Happy Uniquely Japanese Valentine’s Day! What we talk about when we talk about love & sex in Japan

It’s Valentine’s Day again in Japan or it will be soon….And while Valentine’s Day is a mutual exchange of gifts and professions of love in the West, in Japan it’s a holiday where women give expensive fine chocolate to the men they love and crappy obligatory chocolate to the men they work with or work for, known as 義理チョコ (giri-choko) or “obligation chocolates.”

According to Encyclopedia Aramata, Valentine’s Day was first introduced into Japan in February of 1958 by an employee of Mary Chocolate Co. Ltd, who had heard about the European chocolate exchanges between couples from a friend living in Paris He decided it would be a brilliant marketing technique in Japan so he organized a collaboration with Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It was an incredible….failure.  “During one week we sold only about three chocolates worth 170 yen at that time,” an employee recalled.  Yet this employee persisted, later becoming the president of the company, and by the 1980s, he and Japan’s chocolate industry, along with the department stores, had enshrined Valentine’s Day as a holiday that is “the only day of the year a woman confesses her love through presenting chocolate.” The spirit of love.

But of course, as time went by, giving chocolate became something women were expected to do for not only the their “true love” but people at work, their bosses, their friends, and even, their brothers. 義理チョコ  (giri-choko) aka “obligation chocolate” has branched off into “友チョコ (tomo-choko)”  chocolate for friends, 世話チョコ (sewa-choko), chocolate for people who’ve looked after you, 自分チョコ (jibun-choko), a present for yourself, and even the rare 逆チョコ (gyaku-choko) —the rare event when a man gives chocolate to a woman on Valentine’s Day (revolutionary).

When we say “Valentine’s Day” in Japan, it doesn’t quite mean what it means in the West. (We’ll talk about White Day in March). And if you think about it, what do we really mean when we talk about love? Japan has some very specific terms for discussing and classifying love. Although the terms can be expressed in English, the compactness of Japanese words for sex, love, and everything in between is quite charming.

Japan has many words for love and sex. It’s surprisingly rich in words for love such as 友愛 (the love between friends) and 親愛 (love between family members) and of course 恋愛 (passionate love) . Here are some of the words you may find useful as you travel through love hotel island.

The Japanese language is rich in terms for love and sex--which are definitely not the same thing here.
The Japanese language is rich in terms for love and sex–which are definitely not the same thing here.

*出会い(Deai)–“meeting people” Also used to describe dating sites 出会い系サイト and one-night stands.

不倫 (Furin)-“adultery, infidelity.” Has more of a negative connotation than uwaki

慈愛(Jiai)–compassionate love. Much like the love a parent feels for their child–a desire for the happiness and well-being of another. When the Dalai Lama speaks of love in Japanese, this is often the word used to translate his words.

 

*浮気 (Uwaki) –1) to describe someone who can romantically love many people 2) infidelity; an affair 3) being in love with in someone other than your partner 4) (old usage) cheerful and gorgeous

*恋人 (Koibito) “lover”

*熱愛 (Netsu-ai) “passionate love”

*恋愛 (Ren-ai) “romantic love” A word very popular in Japanese woman’s magazines

*恋い (Koi) “love”

*一物 (Ichimotsu) “the one thing”  According to an old joke, the definition of a man is this: a life support system for an ichimotsu (the penis).

*慈悲, 慈悲深い (Jihi) (Jihibukai) “compassionate love/sympathetic joy” This comes from Buddhism and describes a maternal love, originally means to give joy and peace to someone and remove their pain. 慈悲深い人–someone who is compassionate and finds happiness in the happiness of others.

*情熱 (jounetsu) “passion”

*ラブ (rabu) “love” pronounced Japanese style.

ラブラブ (rabu rabu) “love love” used to described a couple deeply in love.

*同性愛 (douseiai) “homosexual love”

*愛 (ai) love. “to love” 愛する (ai suru)

*好き (suki) like. Used often to express love as well. 大好き (Daisuki) “really like” Old school Japanese males never say, “I love you” (愛している) they would say, Daisuki. This line:“君が大好きだ” (Kimi ga daisuki da). “I really like you” is often the profession of love in a Japanese movie or television show on both sides.

純愛 (Jun-ai) “pure love” An almost mystical concept of love as something beyond physical or material reality. I’m still not sure what this means but it sets off lights in the eyes of Japanese women. It’s a television drama buzz word.

*惚れる (horeru) fall in love

*惚れ込む (horekomu) fall deeply in love

*一目惚れ (hitomebore) love at first sight “hitome” first sight. “hore” fall in love (see above)

満足manzoku (satisfied)

*セックス (Sex)—This is “Japanese English.” It means sex.

*前戯 (Zengi)–Foreplay. Mae (前)means before and “戯れ” means “play, goof around”.  Technically this entry should have been before Sex (セックス) on the list but then I wouldn’t be able to make this joking reference here.

*セックスレス (Sexless)—Maybe half of Japanese marriages are sexless. Who knows why? It’s a common complaint for Japanese women and some Japanese men..

アイコンタクト (eye contact)” Important in courting.

*エッチ (etchi) A cute-word for anything sexual, flirty. Usually has a fun connotation.

*男根 (dankon) “male-root” If you can’t figure out what this means, please refer to 一物 (ichimotsu)

*おまんこ (o-manko) The female genitalia, sometimes just the vagina. Also referred to as simply manko. However, we prefer attaching the honorable “o” as in “orgasm”.  Also, it’s never bad to show respect. Even amongst the closest of friends, decorum is necessary. 親しき仲にも礼儀あり

*愛人 (aijin) Lover. The aijin is usually the partner in a forbidden romance. Similar to “koibito” but more of a shady aspect.

*オーガズム (ougasumu) orgasm

オルガスムス (orugasumusu) orgasm in Japanese taken from German Orgasmus

絶頂 (zettcho) climax, orgasm in Japanese language

*失楽園 (Shitsurakuen) A very popular novel and movie about a passionate modern day affair that ends in double suicide, with the lovers found dead in each others arms in mortal post coitus bless. Yes, you wouldn’t think this would encourage people to have affairs but it did! Women’s magazines had multiple features on the books and movies.

潮吹き (shiofuki): female ejaculation. Some Japanese women release a squirt or excess lubrication on orgasm. There appears to be some science suggesting that this does happen.

鼻血 (hanaji): bloody nose. There is a strange folk-belief that when a Japanese man is sexually excited he gets a nosebleed. Go figure.

Note:

In Japan, when man or women reaches orgasm, they don’t come (来る) they go (行く/iku). Likewise, to make a man or woman reach orgasm, is to 行かす (Ikasu) “make go.”

 

楽園 (rakuen) mean paradise. 失(shitsu) means “loss” or as a verb 失う(ushinau) to lose.

 

If I was running a campaign aimed at women for Japan’s favorite 浮気(uwaki) dating site for married people, I might make a pun on this along the lines of “恋愛の楽園を失いましたか。Ashleymadison.jpで禁断の楽園を再発見しよう“ (Did you lose your lover’s paradise?Rediscover the forbidden paradise on Ashleymadison.jp) BTW, the site already had a 1,000,000 members within 8 months.

*恋い焦がれる (koikogareru)=”burningly in love” to be in love so deeply that it’s painful, to yearn for the other 恋い (love) + 焦げる (burn).

Not a negative word, but a way of expressing a deep passionate consuming love. Many men and women seem to be seeking

*ベッド (bed)—usually a roundabout way of discussing sex in Japanese female magazines

–プレイ”—(play) This is usually added to various types of sexual fetishes.

性愛 (sei-ai) Erotic love, eros (sex/gender 性 +  love 愛)

For example, 赤ちゃんプレイ (Aka-chan purei)—When the guy likes to be diapered like a baby, possible shaved completely nude, and nurse, sometimes with a woman who’s actually lactating. I could tell you a really strange story about a police raid on a place specializing in this type of service but I’ll skip it.

 

*遊び (Asobi) “Play”—this can refer to sex, an affair, a one-night stand. It has a wide usage in Japan and adults “play” just as much as children. Hence the costume fetish in Japan—

コスプレー (cosupurei—“costume play”)

 

密事 (mitsuji)—An old word but a literary one for discrete affairs.

*禁断の愛 (kindan no ai) Forbidden love

*密会 (mikkai) secret meeting

*ばれない (barenai) to not be discovered, to get away with something

*絶対ばれない (zettai barenai) “absolutely no one will find out”

REVISED: February 14th, 2018

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

 

Some parting words from Yakuza movie icon Takakura Ken on yakuza films, his favourite movies, and acting

“I think that the reason the general public identified with the roles I played, was that they were struck by my stance as a man who unrelentingly stands up to absurd injustices. It wasn’t just that I was just going off to a sword fight, but that my character was willing to sacrifice himself in order to protect the people important to him.”–Ken Takakura, August 2013

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 published shortly before his death. 

Japan’s best actor Ken Takakura has died of lymphoma, at age 83. The actor passed away at a Tokyo hospital on 10 November, his office said on Tuesday. He has been called  the “Clint Eastwood” of Japan.  Takakura was renowned for his stoic roles in scores of action films and yakuza movies–he was also adept at playing tough but caring men, clumsy in expressing their emotions. He played alongside Robert Mitchum in Paul Schrader directed film, The Yakuza in 1973. He also starred as a by-the-book, honourable and ultimately brave Japanese police officer alongside US actor Michael Douglas in the 1989 Ridley Scott film Black Rain. One of his lines in the movie, probably inspired millions of Japanese men to later study English conversation: “(I’m ) Assistant Inspector Matsumoto Masahiro, Criminal Investigation section, Osaka Prefecture police. And I do speak fucking English.”

Mr. Schrader told me in March of 2011 that Takakura was one of the most impressive actors he’d ever worked with and that his Kendo (Japanese fencing)  ability seemed top-notch. He had once offered Takakura the role of Yukio Mishima, the literary genius turned right wing extremist, in his bio-pic film Mishima and Takakura had seriously considered it. However, in the end for reasons he only obliquely hinted at, he politely declined the role. The film Mishima has never been shown in a film festival in Japan.

Among his well-known films were “The Yellow Handkerchief”.  He won the best actor prize at the Montreal World Film Festival for “Poppoya” (The Railway Man). He also appeared in some the final “real-life” yakuza bio-pics including 3rd Generation Leader of The Yamaguchi-gumi. During the filming, the former head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Kazuo Taoka, actually visited the set and spoke with Takakura. Ken Takakura was the consummate professional and even in supporting roles such as in Mr. Baseball, he brought dignity to the Japanese characters that seemed to embody many of Japan’s virtues.

In August of last year, we were able to interview him via FAX and his polite and short responses give a good sense of the man. They are here in both English and Japanese.

 

昭和残侠伝 破れ傘(プレビュー)
Ken Takakura, in a scene from 破れ傘

originally posted on January 31st 2014

Ken Takakura, 82,  aka “the Alain Delon of Japanese cinema” was awarded one of Japan’s greatest honors on November 3rd 2012. The  Order of Culture was given to him by the Japanese Emperor at a ceremony held at the imperial palace. Four other notable people, such as researchers and literature academics also received the award.

Known as to be very quiet and tough, Ken Takakura (高倉健氏) rarely gave interviews to the media throughout his career. He is known for having stayed silent nearly  for 13 seconds (a record for Japanese TV programs) after a famous television caster asked him a question that he did not want to answer. “In Japanese show business, only a tough and well respected celebrity is able to stay silent during a live show and have that tolerated by the producer,” explained a newscaster for one of Japan’s largest broadcasters.

Ken Takakura became an icon of the so-called ninkyou eiga, (任侠映画) or yakuza chivalry movie, inaugurated in 1963 by Toei Production. In the 1960s, as Japan was still recovering from its lost war and musing over the the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Japanese audience wanted to see heroes in the black market making justice in the streets and feeding the dismissed hungry people, right after the war. The movie that kick started his career was Abashiri Prison. He also gained international recognition with the war movie Too Late The Hero, in 1970, and The Yakuza, in 1975. His role in Black Rain with Michael Douglas 1989, made him even more well-known in the West.

Takakura-sama, agreed to answer few questions for JSRC. We carefully translated it and have posted the entire interview. We are also posting it in Japanese, for our Japanese readers.

Interview with Ken Takakura, in August 2013

JSRC: At present, many film fans in the world see you as the personification of the yakuza on screen, almost a symbol. What are your feelings about this?

Ken Takakura: It’s true that I did many yakuza films in the past, but whether or not I’m a symbol or not, I don’t know. I have done many other roles besides those of a yakuza.

JSRC: What led you to join the world of cinema?

Ken Takakura: I had to make a living.

JSRC: What kinds of movies do you like?

Ken Takakura: As I get older, my tastes changed, but I like movies that pierce the human heart and linger with me.

The Deer Hunter, 1978.

The Godfather 1 & 2.

Gladiator  (2006).

Heaven (2002).

Posta Pappi Jaakobille (2009).

JSRC: Do you have any interest in the modern yakuza films?

Ken Takakura: None whatsoever.

JSRC: Mr. Takakura, you have been called the Clint Eastwood of Japan, what do you think of that?

Ken Takakura: It’s what someone else thinks, so I have no thoughts on the matter.

JSRC: Why did you leave Toei Production in 1976?

Ken Takakura: There is no short answer (to that question).

JSRC: After leaving Toei, people were able to see you in many different roles? Was that your goal?

Ken Takakura: (My goal) was to meet people.

JSRC: Directors Takeshi Kitano and Miike are said to be geniuses of yakuza film but what do you think?

Ken Takakura: I’ve never worked with either director so I can’t answer.

END.

But the most striking explanation Ken Takakura gave us was worth mentioning here.

Ken Takakura: You seem to be very focussed on the yakuza films I did while at Toei. If you want to understand, why the yakuza films were endorsed by the (Japanese) people, you can’t do it without thinking of the social situation at the time.

When low budget films (picture programs) were at their peak production in Japan, I’d have a schedule where I’d be doing in 4 or 5 films a months. That doesn’t leave much room to really put your heart into a role. But I think that the reason the general  public identified with the roles I played, was that they were struck by my stance as a man who unrelentingly stands up to absurd injustices. It wasn’t just that I was just going off to a sword fight, but that my character was willing to sacrifice himself in order to protect the people important to him.

The thing that really changed after achieving independence from Toei was that I could choose which films I wanted to be in. I had my own standards for what films I would act in. Who would I meet? The words and lines written in the script. But the most important thing to me was this: would I be able to like the person I was going to play?*

*Portions of this interview were originally published in a French film magazine 

 

Please read this review by Jake Adelstein on the yakuza movies.

 

高倉健様とのインタビュー(2013年、8月)

JSRC: 現在、高倉さまは世界の映画ファンにとって日本のヤクザのイメージシンボルとして見られていると思いますがその事をどうお考えでしょうか?

 

高倉健様:かつて、何本もヤクザ映画をやりましたが、シンボルかどうかは分かりません。そうではない役も、今まで沢山やっておりますので。

JSRC: 高倉様が映画の世界に入られたきっかけは何でしたか?

高倉健様:生きるため。

JSRC: 高倉様はどのような種類の映画がお好きですか?

高倉健様:年齢とともに好みは変わってきていますが、心に沁みるものが好きです。

The Deer Hunter, 1978, 監督:マイケル・チミノ

The Godfather 1, 2, フランシス・フォード・コッポラ

Gladiator, 2006, リドリー・スコット

Heaven, 2002, トム・ティクヴァ

Posta Pappi Jaakobille, 2009, クラウス・ハロ

JSRC: 高倉様は任侠道ヤクザ映画で活躍されましたが今時のモダンヤクザ映画には興味はございませんか?

高倉健様:ありません。

JSRC: 高倉様は日本のクリント・イーストウッド、安藤昇様は日本のアラン・ドロンと呼ばれていますがその事についてはどうお感じですか?

高倉健様:他人が思うことなので、分かりません。

JSRC: 高倉様は1976年に東映を離れたのはなぜですか?

高倉健様:一口では言えません。

JSRC: 東映を離れてからの高倉様の作品から世界は今までとは別の高倉様を見せられるわけですが、それは高倉様の目的でもあったのでしょうか?

高倉健様:人との出会いです。

JSRC: 北野監督、三池監督はヤクザ映画作りの天才だと思いますか?

高倉健様:両監督とは仕事をしたことがないので答えられません。

高倉健様:東映時代のヤクザ映画に注目されているようですが、ヤクザ映画が大衆の支持を受けられたのは、時代背景抜きには考えられないでしょう。

プログラムピクチャー全盛時代、一ヶ月に4、5本撮るようなスケジュールは1本に心を入れる余裕はありませんでしたが、その中で、私が演じた役に大衆の共感が得られた背景には、不条理に立ち向かうという姿勢が貫かれたからだと思います。

ただ、切り込みに向かうのではなく、自らを犠牲にしてまでも大切な人を守り抜くということです。

東映から独立して最も異なることは、出演する作品を選べるようになったことです。出演作を選ぶ基準は、人との出逢い、脚本に書かれた一言の台詞、最も大切にしていることとは、その役の人物を好きになれるかどうかです。

 

 

Let’s Convenience Store! The Musical: コンビニへ行こう!

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.

Here is small film classic written up By Amy Seaman, JSRC Senior Cross-over Pop-Culture Editor, Hair Coloring Expert 

What’s not to like about a Japanese love song that is dedicated to konbini and the people who staff them, that consists of a handful of exchange students kanpai’ing and dancing in store aisles? If Yahoo! Japan’s video charts serve as any indication, absolutely nothing.

Having been featured twice on the site’s main page and on various blogs, “Konbini Ikou”, which translates into “Let’s Go to the Convenience Store” is the brainchild of a group of exchange students from Koganei dormitory. Though it originally started out as a school project — evident with a reference at 2:17 — it quickly evolved into a somewhat satirical but endearing music video that has become a hit amongst Japanese and gaijin alike.

I talked to Kansas University senior Noah Oskow, who compiled footage for, edited and subtitled the video, about what it feels like for a somewhat in-joke video to hit the top of Yahoo! Japan’s charts.

Let’s eat some salmon rice-balls. Let’s go to the convenience store. Let’s love Japan once more.

 

A: How did this all come about?

N: My friends were in a “Management in Japan” class at Sophia University and they were supposed to make a video on the subject of konbini. One of them was Alan McMaster, from Australia.

It’s pretty funny. Alan actually wrote the song for a school project and as a way to escape boredom while quarantined in his room due to our dorm manager’s unsubstantiated suspicion of his having bird flu because he coughed once. The song turned out pretty good, so we decided we’d also make a music video to go along with it. And so he and fellow Aussie Stanley Wang, one of the group members who also lived at Koganei, ended up going around and filming these scenes in a konbini. They gave all the footage to me and I edited it all together. But we only ended up having enough to make half of the actual song with that footage. The documentary and the video they made went down really well in class but we just didn’t have enough for an actual, full music video.

After they left that semester, I kind of always wanted to finish it up with some other students. It’s kind of like a tribute in some ways to our dormitory and the konbini we always went to around the dormitory we lived in.

Of course, we all really like konbini a lot, but not probably to the extent that the video would imply. But thanks to the wonderful hard work and amazing acting talents of everyone else in the dormitory, we managed to make that video come into existence. So that’s basically what happened.

A: So it was something that you always thought should be a little bit satirical?

 

N: Well, I don’t exactly feel the need to marry any konbini.

A: Is there a reason you totally exaggerated it, then?

N: I’m a big fan of satire to begin with and filming ridiculous things. We just thought the idea of a bunch of foreigners just running around and worshipping and loving Japanese konbini was not too far from the truth. Japanese konbini are incredible and if we hadn’t had all those konbini to go to every day to get snacks, I don’t know what we would’ve done. They’re a very important part of our experience in Japan and our experience together. So the idea of exaggerating that a bit with foreigners in Japan just seemed pretty entertaining.

A: It definitely seems like it was fun to film. You mentioned that it started out as a school project and then turned into something that you were just doing for the hell of it, so did you ever think it would get 100,000 views or reach a Japanese audience?

N: I wasn’t sure how it would get out to the Japanese audience. Once it was done and we could kind of see what it was like, I could see that it had the aspects about it that I think Japanese people would find funny and that could make it popular like that. It’s really had its moments of virality, though… it’s been the top video on Yahoo! Japan twice now on two completely separate occasions. It’s not insanely popular, but still.

We’ve been recognised around the dorm and in all sorts of other places, and I’ve found blogs about it with hundreds of comments too. We’ve also found blogs of exchange students in Osaka whom none of us know who use it as the theme song for their dormitory. And when Ciarán Harper, a fellow exchange student, went back to Ireland and tried to show it to some friends in his Japanese class, they asked him, “What, you were in this?! We’ve all seen this, everyone’s seen this!” A lot of us have had that sort of experience.

A: You released “Konbini Ikou” last school year, but every once in a while you post updates saying, “We’re featured on this again!” so it seems like it’s still quite popular.

N: It’s random. There have been five or so times where it’s happened to randomly get on some really big Japanese blog and as a result gets 20,000 views in one day, then after doesn’t get any. It’s weird.  Just recently, Yahoo! Japan had some ‘Foreigners in Japan’ video highlights section and “Konbini Ikou” was up there again, so as a result a bunch more people saw it because of that too.It’s also been shown by professors as a teaching tool in Austria, and Germany, and Ireland, and I’ve had some professors contact me in America about using it as well, which I think is really weird because I’m not exactly sure what you can glean from it information-wise.

A: So why do you think your video is so appealing to Japanese audiences?

N: There’s just aspects about it that I figured Japanese people would like. A combination of gaijin in Japan, not being insanely disrespectful, and singing this song dedicated to the convenience stores… I could tell that a lot of Japanese people would find it really hilarious. It’s this image of foreigners that isn’t the image that they get to see a lot. Usually in Japanese media, when you see foreigners in Japan, they’re talking about Japan and it’s either in a, “look at these crazy foreigners being so foreign” or it’s otaku who are really into the media or whatever. But in this case it’s like, a bunch of foreigners, it’s 20-something of us in there just kind of saying really nice things about a really basic part of Japanese culture that isn’t the media and isn’t anime, and it’s not jpop. We’re just saying really nice things about something that Japanese people themselves tend to really like on a basic level. Because it’s foreigners doing this sort of thing, I think it’s just kind of a unique image for Japanese people to see. What’s been really surprising to me is that a lot of Japanese people don’t seem to be able to tell if we’re being serious or not.

A: At the beginning of the video, you have this whole Nobiam Films thing. Is this something within your dorm, or do you consider yourself a somewhat established filmmaker?

N: Nobiam films is the “film company” that me and two of my friends founded back in like freshman year of high school. We’ve made something like 30 different music videos and films and stuff. They’re all pretty dumb.

A: Do you have plans for future videos?

N: Given the popularity of this and because of how much it’s become a symbol for a lot of us in the dormitory, I think that we will definitely do something again. We’ve also just gotten a ton of demand, where so many people are asking me to film something else. Perhaps I’ll team up with Alan again to make another song or something like that.

We’ll probably make something that’s something like a sequel to “Konbini Ikou” at some point, but other than that, Nobiam Films will keep on making really dumb videos for the foreseeable future.

That sounds awesome, Noah, and the JSRC team looks forward to seeing your next production!

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.

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