May we all be happy
May we all be healthy
Aida Makoto is one of the most well-known modern artists in Japan today. However, the prevalence of grotesque and erotic themes in Aida’s work overshadow some of his political and social messages. Some of his pieces might be considered child pornography in the United States.
According to the Mori Arts Museum, “while projecting modern Japanese society, he simultaneously draws heavily on traditional artworks and modes of expression. It is also true, however, that surveying Aida’s oeuvre, that very ambiguity starts to resemble a miniature version of Japanese society. This exhibition, Aida Makoto’s first solo museum show, will reveal the artist in all his chaotic glory, via around 100 works – including new offerings – covering the two decades since his arrival on the international art scene.”
Lykke Lafaye, art fan and frequent twitterer, was kind enough to contribute her review of the exhibition. She was over 18 at the time of the review.*
If you feel an affinity with both nationalism and anarchism, then Aida Makoto’s exhibition in the famous Roppongi Mori-Art Museum is your go-to of the year. The artist, who it seems is like a prepubescent trapped in an adults’ body, expresses his twisted world vision –whether it be war, suicide or the recent nuclear dilemma in Japan in several mediums: drawings, installments, objects. Whilst some of his work poses nothing other than seemingly meaningless mind-disturbers reminding much of its guests of the famous Ghibli movies, other pieces display Aida’s strong view on political issues. Having profound interests in JK’s (an acronym for “Joshi-Kousei (女子高生)”, meaning high school girls) or perhaps even to those younger, Aida himself switches character from adult to child when creating certain pieces. His obsession with either working on art with minors in it, or working on art as a minor, casts an interesting mindset over all of the exhibition. One minute you feel as if you have accidentally walked into an apartment of a man with perverted interests, the next minute you feel as though you are visiting a kiddy exhibition at your local primary school. Whilst being concerned with Aida’s coherence when producing these works, the subtle fascination–not only of amusement but also of admiration and repulsion–cannot be ignored when looking at the faces of the museum’s visitors. Their reactions become a part of the art.
After all, this is not an exhibition for the right-minded, nor is it suited for the “weak-stomached”. Be prepared to be grossed out, as well as amazed, upon your visit to this twisted abyss of modern Japanese art.
*WARNING: (also from the Mori Arts Museum) This exhibition contains works with provocative and sexually explicit content. These works reflect diverse aspects of contemporary society in Japan. However, please be warned if you find subject matter of this nature disturbing. The sexually explicit works are displayed in especially designated room and these are marked as being suitable for 18 years old or older only.
Dear Gentle Reader,
All of us at Japan Subculture Research Center would like to thank you for your reading the articles posted here this last year, your contributions, and your comments. Here are some of the articles we thought were the most amusing, edifying, or just fun, grouped together in general order. We had some outstanding outside contributions which made for some excellent reading–and to those contributors thank you as well. Whether you’re interested in Japanese culture or pop-culture, Japan’s nuclear problems, or yakuza and the Japanese underworld—there’s something for everyone. Enjoy!
Just For Fun
The most read piece we posted last year. And the one we put the least amount of effort into.
Love: Japan style.
Hello Kitty is an international refugee?
The most painful article ever.
A great piece by Mr. Noah-sama, a contributor to the blog. The best of Japanese life.
What could be better? Manju and Green Tea? I think not.
How are we feeling today? A little paranoid, perhaps. Maybe not.
The Fallout from 3/11 and Japan’s nuclear industry
A tribute to one man who will not go quietly.
We hope someone in the Japanese government is paying attention.
History not only repeats itself, sometimes it predicts the future. A long essay on Japan’s nuclear industry by Professor Jeff Kingston worth reading.
The protest movement is heard. The follow up is here on The Daily Beast. Nuclear Power Protests In Japan Are Finally Heard.
The Underworld and The Yakuza
I know–total self-promotion. What else do you think pays the costs of running this labor of love? Book sales, some donations, and whatever else I can scrounge up. All that aside, I’m hoping this will be a good read with a moral to the tale. All good stories have something to teach.
Those Southern Yakuza are pretty ornery!
When I wrote about this in 2011, it was a taboo. Not anymore. Sometimes even the bad guys do good things.
Pictures and words
It’s not easy being a yakuza chief these days.
Live and learn. Sometimes we die and learn.
Published posthumously. Michiel Brandt, rest in peace.
Even Yakuza have kids and sometimes try to be good fathers.
Japanese Culture and Cultural Events from 2012
The beauty of April in Japan.
“Ijime” bullying is a part of the culture. Unfortunately.
Halloween in Japan–in the traditional sense.
Do we have to wait another 173 years? There are some great photos here.
Journalism In Japan (and the world)
Why we are reluctant to use the names of our sources in Japan–and for good reason.
Do you want to be an investigative journalist in Japan? You’ll need a good lawyer. Increasingly, litigation is used to shut up voices of dissent.
The HuffPost and Google News have started to turn the business into a con game–the con being that “exposure” will get you a real job as a journalist. Better think twice on that. If journalism is your calling, you may need to have a second job.
Yes, Ray Bradbury was a novelist but sometimes people can say greater truths in fiction than they can in an essay. I was sad to see him go and this is my small essay on what I find inspiring in his best novel, as a journalist, and as a father.
If you’re looking for something to do on this lovely X-mas day in Japan, you still have a chance to catch the fascinating Tokyo University Of the Arts Doctoral Program Final Exhibition at the University Art Museum in Ueno. And because it’s Christmas, admission is free.
(Well, actually admission has been free since it opened on the 16th, but I figured more people would go if they thought they were getting a bargain.)
I’m not an art critic nor do I know much about art, but I do know some artists–mostly through the introductions of journalist friends with better taste and broader areas of interest than myself. So please pardon me if my musings on this exhibition are mundane or way off. I’m a journalist not an artist.
Because I had previously met, Beatriz Inglessis, the artist who’s current exhibition “The Educational” is still running today, I went to see it last week before leaving Japan. She was kind enough to walk me through the exhibit but before explaining anything she asked me to walk through and tell her what I saw, without offering me any guidance.
And so I did. Because I see everything as an investigation rather than an interaction, I approached it more like a crime scene than an art exhibition. And I was surprised to find that I felt oddly at home. What’s more, I didn’t do so bad on the impromptu pop quiz afterwords. I’d give myself a B+. (Even in Art, I always think there’s a right answer. This is the nature of a newspaper reporter–everything is in black or white. Sometimes grey but that’s usually just because of laziness.)
“The Educational” is a series of paper-cut outs on major themes as seen through medical science and through educational forums. As the son of a coroner, I could see the art in the science behind the works and appreciate it. Ms. Inglessis added another level of interpretation to the artwork by taking it outside of the workshop and placing them in related environments, which she then photographed. The digital slide show which forms part of the exhibit is a moving microcosmic look at some aspects of Japanese society and security that are enthralling.
It opens with “Transportation”, a crossword puzzle on airport security seemingly designed for the few TSA employees that can actually read. What was highlighted and not highlighted was of interest to me.
“Primal Scene” was pink female figure on a makeshift operating table.
“Primal Scene: Cabinet Panoramic” was based on an MRI (magnetic resonance image) of a couple having sex. I recognized it from having seen a similar photo essay a few weeks back in the the weekly magazine Shukan Post. Although, I’d have to say the penis proportions were a little out of whack. But then again, it is art.
My favorite object of art was “Flight, Flee, Freeze.” Those are the three primary reactions we have to fear. There are objects of fear such as a spider and the other pieces show the neurological and physiological processes involved in dealing with a threat. The Japanese catalog misspelled the title as “Flight, Free, Freeze.” Darn those tricky “l”s. But it did make me stop to think that perhaps we do have four choices when facing our fears. We can fight the source, flee them, freeze and be overcome by them, or perhaps we can learn to free ourselves from our fears and maintain calm. I was reminded of an obscure Buddhist verse, “A man is not a wise scholar simply because he talks much. He is a real pandit (wise scholar) who is tranquil, free from hatred, free from fear.”
The only person I know who is a man without fear is Daredevil–who also happens to be a comic book character. But never mind.
Drug Mug shot was a paper cut version of the infamous “faces of meth.” Ms. Inglessis noted that after years of attempts to educate youth about the horrors of drug usage, the faces of drug users series–showing their decline in appearance after years of drug use–remains the most effective. Because apparently, teenagers care more about how they look than how fried their brains might get from using hard drugs. Whatever works.
Finally, “Gambling, The Dopamine” is a chart of what happens when a gambler is playing the game, making his bets. Rational thought inducing chemical levels go down, pleasure inducing dopamine levels sky-rocket. The mind of the gambler and the drug user aren’t that far apart. Gamblers turn out to be some of the most optimistic people in the world. They believe that despite the odds, good fortune and wealth are just a few rolls of the dice or a few pachinko balls away.
Ms. Inglessis was able to convince a pachinko parlor to let her superimpose her artwork on some of the machines and photograph them. The contrast between the brightly moving machines stoking the gambling urges and the graphic depiction of the dopamine flow that it creates make for fascinating “street theatre.”
I only won at Pachinko once. 50,000 yen. And I never played again. Over time, I’ve learned how to wager on myself and make better bets. If I ever played again, I’d lose it all and more. Sometimes, winning is a simple as knowing when to quit…or not making a bet at all.
There are several floors of artwork on display at the exhibition–many of them as equally fascinating. If you manage to take the day off today, have a look. The show closes at five.
Beatriz Inglessis has her next exhibition showing at The Container from January 14th. We’ll post details here next year.
Today when I logged into Facebook, I was greeted with the following message in my status bar:
How are you feeling, Jake?
The short answer is: I’m feeling a little uncomfortable, baby. Because I’m not used to my social media site talking to me like a girlfriend who believes I’m a mental case. The opening salvo also seems like a psychotherapist checking in, a little warily, just see if I’m going to hold it together. This first query was followed by a series of similar probing questions every-time I logged in. It’s like a Facebook somehow gained sentience and turned into a girl friend with some stalking issues. Maybe it’s time to reassess the relationship. Maybe I’ve just been too casual about it.
“How’s it going , Jake?” “What’s happening, Jake” “What’s up, Jake?” —I think that would have probably been less unsettling but perhaps more annoying. There’s something almost sinister and sneaky in that phrasing “How are you feeling” coupled suddenly with my first name, that makes me feel like I’m being interrogated. Sooner or later, “What’s wrong, Jake?” is going to flash across my screen and as I try to log off, FB is going to tell me, “I can’t let you do that, Jake.”
There’s a phenomenon in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence known as the “uncanny valley” hypothesis, which asserts that when computers and objects look or act very much like humans, but not perfectly, that the cognitive dissonance creates a feeling of revulsion or a dip (valley) in comfort levels. These new series of default status statements on Facebook, framed like questions from a confidante soliciting confession or disclosure, on a first-name basis as well—they seem over the line to me. They also seem a little much for what has been a casual relationship that seems to be moving up to a level of intensity I’m just not at home with anymore.
And then I realized that what I found the most annoying was the presumption that Facebook and I were equals. Or perhaps, that Facebook even considered itself a superior sentient being. Which is really silly. But in Japan, I’m so used to adding an honorific (-san, -sama, -chan, -kun) to the person I’m addressing that I’m a little taken back when someone I don’t know, or I don’t think I know, suddenly refers to me by my first name only. It can show a serious lack of respect in a relationship. In Japan, one way of really insulting someone, showing over-familiarity, or disdain is to call someone by their first name, with no honorific attached at all. (If my Mom calls me Jake, I’m okay with that.) It’s also a tactic to show superiority. In Japanese terms and in age, I’m the 先輩 (senpai/senior) and FB is the 後輩 (junior) and I feel we’re in a power struggle in the relationship now.
I thought it was underhanded and sneaky when she (Facebook) suddenly said she could sell any of my Instagram photos if she wanted to. Yes, maybe we’re taking them together now and then, but they’re my photos. I’m not sure I appreciate her sharing them with other people without telling me. And the constant double standards and often unannounced changes in our privacy agreements–well, that makes me feel uneasy as well. I never know where we stand in our relationship. I’m forced to constantly tweak it.
I guess I don’t completely hate the new series of greetings but you know, as the saying goes –親しい仲にも礼儀あり（Shitashii naka ni mo reigi ari/Even amongst the closest of friends there must be politeness and decorum) —I’d appreciate a little distance. It’s not like Facebook and I are in a serious monogamous relationship. I flirt with twitter. I have this blog thing going on. I’m not ready to settle down with just one social media platform. I know I sound like a commitment-phobe but she’s just a little too pushy these days. I need some space. I like what we have but the constant suggestions as to what I should read, eat, drink, wear and who I should be friends with–it’s like she’s trying to run my life.
At the very least, can I get a “How are you feeling, Jake-san?” for the time being? Just a little respect. In all fairness, I should say, I may not always answer that question because I’m not really comfortable with this touchy feely stuff. In other words, Facebook-chan, if you are going to ask me how I’m doing or what I’m doing, over and over, in many different ways, I’d ask that you do it just a little more politely–and less persistently. Because Facebook-baby*, you’re really creeping me out.
*In Hollywood, “–baby”, is an honorific, much like -san, -kun, -chan in the Japanese language. In Seattle, “-baby” can be replaced by “–man” or “–dude.”
This article was originally posted on 3quarksdaily and is reprinted with permission.
by Leanne Ogasawara
There was recently mention in the media of a religious extremist in Egypt calling for the destruction of the pyramids. I first heard talk of this last summer– around the time that the shrines in Timbuktu were destroyed.
Holy hoax or not, I could not help but think of Bamiyan.
I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the moment I learned that the Taliban had blown up the Buddhist statues of Bamiyan.
Sitting in the backseat of a car in Los Angeles in 2001, we were stopped at a traffic light. The radio news mentioned it, but conversation in the car continued on– I don’t think anyone noticed or was really listening.
Despite the fact that they had been firing rockets at the statues for months, still it was a shock to hear that the statues had been completely destroyed– and that these 1400 year old statues no longer existed.
How could they actually have gone through with it? I thought.
Although their destruction came as a shock, in fact the two statues had been practically tortured to death after months of rocket fire, canon fire, machine gun volleys and weeks of dynamiting.
The Japanese had been working furiously behind the scenes when the Taliban first made their intentions known to the world. Working with UNESCO and several Islamic governments, even their concentrated efforts could not stop what was to be. Years later, my Japanese friends still bring it up.
Even a thousand years ago, the statues were famous in China and Japan. So important were they in ancient times that rather than taking the direct route straight to India, the venerable Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang walked an extra thousand miles or so just to see them during his famous 7th century journey to India.
Sally Hovey Wriggins in her book, The Silk Road with Xuanzang, describes the monk’s first sight of the famed statues:
Xuanzang’s caravan prevailed against blizzards, mountain gods, and robbers and finally approached Bamiyan, an oasis town in the center of a long valley separating the chain of the Hindu Kush from that of the Koh-i-baba range…The first sight of the Great Buddha must have made the weary travelers gasp.– Immense cliffs of a soft pastel color and behind them indigo peaks dusted with snow, rising to a height of 22,000 feet. They saw reddish cliffs in the cold, clear air; as they came closer, they could make out two gigantic statues of the Buddha standing in niches carved in the mountain. Closer still, they saw the two colossal figures were colored and glistening with ornaments; the smaller wore blue, the larger one red, and their faces and hands were gilded.
Once painted in ultramarine and carmine, the statues were as famous for their extravagant colors as they were for their size. It must have been a spectacular sight!
The ultramarine pigment used at Bamiyan was the same blue so adored by the Renaissance painters. The pigment is painstakingly derived from the lapis lazuli rocks mined from one place in northeast Afghanistan. The mines are located not far from Bamiyan; and from there, donkeys transported the expensive pigment in rough sacks over mountain ranges East into Central Asia and West to Venice and beyond.
In Europe, the precious pigment was so valuable that it was worth more than its weight in gold, and the legendary painters of the Renaissance were often forced to wait till their patrons provided them the pigment before they could apply the heavenly blue to Mary’s robes –for ultramarine had become the color associated with the Virgin Mary by that time (For more, see my post: Sacre Bleu 瑠璃色).
Bamiyan was long famous for being a conduit between East and West. Located on the trade route between India and Persia, the art of the region has had a tremendous influence on the artistic traditions of both the East and the West. So when, for example, Ikuo Hirayama–Japan’s celebrated painter and Hiroshima survivor– visited Bamiyan in 1968, he said he was going there in order “to seek the origins of Japanese culture and follow the way Buddhism diffused.” For Bamiyan was at the very heart of things.
But the Statues are gone. So, now what?
Part of Mary Beard’s Wonders of the World Series, I highly recommend The Buddhas of Bamiyan, by Llowelyn Morgan. In addition to the historical context, Morgan goes into some detail on the destructions of the statues and what he believes to be the Al-Qa’ida connection. It is very interesting–for according to Morgan, Afghani religious scholars, as well as a delegation of religious leaders from many Muslim states, were very clear in telling the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, that the destruction of the statues could never be sanctioned or explained by Islam. The statues were no longer objects of worship–they were relics.The leader of the Taliban himself had made it clear he had no intention to do harm to the statues not months before. So this “change of heart,” says Morgan, can be traced back to Al-Qa’ida influence.
But what can be done now–at this point in time, now that the statues are gone?
In general, I favor the Japanese National Treasures system of protecting cultural properties within the context of the nation-state. By designating National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties, certain works of art become protected by law (and thus cannot ever be sold as their preservation is safeguarded by the various nation-states who lay claim to them).
Bamiyan, however, is unique in that the art works had such a profound influence both East and West to the extent that their significance utterly transcendends the current nation-state of Afghanistan. Like ancient Egyptian art, the art works are situated in a pre-Islamic culture that has little to do with the nation-state of that place today.
We are reminded by the experts not to forget that along with these Buddhas, 2000 sculptures in what was left of the Kabul Museum were also smashed. So much has been lost.
A German team was pushing for rebuilding the statues. Some think that if at least one of the statues can be pieced-back together again, they should be. It would cost something like $30 million to piece together the smaller one. UNESCO rejected this plan.
Paris-based Afghani archaeologist, Dr. Zemaryalai Tarzi has another plan. Instead of re-building what is lost, Dr. Tarzi would like to unearth a third statue (said to be 1,000 feet long), which if it exists at all, has not been recorded as having been seen by anyone other than Xuanzang over a thousand years ago! If it does exist, it would be the biggest Reclining Buddha statue on earth. The only problem is that no one has seen it in over a 1000 years. Dr. Tarzi, however, remains undaunted. “Let’s raise this new masterpiece from the earth and waive it in the face of the terrorists who destroyed our statues!” he says.
Another provocative idea was J. Otto Seibold’s 2002 New Yorker proposal. I can’t find an online reproduction of the image (here is a photo of a reproduction from Morgan’s book). Seibold had suggested that two huge Buddhas be erected in Manhattan and two miniature twin towers be created in the empty niches at Bamiyan–this perhaps illuminating the notion of “spectacle” that connected the destruction of both the twin statues and the towers? (“Dynamite and Celebrity” says Morgan about Al Qa’ida). The miniature Twin Towers would be used to house refugees, thereby silencing the complaints that everyone cares more about the statues than the human beings who are hungry and were living in their shadows.
And, finally there was one more idea concerning how to replace what was lost.
A Japanese artist, Hiro Yamagata, a few years ago set in motion a plan to “re-store” the statues through laser technology –beaming images of the statues onto a cliff using $9 million solar and wind enerated technology. The plan never received UNESCO approval.
I loved the idea myself since –in the end– the inherently ephemeral nature of a beam of light would bring home the idea that something precious and irreplaceable has been lost. And that there are some things that once gone can never be brought back again. Transience also being something appreciated by Buddism, I think it is both appropriate and poignant.
In fact, I can’t think of a better idea, can you?
This post has been scheduled to post before midnight GMT of LA time, which as we know, was the official time zone of the once thriving Mayan culture, that predicted the world would end today. And please ignore any factual refutation of that based on science or common sense. Did Mitt Romney get elected President of the United States? No. We rest our case.
It’s already the 21st in Japan but that doesn’t count because the Mayans barely knew Japan and only visited the country once in their spaceships.
Mayan prophecy moves on Mayan time. Even an 8 year old boy knows this. And an 8 year old boy also knows that not even the end of the world* should get in the way of making a little more money. So here’s the deal, we’re offering any of our loyal readers. You bet the Japan Subculture Research Center $100 that world will end today, just to be nice, we’ll bet it won’t end, and if we’re wrong, we’ll pay you double! That’s right double your money. You may lose the world but you’ll gain $200. That’s more than 10,000 yen!
Why are we making this generous wager? Because it’s all about reciprocity. We wanted to thank you for all the years we’ve had together. It’s all about giri 義理 (duty, honor)–paying one’s debts or paying one’s dues, or paying huge franchise fees. Well, giri has many meanings. Pick whichever meaning makes this sound like a good deal.
We started this blog in 2007, hardly aware that we were doomed to end by December 21st, 2012. By the end of this day, it’ll all be over. But you still have a chance to end your life on this earth, a winner. Just go to that Paypal button on the front page. As of today, this is the final, final, final entry.* Sayonara!
See you on the other side!
*End of the world, is defined under these terms, as the ceasing of all human, animal and plant life, on planet earth. “Today” means with 25 hours of this posting.
*In the oft chance, the world does not end, then this will not be the final entry and we’ll swiftly delete that last line and hope no one notices. All bets made in advance should be considered payment for investment advice not bets in a gambling sense and are non-refundabele in physical or metaphysical world. Peace out!.
I just finished re-reading Tim Weiner’s magnum opus, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA ,which is perhaps the best book ever written on the Central Intelligence Agency, and its general history of dismal failures. On the eve of the LDP’s retaking of power, December 16th 2012, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at the LDP and how they came into being in the first place. It’s like a story out of a John Le Carre novel, but as is often the case, truth is stranger than fiction–and more interesting.
Operations in Japan turned out to be one of the Agency’s rare success stories. Not only did the CIA put their party of choice in power, according the book 原発 正力 CIA-機密文書で読む昭和裏面史 (What Secret Documents Tell Us About The Hidden Showa-Era History of Ties Between the Nuclear Industry, Matustaro Shoriki–the former president of the Yomiuri Shimbun and founder of Nippon Television) published by Shinchosha, but using the Japanese media, they were able to convince Japan to invest in nuclear energy. Of course, US firms reaped the profits. But that’s another very long story.
Legacy of Ashes is a phenomenal book, especially in how it documents the CIA’s many, many failures–but operations in Japan were something else.
Chapter 12: “We Ran It In A Different Way” is a must for anyone interested in the shadow history of Japan. It details how in post-war Japan, the CIA, using large amounts of cash, reinstated former war criminal Kodama Yoshio and hand-picked one of Japan’s Prime Ministers–in order to supress communist/socialist movements. Kodama had extensive yakuza ties and huge amounts of capital made in the black markets in China. ($175 million estimated). The Tokyo CIA station reported on September 10th, 1953, “(Kodama) is a professional liar, gangster, charlatan, and outright thief….and has no interest in anything but the profits.” It still didn’t keep the CIA from doing business with him up to that time and behind the scenes later. The chapter also notes how the CIA was able to ensure that Nobusuke Kishi became Japan’s prime minister and the chief of its ruling party, in order to ensure that Japan didn’t go red. The president himself seemed to have authorized huge cash payments to Kishi and his other lackeys within the LDP.
Kishi’s links to the Yamaguchi-gumi and other organized crime groups are well-known. His former private secretary was instrumental in organizing the deal between former Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi boss, Goto Tadamasa, and the FBI; it was a deal in which Goto shared intelligence on organized crime groups within Japan and information on North Korea in exchange for a visa to the the United States. He received a liver transplant at UCLA, a transaction which the FBI did not set up or was involved in. Some of this is discussed in Tokyo Vice.
According to the excellent book, The Japanese Mafia by Peter Hill, and other sources, Kishi also once put up the bail money for a Yamaguchi-gumi boss accused of a felony. Goto Tadamasa, the ex-yakuza boss (currently a Buddhist priest doing charitable work) in his memoirs Habkarinagra (Pardon me but…) also discusses his close ties to ex-Prime Minister Kishi. Robert Whiting in the seminal Tokyo Underworld also covers US political connections to organized crime in Japan in great depth and quite entertainingly. Whiting-san worked for the National Security Agency at one point in his life and what he says has great credibility as far as I’m concerned. (I’m not outing Robert by writing that he once worked for the NSA; it was mentioned in a Japan Times article several years ago and proved to be correct.) David Kaplan’s groundbreaking Yakuza:Japan’s Criminal Underworld was probably the first book to really examine the shadowy ties between the yakuza, the LDP and the US after the occupation. What makes Tim Weiner’s small chapter so impressive are the extensive notes, documents obtained from the CIA, and that he apparently conducted interviews on the CIA side as well. Impressive work.
Kodama, the right-wing industrialist mentioned above, is notorious for his gangster connections but perhaps what best illustrates the point is that in the early sixties, Kodoma, Taoka Kazuo (田岡 一雄氏), the third generation leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi, and Machii Hisayuki (町井 久之) head of the once powerful Japanese-Korean mafia, Toseikai（東声会) all served as board members of the Japan Professional Wrestling Association at the same time. They were all good buddies. As noted in Legacy Of Ashes, and in other sources, the Liberal Democratic Party was founded with a mixture of criminal proceeds, yakuza money, and US funds. The days when the US were able to exert control over Japanese politics are long gone but the yakuza have managed to maintain their own ties and connections to politicians across the board. For the Japanese government, they are still a useful entity, at times, and before the APEC summit, calls were sent out to all the major yakuza leaders urging them not to get into any gang wars and to keep an eye on anti-American lefties. After APEC ends, the aftermath of someone lobbing a hand-grenade into the headquarters of the Yamaguchi-gumi Yamaken-gumi headquarters will probably result in a bloody gang war. But for the time being, the yakuza are keeping the peace.
Full Disclosure Memo: In the worst of the Japanese press and blogosphere, I’ve been accused of being an agent of the CIA several times. Or the Mossad. Take your pick. This is untrue. I’m not a Mormon, have been very promiscious, and I am not totally inept, all things which disqualify me off the bat. However, in 2006-2007, as part of a US State Department sponsored study on human trafficking in Japan, I worked with a company which has many retired CIA/NSA employees and has been accused of being a front company for the CIA. I don’t know if they are or aren’t a front company and I don’t really care. The study and the Human Trafficking report that came out of it had a positive impact on Japan’s attitude towards dealing with human trafficking isssues and that’s really all that matters.
If you’re interested in the outsourcing of intelligence, pick up a copy of Spies For Hire: The Secret World Of Intelligence Outsourcing *by Tim Shorrock. The CIA contractor card on the cover has a partial picture of a Jewish looking fellow but I don’t think that’s me. Not unless someone issued me a nifty little card and didn’t tell me about it. It’s an incredibly well-written book which is now back in print. (Thanks to Mr. Shorrock for letting us know.)
* I was contacted by a yakuza fan magazine journalist roughly two months ago who asserted that it was me on the cover of Spies For Hire and tried to shake me down for cash, obliquely. So by writing this post, I’m also saying “f*ck you very much.” Personally, what’s the most insulting thing about being accused of being a former CIA agent, and no offense to anyone working for the agency intended, but they have such a dismal success rate that it’s kind of like being accused of working for post-Bush FEMA. It wounds my pride. Most people who are in “the intelligence community” would argue that actually the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has the best actionable intelligence of any agency .
Anyway, if you’re a serious Japanologist, Legacy of Ashes is worth having on yourself for that chapter alone. (This is a revision of an article originally posted on November 14th, 2010).
The core to Japan and its future problems is embedded in its demographics.
In many developed countries, the average age of its population is rising. But nowhere is this happening as quick as in Japan. This was succinctly exemplified last May, when the Japanese diaper producer Unicharm said that soon they will be selling more adult diapers than regular diapers:
At Unicharm, said Takahara, who is also president, the adult diapers business is becoming increasingly important to the company.
“Domestic sales of diapers for the elderly are growing by double digits,” Takahara told reporters last month. “It’s an extremely important business in terms of both sales and profit margin.”
This story was largely ignored in May, but as hedge funds and banks started honing their sights on Japan this fall, the story resurfaced. It was Morgan Stanley that made many people, myself included, aware of the large demographic shift, in a presentation with the lovely title: “Shorting Japan is the trade of the decade. But which decade?”.
Other than a less than optimal demographic, there are three things you need to know about Japan’s economy; they have the worst looking balance sheet of any country (including Greece and Ireland), the country has been in deep financial trouble for a whole generation and somehow the economy has failed to blow up .
As I am writing this, Shinzo Abe has just won reelection. He first served only one year and is making his comeback on two issues: boosting the economy and nuclear energy.
When Abe left the position as prime minister, due to “Crippling Diarrhea“, he was known as the worst prime minister since 1994 for Japanese bonds. Based on this, and the fact that he publically said he wants to make sure the Yen weakens, it could be a blessing for the Japanese export sector.
That’s probably the reason why the smartest investors in the world are betting heavly against Japan. Both the bonds and the Yen. But that could be great news for Japanese exporters.
Albeit Abe is walking a tight rope, since even a 2 percentage point increase in interest rates, could be enough to crush the Japanese economy. In theory.
The final thing you have to consider, is the way Japanese debt is structured. On the face of it, the country has a debt 195% of their GBP. Meaning the economy is almost half as small as the debt. But who are these creditors? 3 out of every 4 Yen owed, is to Japanese banks, individuals and institutions. That means that Japan has control over its creditors, which gives them significant leverage. (In contrast we can look at Greece, which has almost all of its creditors abroad and no control over its own currency).
Secondly if Abe manages to do what he has pledged to do, to destroy the value of the Yen through “unlimited easing”, the Japanese export sector could be in line for the biggest boost in history. If the value of the Yen drops 20%, that money hits Japanese companies straight on the bottom line. Instant profit.
Now finally we have to consider that investors have been betting against the Yen about once a year for the last four years. Massive losses have built up so far.
But this time, it could be different.
I was reading an article today about how the return of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, now head of the LDP, as the new Prime Minister, could be absolutely devastating in terms of the value of Japanese bonds. Yes, I was actually reading a finance article. Not that I claim to fully understand it but then again, it’s not completely over my head either.
Here’s the first two paragraphs:
Japan’s bond market is signaling concern that a government run by Shinzo Abe will ramp up spending to revive growth, adding to a debt burden already twice the size of the nation’s economy.
The cost to protect Japanese government bonds against nonpayment for five years rose every day last week, reaching 76 basis points, the highest level since Oct. 30, according to CMA prices compiled by Bloomberg. Contracts on U.S. Treasuries were at 37.5 basis points. Theextra yield that investors demand to hold 20-year JGBs instead of 10-year notes is hovering near a 13-year high, showing they are pricing in more long-term risk. for the rest of the article click here
So I was thinking, what would be the best way to explain my own sort of aversion to having Shinzo Abe return as PM other than the fiscal meltdown he might create. He is death for Japan Bonds. He is Bond. And then it occurred to me, that with his pro-nuclear policies, he might add another atomic meltdown to the fiscal meltdown or do both. So to fully explain my views on the guy, without taking the trouble to get to serious about it, because after all, Prime Ministers in Japan make fireflies look like turtles, I pondered what would happen if Shinzo Abe played Bond. It might have seemed like a crazy notion a year ago, but the movie starts on December 16th. I can hardly wait.