Aliens Versus Yakuza: 宇宙人対極道: A Masterpiece Of Bad Genre Films

In honour of Japan’s Celebration of Cinema Day, December 1st, we’ve reposted some reviews and articles on classic films. Some good, some bad, some epic.

AVN: Aliens Versus Ninja (エイリアンvs 忍者)released in 2010 is a camp classic for both lovers of Alien films and Ninja films. I was delighted to find that the super-deluxe release of AVN included on the second disc a 15 minute short-film エイリアン Vs 極道 (Alien Versus Yakuza), a Yuji Shinomura film . If you find the movie in the bargain bin at the local Tsutaya, it’s worth picking up. The plot is simple. Young yakuza and his older brother–in the yakuza sense–accidentally run over an Alien while on their way to late-night Karaoke in the boss’s car. They aren’t quite sure what to do with the body.  They don’t even realize it’s an alien, believing that they’ve just run over an unlucky foreigner. “Maybe half?”

Our hapless yakuza anti-heroes run over an alien and decide to get rid of the body. Not sure exactly what it is, they decide it must be a foreigner–and probably half-Japanese.

After a short debate, they decide to dismember the body and get rid of the evidence.  Young yakuza goes to scour the glove department for a big knife, buried amidst piles of trashy magazines, but when he comes back the trunk is empty and his older brother (兄貴/aniki) is acting strangely. Could it be that Older Brother realized younger brother had slept with his girlfriend or has something stranger happened?  Even when younger brother confesses and makes a peace offering; “Only once! Only slept with her once. I saved you a seat at the speed-dating thing (合コン・gokon)–can we call it even?” –Aniki’s anger is not quelled. What happens next is almost totally predictable but even after the young yakuza confronts the ousted alien, accusing him of being an 当たり屋 (atariya), a con man who shakes people down by throwing themselves in front of a car and suing for damages–the fight isn’t quite over. Because this Alien has a driver’s license.

Young yakuza throws a cigarette at the alien, accusing him of being an 当たり屋 (a professional con man who throws himself in front of cars to extort insurance money.)

I wouldn’t want to spoil the rest of the film for our readers but it does solve the ancient question: in a battle between an alien and a yakuza, who would win?  Note: Some may argue that this question was settled in the masterpiece Predators, where the lone Inagawa-kai member in the film faces down a Predator with an ancient samurai sword,  but  Predators are really not your standard aliens. The film is bloody, silly, and probably unrealistic* but in the short yakuza film genre, it’s in a class by itself.

*For instance, I don’t think it’s possible to catch a bullet in your teeth but I’m not a war reporter so I’ll reserve judgement.

The Hardest Men In Town: Chronicles of Sin, Sex, Violence and 1975 classic gangster film THE YAKUZA

In honour of Japan’s Celebration of Cinema Day, December 1st, we’ve reposted some reviews and articles on classic films. Some good, some bad, some epic.This was originally posted on March 10th 2011. (Wow, who would have guessed what would happen a day later.) It has been reposted to commemorate the passing of yakuza movie icon, Ken Takakura, on November 10th 2014. 

Today, March 9th, began the first day of the Globus Film Series, Hardest Men in Town: Yakuza Chronicles of Sin, Sex and Violence presented by the Japan Society New York.

Hardest Men In Town: Yakuza Chronicles of Sin, Sex and Violence March 9th-19th, 2001 Japan Society New York

The film festival opened with a bang or rather the swoosh of a katana (刀) slashing through the air with the showing of Sydney Pollack’s overlooked 1975 classic gangster film, The Yakuza, which starred Toei Yakuza film regular Takakura Ken and film noire/hardboiled action star, Robert Mitchum. “Mitchum, in one of his best roles of the 1970s, is drawn to the Orient by an army buddy (Brian Keith), whose daughter has been kidnapped. But when he gets to Japan, Mitchum finds that her kidnappers are the shadowy Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia–an organization that is as vicious as it is tradition-bound. He must call on friends he made after World War II for favors and finds himself unintentionally trampling on issues of honor, even as he battles for his life and that of the girl he is seeking.” (from Amazon.com)

The script was written by Paul Schrader, better known  for writing such classics as Taxi Driver and  Raging Bull. It is probably one of the most unique yakuza films ever made, in which an American and an ex-yakuza form an uneasy alliance. Takakura Ken would later go on to play the stiff, rule-bound but honorable organized crime control division detective in Ridley Scott’s Black Rain. In the genre, the only thing that comes close to having the same components is Kitano Takeshi’s Brother. (PS. If you can find a copy of the Japanese original version which is 40 minutes longer than the cut released in the west, watch it instead of the US version. It makes it a much better film.)

The tag-line for The Yakuza when released on DVD is an eloquent summary of the yakuza code. “A man never forgets. A man pays his debts.”  While the movie is not as close to approaching the realism of 鬼火 (Onibi: The Fire Within) which has its US debut tomorrow (March 10th), it is an amazing film and the sword fighting scenes at the climax are breathtakingly done and some of the tensest action scenes you’ll ever see in any film.

After Paul Schrader did the introductions, I was lucky enough to have dinner with him, and Stephen E. Globus who made the event possible. During his prefatory remarks, and before and after dinner, Mr. Schrader shared the story of how he became interested in the yakuza and the background to the film and his other still-banned-in-Japan masterpiece, Mishima, which depicted the life of famous Japanese novelist and late-blooming right-wing idol Mishima Yukio. Mishima committed seppuku, or hara-kiri (ritual self-embowlment), at Japan’s Self-Defense base in Ichigaya as his final literary statement. According to Mr. Schrader, he intended to write a final poem with a brush-pen dipped in the blood flowing from his guts. Unfortunately, his subordinate botched the job of lobbing off Mishima’s head and other things left that final poem unwritten.

When I was a student at Sophia University in the 90’s, I taught English to one of the doctor’s who performed the autopsy of Mishima. He told me that his shoulders had three or four deep cuts where his disciple had clearly missed the target: Mishima’s neck. This evening while drinking Otokoyama (男山, Man-Mountain), my favorite sake, with the screenwriter, Mr. Globus and members of the Japan society, was the first time I ever knew that there was more botched in that final act than just the decapitation. In his closing remarks, Mr. Schrader also noted that originally Takakura Ken had been offered the role of Mishima but politely bowed out later saying obliquely and apologetically, “There are certain forces that do not want me to do this film and as part of that subculture, I must decline.”

Schrader’s original reason for being interested in the yakuza and film about them came from his brother, who was living in Japan, and wrote him of those amazing Toei studio yakuza films, and the splendor of Japanese life. Schrader expressed his fondness for the rigid rules and politeness of Japanese society, noting, “If I had grown up under those rules, I would have probably hated them. But as a foreigner, I benefit from them but yet am not expected to obey them.”  His own daughter was born in Japan in the 80’s on a particularly auspicious day. He hopes someday to be invited to the Tokyo Film Festival but as of yet, since the making of the controversial Mishima and the refusal once of the film festival to show it, he hasn’t been invited to Japan as a speaker for any film festival. The reality of the yakuza (and their hold on Japan’s film industry) are not the only taboo subjects in Japan.

The Yakuza. Poster for the release in Japan.

Tomorrow, March 10th, I will be lecturing on Yakuza In Popular Media & Real LIfe: Cracks and Chasms from 6:30 pm. This will be followed by the U.S. premiere of the fantastic Onibi: The Fire Within. It was an honor and a pleasure to meet Mr. Schrader who was funny, humble, and even accommodated my request for the obligatory commemorative photo.

Jake Adelstein (Tokyo Vice), Paul Schrader (The Yakuza, Mishima, Taxi Driver), and Motoatsu Sakurai, president of the Japan Society.

(Please notice, that in a bow of respect to Sandra Barron’s amazing article on the history of the peace sign in Japan, that I’m making the mandatory V-sign and/or peace gesture.)

 

Your red dress is waiting. love and leukemia and coming home

“The pain then is part of the happiness now.” This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “Painful things are like knots on a beautiful necklace, necessary for keeping the beads in place.” The pain experienced will make me appreciate life more and find happiness in the little things. Knots in life are necessary to appreciate the beauty of life. –Michiel Brandt (1981-2012) 

It’s been four years.  This year, this day is a cold and rainy morning. As it should be.

Michiel Brandt passed away on July 9th, 2012, from complications of her third bone marrow transplant. She was thirty years old. She was one of the founders of this blog and my BFF (Best Friend Forever).  We were friends for over eight years. If you’ve read  Tokyo Vice, you’ll find the following acknowledgement: “Michiel Brandt, the most cheerful researcher and two time leukemia survivor in the world. She’s inspirational”.

I’ll have to correct that.

“She was the most cheerful researcher and four-time leukemia survivor in the world. She was inspirational and the best friend I have ever had.”

2013 was her  一周忌 (いっしゅうき)–the one year anniversary of her passing. In some schools of Buddhism, on this day, sutras are read, incense is lit, prayers are said, and offerings (追善法要) are made to ensure that the departed moves on to a better reincarnation. It also marks the end of mourning. It doesn’t mean forgetting. I put out some gluten free cookies and lit some incense for Michiel. I know she likes the cookies–the incense, maybe not so much.

 

Michiel “Mimi” Brandt. November 2011.

I couldn’t make it back to Japan for her funeral in July of 2012 but her good friends and I were able to arrange a memorial service in San Francisco, which her brother attended. He brought her ashes and her parents joined by Skype. Over 25 people came on short notice, including her childhood friends, her college professor, her ex-boyfriend. She was very loved.

I know that she would want those of us that remain to celebrate life and the joy of living rather than be in mourning for weeks, months, years. Yet, I still sometimes find myself overcome with feelings of sadness and despair so dense that I feel like gravity has been turned up and I’m sinking into the earth.   I’ve written a eulogy for her here and I reposted it today. It’s long, full of Japanese and English, and not well-written but the sentiment is heartfelt.  I couldn’t find the words myself to express how charming, funny and compassionate she was so I’ve let her speak for herself at times. In between the lines of her letters, her emails, so much is said that I couldn’t articulate.

There is no special ceremony for the 2nd anniversary of someone passing away. There is simply the act of remembrance.

The third year anniversary, 三周忌, is today. Last Saturday, the Brandt family, her relatives, a few childhood friends and myself went to Kaneiji for the Nokotsushiki (納骨式)—the interment of her bones. I was honoured to have been invited. Some of her earthly remains were placed in the family grave, her name carved into the tombstone. All that can be done has been done. There is a memorial fund in her name. I’ll donate to it as long as I can.

I don’t think I will update this post anymore. Sometimes, I may add photos because I find them now and then and it brings back happy memories. I may post this eulogy every year. It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay not to forget. I’m okay with that. I have been blessed with wonderful friends and I am grateful for them in the past and the present. There are many I wish Michiel could have met.

It’s so lengthy I doubt anyone will read it to the end but that’s okay. If one person who knew her reads it, or one person finds something inspiring in her words or her life, that’s enough. I am posting it here because she was one of the founders of Japan Subculture Research Center and this is my way of saying thank you for all you did for this blog, your loved ones, and for me. I have never had a truer friend.

 

******

When I first Michiel Brandt, I was still working at the Yomiuri Shimbun as a police reporter in 2004. She was studying in Japan at Waseda, after graduating from UCLA with a degree in political science and international relations, and intensely interested in the human trafficking problem and helping women victimized by the forces of darkness.  She was charming, cheerful, curious, brave and bright. Her enthusiasm was contagious. We quickly became friends.  I’m ashamed to say that at first I sort of considered her to be like a well-meaning muppet. It took me years to realize how substantial she was as a human being.

I  remember the first time she was diagnosed with leukemia. Michiel, her friend Chris and my pal had all gone dancing at Vanilla (in Roppongi) and she suddenly felt ill. I thought she had drunk too much and was a little worried but made sure she got in a taxi home. And then I couldn’t reach her for days. Finally, I got ahold of her father and he told me what had happened. Leukemia.

Michiel survived four bouts of leukemia. She had two bone marrow transplants and final third bone marrow transplant which they hoped might cure her. She was born with a genetic predisposition to leukemia, and she was hit with four different types of leukemia during her short life.

The first bout of leukemia was very bad. The doctors gave her less than a 50% chance of survival. I visited her in the hospital as much as I could. I got her a portable DVD player and a load of bad movies so she could have something to do during those long hours in bed. It didn’t look good. However, her brother Daniel turned out to be a perfect bone marrow match and she lived. We were all ecstatic.

The first bone marrow transplant actually gave her curly hair. She sort of looked like little orphan Annie. So of course, I mercilessly made fun of her. Because that’s the kind of pal I am.

When I was creating this blog and writing Tokyo Vice in 2007 and 2008, Michiel gave advice, did translation, research and was a constant presence in my former digs in Nishi-Azabu. I know she felt like she wasn’t doing great work but it was awesome help. I wish she’d known how much I appreciated her. All my room-mates knew her and grew to love her. When I was put under police protection in March of 2008 and I told Michiel what was going on, she still continued to work for me on and off. She wasn’t afraid.

Michiel Brandt fact-checking the early draft of Tokyo Vice.

 

Before the Washington Post article came out in May of 2008,  she was so worried that she started crying when she saw me and I was truly touched that anyone could care so much. I wrote to thank her and told her not to worry.

 2008/5/12 Joshua Adelstein:

みみちゃん、色々ありがとうございます。泣いちゃだめですよ。大丈夫だから。(Thank you for everything. Don’t cry! I’m okay.) 

一応、記事はここですよ。当局の一部は激怒です。案の定ですが、マル暴の刑事は受けが良い模様です。連絡するよ。頻繁に。(Here’s the article. The organized crime cops liked it, not everyone did. No surprise. I’ll keep you posted on a regular basis.) 

I hate to say mushy crap, but I love you Michiel, like the little sister that I always wanted. You’re great and I admire how you’ve  handled all the things in the last two years. You inspire me more than you know and more than I will ever tell you. I don’t want your pumpkin head to get all swelled up with pride, you know.

jake

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/09/AR2008050902544.html

あるいはワシントンポスト内の検索で「Jake Adelstein」を入れると出ます。(If you search the Washington Post and put in my name the article will show up.)

 

From: Michiel Brandt

Subject: Re: The article

Date: 2008年5月14日 2:57:33 GMT-05:00

To: Joshua Adelstein

Dear Jake,

I’m glad to hear you’re okay. I am so sorry I broke down like that. I think I’ve been on pins and needles recently, and that last moment before the article came out was just too much for me. It’s just that, I’m quite fond of you, ya know. You really are like a big brother to me, and when I think about anything happening to you–はぁ~。心が締め付けられるよ。(It makes my heart feel like it’s being crushed) 

I just want you to know how much respect I have for you. One of the cops’ wives at the party told me that her husband  (the cop with the glasses) is embarrassed for you having to do what he and the others don’t have the courage to. And you’re a gaijin! He feels that you’re more Japanese in spirit than they are. なんと言うか、それを聞いて貴方をとても誇りに思いました。(And when I hear that, I was really proud of you) 

Thank you for such kind words. Coming from you, they mean a lot. もう、また泣いちゃったじゃない!(Anyway, I think I cried again) I can’t wait for all this to be over so we can gather at your place and laugh around the coffee table again!

I love you, Jake.

Mimi

At the coffee table. Michiel’s hair was just starting to grow back after completing chemotherapy.

 

Things were good after that but by the Christmas of 2008, when I got her card, I knew that the leukemia was back. And it was my time to be worried about her. And I was.

A Christmas card from Michiel 2008. She never failed to send one. Even in this digital age. And unlike my writing, you can actually read it.

 

We kept in touch. She got better. She’d get sick again.  I saw her in San Francisco, in Tokyo. We hung out when she was well and I visited her when she got ill and I always felt that no matter what, she’d be okay.

I never saw her get down. She survived every bout with leukemia with grace and dignity. She was never bitter, even when a resurgence of her leukemia completely shattered her plans and her work. She worked at the Asia Foundation. She went back to school in Monterey. We always stayed in touch. No matter how bad things got, she could find something positive in it.

She also had a huge hunger for social justice, to make the world a better place. Her essay, On Modern Slavery,  which so eloquently explained why she wanted to attend Monterey Institute of International Studies is heartfelt and inspiring even now. Sometimes, I re-read it to remind myself why I stay with the Polaris Project Japan.

Michiel had a few years of good health. The leukemia came back. She was undaunted. When the leukemia reached her brain cells, she considered herself lucky that there was finally a medicine that could breach the brain-blood barrier. And she survived a little longer. She meditated, she read, she turned her hospital room into a little temple of good will and hope.  Last November, after her 4th bout with leukemia Michiel returned to Japan for treatment. She was reluctant to do it because she was very close to getting her Masters from Monterey Institute of International Relations . But she didn’t have much of a choice. The US medical system is not kind to the seriously ill nor are insurance companies. She expressed gratitude that she had Japanese citizenship so that she could get medical treatment, a good treatment to boot.

I visited Michiel in the hospital whenever I could and when the doctors would let me. I brought her a cheesy $9.99 BFF necklace from the states. It was a yin-yang design. Michiel was very philosophical and meditated often. She was well-versed in Taoism, Buddhism and Eastern philosophy. I knew she’d appreciate the gesture and she did. I explained to her what a BFF necklace was and she made fun of me. “Jake, I was an eleven year old girl once. I know what a BFF is! You’re so silly.”

 

Best Friends Forever. I was hoping forever would last a little longer.

She was the yin (female/principle of darkness) and I was the yang (male/principle of light).  But really,I think she was much stronger than me. She was the yin, but full of warmth and light. I’m full of darkness and cynicism. According to some schools of Taoism: “Yin and Yang are dependent opposing forces that flow in a natural cycle, always seeking balance. Though they are opposing, they are not in opposition to one another. As part of the Tao, they are merely two aspects of a single reality. Each contains the seed of the other, which is why we see a black spot of Yin in the white Yang and vice versa.” I took the dark half of the necklace. She took the light.

In that sense, we were like Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade. She was Will. I still have my half of the necklace.  I was hoping someday that we’d join halves again. Wonder-twin powers: activate! (Only Justice League of America fans will get that reference.)

The Yin/Yang BFF necklace. The best $9.99 I ever spent.

 

Sometimes, we’d sit around the hospital room, reading books, chatting, listening to music, watching movies. We watched The Adjustment Bureau together. It made me think that God really doesn’t do a very good job of micro-managing the world. Because Mimi-chan was a very kind and sweet human being. She should have lived longer.  She couldn’t leave the hospital very often. So I went to her. We did our cherry blossom viewing (花見) on the hospital grounds. She was dressed in a pink shirt and purple sweatpants when we went out. I joked that we should call her Princess Sakura. She just laughed. No one could rock a purple jumpsuit like Michiel.

The best cherry blossom viewing ever. Michiel is rocking that purple sweatsuit.

 

I’m repeating myself here but it’s hard to capture what Michiel was like in my own words. And after thinking about it for a very long time tonight, I’ll let her say what she was thinking in her own words. I edited our emails a little bit because even the departed have some things that should remain their own secrets.  But I think she’d want people to know that she was ready to go and that she was at peace with it.

 

The last photo taken of Michiel, by her sister-in-law. She would have made a great Buddhist monk. We could have gone into business together. When posing for the picture, Mimi said, “I always look cool. Peace!”

 On Wed, May 23, 2012 at 11:36 AM,

Joshua Adelstein wrote:

I was hoping my photos of gluten free cookies would bring a smile to your face. 😀

When is the transplant surgery taking place? How are you feeling?

I’m back in Japan on the 29th and for a while.

I’d really like to hang out a bit.

Things are pretty good with me.

Here are some photos of the kids. Beni still remembers you!

 

From: Michiel Brandt

Subject: Hi!

Date: 2012年5月23日 11:31:13 GMT-05:00

Adorable photos!  They sure put a smile on my face 🙂

Sorry for the delayed response, and oh my goodness, THANK YOU for the dvd player!  I can’t believe you actually sent me a dvd player!!!  You’re incredible, Jake.  I’ve set it up and watched Galaxy Quest–hehe–great cast.  And it’s awesome being able to watch the shows I’ve downloaded onto my flash drive on the big screen too!

I actually just opened your box yesterday.  On Friday, as I was chill’n in my clean room, there was this sudden downpour of dark water from the ceiling!  I was sent home at once so they could fix the problem and re-sterilize the room.  Can you imagine if I had already had my transplant and was immuno-compromised?  Scary.  But I’m back in my room now, and with the reassurance of multiple checkups confirming that the room meets the standards of a “clean room” again, I’ll be beginning pre-transplant treatment tomorrow.  Day 0 is the 31st.

I have to let it out.  I’m scared.  On Monday my doctors pulled me aside for a final confirmation meeting.  They explained everything over again, as well as all the possible side effects for each treatment I’m receiving, and reiterated the fatal risk of this being my third transplant.  Then they asked me if I still wanted to go through with it.  Of course, I said yes.

I was aware of all the risks before, but now that it’s happening, I can’t help but be really afraid.  And I think not having been able to talk about my fear hasn’t helped.  I always feel I need to be strong for my family, strong for my friends even.  I love my friends and they’re always there for me, rooting for me, but I’d hate to put them in a spot where they would feel the need to console me about something like this, you know?  I mean, what could they say?

You are the only person I can be honest with, because you’ve been through so much and I know you’d understand.  I’m not seeking consolation or reassurance.  I just need to be able to talk about it openly with someone.  Thanks for being that special someone for me 🙂

All that said, I don’t dwell on the fear either.  Meditating, picturing myself getting through this smoothly, imagining my bright future that lies ahead, all help me stay positive and believe in my recovery.  And now, yowane haitara sukkiri shita!  Arigato! (I’m feeling better after admitting that I’m a little scared! Thank you!)

I wish I could see you when you get back, but I can’t have any more visitors 🙁  Genki ni nattara jazz mini tsuretette! (When I get better, take me to see some jazz!)

xoxo

Mimi

From: Joshua Adelstein

Subject: Mimi-chama! So very good to hear from you and thank you for confiding in me.  I am honored.

Date: 2012年5月23日 12:56:37 GMT-05:00

Michiel-chama,

I’m so glad. I’m going to take the time to write back to you right now in depth because now is always the best time. 思い立つが吉日

On 2012/05/23, at 11:31

, Michiel Brandt wrote:

Adorable photos!  They sure put a smile on my face 🙂

I hoped they would. they are such dorks. good god, beni makes fun of me amazingly well.

Sorry for the delayed response, and oh my goodness, THANK YOU for the dvd player!  I can’t believe you actually sent me a dvd player!!!  You’re incredible, Jake.  I’ve set it up and watched Galaxy Quest–hehe–great cast.  And it’s awesome being able to watch the shows I’ve downloaded onto my flash drive on the big screen too!

You’re totally welcome. I loved Galaxy Quest–because I’m a secret Trekkie. I idolized Spock. Probably because I have a pointed ear (just like Spock)  and wished I could mind-meld, be stoically calm and logical, and kick ass when I had to with the Vulcan Grip.

Hey it’s not only a DVD player–it’s a Blu Ray player as well. And it can play a flash-drive? WHAT? Hey, give it back! (Just kidding).

I actually just opened your box yesterday.  On Friday, as I was chill’n in my clean room, there was this sudden downpour of dark water from the ceiling!  I was sent home at once so they could fix the problem and re-sterilize the room.  Can you imagine if I had already had my transplant and was immuno-compromised?  Scary.  But I’m back in my room now, and with the reassurance of multiple checkups confirming that the room meets the standards of a “clean room” again, I’ll be beginning pre-transplant treatment tomorrow.  Day 0 is the 31st.

Good god, you are lucky. 物は考えよう。I’m glad it’s a clean room again but if anything goes wrong, I’ll be happy to sue on your behalf. (LOL). Day 0 is the 31st? May I come? I know I can’t meet you but can’t I wave through the window at you. I’d really like to be there.

I have to let it out.  I’m scared.  On Monday my doctors pulled me aside for a final confirmation meeting.  They explained everything over again, as well as all the possible side effects for each treatment I’m receiving, and reiterated the fatal risk of this being my third transplant.  Then they asked me if I still wanted to go through with it.  Of course, I said yes.

Michiel, it’s okay to be scared. I’m scared too. I’d really hate to lose you. I know the risks are high, as are the side effects.

I was aware of all the risks before, but now that it’s happening, I can’t help but be really afraid.  And I think not having been able to talk about my fear hasn’t helped.  I always feel I need to be strong for my family, strong for my friends even.  I love my friends and they’re always there for me, rooting for me, but I’d hate to put them in a spot where they would feel the need to console me about something like this, you know?  I mean, what could they say?

It’s true. It’s hard to know what to say. But I’ll tell you this–you have had a very good life. You have had  a tremendously positive effect on people’s lives and you are loved. Certainly, you’ve had a very good influence on my life and I’m grateful. You may not realize but your support and kind words over the years have really kept me going and I have learned a lot from you. You are the closest I know to a living Buddha. Maybe if I’d dated you, I wouldn’t think so but fortunately this never happened. 😀

You are the only person I can be honest with, because you’ve been through so much and I know you’d understand.  I’m not seeking consolation or reassurance.  I just need to be able to talk about it openly with someone.  Thanks for being that special someone for me 🙂

I am really honored to be that person and it’s good that you’re not seeking consolation or reassurance because I’m terrible at those things. 😀 This may not cheer you up but I remember these very beautiful words I read as a child from Crowfoot, an Indian warrior and orator. I never forgot them. I still have the book my father gave me in which they were written.

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.

~ Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator

Life is a very transient thing. However, even being born is a miracle. It means that the sperm that was 1/2 of you beat out about several hundred thousand other sperm to the finish line–making you an amazing winner from the day you were conceived.

There is a possibility you may not make it. To deny that would be unfair. I think you will do very well. My spidey-sense says as much and I have very good instincts.

All that said, I don’t dwell on the fear either.  Meditating, picturing myself getting through this smoothly, imagining my bright future that lies ahead, all help me stay positive and believe in my recovery.  And now, yowane haitara sukkiri shita!  Arigato!

It’s okay to be afraid. Fear and anger are powerful emotions and we can transmute them into positive energy. You have reasons to fear. “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

–Mmm, pardon me, that’s like total bullshit. 😀 But Holy Buddha, if there’s anyone that can get through this intact, it’s you. You are doing everything right and you are a tough little cookie. A tough little gluten-free and very sweet cookie.

I wish I could see you when you get back, but I can’t have any more visitors 🙁  Genki ni nattara jazz mini tsuretette!

I hope that you’ll let me come on the 31st and wave at you through the window. When you get out of the hospital, we are definitely going to a jazz concert. And I’m taking you out for a great dinner.

xoxo

Mimi

PS. I think I should be honest here and say that over the years I have come to love you like a sister. And sometimes, I feel like I love you more than a guy should love his sister.

LOL. Which is my awkward way of saying I really care about you and I think you’re awesome.

And I love you.

In the best sense of the word, in that your happiness means as much to me or more than me than my own. You’re a great person.

I re-read this speech by Chief Seattle when I was waiting to see if I’d survive last year. It’s about the circle of life and it’s about death as well but it’s also about hope. I read it, made my peace with the fact that I’m mortal and I felt better, got better.

“To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground. You wander far from the graves of your ancestors and seemingly without regret. Your religion was written upon tablets of stone by the iron finger of your God so that you could not forget. The Red Man could never comprehend or remember it. Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors — the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit; and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander away beyond the stars. They are soon forgotten and never return. Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant lined lakes and bays, and ever yearn in tender fond affection over the lonely hearted living, and often return from the happy hunting ground to visit, guide, console, and comfort them.

Day and night cannot dwell together. The Red Man has ever fled the approach of the White Man, as the morning mist flees before the morning sun. However, your proposition seems fair and I think that my people will accept it and will retire to the reservation you offer them. Then we will dwell apart in peace, for the words of the Great White Chief seem to be the words of nature speaking to my people out of dense darkness.

It matters little where we pass the remnant of our days. They will not be many. The Indian’s night promises to be dark. Not a single star of hope hovers above his horizon. Sad-voiced winds moan in the distance. Grim fate seems to be on the Red Man’s trail, and wherever he will hear the approaching footsteps of his fell destroyer and prepare stolidly to meet his doom, as does the wounded doe that hears the approaching footsteps of the hunter.

A few more moons, a few more winters, and not one of the descendants of the mighty hosts that once moved over this broad land or lived in happy homes, protected by the Great Spirit, will remain to mourn over the graves of a people once more powerful and hopeful than yours. But why should I mourn at the untimely fate of my people? Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless. Your time of decay may be distant, but it will surely come, for even the White Man whose God walked and talked with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We will see.

We will ponder your proposition and when we decide we will let you know. But should we accept it, I here and now make this condition that we will not be denied the privilege without molestation of visiting at any time the tombs of our ancestors, friends, and children. Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as the swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch. Our departed braves, fond mothers, glad, happy hearted maidens, and even the little children who lived here and rejoiced here for a brief season, will love these somber solitudes and at eventide they greet shadowy returning spirits. And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children’s children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.

Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds.”

your BFF

jake

On Sat, May 26, 2012 at 2:32 AM, Joshua Adelstein ‪ wrote: I hope I didn’t say the wrong thing

Hey, I hope you’re feeling good and not nervous about the surgery.

I wish I could give you a big hug.

When you’re recovered and ready to hit the town, I’m going to take you shopping for a nice red dress and we’ll go to the Blue Note and eat an awe inspiring  gluten free meal with chopsticks and groove to the finest jazz inTokyo.

Deal? I get to cover the tab because I’m your 先輩!(^_−)−☆

 

From: Michiel Brandt

Subject: Re: I hope I didn’t say the wrong thing! 🙁

Date: 2012年5月25日 19:48:38 GMT-05:00

 

No!  I’m so sorry I even made you think that.  I was so touched by what you said.  You made me laugh, reflect, gave me strength.  I liked how you wrote that the sperm that was half of me beat out several hundred thousand others, making me a winner from the day I was conceived!  And the speech by Chief Seattle made me feel better too.  “There is no death, only a change of worlds.”  そうだね。You wrote you were terrible at consoling and reassuring, but you’re wrong, because you did both.  Thank you 🙂

The treatment’s been killing me.  Literally, they are killing the cells in my body to make room for my mom’s.  I’m either really sick or asleep.  But this morning my fever broke and I feel well.  Though in a couple hours I’ll have to go through it all over again =/

It is incredibly sweet that you want to wave at me through my plastic curtain during the transplant, but I’d hate for you to make the trip and not even be able to talk!  気持ちだけありがたく頂きます:)(I’m just thankful for your kind thoughts.) Instead, I’ll be looking forward to getting better and going to see jazz with you!  In my sexy red dress 😉

Sorry if I can’t write, but I’ll let you know how I’m doing whenever I can.

You take care too!

Love, Mimi

 

She told me not to come to the hospital on the day of her bone marrow transplant but I didn’t know if I’d be able to see her again, so I ignored her and went anyway and I’m glad I did. It was the morning of May 31st.  She was in the clean room and so I had to wear a mask and disinfect myself.  Her father was there and I wasn’t supposed to stay long. I stayed anyway and we talked.  As I was getting ready to leave, she reached out her hand and I took it. Our eyes met and she smiled and so did I. There was nothing left to be said and nothing that needed to be said.

The memorial service in San Francisco. Gluten free cookies were served, of course.

Her hand felt so warm and soft in mine, the warmth radiated through me like drinking a mug of Mexican Coffee on a Missouri winter morning.

In that comfortable silence, I held her hand and I didn’t want to let go.

I still don’t want to.

It’s strange to remember a tactile sensation, a lingering touch. However, I find that sometimes as I drift off to sleep, I still can feel her hand in my mine and the memory fills me with a sense of peace and compassion and something effusive that I can’t quite name.

Love wouldn’t be the word but it would come close.

She was one of the most, if not the most, considerate, caring and kind people I have ever had the honor of knowing.

What Mimi learned in her lifetime. She brought great happiness into the lives of many.

I don’t think I’ve met many people in life who I would consider to be saints. She came very close–she also had a charming wild streak as well.

The words below are attributed Shantideva, a Buddhist saint and philosopher. I don’t think Michiel knew who he was or had read his works. But in her short life, she lived those vows as if they were her own. I only hope that when the time comes that I can cross over as gracefully as she did. She was 12 years younger than me and wiser than I think I will ever be.

 

As long as diseases afflict living beings

May I be the doctor, the medicine

And also the nurse

Who restores them to health.

May I be a protector to the helpless,

A guide to those travelling the path,

A boat to those wishing to cross over;

Or a bridge or a raft.

Shantideva

 

 

I hope to see her on the other side. But on my best days, I still feel she’s here with me—gently nudging me towards being a better person, a guardian devil, a reluctant protector, and sometimes a decent guide. I could always count on her to tell me to do the right thing–not always the easy thing, but the right one. I should end by saying, Michiel Brandt, rest in peace but I can’t say that. I’m a neo-Buddhist. I’m a staunch near believer in reincarnation.

There’s a danger in loving a ghost. They can never disappoint you. They always stay the same. They always love you. Their heart stays where it was. It’s hard for anyone to compete with that. It’s hard to let them go. There are some people we love that haunt us for the rest of our lives. Maybe “haunt” isn’t the right word. They stay with us, they look over us, and they inspire us.

Michiel made me a CD–the modern equivalent of a mix-tape (okay, sort of old-school in the iPod age) and I listen to it now and then. It was the last thing she ever gave me. There’s one song, My Love by Sia, at the end that makes me feel like it was her way of saying goodbye.  I’ll never know. I won’t mourn her after this day. I will remember her.

Like I said at the beginning, In some schools of Japanese buddhism, the soul is believed to reincarnate after forty-nine days. So I won’t say “rest in peace”. All I can say is Michiel-chan, I hope you’ve found a good place to return. Maybe we’ll meet again but if we don’t, I hope you find the happiness you deserve this time around. The world needs you.

I need you.  You are missed.

 

 

 

 

 

Updated: The Gangster That Became A Buddhist Priest. Bye Bye Goto! May your karma find you wherever you are.

12/9/2015

Action Targets Yakuza’s Global Criminal Operations

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today designated Tadamasa Goto, an individual associated with the Japanese Yakuza criminal network, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13581, which targets significant transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and their supporters.  Today’s action is part of the Treasury Department’s ongoing efforts to protect the U.S. financial system from the malign influence of TCOs and to expose persons who are supporting them or acting on their behalf.

“Tadamasa Goto possesses deep ties to the Yakuza and has been instrumental to its criminal operations around the world,” said OFAC Acting Director John E. Smith.  “Today’s action denies Goto access to the U.S. financial system and demonstrates our resolve to aggressively combat transnational criminal organizations and their supporters.”

Tadamasa Goto began working in the Yakuza as a member of the Inagawa-kai.  The Inagawa-kai is the third largest Yakuza group and was designated by OFAC pursuant to E.O. 13581 on January 23, 2013.  Goto subsequently joined the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest and most prominent Yakuza group, which OFAC designated pursuant to E.O. 13581 on February 23, 2012.  Goto served in several senior leadership positions within the Yamaguchi-gumi before becoming the head of the Goto-gumi, which was a powerful Yamaguchi-gumi faction.  The Goto-gumi was responsible for setting up a network of front companies on behalf of the Yamaguchi-gumi.

Goto headed the Goto-gumi until October 2008, when he was expelled and forced into retirement from the Yamaguchi-gumi and relocated to Cambodia.  Despite his retirement from mob life, Yakuza figure Tadamasa Goto reportedly still associates with numerous gang-tainted companies that he utilizes to facilitate his legitimate and illicit business activities.  He continues to support the Yamaguchi-gumi and remnants of his semi-defunct Goto-gumi by laundering their funds between Japan and Cambodia.  Additionally, Goto has reportedly established links with the notoriously violent Namikawa Mutsumi-kai group, formerly known as the Kyushu Seido-kai, which is recognized by Japan as a Yakuza group.

The original post from April 7th 2009 is below. 

Japanese underworld boss quits crime to turn Buddhist

Habakarinagara_by_Tadamasa_Goto
The memoirs of deposed Yamaguchi-gumi boss, Tadamasa Goto, still engaged in criminal activity. There is no remorse expressed for his victims or those his men maimed or killed under his reign. “Pardon me, but you’re a despicable human being.”

Tadamasa Goto will enter priesthood after falling foul of yakuza leaders for allegedly passing information to the FBI.

Tadamasa Goto, one of Japan‘s most notorious underworld bosses, is to enter the Buddhist priesthood less than a year after his volatile behaviour caused a rift in the country’s biggest crime syndicate.

As leader of a yakuza – or Japanese mafia – gang, Goto amassed a fortune from prostitution, protection rackets and white-collar crime, while cultivating a reputation for extreme violence.

Tomorrow, his life will take a decidedly austere turn when he begins training at a temple in Kanagawa prefecture south of Tokyo, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper said today, citing police sources.

The 66-year-old, whose eponymous gang belonged to the powerful Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate, was expelled from the yakuza fraternity last October after a furious row with his bosses over his conduct.

Known as Japan’s answer to John Gotti, the infamous mafia don, Goto reportedly upset his seniors amid media reports that he had invited several celebrities to join his lavish birthday celebrations last September.

Several months earlier he had attracted more unwanted publicity following revelations that he had offered information to the FBI in return for permission to enter the US for a life-saving liver transplant in 2001.

At an emergency meeting last October the Yamaguchi-gumi’s bosses – minus their leader, Shinobu Tsukasa, who is serving a six-year prison term for illegal arms possession – expelled Goto, splitting his gang into rival factions.

According to the Sankei, Goto will formally join the priesthood on 8 April – considered to be Buddha’s birthday in Japan – in a private ceremony.

The former gangster was quoted as describing the occasion as “solemn and meaningful, in which Buddha will make me his disciple and enable me to start a new life”.

In his deal with the FBI, Goto reportedly gave up vital information about yakuza front companies, as well as the names of senior crime figures and the mob’s links to North Korea.

Underworld experts have pointed out, however, that the bureau could have gleaned the same information from yakuza fanzines.

Goto’s transplant was performed at UCLA medical centre in Los Angeles In the spring of 2001 by the respected surgeon Dr Ronald W Busuttil, using the liver of a 16-year-old boy who had died in a traffic accident.

The grateful don, who was suffering from liver disease, later donated $100,000 (£68,000) to the hospital, his generosity commemorated in a plaque that reads: “In grateful recognition of the Goto Research Fund established through the generosity of Mr Tadamasa Goto.”

Jake Adelstein, a former crime reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, received death threats before he went public with the transplant story last spring, and has been living under police protection ever since.

When it was assigned to cultivate the Tokyo area in the late 1980s, the Goto-gumi stuck to what it knew best: drugs, human trafficking and extortion, before new anti-gang laws forced it to move in to more lucrative areas such as real estate and the stockmarket.

At the height of their powers, Goto’s henchmen were capable of unspeakable acts of violence, including bulldozing businesses that refused to pay protection money and administering beatings to victims in front of their families, reports said.

A 1999 leaked police file noted that “in order to achieve his goals, [Goto] uses any and all means necessary or possible. He also uses a carrot-and-stick approach to keep his soldiers in line. His group is capable of extremely violent and aggressive acts”.

Editor’s note:
   I wrote a little about this several months ago.  Actually, I was surprised to see someone catch it in the Japanese version of the blog, because it was a very subtle thing.
  Anyway, there are several reasons that the police cite for Goto entering the priesthood. One of them is that he’s facing another trial on real estate fraud charges and would like to make a good impression on the judge. Another is that he plans to use the tax exempt status of a temple or Buddhist priest to launder yakuza money.  However, on the underworld side there is a great deal of speculation that Goto is simply trying to stay alive.  Everyone who was closely associated with him has now been driven out of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest criminal organization in Japan.
  There are people worried that Goto will once again try to make a deal with US or Australian law enforcement/intelligence agencies to trade information for a new liver. He certainly seems to be trying. He knows too much; the attacks his group have made on civilians over the years have so alienated the general public and the police that in many ways he can be blamed for Japan’s gradually harsher anti-organized crime laws.
 Of course, a lot of his former pals would also like to see him dead so they can steal his assets.  He allegedly has close to a billion dollars saved away in stocks, property, and foreign bank accounts.  If I was a hyena, I’d be wanting to strip his bones as well.
 Joganji, the temple where he will be staying has a long history as a sanctuary for criminals.  It’s a good choice for a safe haven.
 Well, maybe he really does regret the way he’s lived his life. For a long-time gangster like Goto, getting kicked out of the Yamaguchi-gumi is like being dead, or becoming a zombie.  Maybe he really does feel bad for all the misery his organization has  caused via human trafficking, murder, extortion,  and violence.
 I kind of doubt it.
 Buddhism is a wonderfully harsh religion at times. If he’s looking to escape from his enemies, the priest ploy might work. It won’t work for everything.
Neither in the sky, nor deep in the ocean, nor in a mountain-cave, nor anywhere, can a man be free from the evil he has done.
Neither in the sky, nor deep in the ocean, nor in a mountain-cave, nor anywhere, can a man be free from the power of death.
—The Dhammapada 

Pedophiles, JK, AKB48 and Trolls

Few thing we have written, gathered as many responses as:  In Japan, Teenage Girls Folding Paper Cranes Has Taken on a Whole New Meaning. The article is a companion piece to the VICE Documentary, “Schoolgirls For Sale” which examines Japan’s weird and creepy industry that makes money off the backs of high school girls and boys.

The response from readers to both the English article and the Japanese translation of the article was tremendous. We are not saying that if you’re an AKB48 fan that you’re a pedophile. We are using the band as a means of discussing the endemic and exploitive nature of the JK Business.  Maybe if you really are fans of these girls, you should lean on the management to pay them better and ensure they have a decent life after their youth is misspent.

Two trolls in particular have jumped all over the article—the two trolls seem to be a team. I usually ignore them but since they seem intent on defaming my co-worker I’ll address them briefly.

I know you’re not supposed to feed the trolls, but sometimes I feel like stuffing their mouths with information until they choke on it.  (Trolls: please confine your spiteful attacks to me in the future.  Thank you)

In the journalist community we know them as Creepy Johnson and Creepec for their habit of harassing other journalists, especially women. Creepy Johnson began harassing me in 2011 after I failed to respond to his demand that I clear his name. (He had been denied entry into Japan). He writes to every publication I work for hassling my editors; he harasses and stalks anyone who he thinks might be my friend, especially if they’re female.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt, by not naming in him the first time I dealt with him, because it’s standard journalism policy in Japan to shield the names of the possibly mentally ill, but he outed himself anyway. I’m not giving these two the attention they crave by using their real names or twitter handles. If you want to find them, you can. 

Creepy Johnson, the top half of the duo, is infamous for getting fired from Japan’s Public Broadcaster NHK, after threatening to sexually molest the children (boy and girl) of another reporter there. He left a recording on the answering machine—a not very brilliant move. Here’s an excerpt:

 By all means, do go and tell your side of the story to them, motherfucker.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I heard that your daughter gives really good head… and so does your son.
Hey, I wanted to hear if your children are getting a good sleep because… when you get fired, and I get fired, you’re going to have to put your kids out of international school and into Japanese school and I’ll be waiting for them. (2007)

So Creepec, who apparently approves of his idol’s behavior sent me a list of questions demanding answers, for an “article” he’s writing. The letter is very much like one Creepy Johnson sent me years ago. I bring up the association between these two because I feel like it’s important to understand the motives of the trolls. And wow, these guys are persistent. The questions themselves are nasty and unpleasant and belittle the efforts of a friend and co-writer. This really makes me angry. But okay, here are my brief answers.

Q & A with a troll. 

1). Did VICE fact check your work in any way?

Yes.*

*Journalism 101. If you ask a “yes/no” question, you will get a “yes/no” answer more often than not.

2. What was Angela Kubo’s contribution to this piece? Does she have any significant journalistic experience? Is she a 23 year old full-time employee of an accounting firm who you hired when she was working at a bar in Roppongi

Angela Kubo was an assistant editor at the Diplomat when I hired her to work for me and she was paid a good salary in a time when many interns work for free. She had graduated from college. She writes for The Japan Times and is a very talented young bilingual writer. This means she can read Japanese, something you don’t seem able to do. Her former boss Jeff Quigley certainly vouched for her work (see his full comments below)  and also, as I do, finds your insinuations cheap and low. He is angry with your underhanded smears.

Unless you’re a rich kid, you have to work to pay your way through college. She did not work at “a bar in Roppongi.” She worked at an event space that serves food and drinks. I won’t name the restaurant because you’ll simply harass them. “Roppongi bar-girl”– you seem to be making some sly allusion that she was doing something shady. That’s mean-spirited. She is just starting her career but has been writing for two years. She writes ten times better than Creepy Johnson did at the peak of his self-destructive career.

For the article, she read books and numerous articles on AKB48, in Japanese, did research on the group in Japanese, proof-read  for grammatical mistakes, and reached out for comments. Angela Kubo is also a Japanese-American woman who understands both cultures and went to high school in Japan. She is uniquely qualified to comment on the JK Business and how it generates problems for all women in Japan.

Where she works now is not something I feel would be acceptable to divulge to someone who I believe is a cyber stalker. Nice fishing attempt. Also: creepy question.

3. Do you feel it is fair to label the manager of AKB48 as having yakuza connections based on only rumor. Would you, for example, accuse Katy Perry’s manager of being tied to the mob if you heard such a story and were writing for an American publication?

When weekly magazine Shukan Shincho reported on AKB48 management past ties to the yakuza, no one was surprised. The JK Business is a seedy con game and who knows how to run one better than former criminal associates & loan sharks?
When weekly magazine Shukan Shincho reported on AKB48 management past ties to the yakuza, no one was surprised. The JK Business is a seedy con game and who knows how to run one better than former criminal associates & loan sharks?

I’m not a Katy Perry expert. It’s not based on rumour.

See a portion of the article on this page in Japanese. There are photos. There is HUMINT from the police force.  I have a list of 800 former members of the Goto-gumi and spent months nagging at them until I found some that confirmed the photos and explained to me what they knew of the AKB48 management’s past relation to organized crime. I did the same with police sources.  The management has never sued the magazine or other publications for making these allegations.There are several other sources related to this. If I have time, I may put a list of them here. They are not all on-line. Some of them only exist as books and printed materials. Yep.

I have written about AKB48’s unsavoury ties in 財界展望 in Japanese and haven’t been sued yet. What else would you like? A signed confession from the management?

4. I don’t see any evidence that you actually interviewed a girl from the sex trade or a cop. Why would you expect me to believe you? Jason Blair fabricated stories. How is this piece diffeemet from one of his that got him fired.

In journalism, we don’t reveal our sources, especially if they are police officers. Or if they are victims of certain crimes which still carry a social stigma, such as rape or sexual assault. This is why VICE blurred out the faces of the women they interviewed. It is not difficult to interview women who have been in the JK business. It’s done all the time. We do it at Lighthouse, a non-profit organization in Japan.

I don’t really get your Jason Blair question but let’s take your logic and ask you a question. Your friend threatens to sexually molest children and stalks women. Since you have never publicly disavowed him, why should I believe you are any different and not a sexually perverse, potentially harmful individual? What proof do you have that you are not?

Also, you misspelled “different”.

5. Many claim that you were mainly used for fluff pieces at the Yomiuri but you claim you were on the crime beat. What is your response.

Who is many? You and Creepy Johnson? I was at the Yomiuri Shimbun from 1993 to 2005.  I was in the 警視庁記者クラブ for nearly two years.  Go to G-Search and look for articles written under my name. Most reporters don’t get by-lines but I wrote several feature pieces where I was credited. I have contributed to books on crime in Japan written while I was at the newspaper.

Try doing some research. You may have to take time and money to do it and translate it but be my guest. I have a real job. I’m not going to do your work for you.

I have no idea what the hell you do for a living or why you have such a man-crush on me and why you seem to be a sexist creeper who is overly sensitive to being made fun of. 😛!

PS. “Japan has one of the worst levels of gender equality in the developed world, below that of Tajikistan and Indonesia, coming in 104th out of 142 assessed countries in 2014, according to a study released Tuesday by the World Economic Forum.” That’s from a Japan Times article. You can find the original study if you like. It’s very hard for women here to break into any profession. So when white self-entitled elitists like yourself ridicule young women here trying to make it as journalists because 1) they didn’t go to journalism school 2) they worked at an event space (that served drinks) to pay their college tuition and 3) imply they must be using their looks to get work—and  ignore their efforts, the articles they have written, and their past experience just for the sake of trolling–you discourage other young women from entering our profession. And that’s unfortunate.

It’s condescending and sexist attitudes like yours that encourage women and girls to go into the JK Business in the first place, because they are made to believe that they will never be taken seriously or valued for their intellect and ability. Shame on you. 恥を知れ.

****

Continue reading Pedophiles, JK, AKB48 and Trolls

The Matcha Better F*ck: A Japonesque Cocktail For The Ages

A few months ago, the hard-working staff of Japan Subculture Research Center (JSRC) had their first New Year’s Mixology (Cocktail) Party (新年会). One of the attendees, and sometimes writer for the blog, Mio Takeshita, introduced  us to an Australian classic cocktail: The Quick Fuck.

According to Ms. Takeshita, Wikipedia, and a drunk Australian pole-dancer, a Quick Fuck is a layered shot made from one part coffee liqueur such as Kahlua or Tia Maria, one part cold Midori liqueur (melon liquor) and one part Baileys Irish Cream.

The essential ingredients for The Matcha (抹茶) Better Fuck Cocktails: Coffee, Green Tea and Cream Liqueur in equal parts
The essential ingredients for The Matcha (抹茶) Better Fuck Cocktails: Coffee, Green Tea and Cream Liqueur in equal parts

IMG_4843

Ideally, “the Baileys is poured off the back of a bar spoon so it “floats” on top of the Kahlua in a shot glass. Then slowly layer the Midori on top of the Baileys. Note that Baileys does not have to be used; any type of Irish Cream will do.”

As you might guess, “The Quick Fuck” is a wonderful drink to order and know because it opens the door for a never ending series of lewd jokes. “Hey, baby, what are you having tonight? I feel like A Quick Fuck.” 

“Hey bartender, I’ll have a quick fuck.” etc. Please feel free to send in your own bad jokes with the cocktail.

The only problem we had in making the drinks is that the JSRC HQ liquor cabinet has no Midori liqueur. As a graduate of a one day SF Mixology seminar (ahem), I can only say that Midori liqueur is almost as much of an abomination as Peppermint Schnapps. I suppose it could be palatable.

But then I had an idea. Why not substitute Suntory’s delicious (sort) green tea liqueur Japone for the Midori? So we tried it. The slightly bittersweet Matcha (抹茶/thick green tea) taste went perfectly with the Kahlua and Bailey’s. After a long discussion of three minutes, we dubbed the new concoction: ザ抹茶ベターファック ( Matcha Betta Fakku) or in English: The Matcha Better Fuck.  

It should be served straight-up in a standard shot glass, here are the commonly used ingredients (preferably chill all the bottles in advance):
one part green tea liquor (preferably Suntory Japone)
one part Kahlua or any coffee liqueur
one part Baileys Irish Cream

Preparation is easy.

First, pour the Japone into a shot glass. Next, add the Kahlua. Lastly, add the Bailey’s. Stir it up with no finesse. Meditate on the beauty found in the transience of existence, say “Banzai” and drink it down. The matcha liqueur gives it a slightly bitter taste—making it so much more like life in Japan: full of alcohol and bittersweet.

Cheers!

A note from the intern (Louis Krauss): Jake Adelstein, who wrote this post, asked me to mix a Matcha Better Fuck, take a picture and drink it (after editing and adding photos, of course). Here’s what I came up with and my thoughts:

IMG_2306

Your first thought will be “Wow, it’s like drinking an alcoholic mint chocolate Kit Kat bar,” at least if you used as much Bailey’s as I did. The color resembles a milky green-tea color, but it actually doesn’t feel that strong. But knock back more than three and you will be very matcha fucked-up.

 

 

日本の報道の自由を守ろう!報道推進賞に記者等をノミネート。23日が締め切り!

飴と鞭と日本の報道の自由

西洋では「人参と棍棒」の喩えがなじみ深いが、日本ではこれを「飴と鞭」という。

日本のジャーナリストはここのところ飴を与えられることは少なく、鞭を見舞われることが多い。どうすれば状況を改善できるだろう。

世界の報道の自由の日に合わせて日本の報道の自由に貢献した方々・報道機関を褒めよう!推薦してください。
世界の報道の自由の日に合わせて日本の報道の自由に貢献した方々・報道機関を褒めよう!推薦してください。

 

自公連立政権が始まって以来、円が下がるより急速に下がったのは報道の自由だけだ。国境なき記者団は今年の報道の自由度ランキングで日本を前年より2位後退させ180カ国中の61位とした。これは韓国に次ぐ順位でクロアチアより数ランク下である。2012年には日本は22位だった。

国境なき記者団はこの急降下の理由をぼかしたりしない。

『2013年に国会で成立した(特定秘密保護)法は、今やタブー化している原発や日米関係などの重要な問題に関して行政の透明性を損なう。「調査報道、公共の利益、情報源の秘匿が全て、不名誉な暴露から国の名誉を守ることに躍起になっている議員たちの犠牲になる」』としている。

国内のメディアがここまで規制されるのはおそらく1937年以来のことである。もちろんイスラム国の武装グループが先日日本国民にテロ行為を行ったことが後押ししている。安倍首相が1月11日にカイロで行った演説(その演説で首相はISILと闘う国々に2億ドルの支援を約束した)が武装勢力を刺激し日本が標的になったかと問うだけで「テロの擁護者」と認定される時代に我々は生きているのだ。警察庁筋は、首相の演説までイスラム国の兵士たちが日本を紛争に中立と見なしていたという。もはやそうではないということだ。

ISの事件後野党やメディアが非常に控えめに、カイロでの演説は賢明だったか、またなぜシリアで人質になっていた日本人の救出に政府が積極的でなかったのかを質問した。日刊ゲンダイは、ジャーナリスト後藤健二氏がイスラム国の武装グループに拘束されたと伝えられた後首相がとった行動は短い休暇を取ることだったと指摘した。

政府は人質事件の対応について内部で検証を行うと言っているがそれは公表されない。2月10日岸田文雄外相は記者会見で、人質事件にまつわる事項はすべて国家機密になりうると言い、さらに報道陣を失望させた。

これはごく遠回しに「追及し続けるならお前を投獄することもできる」と言っているのだ。先月シリアへ向かおうとしたフリーランスのジャーナリストに至ってははっきりと逮捕すると脅された。もはや遠回しではない。

安倍政権は発足時から脅しと破壊、ときには飴を用いて報道と言論の自由を扱ってきた。報道は今にも敗北しようとしている。

ウォールストリートジャーナル他のメディアは先月、NHK籾井勝人会長がNHKは政府の見解が明らかになるまで戦前・戦中日本軍兵士に性行為を提供した従軍慰安婦の問題を報じないと発言したと報じた。

自民党が嫌う朝日新聞が昨年、1980年代から90年代の慰安婦問題の報道の一部を撤回したとき、右翼団体はこの機会を逃さず攻撃を始めた。朝日新聞はまた福島第一原発災害に関する重要な証言を、おそらく攻撃を恐れて撤回した。

安倍首相自身が、朝日新聞は日本の名誉を傷つけたと発言し、実質的に朝日新聞を国家の敵だと宣言することで、他の新聞が慰安婦問題を報道する際に配慮するように警告した。

さらに、週刊文春が国家公安委員長として警察庁を統括する山谷えり子が在特会として知られるヘイトグループと結びついていると暴いたとき、山谷氏は在特会と絶交することを拒んだ。

山谷氏は「私が(政府高官の立場で)いろいろな組織についてコメントするのは適切でないと考えている。」と日本外国特派員協会での会見で言った。

別の言い方をすれば、 政府が朝日新聞の報道と意見を異にするので朝日新聞は恥辱だと言うことには問題ないが、人種差別主義者を非難するのはよくないということだ。同様に、首相によって2013年、教育再生実行会議に識者として指名された曾野綾子氏が産經新聞に日本での人種隔離を奨励するコラムを書いて騒ぎを起こしても安倍首相は沈黙を守ったのだ。

発言すると公然と攻撃される時代に言論の自由を重んじ、正当な理由で戦い続ける人を励ますために何が出来るだろうか?

日本外国特派員協会は第1回報道の自由推進賞を新設に向けて小さな一歩を踏み出した。賞は5月3日(世界報道の自由の日)に発表される。調査報道に与えられる特別賞や、報道の自由に貢献したジャーナリスト以外の人に与えられる賞がある。(実は私は組織委員会に属するのでどの賞にも推薦される資格がない。)

審査員には日本の錚々たる識者も入る。賞は「報道の自由と開かれた社会及び民主主義の担保に寄与する優れた業績をあげたジャーナリストに贈られる。」

また、他界した英雄たちにも賞が贈られる。賞が創設される最初の受賞者は安倍首相のカイロでの演説後、ジハード主義者によって斬首されたジャーナリスト、後藤健二氏となる可能性が高い。

とはいえこの賞は何よりも、メディアにおいて権力を有する者が大衆に知られたくないことを知らせるという使命を果たす人々を表彰するものである。そのような働きこそが、私にとってはまさに表彰する価値があることに思える。

自らノミネートしても良いし、素晴らしいと思う報道もノミネートしてください。報道の自由と民主主義を重んじるなら声を上げてください。

詳細はFreedom of the Press Awards (FCCJ報道の自由推進賞)

直接にノミネートしたい場合、報道の自由推進賞ノミネートの入力ページ

The ISIS Crisis: Negotiations Stall as Jordan Demands ‘Proof of Life’

January 30th 3:45 am Tokyo, Japan

Kenji Goto, freelance journalist captured by ISIS.
Kenji Goto, freelance journalist captured by ISIS last October. The terrorist group is offering to possibly exchange him for the release of a female would-be suicide bomber but the deal has become increasingly complicated.

As the deadline for the exchange of prisoners has now passed, the fate of Japanese reporter Kenji Goto, 47, believed to be held by ISIS, might be reaching a crucial stage. Thursday morning, a new audio message was posted online by the Islamist group, with what appears to be Kenji Goto addressing the Jordanian authorities. The audio message warned that the Jordanian fighter jet pilot captured by ISIS in December last year will be killed if Jordan doesn’t release the Iraqi woman arrested in the Jordanian capital in 2005 for involvement in a suicide attack against a hotel that killed 60 people. “If Sajida al-Rishawi is not ready for exchange for my life at the Turkish border by Thursday sunset 29th of January Mosul time, the Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh will be killed immediately,” said the recorded message.

Jordan offered to exchange the Iraqi suicide bomber for the Jordanian pilot on Wednesday. But nothing was mentioned about the Japanese hostage. As Jordan has been leading the negotiations for the release of the Japanese and Jordanian hostages, Japan has only been observing and analyzing the authenticity of the audio files. “It is his voice, without a doubt,” Junko Ishido, the mother of the Japanese hostage said. Japan seemingly lost in translation, keeps denying having any confirmation about the safety of Goto. “The only thing I can say is that the Japan and Jordan have trustful relations”, Japan’s top government spokesman said after refraining from discussing any details.

The Jordanian Foreign Minister, Mr. Nasser S, Judeh, tweeted on Wednesday that the information about Jordan releasing the Iraqi woman is not true, “We have said from the beginning that her release will depend on the release of our Jordanian son.” He also tweeted that the Jordanian request for proof that al-Kasaebeh is safe and well—proof of life–was unanswered. The life and death of Goto seemed to be tied to the exchange of the Jordanian pilot against the Iraqi woman, but it is unclear at this point where Goto stands. In a press conference in Amman on Thursday, before the deadline for the exchange of prisoners, Jordan’s media affairs minister said the government has not released death-row inmate Sajida al-Rishawi. He said Jordan continues to coordinate with Japan for the release of the Japanese journalist.

The minister of state for media affairs and communications, Mohammad al-Momani, spoke to reporters on Thursday after meeting with Jordanian leaders.

Meanwhile, on January 29th at 1:30 pm London time, Rinko Goto, the wife of Kenji Goto, released an impassioned plea for the life of her husband and the life of the captured Jordanian pilot, via the Rory Peck Trust, which supports freelance journalists all over the world and their families in times of crisis. Kenji Goto has worked with the group since 2010.

The full statement of Mrs. Rinko Goto is here: An urgent plea from the wife of Kenji Goto

What’s really obscene in Japan? It shouldn’t be the vagina.

What is “obscene” in Japan?
Legally and morally it has different meanings in the Japanese language, just as it does in the west. In the legal sense, the Japanese word for it, waists (猥褻), refers to something that maliciously stimulates sexual desire in an inappropriate and immoral manner.
There are a lot of things that would qualify for that: widely sold manga depicting incest, gang rape, and sexual abuse of children. Magazines and newspapers with illustrated stories or photo shoots on the same themes. Some people might be offended by the fact that sexual services are fully legal in Japan and advertised. You don’t have to look hard to find ads with the current rate for fellatio or anal sex—which is legal as opposed to actual intercourse, which is only legal in some cases—and that seems obscene. Child pornography is still legal under the grace period.

This is the vagina boat made by conceptual artist Megumi Igarashi, also known as Rokudenashiko—the good for nothing girl.

Is the vagina boat so obscene that that creator should go to jail for two years? Is a plaster cast of a vagina art or obscenity?
Is the vagina boat so obscene that that creator should go to jail for two years? Is a plaster cast of a vagina art or obscenity?

 

She made it to illustrate the absurdity of Japan’s obscenity laws & promote healthy body awareness.

Rokudenashiko is a slightly eccentric artist. She has written an entire comic book about her obsession with her genitalia, replete with wild surrealistic drawings. In the book, she even explains why she had cosmetic surgery on her womanhood to make it more attractive. A literary agency is currently considering putting out an English translation of it.

Take a look at the boat again.

Is it more obscene than these replicas of porn star vaginas known as 女ホール (women  holes)  sold on Amazon Japan, and made of silicone? They are openly displayed on the internet and in adult good stores.

This replica of a porn star's vagina sold openly on Amazon Japan and in sex stores: not obscene.
This replica of a porn star’s vagina sold openly on Amazon Japan and in sex stores: not obscene.
The adult movie star vagina and lower body replication 'toy' not obscene. But a plaster cast of a vagina--obscene if you're an artist.
The adult movie star vagina and lower body replication ‘toy’ not obscene. But a plaster cast of a vagina–obscene if you’re an artist.

 

Of course, the penis worshiping festival is not obscene. Because penises are okay, right?

This annual penis festival in Kawasaki City. Not obscene. Huge penis replicas are family fun in Japan.
This annual penis festival in Kawasaki City. Not obscene. Huge penis replicas are family fun in Japan.

If you want a better illustration of the double standards of obscenity in Japan, read and watch the film, What’s Japan’s Problems With Vaginas?  a short documentary made for The Daily Beast. 

What is obscene?

As far as the Tokyo Police are concerned: a plaster cast of a woman’s vagina.
On Wednesday, police arrested conceptual artist Megumi Igarashi, also known as Rokudenashi-ko (reprobate child) and sex toy shop manager Minori Watanabe—who is also a well-known essayist and writer for “displaying obscene goods” from around October 2013. It was the second arrest for Igarashi who taken into police custody in July for distributing data that would allow people to make a 3D printing of her vagina.
The first arrest of Rokudenashiko aroused international outcry over what was seen as discriminatory and hypocritical enforcement of the law.
Why did the police arrest her again?
Nikkan Gendai, in their December 4th paper, suggests the real target this time was Igarashi’s supporter, Ms, Kihatara, author of best-selling Poison Lady, and a vocal and acerbic critic of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They imply that it may have been a warning to others questioning the validity of the coming ‘snap’ elections. The timing is interesting.
It’s not as whacky as it sounds.
The article headline: Suppression of Free Speech? The arrested author was the vanguard of Abe criticism.

I can see why Abe and his cronies would dislike her. Here are a few of her barbs.
“The man is a child.”
“I want to say to Abe, ‘Eat a strawberry in one bite (without a fork). Conduct politics like an adult.’”
“Since the Abe regime started we had the State Secrets Law passed, the collective self-defense (decision). It all appears to be linked together. We live in a world where things like hate speech flourish, and (Japanese) going to other countries to kill people seems close to being a reality. I feel like rational criticism of the state isn’t allowed. It’s scary.”

If you think the Japanese powers that be would never stoop to using minor crimes to arrest opposition and suppress dissent, you don’t know Japan very well. The former head of the public security department at the Osaka High Court Prosecutor’s Office, Tamaki Mitsui was arrested on April 22nd 2002 on corruption charges—the same day he was going to appear on TV and expose prosecutor use of investigative funds to wine and dine themselves.
It’s not a secret that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hates criticism and the Asahi, Japan’s liberal paper. When the Asahi Shimbun corrected past reporting this year, he publicly accused them of “shaming Japan”. That’s a dangerous thing to say in light of the 1987 fatal shooting of an Asahi reporter, Tomohiro Kojiri, by a nationalist group. Currently, a former Asahi reporter is now facing death threats and will likely be fired from his current job as a result of that fiery backlash.
There has been no apology for Abe for starting that fire.

Could it be possible for someone in the Abe administration to put pressure on the Tokyo Police to silence Kitahara? Theoretically, yes. Abe himself gets to appoint the head of the Public Safety Commission that oversees the National Police Agency.
Technically speaking, even if someone in the Abe administration did say, “hey could you do something about that noisy bitch?” to the right person in the National Police Agency, it wouldn’t be illegal. If there is a crime, however minor, and a case can be made, an arrest can be made.

I don’t believe Abe would ever make that suggestion himself. But his loyal posse? Maybe.

Did someone actually do it? After December 10th, when the State Secrets Act went into place—we’ll never know. Anything like that, will be of course, a state secret. It would upset things.
And under the new law, even asking about a state secret, whether you know it’s not a secret or not, is a felony, punishable with up to five years in jail. It’s “instigating leaks.”

So what is obscene?

What’s obscene is that the Abe regime pushed into law the most oppressive state secrets bill in Japan’s history and stifled all last minute debate on its enactment by making sure that the press are occupied with election coverage.
It’s offensive that Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga can say at a press conference on November 19th, “We shouldn’t question the details of the secrecy laws one by one. The ruling party decides what the vote of confidence is all about. This election is about Abenomics”

That’s freedom of the press in the LDP mind. We tell you what the election is about, don’t raise other issues.

Right before her arrest Kitahara tweeted the following: “Sayonara Abe Government” and then a link recommending 100 LDP politicians who should be defeated in the next election.

Bad move?

Perhaps Kitahara’s real mistake was questioning the reasons for the elections in the first place.
Those of us not in jail can still ask—until the 10th. After that asking the question itself may be a crime. Or we may simply get the answer we can expect on every controversial subject for years to come:
“We won’t answer; it’s a secret.”

In a free and democratic society, that’s real obscenity.*

 

*a modified version of this article appeared in the Japan Times last year 

Reposted: The high price of writing about anti-social forces–and those who pay. 猪狩先生を弔う日々

In life, we only encounter the injustices we were meant to correct.

Igari Toshiro, ex-prosecutor, leading lawyer in the anti-organized crime movement in Japan. 1949-2010.

Igari Toshiro, was my lawyer, my mentor, and my friend. In the sixteen years I’ve been covering organized crime in Japan, I’ve never met anyone more courageous or inspiring–or anyone who actually looked as much like a pit-bull in human form. Igari-san was a legend in the law enforcement world, the author of several books on dealing with organized crime and preventing their incursion into the business world. He was the father of the “organized crime exclusion clause”, a simple but brilliant idea that is now embedded into most contracts in Japan and requires the signer to pledge that he is not a member of an organized crime group. It’s already been used to arrest one high-ranking yakuza boss, and is the basis for the legislation being adapted prefecture-by-prefecture that will make it a crime to pay off gangs or provide them with capital. He was rather disliked in the underworld.

The last time I spoke face-to-face with Igari was on August 8 2010.  It was a Sunday; he had come back from Brazil and went directly from Narita Airport to his office to meet me. I asked him if he would cooperate in a documentary I was working on as consultant and a reporter for ●●● television, owned by NewsCorp, on the yakuza.

I also had a problem.

It’s rather simple: In 2008, I angered a yakuza boss named Goto Tadamasa, who was head of a 1,000-member strong faction of the country’s largest gang, the Yamaguchi-gumi. In an article published in the Washington Post, I wrote how he had sold out his own group to the FBI in order to get a visa for the United States so he could receive a liver transplant at UCLA. The article along with a subsequent book I helped write for Takarajima Publishing resulted in him being kicked out of the Yamaguchi-gumi on October 14, 2008. Takarijma, without bothering to warn me, published his biography this May. It’s a great book–except for a bit of subtle language that amounts to a yakuza-style fatwa on my life.

I asked Igari to help me deal with the fallout from the book. After much discussion, he and his two colleagues came up with a plan. His parting words were: “It’ll be a long battle. It’ll take money and courage, and you’ll have to come up with those on your own. But we’ll fight.”

On August 28th, his body was found in his vacation home in Manila, wrists slashed. Time of death unknown. It’s been ruled a suicide. Personally, I believe he was killed. I probably will never be able to prove it.

Igari had been working on his final book, Gekitotsu (Collision). It’s an amazing work that pulls no punches, using the real names of the yakuza and the politicians and individuals connected to them. He wrote, “Wherever it was possible, I made it a point to use the real names here. I’m aware that poses a huge risk for myself. I took that risk because I wanted to honestly write about my battles with the injustices hidden in our society and the results of those struggles. It’s proper to write the name of those you’ve fought.”

Ex-prosecutor and lawyer, Igari Toshiro, was a famous crusader in the war against organized crime. These are some of the book he authored.

Igari has been probably more influential than any individual in the anti-organized crime movement in Japan. As discussed above, he was the lawyer who first came up with the idea of the “organized crime member exclusionary clause” (暴力団排除条項). It was inspired by problems the Westin Hotel had when Goto-gumi and his posse stayed there and refused to leave, pointing out, “there’s nothing that says yakuza can’t stay at a hotel.”  Igari realized that legally that could be accomplished since the Japanese government does designate organized crime groups and members officially. All it would take was adding a clause to any contract in which the individual signing has to clarify whether or not they are a yakuza, and if they are, the establishment reserves the right to unilaterally nullify the contract. It’s now part of almost any standard contract in Japan, even Sports Clubs. It has been used effectively by the police. A yakuza boss opening a bank account this year was later arrested for fraud because he lied about his yakuza affiliation on the contractual agreement with the bank.  The organized crime exclusionary ordinances (暴力団排除条例)which are sweeping the country, prefecture by prefecture, were also his brain child.  This year I met up with a high-ranking member of the National Police Agency, who had a copy of Igari’s book on his desk, and said, “In the war on organized crime, Igari-sensei was the equivalent of a five star general. He will be sorely missed.”  The current head of the National Centre For The Elimination of Boryokudan was also very vocally supportive of Igari, adding, “the organized crime exclusionary ordinances would have never made into legislation if it hadn’t been for the man.”  (There are now more than ten local governments in Japan with these ordinances on the book, which differ from prefecture to prefecture, but generally ban pay-offs to the yakuza or providing them with capital. Violators can be fined or jailed. Corporations that do business with yakuza will be publicly named. The ordinances have the potential of being a huge body blow to all organized crime groups, depriving them of protection money and capital. By punishing the individual or firm that capitulates to organized crime, it may have the same efficacy the change in the Commerce Laws had in eliminating racketeers-総会屋.)

Before leaving for Manila on vacation, he told his editor, “I’m nosing around in dangerous places. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. Let me sign the publishing contract now.”

In September, my best source in the Yamaguchi-gumi told me point blank: “Igari-san was murdered by the yakuza. It wasn’t Goto’s direct order. He was exposing yakuza ties to Sumo and professional baseball. It angered people. You should be careful too. The yakuza don’t warn people anymore, they just act.”

It’s a dangerous thing to expose the worst of the yakuza for what they are. Itami Juzo, directed the first realistic film about the yakuza, Minbo, in 1992. Goto-gumi members attacked him for doing it, slashing his face open. He would later tell the New York Times in an interview, “They cut very slowly, they took their time. They could have killed me if they wanted to.” Eventually they did. On December 20, 1997, after a weekly magazine wrote about his extra-marital affair, he allegedly killed himself. A former member of the Goto-gumi told me in 2008, “We set it up to stage his murder as a suicide. We dragged him up to the rooftop and put a gun in his face. We gave him a choice: jump and you might live or stay and we’ll blow your face off. He jumped. He didn’t live.”

In 2005, yakuza fan magazine writer Suzuki T wrote an article that poked fun at a yakuza group. They broke into his office and beat him to a pulp. In 2006, Yamaguchi-gumi thugs stabbed the son of non-fiction writer Mizoguchi Atsushi, because their boss was unhappy with one of his articles. Two members were arrested. Their boss was not. On April 17, 2007, the mayor of Nagasaki was gunned down after refusing local yakuza involvement in public works projects.

I try to be very careful when writing about the yakuza, and mindful of my sources, some of whom are members. I hate to admit it, but there are still those in the organizations that do follow a code of honor.

I understand the unwritten rules in Japan. Yakuza fan magazines are sold here in the open: three weeklies, three monthlies. They do interviews with current yakuza bosses, but the questions are limited and there is an implicit understanding that even after the interview is done, the boss reserves the right to edit or scrap it. As one veteran detective explained to me, “if you violate that rule, there will be harassment and often retaliation.”

I probably didn’t communicate that fact well enough to the ●●● television production crew that came to Japan. Through the sources I introduced they interviewed three current yakuza members, but didn’t alert me that they ran into trouble. The best I could do was warn the local National Geographic offices about it and talk to the head office in Washington DC. They were very responsive and hopefully nothing will come of it. But if it does, it will be my sources and the local Japanese staff who take the hit. I’m not an easy target because I’m under police protection. The staff are not.

The yakuza don’t have much pull in the US. They harass whoever will give them leverage. It’s why I don’t move my family back to Japan and why leaving Japan is not an option for me. I have to take care of my sources. It’s my responsibility.

I went to Igari’s offices in September to pay my respects; there was no funeral. There was a little shrine for him in his office, but everything was pretty much as he’d left it. On his desk, was an article about the Sumo Association and match rigging, heavily noted. His secretary told me, “Igari-san was really happy to take your case. He laughingly bragged to everyone, ‘I’m representing a reporter for National Geographic–that makes me an international lawyer!’ ” I could visualize him saying that with his deep, rolling laugh.

Grief is a funny thing. Seeing his empty desk, for the first time I got a little misty-eyed. Not too much, because there were people around, you know. It wasn’t very manly, but I didn’t cry.

You may wonder why I keep doing a job that is increasingly dangerous. I wonder myself. Partly, it’s because Japan is my home. I’ve lived here for more than twenty years. I’d like it to be a better place. In the old days, we’d call that civic duty.

I once asked Igari-san over wine, “Have you ever been threatened?  Do you ever fear for your life?” He didn’t answer my question directly.

“I became a prosecutor because I wanted to see justice done in this world. When I quit and became a lawyer, I didn’t go to work for the yakuza like many ex-prosecutors do. I continued to fight them. Not all yakuza are bad guys, but 95 percent of them are leeches on society: they exploit the weak, they prey on the innocent, they cause great suffering. If you capitulate, if you run away, you’ll be chased for the rest of your life. And if you’re being chased, eventually what is chasing you will catch up. Step back and you’re dead already. You can only stand your ground and pursue. Because that’s not only the right thing to do, that’s the only thing to do.”

And so I stay. Igari-san wasn’t an investigative journalist and he wasn’t a saint. But he fought for justice and for truth, and as an investigative journalist, I’ve always believed that’s what our job entailed. Forgive me if that sounds naive. I believe that, if no one stands up to the anti-social forces in the world, then we all lose.Igari-san wasn’t an investigative journalist and he wasn’t a saint. But he fought for justice and for truth, and as an investigative journalist, I’ve always believed that’s what our job entailed. Forgive me if that sounds naive. I believe that, if no one stands up to the anti-social forces in the world, then we all lose.

When I called Igari’s editor, he knew who I was. He told me, “Igari said you’re the most trustworthy, crazy, and courageous journalist he knew.” It’s the first time I’ve ever been praised by the dead, and more than I deserve. But it made me feel an obligation to live up to those words. Sometimes, the only way to honor the dead is to fight for what they died for. It’s the only way I know how to mourn.

An abbreviated version of this article was originally published on the Committee to Protect Journalists blog.

Memo: Autopsies are only done for 4% of the suicides in Japan. In the last two years several cases ruled to be suicides later turned out to be murder. Check out this excellent investigative article translated from the Yomiuri Shinbun. I would imagine staging a murder as suicide in the Phillipines is even easier than doing it in Japan.

originally published in 2010.