Exclusive Japan bar sues website for unwanted publicity

TOKYO (AFP) - An exclusive Japanese bar is suing a foodie website, arguing that unwanted publicity from a review is damaging its operational strategy of being little-known and hard to find, reports said on Thursday.

The bar in the western city of Osaka, which was not named in reports, has asked the wildly popular Tabelog website to take down a client review and photos of the establishment.

But the operators of the site, which claims to have around 53 million users a month, refused the request, arguing that the review is covered by the right to freedom of expression, the Asahi Shimbun and the Nikkei business daily said.

The bar, which threw open its nondescript doors in 2010, has no sign outside saying what it is or what it does. It requires known customers and their guests to ring a doorbell and ask staff to unlock an iron door from inside.

"It was a way to differentiate the establishment. Our stagecraft as a secret hideaway was designed to appeal to visitors' imaginations," the bar operators told the Osaka District Court in a hearing Wednesday, according to the Asahi.

The Tabelog information "took away the elements of surprise and fun and undermined our operational strategy", they said, demanding the website take down the post and asking for 3.3 million yen (S$40,958) in damages, the Asahi reported.

The review, alongside pictures of the bar, was posted in 2012. Its operators noticed it last summer and asked Tabelog to take it down, according to local press.

Tabelog claims to be the premier restaurant review website in Japan. A New York version launched in March last year.

Users write reviews of places they have eaten which others can use as a guide for finding the right spot.

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