All posts by sarah

Origin of the peace-ies: The history of peace sign/V-sign in Japan

By Sandra Barron for JSRC

originally posted on March 9th, 2011

It was one of those nightmare commutes. A crowded train finally pulled up to a rush-hour platform, dense with people who’d already been delayed, who were already running late, and were spending this purgatorial time pushed up against piles of equally inconvenienced fellow commuters. The doors opened and more people crushed in, but the train didn’t move. After a few agonizing minutes, his stoicism no match for the commuters around him, a JSRC writer gave up on riding this train and decided to document it instead. From the platform, he lifted his camera, bracing for glares from the trapped commuters. Indeed, snapping pictures of people in this state would be a good way to get a face full of one-fingered salutes from the poor saps stuck on the train. He got fingers in his shot – but not the ones he expected: Even under such duress, a bunch of strangers saw a camera pointed at them, and they flashed the peace sign.

Crowded, yay! Sardine-can commuters flash the V-sign.

This was an extreme situation, but not totally surprising. The spontaneous V-sign is as natural to many Japanese people as it is puzzling to visitors. Children seem to start do it as soon as they can control their hands – as evidenced by photos of crying toddlers who find the wherewithal through their tears to raise two little fingers. Kids are the most reliable peace-signers. While many (though certainly not all) adults outgrow the practice, get a bunch of school kids together and you’re guaranteed at least as many peace signs as there are uniforms.

A version of the Asahi Shimbun printed for kids, the Asahi Shogakusei Shimbun, went straight to the source and asked elementary school students why they did it. Three of the girls said they did it without thinking. “It’s like my hand just moves into that position by itself,” one fourth grader said. A sixth-grade girl interviewed said, “If I don’t do something with my hands, it’s like I’m just standing there.”

The legions of kids I used to teach, at least the girls, said they made the sign “kawaiku miseru tame”–to look cute. What about the other gestures the V-sign has morphed into and been accompanied by in snapshots – the double peace sign and the L near the mouth and the twisty sort-of-sideways thumbs up? “To look cute.” Okay, then. One of the kids’ mothers surveyed said “I do it less as I get older.” But people certainly don’t stop completely. Photos from Japanese girls’ nights out give US gangs a run for their money in number of hand signals raised, and, some men agree that it makes them look cuter. Entrepreneur and Japanese pop-culture purveyor Danny Choo wrote on his site, “I especially like it when the cute girls do a horizontal version of the V-sign next to their eye – kawaii [cute]!”

Winston Churchill wasn’t trying to look cute when he made the V for military victory during World War II. In occupied Europe, the V was a symbol of defiance against the occupying forces, and it was chalked on walls flashed as the now-famous hand signal as a show of resistance. It was even played by BBC radio in the form of the letter’s Morse code version, dot-dot-dot-dash, followed and echoed by the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth. Two decades later in America, the V-sign became the counter-culture’s well-known anti-war gesture.

How the gesture got so big in Japan remains a bit unclear. It has been variously attributed to post-war GIs in Japan, peaceniks Yoko Ono and John Lennon, an American figure skater, a camera commercial, and 1969 Woodstock festival footage. Jun Inoue, the lead singer in the Beatles-esque group The Spiders is said to have added the V-sign spontaneously during the filming of a Konica TV commercial in 1972. He may have been influenced by seeing American or British youth making the gesture on his previous trips abroad.

Even infamous yakuza hitman, Kunihiro, flashes the peace sign when the cameras flashes. (From Onibi: The Fire WIthin, 1996-Gaga Films)
Even infamous yakuza hitman, Kunihiro, flashes the peace sign when the cameras flashes. (From Onibi: The Fire WIthin, 1996-Gaga Films). ★Jake will be lecturing on this and other Yakuza films March 10th at the Japan Society New York.

Another theory is that it was American figure skater and anti-war activist Janet Lynn who won over the hearts, minds and fingers of the photographed masses. In the 1972 Sapporo Olympics, she became beloved in Japan both for her artistic performance and for staying upbeat even after she fell on the ice. The theory goes that her frequent showing of the peace sign in subsequent print and TV media coverage in Japan won imitators.

It may not be possible to know which of these was the defining moment that set the template for the innumerable photos that would follow. The most likely answer is that there was no single moment when the official V-sign memo went around Japan. Whichever person or combination of images sparked it, the gesture, now far removed from its original meanings, entered the collective unconscious and there it has stayed. It gives people a way to stand out in photos or to increase group identity by all doing the same thing, suggests anthropologist Masaichi Nomura, quoted in the AsaSho.

It could happen like this. Consider an infant, waving its fingers and accidentally finding the V shape. The parents get excited, grab a camera. One says to the other, “He’s making the peace sign!” and they coo and clap and snap away. “Camera plus hand like this equals attention,” goes some series of synaptic connections in the infant brain. And thus, perhaps, a new generation of V-signers is born.

The Japanese Sex Industry: Finding a job that’s right for you (REPOSTING)

Originally posted as Fuzoku Friday: Finding a Job That’s Right For You on November 20th, 2009

Last week we talked about magazines and websites for fuzoku job hunters, but for those looking to dive into the industry and start their career in high-paying part-time work (高収入アルバイト), the variety of work available must be daunting. How is a girl to know what kind of job best suits her personality?

LunLun Work is once again here to help, with a handy work guide that simply and clearly lays out a description, demands and money-making potential for sex industry jobs from “lingerie cabarets” to soaplands. For example:

"Image Club"

Image Club

Good for idiots: 3

No nudity required: 4

Work when you want: 4

Easy stand-by: 4

Calorie burner: 4

Payment: 4-stars (At a shop) 3-stars (Delivery-style)

Here girls dress in various types of costumes, such as a schoolgirl, nurse or maid, and roleplay with customers. Playing pretend can be fun!

Continue reading The Japanese Sex Industry: Finding a job that’s right for you (REPOSTING)

Prostitution versus “Prostitution” in Japan (REPOSTING)

originally posted on December 18th, 2009

The Japanese law draws the line between legal and illegal sexual services by whether or not the ball makes it into the goal, so to speak. And while some businesses, namely soaplands, manage to work their way around these rules, law enforcement chooses to “focus their efforts” on places that are plainly and evidently illegal.

The first clip is from “The Zokufu 24 Hours,” a program on a local Chiba TV station. We find ex-pro wind surfer and host, Saito Ryotsu, here to learn along with viewers “How to Hotel Health.”

Continue reading Prostitution versus “Prostitution” in Japan (REPOSTING)

Doglegs disabled pro-wrestling: The fight club that wants you to stare

They’re uncomfortable sights, even for seasoned ringside aficionados: A deaf man and his opponent–paralysed from the waist down–bound at both hands and feet, reduced to head butting. Two men, normally wheelchair bound, writhe around on the canvas ring delivering blows to one-another with their elbows. It feels dangerous, almost wrong.


The members of Doglegs, the self-described “superhandicapped” pro wrestling league, aren’t looking for your pity, however. They want you to watch, wide-eyed, and feel the power, the ability, and the fire hidden inside their unusual frames.


The idea for Doglegs was born in 1991 at a volunteer group for the disabled. Two men were arguing over a mutual romantic interest, and as the argument became more heated punches were thrown and a brawl began. The group went wild, both fighters and spectators, at the sudden, electrical feeling of strength and empowerment the fight had given them. The leader of the volunteer group saw the potential: pro wrestling as a platform for these fiery fighters to be seen, and to challenge the public’s views towards disability.


Fast-forward 20 years and Doglegs has developed quite a following, with public tournaments several times a year and somewhere around 30 fighters dogging it out. Disabilities range from those physically able-bodied, but afflicted with mental illnesses like alcoholism and clinical depression, to “miracle heavy class”, where fighters are unable to stand. Audience members are often also disabled or come from the disabled care community, along with a core base of able bodied supporters and fans. But regardless of their background, after seeing a Doglegs match viewers are left with much to think regarding their preconceptions of the disabled.


Director Heath Cozens wants to spread this mind-blowing opportunity to a wider audience. For the past three years, he has been documenting the lives of Doglegs wrestlers, with the hope of introducing their struggles and glories to people in and outside of Japan.


His film centers around “Sambo” Shintaro, a man with cerebral palsy who is one of the heartbroken brawlers from the very first Doglegs fight. After 20 years, Shintaro is ready to retire from the league and focus on living a happy, normal life. Doglegs leader and organiser of the original volunteer group, Yukinori “Antithesis” Kitajima won’t make it easy on him, however. The able-bodied fighter challenges Shintaro to the match of a lifetime, on which his future hangs.


The bouts may be difficult to watch for some–seemingly “weak” people being violently beaten for the sake of entertainment. But that uncomfortableness is part of the film.


Says Cozens, “Hopefully, people will have unresolved questions and conflicting emotions forcing them to reassess their own assumptions about disability, how disabled people should be treated, and who gets to decide: Is what Doglegs is doing aspirational, healthy, fun? Or does it exacerbate and endanger already vulnerable people?”


For Doglegs brawlers themselves, wrestling is unquestionably about empowerment, and giving the finger to a society that often pushes them to the wayside. Says Shintaro, in an AFP news clip about the league, “This is a thing disabled people aren’t supposed to do, but we do it–and that’s why I like it.”


Cozens sees that as one of the keys to the film. “A lot of non-disabled people have resistance to seeing disabled people–they avert their eyes. But people with disabilities need to be seen to be recognized on a human level.  How do we bridge the gap? In this film, with drama, humor, and a dash of violence. In other words, entertainment. When people can empathize with the characters, then they start to see beyond their disabilities.”

doglegs1 doglegs3

Currently, Cozens is seeking the financial support necessary to complete post-production on the film. He has high hopes for its release. “I hope the disabled people who watch will be inspired by the Doglegs fighters’ bravery and bravado, to live life on their own, unapologetic, terms. Maybe we’ll see some Doglegs spin-offs happening in the States?  It’s already happening here in Japan.”


For those who want a sneak peek of what it’s all about, on June 2, the crew will be hosting a fundraiser to help raise awareness of the film and funds to complete post-production. Along with live music and special guests, the event will feature two real, live Doglegs matches–an opportunity for attendees to find out how empowering disabled pro wrestling can be, for both them and the fighters.


Check out for more info about the Doglegs documentary, and get details for Party for the Right to Fight! on Sunday, June 2 at Las Chicas in Aoyama.

Won’t Get Burned Again? Japan Nuclear Industry And the Mihama Accident

As Japan gets ready to restart nuclear reactors across the country, perhaps it’s time to take a look back at past nuclear mishaps to see if anything has been learned.

The Mihama Incident which occurred at  Kansai Electric Power Company’s  Mihama Nuclear Power Plant  on August 9th 2004, was at the time, the worst accident at a nuclear reactor in Japan’s history. Four workers died of burns and eight were seriously injured by the hot steam that burst into the turbine room at the Number 3 reactor. Inspectors later discovered that the walls of the piping inside the turbine, originally 10mm thick, had been worn away by the pressure and allowed the steam to escape.

They discovered that the damaged piping had not once been replaced in the 28 years the reactor had been operational. The subcontractor had, nine months before the accident, pointed out to KEPCO that they had missed that area of the turbine in their regular inspections, but the company neglected to follow up. What’s more, the accident occurred not two months after a series of falsifications had been discovered in generator data.

According to Masanori Nakata, author of  Why Do Companies Cause Scandals? (会社はなぜ不祥事を起こしてしまうのか), KEPCO had a reputation as slackers for safety.

The KEPCO accident would have been unavoidable had it not been for the simple fact that those in charge didn’t consider the safety worth it. Important information from the subcontracting company got outright ignored by KEPCO, possibly considered too insignificant of a problem to deal with.

This common problem is exemplified by the fact that health and safety regulations at KEPCO had become little more than unenforced guidelines. They looked good on paper, and that’s where they stayed while no one considered them important enough to carry out.

But why ignore clearly defined regulations? Nakata believes that the human condition, and our ability to adapt to even a dangerous situation, caused both KEPCO and the subcontractors to lose their sense of danger. After playing with fire and getting used to the heat, who would imagine getting burned?

Blast from the past: Nevada gaming board gets portion of yakuza assets (November 2009)

Originally posted in November 2009:

U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement have announced that they will share more than $60,000 in assets seized from yakuza Susumu Kajiyama with the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Kajiyama is documented in “The Emperor of Loan Sharks” (pages 213-236) in Tokyo Vice, and Special Agent Mike Cox, who appeared in the 60 Minutes clip, was instrumental in the investigation as was Special Agent Jerry Kawai.

In January 2005, ICE agents executed three federal seizure warrants targeting Los Angeles and Las Vegas bank accounts belonging to Kajiyama, 60, who is currently serving a 6 ½ year sentence in Japan on loan sharking charges. As a result of those warrants, ICE agents in Los Angeles seized two bank accounts containing approximately $342,000 from the Union Bank of California. ICE agents in Las Vegas executed a third seizure warrant targeting an account containing $250,000 in Kajiyama’s name at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. ICE agents in Los Angeles and Las Vegas coordinated closely with the agency’s attaché office in Tokyo and the Nevada Gaming Control Board on the case.

Read ICE’s announcement as stored on another web page here.

Lingerie designer by day, yakuza by night: Shizukanaru Don (The Quiet Don)

By Gilles Poitras
Screenshots courtesy of Michelle A. Hoyle

Nitta Tatsuo’s Shizukanaru Don (静かなるドン), translated into English as The Quiet Don, began publication in November 1988 in the men’s manga magazine Shukan Manga Sunday (Weekly Manga Sunday) and, at nearly 100 tankobon, is still running. This is a tale of a tough young yakuza boss who is head of the largest organization in Kanto, and of a mild-mannered salaryman who works in the design department of a lingerie company. The salaryman is the bottom man in his office—meek, picked on, yelled at. His incredibly slight size and habit of producing bungled designs don’t do him any favors either. (Editor’s Note: Giles notes that almost all volumes of the manga can be downloaded and read on the iPad. Please click the link above for more details.)

The contrast between these two is interesting because, in reality, they are one and the same person. Born into a high-ranking yakuza family, Shizuya Kondo wanted to distance himself from the life of his parents and walk in the light of day as an ordinary person. He created a life for himself as a designer at a lingerie company, but fate had something different in store for him. One day, after scolding him for another failed design, Shizuya’s boss turns on the office TV to watch a broadcast of the company’s new commercial. A news alert comes on: Isamiashi Kondo, the head of the Shinsengumi, has been shot by members of the Choshu-kai. After work Shizuya rushes to the hospital, only to find his father has just passed away.

At the funeral, the tension is thick between the major oyabun as they vie for the organization’s most prestigious seat. Shizuya’s mother explains that the only way to prevent a bloody internal struggle is for him to take command. He reluctantly does so on the condition that he keep his day job and carry out his role as a yakuza boss at other times. Comedy ensues as Shizuya works to balance the two sides of his life, and the two sides of his persona.

This is a story that will delight Japanophiles of all kinds. As seen above, the story contains characters and groups named after many famous foes from the Bakumatsu period of the mid 19th century.  On a more contemporary front, The Quiet Don began near the end of the bubble economy of the 1980s, giving readers a glimpse of a booming Japanese economy, the glitter and glam of hostess clubs included. We’re also taken to see small neighborhood eateries, middle ranking yakuza operating modest enterprises, and salarymen trying to do their job in a very competitive environment. Another interesting touch is Shizuka’s mother. She’s drawn in a dramatically different style that manga fans will identify as the high realism of Ryoichi Ikegami, a manga artist who has drawn yakuza manga such as the Sanctuary series.

The yakuza are portrayed as competitive, both between gangs and internally, trying to rise up the ranks. Shizuya Kondo comes off at first as eccentric and weak, but those around him soon start to realize just why his mother says he is most capable of leading the organization. There is in fact a beast lurking inside this mild office worker, one more than capable of handling the fiercest opponents, one-on-one or in a showdown against other bosses at a major event. But then, as a salaryman, he is also capable of dancing in his underwear to amuse drunken coworkers at a hot spring resort.

For all of the drama contained in The Quiet Don this is a gag manga filled with slapstick, very earthy humor, humorous situations, and great mix of 19th century history with late 20th century reality.

The English translation of the first two volumes is available in the US, and possibly other areas, as an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Each volume is broken up into four parts that are sold separately. It will also display on an iPad in a small window. There is a free app that gives a preview of the manga, so it’s easy to try out some of the early story.

The downside is that reading manga on handheld devices leaves plenty to be desired as you are basically doing it one frame at a time, making it hard to maintain a reading rhythm as you have to tap to go to the next image (or in the case of large frames, for the system to scan across). Also, don’t expect to pick up yakuza related vocabulary from this translation. The translation is rough with many terms in English that could have been left in Japanese. These days readers of English translated manga are used to Japanese terms left un-translated when there is no real English equivalent. One example of a word that could have been left untranslated is oyabun consistently translated as “father”.

All in all, the story of The Quiet Don is compelling, the characters full of depth, and it’s easy to understand how this continuing series has continued running for over 20 years. There have even been adaptations of the story, including an OVA (straight to video anime), a TV drama series and two movies, both of which have been released in subtitled versions through iTunes.

(Jake’s note: In addition, there is a long out of production computer game/interactive manga based on the book that in some ways may have been the model for Sega’s popular Yakuza series. I don’t know any yakuza with sons that went into the apparel business but I do know one mid-level yakuza enforcer who’s son became a hairdresser. He is not interested in taking over “the family business”, and his father seems very happy with that decision.)

Going through the motions in The Great Happiness Space

For those looking to get the low-down on what exactly goes on at a host club—that flashy, boozy Japanese phenomenon where Labyrinth’s King Jareth-meets-salaryman ‘hosts’ entertain J-women for cash—the 2006 documentary The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief is the place to start. We posted a review of the film last year, and now JSRC  have hooked up with director Jake Clennell to get the story behind what it was like to document the nightly escapades of those who play in the realm.

Illustration by Mari Kurisato (

Interview by Jean Ren and Jake Adelstein

JSRC: Even someone with little knowledge of Japanese culture who has never heard of host clubs before can watch this film and pick out several universal elements from it. The girls use the hosts as sources of entertainment, comfort, pleasure, and scapegoats with no reservations. It doesn’t seem like a far stretch from situations everyone finds themselves in at one point or another in real-life relationships. Do you think that this makes the film’s subjects and their experiences more relatable to a diverse demographic?

Jake Clannel: People like to extrapolate stuff about relationships from [the film], but people already make a lot of deep films about relationships. I think there’s a lot to be said about the deeper emotional implications of what people truly think or feel about those relationships. So I don’t think the film stands out because of that. The film stands out (to me) because it’s kind of a joke on the audience in a way. Everybody in that film knows what the film is about, and everybody that’s in a host club knows what it is—so when it comes time to comment on “What is your experience in a host club like?” everybody already knows the rap. There’s a sort of set of clichés that goes along with that environment. It’s like you walk into a strip club as a man in America—you know it’s a strip club—you become temporarily absorbed in the entertainment of it, which is what you’re paying for, right? And when you watch a television show the reason you sit through commercials is because you want to watch the next episode of Cheers or whatever.

I see what you’re saying. Everybody should know what the deal is.

Exactly, everybody SHOULD know what the deal is. But what you’re paying for is to not know what the deal is. You’re paying to be temporarily relieved of that faculty. I think that we’re talking about (one of?) the most extreme case(s) here. I think that for most people—for most women its an opportunity for them to go somewhere where they can get drunk, they’re not going to get raped, and they’ll be taken care of by an institution that’s set up to take care of them. It’s focused on giving these women an entertainment experience—so be it an extremely labor intensive one.

A good host is somebody who is actually talented with people, which not everybody is. The same goes for a hostess. A bunch of guys go to a hostess club and suddenly there is a whole bunch of girls being very nice to them and everybody knows what the deal is. That’s not to say that something real can’t come out of it, but you don’t walk into a hostess bar and think that it’s not one—you walk in and it’s quite clear when you get the bill what the situation is. It’s explicit in the process. If I go to a theater and I buy a ticket and somebody does something on the stage, even though for that moment—if that actor is good enough—I’m lost in the illusion, I still know that it’s a staged and scripted show. Which is what you would hope for. That’s actually the best-case scenario.

Many host/hostess clubs are notorious for being exclusive to Japanese only. Was it hard to gain the trust of the Rakkyo employees, and to get permission to do a feature length documentary? What made Issei and the guys at Rakkyo in particular trust you?

I think for Issei it was really more about us being from the outside. So his perspective on it was probably, “Why are these people interested in this? Why would you be interested? What’s your take?” I think those guys are quite famous. They get a lot of press and television exposure. Issei is very famous in his own universe.

Issei admits to sometimes getting so caught up in his host persona that he can’t even tell what his true personality is. Would you say that he, along with the other subjects, were slipping into a role and performing for the camera—acting as they felt hey were expected to—instead of being “real”?

Isn’t that what is implied by the setup? In the sense that if you shoot a great kabuki actor who has spent his life embracing and inhabiting a role, that along with that role comes the actor’s existential dilemma. And that existential dilemma is inherent in the seductive nature of theater.

But did you want them to perform for the camera, or did you want to catch them off guard. Were you aiming to capture the moments where they forgot that the camera was there?

No! no. the camera was right in everybody’s face the whole time. I’m not hiding anything. I was very surprised by the frankness. [For instance] I had no idea what those girls do for a living. I just didn’t know. For me, it came as a surprise.

So you don’t think the fact that some of the participants were blatantly lying to the camera and using their interview as a means to personal gain detracts from the objective merit of the film?

[Those guys] weren’t strangers to publicity and I think from all the host media that’s out there everyone is quite familiar with the role that is inherent in the film— that it is in some way roguish. That’s what it is to be a host, right? You are famous for being extremely charming and attractive to women and not for being anything else—there is no other component. In the first half of the film they are giving the party line: we are providing entertainment for these women, we’re making them happy. At some point every host documentary draws the same conclusions. That to me is what is interesting. If a viewer gets caught up in the plot or the idea that the contradictions presented in the film are real, then that person has missed the point. The film is designed in a way to make people get caught up the contradictions, and then reexamine their biases. Ultimately, if they digest the film for long enough, they’ arrive at a different conclusion.

So you’re saying that everyone involved—even the girl, Saori, who most dramatically proclaimed her love and devotion to Issei– was playing along with the illusion?

Yeah she’s just playing. Totally playing! Host clubs have their own media, websites, videos, ads. Everybody knows the game. When you go to a host club you are engaged in an Andy Warhol-esque 15 minutes of fame, which you are taking part in, in a very very modern world. I go to Disneyland to get my photo taken with Mickey—I am in the Disney fantasy/reality. If I’m a middle management guy in a golf magazine, I’m engaged in that set of imitations within the time and media landscape. So when you go into a host club, there are performances/photographs/menus—it’s simply inherent in the illusion is the media. In order to be a host you have to be backed up by a certain amount of media. You have to be number 1 or your photo has to be there—your reputation is validated only if you appear in some form of media somewhere—this is particularly true in Japanese culture. Why is one host more famous than another? Only because of the media that surrounds them whether its self created, microcosmic or not.

How do the guys get started it the host club business anyway? Do they rack up debts at hostess clubs and soaplands? Do they lack an education for more stable employment opportunities? Or are they drawn to hosting because it sounded cool? What’s the motivation here?

One thing that I found out, through another film that was made on the same group of guys, was that actually a lot of these guys don’t necessarily come from money. The reason they need to make a lot of it is often to support somebody in their family that needs it. And that’s not what my film’s about though. My film is not about the reality of these people’s lives, it’s about the role-playing they are involved in within this tiny realm.

And this space is the so-called Great Happiness Space?

Yes, it’s an artificial universe. Like I said the reality of people’s lives is that you don’t get the backstories.

One guy in particular was really helping out his disabled mother, and another was sending the money home. That’s actually what they were doing. That’s the tragic truth. And as I’ve said in the past there is a sort of sense in it that… (pause) that it forces you to examine capitalist priorities in a way that you might not be able to look at your own life. It’s quite easy for you to look at someone else’s life, someone who is involved in something that pushes your buttons morally, so you immediately you create a sense of otherness because your moral line has been crossed. But really, aren’t we all involved in that? How many of us could not say we don’t do things that we’d rather not do for money?

It’s a system that we all know and love. You work, the things you buy in shops my not necessarily be benefitting some child that sewed it together in China or something. But it’s difficult to observe the own contradictions in your own capitalistic systems and work out a way to take action from it whereas in the film— in the film it is very easy from the POV of somebody who is outraged or confused to draw moral conclusions about these people. Which I think is naïve. And I say that because of an absolute unequivocal level of respect, truly, for the fact that these people are involved in such an intricate celebration of something.

So the guys have financial and familial obligations that they need to tend to that require crossing a few moral lines—fine. On the job though, you get a feeling that most guys are certainly taking advantage of some of the girls. How is the viewer to reconcile what seems like a display of moral depravity?

I think anyone would tell you that there’s a real difference between fucking for money and kyabakura. That’s not to say that people aren’t human and people haven’t married their hostess or something. But I think that’s separate, that’s something else, that’s something that goes on, that’s the real world. But a host club is not the real world—it’s a theater, and I don’t think that young drunk men and women don’t occasionally do what young drunk men and women do—(laughs)

They do! Right? So I think that that’s okay, but I don’t think that that’s really interesting. It’s just an inevitable part of what it is to be human.

But this kind of system operates on the open acceptance of the notion that in addition to sexual and physical services, abstract feelings like love, happiness, the intricacies of a relationship (even if they are just illusions) are products that one can buy as well. For people, particularly Westerners, who are accustomed to putting love and affection on a pedestal, this idea might be unsettling.

Because I’m a Westerner and I really don’t know much about Japanese society—I can’t tell one person apart from another on the street in terms of social class or lifestyle—I can’t claim to have had enough foresight in the field to understand how delicate and interesting it was as a piece of psychological projection. I didn’t quite get that at the time, but intuitively I felt that this was not about morality or relationships, this is about a story that people are telling again and again. It’s set up and you go through a set of stages again and again, and that’s what it is.

Were any of your personal morals challenged in this situation?

Oh, fuck me. What kind of line is that?! That’s bullshit—does anyone over the age of 16 actually take that seriously? That’s the drama that everybody knows! It’s a prerequisite for this dilemma to be possible. But if I suspend my belief for just a moment and think a pretty young girl is actually interested, then I’m getting my money’s worth. If I don’t suspend my disbelief, I’ll go back to my ex-wife. (laughs)

Do you keep in touch with Issei and the others?

No I’ve been working in the theater for a long time, and I’m currently making a film about breastfeeding. I just finished a film abut Alaska. I spent the last 6 months of my life in the slums of Bombay. One of the beautiful things about my job, which is primarily documentation, is just moving from one amazing situation to another. I don’t think it’s [my relationship with these people after the filming]…I mean it’s irrelevant. I don’t know about their lives, I don’t know those people you know? I mean, I respect them immensely and I’m extremely grateful that I was allowed to take part in [the experience]—it gave me a lot of food for thought about what it is to address a situation that might be a bit bleak. And have created out of it something that is so mysteriously entertaining.

There’s a scene in the movie that shows a “champagne call” which is basically an activity in which the hosts are made to drink up to 10 bottles of champagne in a night in order to cater to the competitive nature of their jealous female customers. I think for many viewers, this is the point where one realizes that these guys really are hard workers.

Yeah! Nobody works harder than those guys!! No one does. They just don’t know how hard they work because they’re young. They might know, but you’re indestructible until you’re like what, 27?

So in some senses this film is really about a form of dinner theatre where everyone, the actors and the audience are playing their assigned role?

You got it! You scored—you understood it. But yes, to me that’s interesting. Some people might not think that. It’s kind of a one trick pony. It’s not exactly Shakespeare.

From my standpoint as a director, I hope there’s a point at which you stop being caught up in the battle of the sexes, and you start moving into an area where you begin to look at it as something that might actually be a little bit more charming.

The ones that were working in the sex industry were very upfront about it. But you see, the point is that the film is structured to manipulate the audience’s biases. It’s girls versus boys. If you watch it with your significant other, between the two of you there’s a point where your respective sympathies swing. So I can claim that as authorship. Of course it can only be objective to a certain degree, but my form of objectivity as a filmmaker was to embrace the theater in the business.

A tale of two kidneys: Sumiyoshi-kai head plays dealer in domestic organ trafficking case

Two kidneys, two doctors, two yakuza and one missing victim. Police are currently investigating the case of Toshinobu Horiuchi, a doctor who received a kidney transplant last July at Uwajima Tokushukai Hospital in Ehime under dubious circumstances. Doctor Horiuchi and his wife, along with Sumiyoshi-kai member Matsuo Sakamaki, 70, were arrested June 24 under suspicion of illegal organ trafficking, and investigators have been working over the past month to uncover more details in this stranger-than-fiction tale.

The story so far: Needing a new kidney, doctor Toshinobu Horiuchi initially paid Sumiyoshi-kai member Kazuhisa Takino 10 million yen to find a donor, with plans to have the surgery last June at Sakamoto Chuo General Hospital in Tokyo. When the yakuza asked for more money, however, Horiuchi couldn’t deliver, and he was forced to cancel the surgery. The doctor then went to his long-time friend, Sakamaki, and asked him to not only mediate the dispute but to also find a new donor. Horiuchi paid an additional 9 million yen–1 million yen as a show of gratitude to Sakamaki, 1 million as “transportation money” to the negotiator, and 7 million in reparations to Takino. In the end the negotiations fell through, and the 7 million yen was returned to Horiuchi.

Not to be defeated when his life is at stake, Horiuchi then asked Sakamaki to find another donor. Through the medical consulting company he operates, Sakamaki found a young man who was several thousands of yen in debt to an employee, and arranged to have the debt erased if the man became a kidney donor. Police say the man, 21-year-old Tatsuya Ishikawa, had been promised 1 million yen for the kidney as a means of writing off his debt.

Additionally, Horiuchi reportedly paid Sakamaki 8 million yen in gratitude for the organ, and police believe a portion of the money was sent to the Sumiyoshi-kai headquarters. Police are trying to discover where Horiuchi got all the cash from.

Police recently revealed that Tokushukai Group, who operate the hospital, had actually consulted Sakamaki after hecame to them saying his friend needed and organ transplant and he was looking for a recommendation. Sakamaki had known the director of the group for around 14 years and the director knew of his yakuza affiliation for around two to three years. Sakamaki himself had received a recommendation for a hospital four years earlier when he began to have heart problems. The staff member who consulted Sakamaki reportedly did not know he was a member of the yakuza.

The director of the group says they were only out to help a patient in trouble. Shuichiro Matsumoto, the doctor who performed the surgery on the donor, claims no knowledge of the organ being illegally obtained, but Horiuchi’s wife has testified that they told him what was happening, and paid him 300,000 yen to keep quiet.

The whereabouts of the kidney donor, Tatsuya Ishikawa, are as of yet unknown. In order to comply with ethics guidelines set down by The Japan Society for Transplantation, which state live donors must be family members, Horiuchi and his wife adopted Ishikawa in June of last year, before his kidney was removed.  At the hospital, Horiuchi told doctors Ishikawa was just like his real son, and Ishikawa submitted a written letter saying Horiuchi had looked after him just like a natural father would. Police say, however, Horiuchi’s wife had said to her husband of Ishikawa, “After the surgery, he’s got nothing to do with us.” The transplant was a success, but afterwards Ishikawa reportedly disappeared, leaving Horiuchi’s home and ceasing communications with Sakamaki. It’s believed the man received almost none of the promised money.

US report: human trafficking inside government’s foreign trainee program

Polaris Project visits trainees in Fukui prefecture (Courtesy of Polaris Project Japan)

Just two months after Japan got burned in the US State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report, a new paper pins the country’s foreign trainee program as being almost as close as you can get to state-sanctioned labor trafficking.

According to the 2011 Trafficking in Persons report, the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program run by JITCO, provides no protection against “debt bondage, restrictions on movement, unpaid wages and overtime, fraud, and contracting workers out to different employers”. The report says that the majority of those who participate are from China, and in some cases pay fees of more than $1,400, and deposits of up to $4,000, to brokers in order to apply for the program. Minimum wage in China varies between US$100 and $200 per month.

The report cites a 2010 survey of Chinese trainees, saying that deposits are regularly seized by brokers if trainees report mistreatment or try to quit the program, and that some have reported having passports taken to prevent escape–the tell-tale signs of human trafficking that are often seen in sex trafficking cases.

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