News: All That Is Fit To Drink, Without Fear But With Flavor

“Take this whisky, please,” said the elderly Japanese man running a liquor store in a small town in Ibaragi Prefecture. He was cheerful and insistent. “It’s called News and you’re a journalist, so it’s the perfect blend. Please, I have two bottles and it’s just gathering dust.” And as I protested, he pulled it off the shelf, lightly dusted it, put it in a bag and handed it to me.

It is April 20th 2019. I’ve been in Ibaragi for two days working on four stories with a television crew. The four stories are:

1) The problems Japan’s traditional lacquerware artists (urushi/漆の職人) are facing as the artisans capable of harvesting the sap from the urushi trees die off.

2) The mild and refreshing green tea of the region (奥久慈茶) which has almost died out due to the Fukushima disaster.

3) The tradition of crafting ink-stones (硯/suzuri) which are essential for beautiful Japanese calligraphy (Shodo/書道・習字)

4) The history of konyaku (菎蒻) which is used to make Shirataki noodles, faux sashimi, and has become very popular because it’s filling and low in calories.

I was also considering a fifth story about the local delicacy: Shamo. Shamo (軍鶏) are free-range chickens that were originally fighting birds (喧嘩鳥) used in cock-fights and later domesticated. We had lunch at a place famous for it’s Shamo Oyako-don, which is chicken and egg over rice. Oyako means parent and child and if you think about it, eating a chicken with egg, is kind of horrifying. Don’t think about it.

The town we were visiting once had a population of over 40,000 people 20 years ago, but is down to a third of that number. The Game Center is shuttered and looks like it has been that way for many years. Many of the stores on the main road are out of business. Trains come once per hour and after 5pm, you can’t even leave by train.

I had some time to kill after lunch at the local restaurant and walked over to the liquor store down the street. There appeared to be no one inside but the light was on, so I opened the door. Within a minute, a cheerful, and dapperly dressed thin man with grey hair and grey slacks came out and greeted me. I looked around the store—and on one shelf were three bottles of Suntory Whisky, each which must have been ten years old or more. We chatted and I tried to buy one of them from him.

“I couldn’t sell these to you in good conscience. They’re very old.” He opened one and showed me the line of the whisky. “You can see some of it has already evaporated. It wouldn’t be fair to sell it to you.”

I thought about just giving him three times the price of the bottle on display. The hand-written card in front of the bottle was slightly discolored. I realized that this guy had no idea how much Japanese whisky was now worth. And you know, like everyone in the world, I had this fleeting thought of, “Wow, I could really make a fortune buying this guy’s whisky for a fraction of what’s it worth.” I thought about doing that….and then I explained to him that the price of Japanese whisky, especially old whisky, was skyrocketing.

He listened with some interest and raised an eyebrow. “To be honest, I don’t really like whisky. I’d rather drink something else. So I had no idea. How about you? Are you a whisky fan?”

“I like sake–given a choice.”

He nodded. “Me too. This might be my favorite,” he said while handing me an empty bottle of Kudoki Jozu. The name of the sake loosely means, “Talking a woman (man) into having sex with you.” It is also a delicious, dry and tart wonderful sake. I told him that I was fond of Suigei (酔鯨/drunken whale) and the local brew. We talked for fifteen minutes but then I had to leave. I asked him to consider selling me one bottle of whisky and he said he’d think it over.

Today, I dropped by the liquor store once more, before it closed–meaning before 5:30 pm. He greeted me like an old friend and he showed me all his favorite booze, including the empty bottles, collector’s items, and everything Suntory that he had–as well as some rare Nikka whiskies. However, he wouldn’t budge on selling me any of them. “I don’t know if they’ve aged well. I’d feel bad.”

But then, as if he had been waiting, he pulled off a back shelf a 1000 ml bottle of a whisky I’d never heard of, Kirin-Seagrams whisky NEWS. I looked for some information on the bottle but all it told me was that it was 80 proof, malt-grain. And some odd notes in English: One Liter Per Month. NEWS is light & smooth. You can enjoy it on the rocks, with water, or with anything. NEWS can create your new lifestyle.

I thanked him—he was insistent I take it–and took the bottle back to where I was staying and began pulling up what I could find about it on the net. It had been launched by Kirin around 1983, and they had even hired a hot Hollywood actor, Jan Micheal Vincent, to shill it in a Japanese commercial. The commercial was taken off the airwaves when it was widely reported that Vincent was an alcoholic; his alcoholism was definitely not good news for the NEWS brand name.

I wondered what it might taste like. One guy had found a bottle in the home of a relative, consumed the whole thing and posted a review. He noted it was free from any peculiarities and had crisp and clear taste. I found one or two web sites selling bottles of it with prices ranging from $50 to $400 (as part of a set).

So as I sat in my room, my conscience began to bother me. Because I don’t think he realized he’d given me $50 worth of booze–and a whisky that is no longer in production. I decided I needed to buy something from his store at least. The problem was that there was no ATM anywhere in site. Even the convenience store at the station didn’t have an ATM. I borrowed money from the cameraman, rather sheepishly, and ran back to the store before it closed. He was mildly amused to see me again and before he could ask any questions, I said, “You gave me a great bottle of whisky. Let me at least buy something. What’s the best sake here?”

He thought about it and then pulled off the shelf a bottle of (家久長・霊水八溝/Hakucho-Reisuiyamizo). I bought it and asked it was dry sake (辛口) and he whispered, “It used to be very dry but these days it’s sort of in the middle. It’s still very good.”

He sold it to me at wholesale price. I didn’t have any room in my bags left for another bottle of sake and the 1000 ml bottle of whisky, so I looked for something else in the store. There was some really beautiful looking pottery–a sake glass, a tea cup, and a coffee cup. I asked if they were also for sale and he replied, “Oh, my friend asked me to put those there. He’s a potter. He makes good pottery. You can buy them, if you really want do.” And so I did.

I know slightly more about whisky than I do about pottery but that’s not saying much. The sake: 霊水八溝 is really good.

He packed them up nicely and I profusely thanked him. As I was leaving and he started turning off the lights and closing the store, he said to me, the following words.

“Well, if you ever do make it back this way again, let me know. I might sell you the whisky if you really want me to. You might know better than me. But if I were you,” he paused, “I’d drink that whisky I gave you with a bunch of your fellow journalists. It’s a lot of whisky. If you never drink it, it’s just going to end up somewhere else gathering dust and that’s a shame. Good booze is meant to be savored, not to be kept on a shelf. Thanks for coming in.”

Sometimes, I forget one of the reasons I have come to love Japan over the years–the unexpected kindness of strangers. It happens more often than you’d expect.

And so even with what I paid for the sake, the teacups, the coffee cup and the sake glass–I still didn’t pay anything close to what the whisky is worth. So maybe I will drink it with a group of friends after all. The sake has been around longer than I’ve been in Japan and maybe drinking it with friends would be the perfect way to celebrate what will be over three decades in Japan this summer. (I arrived in Japan on September 14th 1988).

Of course, I also feel a journalistic duty to drink this booze. It looks like the liquor advertised in 1983 and is being sold at an incredible mark-up all over the world, but I can’t be sure. If I don’t open it up, drink it, and confirm it with multiple sources–I’ll never know whether it’s real NEWS or fake NEWS.

Sometimes, to make sure you’re getting real NEWS, you need expert advice, good friends, several sources and some big round ice cubes.


Kirin-Seagram began making this Japanese whiskey in 1983. It was designed to improve with age, be affordable, smooth, and easy to digest. It hasn’t been made since the late 1980s. And now I have one bottle.

In Japan, Saving Face Trumps Justice. Your odds of being found guilty: 99%

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Meditations on long-form journalism, Japan, Bitcoin and Justice

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Exclusive: Former Prosecutor Says, “If Ghosn is rearrested, NISSAN CEO should be arrested as well”

Nobuo Gohara (郷原信郎元検事)

Note: We met with former prosecutor Nobuo Gohara, last week, to discuss the arrest and prosecution of Carlos Ghosn. Mr. Ghosn has been accused of financial crimes, and has now been detained 23 days and rearrested. With Gohara’s permission, we are publishing his translated observatiosn about the case, written prior to the re-arrest of Mr. Ghosn today (December 10th 2018). *Portions of this were previously published in Japanese on Yahoo! News. 

The Arrest of President & CEO Saikawa is Inevitable if  Mr. Ghosn is Re-arrested based on Fake Statement made in the Last 3 Years

The End of The Myth of The Special Prosecutors is one book that Mr. Gohara has written on Japan’s prosecutors going off the rails.

Today (December 10) was the last day of the extended detention of Mr. Carlos Ghosn, who was arrested by the Special Investigation Unit of the Tokyo District Court on November 19 and was removed from the Representative Directorship of Nissan 3 days thereafter at the extraordinary board meeting, as well as Mr. Greg Kelly.

The suspected offense of his violation of the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act turned out to be the fact that he did not describe the “agreement on payment of compensation after his retirement” in the securities report.  However, given that the payment had not been determined and that it cannot be considered as a fake statement of an “important matter”, there are serious concerns about considering this non-description a crime.

The End of The Myth of The Special Prosecutors is one book that Mr. Gohara has written on Japan’s prosecutors going off the rails.

There has been an increasing skepticism about the method of prosecutors’ investigation who suddenly arrested Mr. Ghosn at Haneda Airport inside his personal aircraft when he just returned to Japan.  As I have pointed out in my article (“Ghosn Can Only Be Indicted if Prosecutors Follow Their Organizational Logic”), since the prosecutors have arrested him based on their unique decision, it is impossible for them “not to indict Mr. Ghosn”, as it would be self-denying and contrary to the “logic of the organization”.  It had thus been fully anticipated that the prosecutors would indict Mr. Ghosn today.

However, the facts that have newly been revealed through the subsequent media reports are raising even more serious concerns with respect to his arrest based on the “agreement on payment of compensation after his retirement” (although various media organizations report that those facts constitute the ground of his indictment by the prosecutors).

Could this herald the possible “collapse” of the prosecutor’s case

There is Virtually No More Possibility that Mr. Ghosn will be Re-arrested with the Crime of Aggravated Breach of Trust or the like

First of all, it has been reported that the prosecutors intend to re-arrest Mr. Ghosn on the ground that he has “underdescribed his executive compensation of 4 billion yen for the last 3 years”.  The facts that constituted the ground of his arrest and detention to date had been the fake statement around the “agreement on payment of compensation after his retirement” for the period of 5 years up to March 2015 term.  The prosecutors, however, are intending to re-arrest him based on the same fake statement but for the last 3 years up to March 2018 term.

“When The Thinking Processes Of The Organization Stop” discusses the implications of an infamous case in which a prosecutor forged evidence and dysfunctional organizations in general

There had been a speculation that the fake statement in the securities report was merely a ”starting point” and that the Special Investigation Unit was contemplating to pursue some “substantive crime” such as aggravated breach of trust.  However, had they been able to pursue the crime of aggravated breach of trust, they would have re-arrested him based on that.  Given the overloaded investigation lineup of the Public Prosecutors Office, which has been accepting prosecutors dispatched from the District Public Prosecutor Offices, as the year end approaches when they need to send the dispatched prosecutors back to where they belong, they would want to avoid arresting him based on the new facts on and after December 10 unless extreme circumstances arise, because the period of detention of 20 days would then extend to the year end.  This means that the only “charge” based on which the prosecutors intend to indict Mr. Ghosn is the fake statement of his executive compensation.  On the basis that they will re-arrest him based on the same fake statement as the facts constituting his initial arrest and detention, it is highly probable that the investigation will end there.

This is a scenario which I have predicted, as I have repeatedly stated since right after the arrest.  That is, based on the facts that have been reported, it is unlikely that Mr. Ghosn will be indicted for the aggravated breach of trust (“Ghosn Case: Yomiuri Beginning to Ditch Prosecutors while Asahi Cling to Them”).  However, for those who firmly believe that the “justice always lies with prosecutors” and because of that believe “Mr. Ghosn, who was arrested by the prosecutors, is a villain”, it would be hard to accept that the investigation would end by only charging him with such a trivial crime as fake statement and not criminally pursuing any “substantive crime”.

Serious Issues Concerning Procedures of Detention

Of further significance is a “serious issue concerning the legality of detention” in relation to the re-arresting of Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly based on the “underdescription of Mr. Ghosn’s executive compensation of 4 billion yen for the last 3 years”.

A securities report is something which is prepared and submitted each business year.  As such, there is supposed to be “one independent crime” for each business year, totaling to 8 crimes, if there are fake statements in all securities reports for the period of 8 years from March 2010 term to March 2018 term.  However, the charge against Mr. Ghosn with respect to the “agreement on payment of compensation after his retirement” is different from a standard fake statement in the securities report.

An “MoU” was said to have been made between Mr. Ghosn and the Head of Secretary Office every year with respect to part of the executive compensation payable after his retirement under the pretense of some other payment, which had been kept secret to the Departments of General Affairs and Finance of Nissan and had been kept confidentially.  The securities report for each year had been prepared and submitted without regard to the agreement made in such “MoU”.  Since the acts of preparation of the “MoU” for 8 years had been repeated every year under the same intent and purpose, they constitute “one inclusive crime” provided that they do constitute a crime.  They should effectively be interpreted as “one crime” as a whole.  “Dividing” these acts into those conducted during the first 5 years and those during the last 3 years for the purpose of repeating the arrest and detention means arresting and detaining based on the same facts, which is a significant issue in terms of due process of detention.

On top of that, if the prosecutors intend to re-arrest them based on the acts in the last 3 years after completing their investigation and processing of the fake statement for the first 5 years, it would be that they had “reserved” the acts of the last 3 years for the re-arrest.  This is an unjustifiable detention which deviates the common sense of prosecutors.  Inevitably, Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly would file a quasi-complaint with respect to the detention or a special appeal with the Supreme Court, claiming that it is an unjustifiable detention in violation of due process under Article 31 of the Constitution.

It Would Be Difficult to Deny Criminal Liability of President Saikawa

“When The Thinking Processes Of The Organization Stop” discusses the implications of an infamous case in which a prosecutor forged evidence and dysfunctional organizations in general, which could apply to Nissan at present.

A more significant issue is that it has been reported by Asahi, Nikkei, and NHK that Hiroto Saikawa, President and CEO of Nissan, has also signed the “document agreeing on the post-retirement compensation”. It has been reported that Mr. Saikawa has signed a document titled “Employment Agreement”, which describes the amount of compensation for the agreement prohibiting Mr. Ghosn to enter into any consulting agreement or to assume office as an officer with any competing companies after his retirement.  It has also been reported that, apart from the above, a document was prepared which specified the amount of compensation which should have been received by Mr. Ghosn each term and the amount which had actually been paid, as well as the balance thereof, and that it was signed by Mr. Ghosn the ex-Chairman and the executive employees as his close aides.

The prosecutors and media may be denying the criminal liability of Mr. Saikawa  for his fake statement of the executive compensation based on the reason that, although he had been aware of the payment of compensation as consideration for the prohibition of Mr. Ghosn’s entrance into any consulting agreement or assumption of office with competing companies after his retirement, he had not recognized it as a payment of executive compensation under some other pretext, and because of this, he did not know that it should have been described in the securities report as “executive compensation”.

I wonder, however, how President Saikawa had recognized the consideration for the prohibition concerning the consulting agreement and non-competitive agreement.  If he had signed the document based on his understanding that it was a legitimate and lawful payment, it would mean that the agreement has its basis and that Mr. Ghosn has an obligation to refrain from entering into any consulting agreement and competing in return for the payment.  It would thus be considered a “legitimate contractual consideration” rather than a “deferred payment of executive compensation”.

Above all, why did Mr. Saikawa think it was necessary to enter into an agreement that prohibits Mr. Ghosn from entering into any consulting agreement or competing after his retirement when there was actually no specific sign of his retirement?  We can never understand the reason unless the agreement is explained as an “alternative for reducing the executive compensation by half”.  In the end, we cannot help but think that Mr. Saikawa had almost the same recognition as Mr. Ghosn and others with respect to the agreement.

The offense of the crime of fake statement in the securities report is constituted not by “making a fake statement” but by “submitting” the securities report with a fake statement on an important matter. The person who has an obligation to ensure accurate description and “submission” is the CEO in the case of Nissan, which is Mr. Saikawa from and after March 2017 term.  If, as mentioned above, Mr. Saikawa had largely the same recognition with Mr. Ghosn with respect to the “post-retirement payment of compensation”, we have to say that it is Mr. Saikawa who would primarily be criminally liable for the last 2 years (apart from the severity of the ultimate sentence).  That is, if the prosecutors are to pursue the indictment of the fake statement of the securities report for the last 3 years, it is inevitable to charge Mr. Saikawa as well.

Can Mr. Saikawa Withstand Criticism of being Involved in “Backdoor Agreement” with Prosecutors?

This is when the idea of plea bargain occurs to us—that is, whether or not there is a possibility that Mr. Saikawa has agreed to a plea bargain with the prosecutors by cooperating in the investigation on the “crimes of others” (i.e., of Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly), thereby being exempted from criminal punishment.

It is possible that there is a “backdoor agreement” between the prosecutors and President Saikawa “targeting” Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly.  However, if such agreement exists, where it is agreed not to charge President Saikawa, what was it all about that he criticized Mr. Ghosn at the press conference immediately after his arrest, going so far as to say that he “felt resentment (toward Mr. Ghosn)”?  There is likely to be severe criticisms against such agreement as well as against Mr. Saikawa domestically and internationally.  Furthermore, if this is the case, it is likely that Mr. Saikawa falls under the “party with special interest” in relation to the extraordinary board meeting where he served as the chairman and determined the removal of Mr. Ghosn from his position of the Representative Director and Chairman. This may affect the force and effect of the vote (““Serious Concern” over Plea Bargain between Executives of Nissan and Prosecutors” – Are Directors Involved in Securities Report able to Participate in Voting relating to Removal of Ghosn?).

Given all of the above, if the prosecutors are to re-arrest Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly on the ground of a fake statement in the securities report for the last 3 years, there is no other choice than to arrest Mr. Saikawa and hold him criminally liable.  However, this would virtually mean the collapse of the current management team of Nissan which executed a coup d’etat at the initiative of President Saikawa and upset the Ghosn Regime.  The investigation of the prosecutors, which has been conducted in close cooperation with the management team of Nissan, is also at a risk of “collapsing”.

*Translation was provided by Mr. Gohara’s office, with some minor editing by JSRC staff for clarity based on the original Japanese text.

Should Japanese men have the right to molest women on the train? A close friend of the Prime Minister writes, “Yes!”––the magazine goes out business

“The deepest suffering belongs to the men who are plagued with the symptoms of train groper syndrome (痴漢症候群) in which his hand automatically moves when he steps on a packed train and catches a whiff of a woman. Shouldn’t society protect the rights of them [train molesters]?–Eitaro Ogawa, close associate of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Shincho 45, on the rights of chikan

In this month’s issue of the monthly magazine Shincho 45 (新潮45), Eitaro Ogawa, author of many works praising the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe–and his advisor–published an essay apparently asserting that men (痴漢) should have their right to grope women be protected. Understandably, that is drawing the ire of the on-line community and the real world. UPDATE: In fact, on September 25, Shinchosha (新潮社) announced the publication was being shelved (休刊) for the time being. 

 

The author of this book, which had sales subsidised by Prime Minister Abe, has asserted Japanese men should have a right to grope women on the train. Yes, according to Eitaro Ogawa, if you’re a woman in Japan and you get groped on the train–it’s because you’re giving off pheromones. The scent of a woman is the culprit and the victim is the chikan (train pervert).

Ogawa’s rant was one of many articles in their special October issue about whether it was acceptable to discriminate against the  lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT).

It was a follow up to the August edition of the same magazine which published a piece by lawmaker Mio Sugita bashing the LGBT community as dead weight on society and a waste of any public funding.  In the magazine’s October feature section, ““Is Sugita’s article that outrageous?”, Ogawa and others sounded off on the topic. Prime Minister Abe has refused to admonish Sugita, claiming that she was “young and should be given slack”.

Ms. Sugita is 51 years old which makes the “crazy teenagers having fun” aka Brett Kavanaugh defense even more ridiculous.

She was recruited by the Prime Minister to join the Liberal Democratic Party.  She’s also blamed rape victims for being raped in other past statements.

The October issue in the special feature, has a rambling nearly incoherent essay by Ogawa on LGBT issues. He seems to classify homosexuality as a fetish, like an ass fetish, or a fondness for BDSM. However, his crowning moment comes in the following passage.

“The deepest suffering belongs to the men who are plagued with the symptoms of train groper syndrome (痴漢症候群) in which his hand automatically moves when he steps on a packed train and catches a whiff of a woman. Repeated offenses show that it is an uncontrollable urge stemming from the brain. Shouldn’t society protect and reserve their rights to grope [women]? Oh, you’ll probably say we should think of the the shock it causes for a woman. If you want to talk about shock, well, the sight of the honorable LGBT walking in the streets in mainstream media is shocking to me. Shocking to the point of a being deadly threat to me. I must ask of them to speak only after they have paid me a insurmountable amount for damages.”

〈満員電車に乗った時に女の匂いを嗅いだら手が自動的に動いてしまう、そういう痴漢症候群の男の困苦こそ極めて根深かろう。再犯を重ねるのはそれが制御不可能な脳由来の症状だという事を意味する。彼らの触る権利を社会は保証すべきではないのか。触られる女のショックを思えというのか。それならLGBT様が論壇の大通りを歩いている風景は私には死ぬほどショックだ、精神的苦痛の巨額の賠償金を払ってから口を利いてくれと言っておく。〉

Yes, according to Ogawa, if you’re a woman in Japan and you get groped on the train–it’s because you’re giving off pheromones. The scent of a woman is the culprit and the victim is the chikan (train pervert). Ogawa attempted to walk back his statement on television programs this weekend by saying the meaning of his essay got lost to the reader. A professor at Meiji University who appeared on a television program with Ogawa responded by saying, “If you write this kind of crap, so that the meaning gets lost, you should just stop writing. Seriously.”  Perhaps Ogawa only meant to be rhetorical but the text of his words, on their own, offend most sensible people. He may have been attempting to say that since in his mind, groping people on trains and being homosexual are just two different kinds of sexual perversion, that offering to protect the rights of one (homosexuality) over the other (men groping women on trains)  was ridiculous. Of course, he appears to be the most ridiculous of them all.

Ogawa has written many works lavishly praising Prime Minister Abe.  

On of his books lauding Abe,「約束の日」(The Promised Day) was published in 2012, right before the Liberal Democratic Party General Director elections which put Abe back in power for his second term as Prime Minister. The book was purchased in bulk by Abe’s political fund, 「晋和会」(Shinwakai).  They reportedly spent 7,000,000 yen (70,000 dollars) buying copies of the book, briefly elevating it to best-seller status.

Ogawa is one of several Abe literati profiting from their connection to the politician. Others include his unofficial biographer, Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a former Washington correspondent for TBS. In 2015, Yamaguchi was under investigation for the alleged sexual assault of journalist Shiori Ito and an arrest warrant was issued on rape charges against him. The arrest was stopped by Itaru Nakamura, a career bureaucrat from the National Police Agency, who also served as personal secretary to Abe’s cabinet spokesman. The investigation was then scuttled. Yamaguchi has denied all allegations. Ito is suing him in civil court for damages.

Ogawa was one of several members attending a party supporting Yamaguchi’s efforts to reinsert himself into the media after a period of being shunned.

Takanobu Sato, the president of Shinchosha Publishing Co. made a statement last week that the magazine’s special section contained expressions full of prejudice and was objectively offensive. There was little clarification of what exactly was unacceptable.

Ironically, Weekly Shincho (週刊新潮), in the last year has distinguished itself with outstanding investigative journalism and was the first publication to take up the case of Shiori Ito. It documented how a police investigation into her rape case was hijacked by political forces and how it was derailed by a close friend of the Abe cabinet, abusing his authority as a high-ranking police official.

Unfortunately, Shincho 45, has taken the approach of pandering to right-wing readers in order to boost sales. Or perhaps they are hoping that the Prime Minister’s political fund will buy $70,000 worth of an issue–now and then. Even within Shincho Publishing, there has been concern over the direction Shincho 45 has taken. In the company announcement of suspending the publication,  they admitted that in their trial and errors to boost sagging sales their had been insufficient oversight of the contents.

Ogawa has not walked back his essay.  So while conservatives may lament the loss of another right wing publication, on the other side, Japan’s train perverts can rest a little easier now that they know they have someone on their side whispering into the ear of the Prime Minister.

While Abe has deftly avoided making racist or misogynist statements, his propensity to surround himself with accused sex offenders, misogynists, gay-bashers and appointing rabid racists and sexists to cabinet positions, suggests that maybe he shares their view. One wonders. Under his reign, Japan’s gender equality ranking has sunk to a new low of 114 out of 144 countries.

Mari Yamamoto contributed to this article. 

James Bailey Turns In His Final Review. Rest in Peace (1946-2018)

Beloved film critic and journalist, who spent much of his career in Japan, James Bailey, passed away on August 24, after a long battle with cancer, at the age of 72. He was born in Bryan, Texas on December 13th, 1946.  He is survived by his wife Yurika, his son, Chris, and his daughter, Chelsea.

James Bailey with his daughter, Chelsea, and son Chris.

Bailey served as Entertainment Editor for Tokyo Weekender, which some consider the oldest on-going English publication in Japan (that is not a newspaper); it was founded in 1970. Bailey also wrote for Variety, Tokyo Journal, and other publications. Bailey was known as an observant and authoritative film reviewer, fluent in Japanese, and able to write with great wit and insight about all aspects of Japanese society.

James Bailey in 1981 with his close friend, Mark Schreiber,  in Shanghai.

Bailey’s film reviews, like those of Kaori Shoji, were always more than simple film reviews but a starting point for meditations on Japan, popular culture, cinema tropes and dark comedy. Take this paragraph from his epic review of Godzilla movies, in this case Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero:

Confirming the widely held assumption that Western men are irresistibly attracted to Japanese women, Glenn falls for and, unusual for a sci-fi feature, beds the lovely Namikawa (Kumi Mizuno), albeit off camera. 
Nonetheless, the purity of Japanese womanhood is preserved when it’s revealed that Namikawa is not really Japanese at all, but [an alien race] a Xian. And the parlous nature of ethnically mixed relationships is underlined when she is disintegrated by her own people.”

Bailey had no patience for bullshit and took great delight in setting things straight. His former editor at Tokyo Journal, Greg Starr, notes “He was a ferocious researcher. I remember his prodigious memory; if you were with him and Mark Schreiber, you didn’t need the internet.”

In the days before the internet, these two journalist were known for their prodigious memory.

Mike Tharp, former Tokyo bureau chief of U.S. News And World Report, writes, “I met James a few months after I arrived in Tokyo in 1976. Like many expats, I read the Tokyo Weekender, Corky Alexander’s free weekly newspaper. For the most part, its stories were forgettable. But the movie reviews were exceptionally well written, filled with wry humor,

So when I happened to meet their author, James Bailey, at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, I gushed over his reviews. I said they were good enough to appear anywhere. He blushed and said a head-bowed thank-you.

That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. James, fluent in Japanese, also reviewed Japanese subtitles on English-language films. I was astonished at his insights. He wrote with grace and wit. His stories for Variety told that audience more about Japan than most any other publication. James could write for anyone.

He was a gentle man. His voice never rose above a quiet pitch. His laugh was contagious. He shone when he smiled.

After he and Yurika moved their family to Seattle, we stayed in constant touch. I was in L.A. James would make what today are called ‘mixed tapes’ and send them to me. He wanted me to expand my musical interests beyond old rock ‘n’ roll.

He was an incisive critic of the media, sending me examples of redundancy, verbosity and grammar screw-ups every week. Just in the last two years we exchanged nearly 300 emails. He and Tokyo-based Mark Schreiber, described by James as a polymath, staged written contests to see who could fashion the worst puns in headlines. I think it was a draw.

James had appeared on GE College Bowl. He knew so much about everything. I stole his phrase to use in my college classrooms: I wanted to make my students ‘garbage brains’, knowing something about a lot. He was one of the handful of geniuses I have known.

James knew of my passion for Elvis and never ceased to send me stories about The King. If I were to write an inscription for James, it would be from this Elvis song: “And you’re there to always lend a hand in everything I do. That’s the wonder, the wonder of you.”

履歴書

****

His wife, Yurika Bailey writes, ” In accordance with Jim’s wishes, he wanted to stay home in Mercer Island Washington. He spent the last week of his life with me, Chris and Chelsea which made him feel happy and peaceful. Jim and I are incredibly fortunate to have [had such] good friends in our life.”

James Bailey with his wife Yurika, in Tokyo.

His son, Chris Bailey, writes, “My dad was one of the most selfless people I knew. He did everything to make my mom, my sister, and myself happy. We are grateful that he had a peaceful end with loved ones at his side.”

Chelsea Sakura Bailey, didn’t realize until visiting Japan, the great respect his colleagues had for James. “As a girl in our home, he was always ‘my dad’.  As a woman living in Tokyo in the city he knew among his peers it was only then that I came close to knowing the man Jim Bailey was.  At a very young age, I was keenly aware that there was something unique about him. He was always quietly observant, profoundly curious about all that surrounded him. He always had a book in one hand and a notebook and pen in the other. He was always humble about his accomplishments and gracious about his natural talents as a writer. So much so, that I didn’t fully know how talented he was until I was an adult, until I was in Tokyo, until I was among his community.  Few children are given the opportunity to see their parents outside of their home, as anything more than ‘dad’.   With that experience and spending his last moments of life, I am grateful that I can say I truly knew this man, my father, James Bailey.” Chelsea, said that on 6pm Friday (August 24th), that she kissed her Dad on her way to work, and said “I love you. I’m going. Rest well, okay?”

He passed away in his sleep twenty minutes later, knowing that he was loved and will be missed. 

There was no funeral held. Anyone wishing to contact the family is requested to write jamesbaileymemorial@outlook.com 

A Short History Of Aum Shinrikyo, their murders, and the failure to stop them

1984 — Shoko Asahara, a visually impaired yogi, forms “AUM Shinsen no Kai,” later renames it AUM Shinrikyo. It mixes elements of yoga, Buddhism, and other religions and begins recruiting college students and intellectuals.

AUM even used manga (comic books) to recruit members.

1987- AUM incorporates in New York City under the name Aum USA Company, Ltd. In the US it attempts to purchase military weapons, develop chemical weapons.

February 1989–AUM members strangle to death, 21-year-old Shuji Taguchi who had wanted to escape the group at its complex in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Nov. 4, 1989 — AUM members acting on orders from Asahara, kill the lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and their 1-year-old son at their home in Yokohama. The lawyer had been part of growing vocal opposition to the group.

1990 — Asahara and 24 other disciples run unsuccessfully in a parliamentary election. The defeat spurs Asahara to begin plans to take over the country and began developing chemical weapons. The group also began manufacturing methamphetamines and small-scale incinerators  which they sell to the Yamaguchi-gumi and other yakuza groups to raise funds.

1993-AUM purchases a 500,000 acre sheep farm in Australia where they test out sarin gas, leaving behind 29 dead sheep.

AUM begins training helicopter pilots in the United States in hopes of eventually dispersing sarin gas over the Tokyo via helicopter.  Plans for launching an attack within the US are also considered.

June 1994-AUM purchases a helicopter from Russia

June 27 — AUM members test sarin nerve gas in a residential area of city of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. Eight people are killed, 100 injured.

December 12–AUM members kill a member, Tadahito Hamaguchi, with highly toxic VX gas on an Osaka street. He was suspected of being an informant.

January 1,1995–Yomiuri Newspaper publishes on their front page a special report that the police had found elements of Sarin gas in the ground near AUM facilities in Yamanashi Prefecture, linking the cult to the 1994 attack.

February 28,1995-AUM members abduct Kiyoshi Kariya, 68, to find his sister who wanted to leave the group. He dies under interrogation and his body is incinerated in a cult-built microwave heating device. (This and the other murders were later referenced in the series Millennium episode 2, Gehena).

March 20,– AUM members release sarin gas on Tokyo subway system. Thirteen people are killed and over 6000 injured.  Police immediately suspect AUM.

April 23, AUM leader in charge of “Science Technology” and conduit to organized crime, Hideo Murai, is stabbed to death by a Yamaguchi-gumi members in front of the group’s headquarters, while reporters watch.  The spokesman for the group says, “I heard that Murai was killed by the Jews.”

May 5–AUM members plant a cyanide bomb in the bathroom of an underground passage connected to Shinjuku stations, near the ventilation system. The poisonous fumes would have killed thousands if the bomb hadn’t been found.

May 16 — Asahara is arrested.

2000-AUM officially disbands and reforms under the name Aleph.

Feb. 27, 2004 — The Tokyo District Court sentences Asahara to death.

Sep. 15, 2006 — Asahara’s death sentence is finalized.

2007–

Aleph splits into another faction, Hikari no Wa. Later, a third faction of the group emerges.

June 15, 2012 — The last fugitive former AUM member, Katsuya Takahashi, is arrested for his part in the subway attacks.

Jan. 18, 2018 — The Supreme Court rejects Takahashi’s appeal, ending all trials linked to AUM Shinrikyo cult.

July 6, 2018 — Asahara and six others are executed by hanging. Seven members remain on death rows while their cases are being appealed.

 

The Yakuza That Stole Halloween: They tricked cops, rival gangs, the media & treated the kids.

TOKYO—

It was a grisly grim and horrific Halloween in Japan but it wasn’t all bad news–there was a yakuza Halloween, after all. After the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest organized crime group (yakuza), announced that they would be calling off their annual Halloween party this year, they surprised and delighted the neighborhood children by holding it anyway.

The Trick

The Yamaguchi-gumi had posted a sign around October 20th, that they would be refraining from having the annual Halloween Party this year, due to “various circumstances”.

A liberal translation of the tricky announcement that the Yamaguchi-gumi would be calling off Hallowen.”Every year on October 31, we have held the traditional Halloween [party]. However, this fiscal year, due to a number of various circumstances, we will be halting the event. We understand that we are making the children who were looking forward to this very sad, but next year we absolutely will hold the event, so please look forward to it. Thank you for allowing us to inform you.”
It was an oblique reference to the violent gang wars between factions of the group. There was an attempted assassination of the leader of the Ninkyo Yamaguchi-gumi, a splinter faction, in September. His bodyguard ended up taking the bullet. It seemed like a good call not have the event–no one wants kids caught in the crossfire.

The media reported the non-event, including this reporter. Tensions were low, the children who looked forward to the event, which was restarted last year after a one year hiatus, were unhappy.  

Lining up for cotton candy at the Yamaguchi-gumi HQ. Photo: Natasha Shewa

Not only a sack of great Halloween candy but cotton candy in a Pretty Cure (Glitter Force) bag. My daughter would have loved it–when she was five years old. (Photo by Natasha Shewa)

One of the few regrets in life I’ve had was not taking my kids to trick or treat at the Yamaguchi-gumi Headquarter so they could learn the gentle art of extortion.

 

The Yamaguchi-gumi did have their annual halloween party after all (2014 photo)

The Treat

Suddenly at around 4pm on October 31st (Japan time), gangsters opened the shutters of their headquarters and began distributing bags of candy to the neighborhood kids, as they have done for over a decade. A gangster dressed as a giant jack-o-lantern waved children inside the compound. The yard was garishly decorated with Halloween lights, blow-up pumpkins and ghosts, and a cotton candy machine according to those who attended.

The neighborhood children were delighted. Each garish bag was decorated with jack-o-lanterns and “Happy Halloween” in English. The bags had cookies, crackers, and chocolate filled koalas.“They did celebrate after all,” rejoiced one local woman. “Not only were the decorations great and the gift bags full of tasty stuff, there were two big lines for cotton candy. And the gangsters were super nice.”Some members were in costume distributing bags saying “Happy Halloween!” while others were in white jumpsuits and  bullet-proof vests patrolling he area as the police looked on. “Security was top notch,” stated one mother who attended.

One father in the area of Indian descent wrote me, “The kids got one bag each, worth about 800 yen ($7) worth of stuff. My wife said it was a really fun event.” Many in the large Indian community in Kobe were convinced that they played a role in the tradition, recounting stories of visiting the headquarters in their youth. One woman remembers that eventually Japanese school children began following their lead on Halloween–making costumes out of black garbage bags and tagging along.  This year, as  a special bonus, the Cotton Candy was packaged in a Pretty Cure (Glitter Force) Anime bags. My daughter Beni would have been delighted–if she was still five years old.

For a haul like this, I’d go trick or treating at the Yamaguchi-gumi HQ, if I was 10 years old.

No Masks Necessary

For the rest of the world, the Japanese mafia, even the well-organized Yamaguchi-gumi are frightening creatures. They don’t have to hide in Japan. They don’t wear masks but many of them wear sunglasses and are covered in ornate tattoos, often with violent images, and have a characteristic scowl. Some members cut off a finger in atonement for their own mistakes or on behalf of their friends to settle a dispute. A chopped off finger to atone for your mistakes is known as a shiniyubi (死に指) “a dead finger”. When a pinkie is sacrificed for another person, it’s the more honorable ikiyubi (生き指) or “living finger.” Many yakuza also have facial scars. This dates back to a time when instead of killing a rival, some thugs would just cut the person’s face and let them live. A small number of yakuza deliberately cut their own faces, to give the impression that they had survived a deadly confrontation.

In Japan, to discreetly discuss the yakuza, some people still use their index finger to pantomime cutting their face.

The yakuza derive their revenue from racketeering, gambling, fraud, insider trading, blackmail and other unsavory acts. Many members though, also run legitimate businesses. The Yamaguchi-gumi ostensibly forbids its members from engaging in theft, robbery, and drug dealing. They claim to be a humanitarian organization and are regulated under Japanese laws but not banned outright.

Tricky Yakuza 

The police were less than delighted with today’s “trick.” An organized crime control detective from the Kansai area said, “We weren’t completely caught off guard but it was a risky move in light of the current gang war. I think their rivals (Kobe-Yamaguchi-gumi and the  Ninkyo Yamaguchi-gumi) were snow-jobbed but now I get the ‘trick-or-treat’ thing’ now.” He went on to explain that the party was good PR for the organization. The false cancellation may have been an effort to stave off trouble and the press, he speculated.

Local press has also noted that many people in Japan are now bringing lawsuits against yakuza groups to force them to vacate their local offices. It appears that this year’s Halloween Party was the gang’s way of forestalling this, while gaining the goodwill of the community.  Much of the media came late to the party, but the local newspaper, Kobe Shimbun, posted a slightly critical story around 7:30 pm. They also removed from their website an October 21st article stating that the Halloween party was going to be cancelled, “Probably due to the influence of the gang war.” 

I hastily updated my own article—which was hard to do from the scene of the multiple murders at Zama City. One former Kabukicho talent scout was arrested that day for desecration of a corpse, after police found nine severed human heads and body parts in his apartment. They were looking for a missing woman–they probably found her. It was a grisly Halloween indeed. All things being equal, I wish I’d stuck to my original plans to go to Kobe.

In the end, the Yamaguchi-gumi tricked us all. But in some ways, it was the highlight of my dark Halloween.

The police were pissed and so were some of the media. The kids were just happy to get their candy. And it may be the only time in their little  lives that they get to turn the tables on the yakuza and safely extort something from them. Trick or treat!?

This year it was both.

O-bon: Festival of The Dead or “Please Feed The Hungry Ghosts Day”

Late July marks the official start of O-bon, the Festival of the Dead, where Japanese people visit the graves of their ancestors and/or pay their respects to the recently departed. For Tokyoites, August is the time of celebration.

It’s also a semi-official vacation for many, and the trains out of Tokyo fill-up with families going back home to visit the living and the dead.

Some Japanese families who can’t afford to travel put offerings on the family Buddhist altar and welcome their departed in-laws into the home for a few days before wishing them farewell. (In some cases, when the visiting ghosts won’t leave, they have to call in a Buddhist exorcist to kick them out. Maybe.)At JSRC, we thought you’d like to know a little bit more about this festive occasion and why it’s celebrated. *Editor’s note: The 90% well-researched version was revised to be 99% accurate and less snarky. All snarky and historically inaccurate parts are followed by a ★ for clarity.  While ☆ represents a gross simplification.

It’s a long road home from the underworld to Tokyo.

The history of the holiday which came to be known an O-bon/お盆–pronounced like Oh! Bone!–is very long and the stories as to how it came to be celebrated in Japan are as ethereal and mysterious as your average ghost.

The old lunar calendar that was used up until the Edo period actually had the holiday on July 15th but the modern calendar places it on August 15th. This means that now it also coincidentally comes on the same day that Japan surrendered to the United States and World War II ended.

O-bon was originally a Buddhist holiday that dates back as least as far as the year 606 in Japan, where it was written up in Nihon Shoki (日本書紀) one of Japan’s earliest historical records. At that time it was called 盂蘭盆会 (urabonkai). It was believed that on this day if you made offerings to the local Buddhist monks, that the spirits of your parents and other ancestors would be saved from spending time in the lower realms of existence and be sent on to a better incarnation.

In time, over centuries, with the free-market liberalization of the metaphysical world, the Buddhist monks got cut out of the distribution system and now the offerings are made directly to the spirits. ☆

The “bon” in O-bon  (盆) itself refers to the vessels (plates, bowls, tupperware etc)  in which offerings are placed upon for the spirits of the deceased. The physical bowl has come to refer to the holiday or the period where the holiday is celebrated in modern lingo. Of course, O-bon as a holiday could be translated as “honorable container day” but then it wouldn’t sound as cool as “Japanese Festival Of The Dead.” The practice of offering food and drinks (such as Pepsi-Watermelon Cola and Wasabi Potato Chips etc) to the visiting spirits is believed to have spread from the original ceremony in Japan’s hip 600s.

 The O-Bon Sutra: If it’s in an ancient book it must be true.

            There is even a Buddhist holy book about O-bon, called the 盂蘭盆経 (Urabonkyo) which establishes the basic ideas of the holiday. In this tale, a disciple of Buddha, named 目連 (Mokuren) finds out that his deceased mother is trapped in the realm of hungry ghosts (餓鬼) and tries to find a way to relieve her suffering. *Buddhism postulates six realms of existence. Hungry ghosts aka gaki (餓鬼) are spirits with huge stomachs and small throats that can never get enough to eat and are perpetually famished.  Look for my book on the United States of America and its obesity problem, Hungry Ghost Nation, in 2015.★

Mokuren, the Buddhist monk, is bummed that his Mom is a sort of demon. He makes votive offerings of food and water to his Mom, but right before she can wolf them down, they all burst into flames, making that a no-go. He decides to save Mom.

“Mom, you look great as a hungry ghost–not fat at all! But I’ll talk to the boss, we’ll figure this out.”

Our hero, Mokuren, who we’ll call Mork, just to make it easier to remember,  has a talk with the Buddha about this problem. The Buddha, who being all-wise and everything, says to him, “Well, Mork, your Mom was really a total thug and it’s not going to be easy to spring her from her realm of suffering. However, if you wait until the last day of our post-rainy season vacation, which is July 15th, and make offerings to all of your Buddhist monk pals and supporters—making sure everyone gets fed, maybe your Mom can eat some of the leftovers or get lucky?”

And so he does just that, the monks and lay-supporters have a huge party: drinking, dancing (the original o-bon odori), eating, and having lots of fun. The Buddha says to them, while the party goes on, “Guys, let’s take a moment and pray for the well-being of our beneficiary who put on such an awesome party, and for his ancestors as well—up to seven or so generations. Let’s calm our hearts and meditate and do a thanksgiving sort of thing.”

            ”仏陀は、十方の比丘に対し、このように言った。「比丘達よ、七月十五日に供養を受ける時、
施主の家の為に祈り、七世の祖先の為に祈り、
坐禅をして心を静めて、然る後に、頂きなさい。」「比丘達よ、初めて御飯の供養を受ける時、
施主の家の為に祈り、七世の祖先の為に祈り、
霊前で祈願をしてから、然る後に、頂きなさい。」それを聞いた、比丘達は、法悦に包まれて、
モッガラーナの涙も、完全に止ったのである。
そして、母親も、一劫続く餓鬼道から救われた”

And lo and behold, the monks are wrapped in holy bliss and Mork’s Mom (Mokuren’s Mom), was freed from the realm of hungry ghosts. The Buddha then promises the same service to any monk or lay disciple who will take the Buddhist monks out for a party on July 15th.☆

The authenticity of this Sutra is widely debated but it doesn’t seem any less plausible than the Book of the Mormon.

50 Ways To Appease Your Loved Ones

O-bon is celebrated in different times, manners and places in Japan. The most common belief is that the spirits of the dead return around August 11th and leave again around August 15th or 16th, depending on the traffic in the spirit world. (O-bon traffic in our world peaks on the 14th and 15th, as most Japanese families in Tokyo go on vacation during this period as well and it collides with summer vacation for the kiddies.)☆

During this period families come together, greet the spirits of the departed, and then send them off again to the netherworlds. Some areas greet the spirits with a large bonfire (迎え火) and then send them off again with another fire (送り火). The energy crisis in Japan has dimmed plans to replace the bonfires with large LED lamps spelling out “Welcome” or “Good-bye” but in the future, who knows?

Depending upon the household and the area, some families will clean up the Buddhist altar and make their offerings there, placing faux horses made out of egg-plant or cucumbers to provide transportation for the wandering spirits. The smoke from the incense is believed to provide a highway for the ghosts and their cucumber horses to travel on.Tokyo dwelling families originally from Narita City in Chiba Prefecture families make a giant “limousine bus”* out of pumpkins and grapes to make the travel to Tokyo easier for the mass gatherings of ghosts arriving at the airport from the underworld. ★Actually that’s not really true. Apparitions can easily take the Narita Express now.☆

In many areas, O-bon odori(お盆踊り), the O-bon dance is performed. The dance dates back to Heian era Japan and was believed to be a ceremony both to welcome the spirits of the dead, memorialize them, entertain them, and appease them. It’s not known if the modern-day hostess club has its origins in the O-bon odori.★ The movements of the dance are said by some to mimic the writhing of souls burning in hell—which makes sense if you’ve survived enough Japanese summers. But it’s hard to see how the writhing of tortured souls could be amusing. Mmmm….laughing at the suffering of tortured souls—amazingly O-bon pre-dates Japanese game shows.

Poorly choreographed O-bon Odori

Since the 1600s, many versions of the O-bon Odori incorporate Buddhist chanting which is believed to help the restless spirits go to a better place….Hawaii or heaven or a better incarnation. But not Saitama☆.

Deep O-Bon Thoughts (As Deep As A Plate)

Jokes aside, O-bon is one of the most interesting of Japanese festivals and while August 15th marks the current official date for the holiday, it still begins in July in many places in Japan. If you can use it as an excuse to get out of work, try celebrating it twice in the same year. You can claim to have relatives in Kansai. The actual dates and practices don’t mean that much but it’s an idea that I like in principle. There is something good about remembering those who have departed from our lives and will not return. It reminds us how lucky we are to still be alive, to eat, to drink and to dance. Even for those of us who can barely dance at all, there is something joyous about this holiday. Dance while you can.

“I love having the ancestral spirits visit but I wish they’d clean up after themselves. It’s about time to light that incense and send them off.”

「このお盆に生きている全部の人間は、単に今年度の生き残り分にすぎない」吉川英治 (小説家)

“All of us who are still alive this O-bon, we’re simply the survivors of our fiscal year.”—Eiji Yoshikawa, Japanese novelist.

 

originally posted on August 15th, 2012 and updated yearly