some hotel chains.

I would encourage all of my lesbian readers to visit the Sutton Place Ueno, since they seem to have no trouble with two females sharing a bed. I recognize that this is because the hotel managers likely have no conception of independent female sexuality - but I like the idea of this homophobic hotel being made into a covert lesbian love den. Not that I'm feeling vindictive or anything...

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At 10:31 am, Blogger Rev.Paperboy said...

Actually Matt, Japan is pretty gay friendly for the most part. I have several gay friends here and have lived here for a decade - I think what you encountered was more a case of stupid Japanese bureaucratic inflexibility and dogged determination to stick to the policy (likely written 30 or 40 years ago when the hotel chain was founded) no matter what.

At any rate - shoot me an email and maybe we can meet up while you are here in Tokyo.

At 10:41 am, Blogger Matt said...

@RP - I'm pretty optimistic that the rest of the trip will be fine, and I'm really looking forward to it. My partner is 1/4 Japanese, and we've been wanting to go for years. It was just a very unpleasant start to a long-anticipated vacation, and one where the initial inflexibility was startling. The wording and tone of the final email we received indicated that this policy is unlikely to change, and I've since read that other hotels in the chain (including the Cityhotel Lornstar in Shinjuku, which I understand is the "gay district") maintain the same policy.

At 12:00 pm, Blogger Roaring girl said...

Yikes! Homophobia and irrational hate-making policy is alive and well across the globe! I say stand strong and proud and enjoy your trip!

At 5:15 am, Anonymous Rachel S said...

Fi and I have been remarkably sheltered so far. We recently went to a Welsh B&B (attending a wedding) and at the door received a very awkward look from the proprietoress who said " know it's a double bed. I hope there hasn't been a mistake" And we said, "Yes, that's what we want" and she said "Oh good, it's only because I haven't made up the two singles!"

That's just a shit start to your holiday -- I hope the rest is amazingly fun :)


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