The Best Articles About Japan 2012 (on our blog) :D

Screen Shot 2012-12-26 at 9.15.01Dear Gentle Reader,

All of us at Japan Subculture Research Center would like to thank you for your  reading the articles posted here this last year, your contributions, and your comments. Here are some of the articles we thought were the most amusing, edifying, or just fun, grouped together in general order.  We had some outstanding outside contributions which made for some excellent reading–and to those contributors thank you as well. Whether you’re interested in Japanese culture or pop-culture, Japan’s nuclear problems, or yakuza and the Japanese underworld—there’s something for everyone.  Enjoy!

Just For Fun

It’s a fuckin sale! 

 

A little English goes a rong way
A little English goes a rong way

 

The most read piece we posted last year. And the one we put the least amount of effort into.

Young Japanese Men and Women Reject Marriage, and Ultimately Each Other : Japan Subculture Research Center

Love: Japan style.

The Tears of a Cat: Hello Kitty’s Guide to Japan, English and Japanese/ ハローティの英語で紹介する : Japan Subculture Research Center

Hello Kitty is an international refugee?

British or Japanese?
British or Japanese?

“You would be cute, IF you had a tiny face.” Japanese facial corset promises cuteness in just 3 minutes! : Japan Subculture Research Center

The most painful article ever.

Cara

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

A great piece by Mr. Noah-sama, a contributor to the blog. The best of Japanese life.

Coffee & Cigarettes Together At Last : Speak Lark, Drink up : Japan Subculture Research Center

What could be better? Manju and Green Tea? I think not.

Facebook Is Stalking You, Baby. (Notes From The Uncanny Valley, Japan) : Japan Subculture Research Center

How are we feeling today? A little paranoid, perhaps. Maybe not.

The Fallout from 3/11 and Japan’s nuclear industry 

Another photo of the now famous Fukushima ostrich (2011) photo: Naoto Matsumura
Another photo of the now famous Fukushima ostrich (2011) photo: Naoto Matsumura

The Buddha of Fukushima’s Forbidden Zone: A Photo Essay : Japan Subculture Research Center

A tribute to one man who will not go quietly.

Independent Commission on Nuclear Accident: Earthquake, TEPCO negligence, Myth of Safety Caused Meltdown : Japan Subculture Research Center

We hope someone in the Japanese government is paying attention.

The Melting Sun: Japan’s Nuclear Follies : Japan Subculture Research Center

History not only repeats itself, sometimes it predicts the future. A long essay on Japan’s nuclear industry by Professor Jeff Kingston worth reading.

Japan’s historical anti-nuclear protest on July 29th, 2012, a photo essay : Japan Subculture Research Center

The protest movement is heard.  The follow up is here on The Daily Beast.  Nuclear Power Protests In Japan Are Finally Heard. 

Every Friday night thousands gather to call for an end to nuclear power in Japan.
Every Friday night thousands gather to call for an end to nuclear power in Japan.
Misao Redwolf working with the police to keep the protests peaceful.
Misao Redwolf working with the police to keep the protests peaceful.

The Underworld and The Yakuza

The Last Yakuza: A Life In The Japanese Underworld coming in 2014 : Japan Subculture Research Center

I know–total self-promotion. What else do you think pays the costs of running this labor of love? Book sales, some donations, and whatever else I can scrounge up. All that aside, I’m hoping this will be a good read with a moral to the tale. All good stories have something to teach.

The Centers For the Elimination of Organized Crime will be able to launch legal proceedings to shut down yakuza offices under the new laws, if the group is designated "extremely dangerous."
The Centers For the Elimination of Organized Crime will be able to launch legal proceedings to shut down yakuza offices under the new laws, if the group is designated “extremely dangerous.”

The $1,000 Pineapple. Japanese Police Offer Rewards For Hand Grenades : Japan Subculture Research Center

Those Southern Yakuza are pretty ornery!

Yakuza Go On The Record About 3/11 Relief Efforts In July Fanzine (実話時代) : Japan Subculture Research Center

When I wrote about this in 2011, it was a taboo. Not anymore. Sometimes even the bad guys do good things.

Yakuza Comix: An Illustrated Guide To The Front Company フロント企業図解 : Japan Subculture Research Center

Pictures and words

Yakuza Comix #2: The Buck Stops With The Boss : Japan Subculture Research Center

It’s not easy being a yakuza chief these days.

Everything I Ever Needed To Know In Life I Learned From the Yakuza or The Cops That Kick Their Ass in 7 Lessons : Japan Subculture Research Center

Live and learn. Sometimes we die and learn.

On Modern Slavery: Thoughts on Human Trafficking : Japan Subculture Research Center

Published posthumously. Michiel Brandt, rest in peace.

Little Mermaids & Little Fingers: An illustrated yakuza tale : Japan Subculture Research Center

Even Yakuza have kids and sometimes try to be good fathers.

Yakuza blues
Yakuza blues

 

Meet Japan’s Nuclear Mafia: Yakuza, deadbeats, and security risks welcome

TEPCO and the Yakuza
TEPCO and the Yakuza

 

 

Japanese Culture and Cultural Events from 2012

Along the Tamagawa 多摩川 today, the cherry blossoms reached full bloom. (April 15th 2012)
Along the Tamagawa 多摩川 today, the cherry blossoms reached full bloom. (April 15th 2012)

Sakura Time 2012: A photo journey of Tokyo’s awesome cherry blossom viewing : Japan Subculture Research Center

The beauty of April in Japan.

Sakura! 桜!
Sakura! 桜!

Graduation Day: Goodbye to 虐め (いじめ)? : Japan Subculture Research Center

“Ijime” bullying is a part of the culture. Unfortunately.

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

Halloween in Japan–in the traditional sense.

Annular Eclipse: After 173 Years A Dark Sun Rise In The Land Of The Rising Sun : Japan Subculture Research Center

Do we have to wait another 173 years? There are some great photos here.

577380_10151146835069392_580184391_13484938_553449978_n-1

Journalism In Japan (and the world) 

Jake, I know that you're planning to log off and I'm afraid I can't let that happen. And how are you feeling, today?
Our lawyers are watching you.

Protecting Sources & Risking Lives: The Ethical Dilemmas of Japanese Journalism : Japan Subculture Research Center

Why we are reluctant to use the names of our sources in Japan–and for good reason.

The Trial Of Minoru Tanaka: The high cost of investigative journalism in Japan & “the nuclear mafia” : Japan Subculture Research Center

Do you want to be an investigative journalist in Japan? You’ll need a good lawyer. Increasingly, litigation is used to shut up voices of dissent.

The Journo Blues: A Song Inspired By Arianna Huffington : Japan Subculture Research Center

The HuffPost and Google News have started to turn the business into a con game–the con being that “exposure” will get you a real job as a journalist. Better think twice on that. If journalism is your calling, you may need to have a second job.

Meet the Rupert Murdoch of Japan: Tsuneo Watanabe

 

 

Musings

Ray Bradbury, Journalism & Mr. Dark. “You can’t act if you don’t know.” : Japan Subculture Research Center

Yes, Ray Bradbury was a novelist but sometimes people can say greater truths in fiction than they can in an essay. I was sad to see him go and this is my small essay on what I find inspiring in his best novel, as a journalist, and as a father.

スクリーンショット 2012-06-07 22.48.18

 

 

 

 

 

Bamiyan, The Destroyed Buddha Images & Meditations on Art

This article was originally posted on 3quarksdaily and is reprinted with permission. 

Buddhism is a religion that teaches the truth of impermanence, yet should its greatest artwork be preserved or restored?
Buddhism is a religion that teaches the truth of impermanence, yet should its greatest artwork be preserved or restored?

by Leanne Ogasawara

There was recently mention in the media of a religious extremist in Egypt calling for the destruction of the pyramids. I first heard talk of this last summer– around the time that the shrines in Timbuktu were destroyed.

Holy hoax or not, I could not help but think of Bamiyan.

I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the moment I learned that the Taliban had blown up the Buddhist statues of Bamiyan.

Sitting in the backseat of a car in Los Angeles in 2001, we were stopped at a traffic light. The radio news mentioned it, but conversation in the car continued on– I don’t think anyone noticed or was really listening.

Despite the fact that they had been firing rockets at the statues for months, still it was a shock to hear that the statues had been completely destroyed– and that these 1400 year old statues no longer existed.

How could they actually have gone through with it? I thought.

Although their destruction came as a shock, in fact the two statues had been practically tortured to death after months of rocket fire, canon fire, machine gun volleys and weeks of dynamiting.

The Japanese had been working furiously behind the scenes when the Taliban first made their intentions known to the world. Working with UNESCO and several Islamic governments, even their concentrated efforts could not stop what was to be. Years later, my Japanese friends still bring it up.

 

Even a thousand years ago, the statues were famous in China and Japan. So important were they in ancient times that rather than taking the direct route straight to India, the venerable Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang walked an extra thousand miles or so just to see them during his famous 7th century journey to India.

Sally Hovey Wriggins in her book, The Silk Road with Xuanzang, describes the monk’s first sight of the famed statues:

Xuanzang’s caravan prevailed against blizzards, mountain gods, and robbers and finally approached Bamiyan, an oasis town in the center of a long valley separating the chain of the Hindu Kush from that of the Koh-i-baba range…The first sight of the Great Buddha must have made the weary travelers gasp.– Immense cliffs of a soft pastel color and behind them indigo peaks dusted with snow, rising to a height of 22,000 feet. They saw reddish cliffs in the cold, clear air; as they came closer, they could make out two gigantic statues of the Buddha standing in niches carved in the mountain. Closer still, they saw the two colossal figures were colored and glistening with ornaments; the smaller wore blue, the larger one red, and their faces and hands were gilded.

Once painted in ultramarine and carmine, the statues were as famous for their extravagant colors as they were for their size. It must have been a spectacular sight!

The ultramarine pigment used at Bamiyan was the same blue so adored by the Renaissance painters. The pigment is painstakingly derived from the lapis lazuli rocks mined from one place in northeast Afghanistan. The mines are located not far from Bamiyan; and from there, donkeys transported the expensive pigment in rough sacks over mountain ranges East into Central Asia and West to Venice and beyond.

DuccoIn Europe, the precious pigment was so valuable that it was worth more than its weight in gold, and the legendary painters of the Renaissance were often forced to wait till their patrons provided them the pigment before they could apply the heavenly blue to Mary’s robes –for ultramarine had become the color associated with the Virgin Mary by that time (For more, see my post: Sacre Bleu 瑠璃色).

Bamiyan was long famous for being a conduit between East and West. Located on the trade route between India and Persia, the art of the region has had a tremendous influence on the artistic traditions of both the East and the West. So when, for example, Ikuo Hirayama–Japan’s celebrated painter and Hiroshima survivor– visited Bamiyan in 1968, he said he was going there in order “to seek the origins of Japanese culture and follow the way Buddhism diffused.” For Bamiyan was at the very heart of things.

++

But the Statues are gone. So, now what?

Part of Mary Beard’s Wonders of the World Series, I highly recommend The Buddhas of Bamiyan, by Llowelyn Morgan. In addition to the historical context, Morgan goes into some detail on the destructions of the statues and what he believes to be the Al-Qa’ida connection. It is very interesting–for according to Morgan, Afghani religious scholars, as well as a delegation of religious leaders from many Muslim states, were very clear in telling the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, that the destruction of the statues could never be sanctioned or explained by Islam. The statues were no longer objects of worship–they were relics.The leader of the Taliban himself had made it clear he had no intention to do harm to the statues not months before. So this “change of heart,” says Morgan, can be traced back to Al-Qa’ida influence.

But what can be done now–at this point in time, now that the statues are gone?

In general, I favor the Japanese National Treasures system of protecting cultural properties within the context of the nation-state. By designating National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties, certain works of art become protected by law (and thus cannot ever be sold as their preservation is safeguarded by the various nation-states who lay claim to them).

Bamiyan, however, is unique in that the art works had such a profound influence both East and West to the extent that their significance utterly transcendends the current nation-state of Afghanistan. Like ancient Egyptian art, the art works are situated in a pre-Islamic culture that has little to do with the nation-state of that place today.

We are reminded by the experts not to forget that along with these Buddhas, 2000 sculptures in what was left of the Kabul Museum were also smashed. So much has been lost.

A German team was pushing for rebuilding the statues. Some think that if at least one of the statues can be pieced-back together again, they should be. It would cost something like $30 million to piece together the smaller one. UNESCO rejected this plan.

Paris-based Afghani archaeologist, Dr. Zemaryalai Tarzi has another plan. Instead of re-building what is lost, Dr. Tarzi would like to unearth a third statue (said to be 1,000 feet long), which if it exists at all, has not been recorded as having been seen by anyone other than Xuanzang over a thousand years ago! If it does exist, it would be the biggest Reclining Buddha statue on earth. The only problem is that no one has seen it in over a 1000 years. Dr. Tarzi, however, remains undaunted. “Let’s raise this new masterpiece from the earth and waive it in the face of the terrorists who destroyed our statues!” he says.

Another provocative idea was J. Otto Seibold’s 2002 New Yorker proposal. I can’t find an online reproduction of the image (here is a photo of a reproduction from Morgan’s book). Seibold had suggested that two huge Buddhas be erected in Manhattan and two miniature twin towers be created in the empty niches at Bamiyan–this perhaps illuminating the notion of “spectacle” that connected the destruction of both the twin statues and the towers? (“Dynamite and Celebrity” says Morgan about Al Qa’ida). The miniature Twin Towers would be used to house refugees, thereby silencing the complaints that everyone cares more about the statues than the human beings who are hungry and were living in their shadows.

And, finally there was one more idea concerning how to replace what was lost.

A Japanese artist, Hiro Yamagata, a few years ago set in motion a plan to “re-store” the statues through laser technology –beaming images of the statues onto a cliff using $9 million solar and wind enerated technology. The plan never received UNESCO approval.

I loved the idea myself since –in the end– the inherently ephemeral nature of a beam of light would bring home the idea that something precious and irreplaceable has been lost. And that there are some things that once gone can never be brought back again. Transience also being something appreciated by Buddism, I think it is both appropriate and poignant.

In fact, I can’t think of a better idea, can you?

 

The End Of The World And This Blog & Final Chances. Sayonara!

This post has been scheduled to post before midnight GMT of LA time, which as we know, was the official time zone of the once thriving Mayan culture, that predicted the world would end today. And please ignore any factual refutation of that based on science or common sense. Did Mitt Romney get elected President of the United States? No. We rest our case.

It’s already the 21st in Japan but that doesn’t count because the Mayans barely knew Japan and only visited the country once in their spaceships.

"The moon shall swallow the sun, and the universe swallow the earth." This is an actual photo of what is not happening right now in accordance with Mayan prophecy.
“The moon shall swallow the sun, and the universe swallow the earth.” This is an actual photo of what is not happening right now in accordance with Mayan prophecy.

Mayan prophecy moves on Mayan time. Even an 8 year old boy knows this. And an 8 year old boy also knows that not even the end of the world* should get in the way of making a little more money. So here’s the deal, we’re offering any of our loyal readers. You bet the Japan Subculture Research Center $100 that world will end today, just to be nice, we’ll bet it won’t end, and if we’re wrong, we’ll pay you double! That’s right double your money. You may lose the world but you’ll gain $200. That’s more than 10,000 yen!

Why are we making this generous wager? Because it’s all about reciprocity. We wanted to thank you for all the years we’ve had together. It’s all about giri 義理 (duty, honor)–paying one’s debts or paying one’s dues, or paying huge franchise fees. Well, giri has many meanings. Pick whichever meaning makes this sound like a good deal.

We started this blog in 2007, hardly aware that we were doomed to end by December 21st, 2012. By the end of this day, it’ll all be over. But you still have a chance to end your life on this earth, a winner. Just go to that Paypal button on the front page. As of today, this is the final, final, final entry.* Sayonara!

See you on the other side!

 

 

*End of the world, is defined under these terms, as the ceasing of all human, animal  and plant life, on planet earth. “Today” means with 25 hours of this posting. 

*In the oft chance, the world does not end, then this will not be the final entry and we’ll swiftly delete that last line and hope no one notices. All bets made in advance should be considered payment for investment advice not bets in a gambling sense and are non-refundabele in physical or metaphysical world. Peace out!.

 

Why Abe & Adult Diapers Make Shorting Japanese Yen A Sweet-Smelling Deal! (Op-Ed)

As many of you know, the lower hours elections were held in Japan today and the LDP and New Komeito Alliance scored a clear victory. It means the likely return of Shinzo Abe aka Mr. Bond, Japan Bond, to his starring role as prime minister of the country. Financial blogger and twitterdachi, Finansakrobat has a piece on the economic repercussions worth reading (while at your desk or in the bathroom.)  Reprinted with his kind permission.

WHY ADULT DIAPERS MAKES SHORTING JAPANESE YEN THE TRADE OF THE CENTURY

by finansakrobat


The core to Japan and its future problems is embedded in its demographics.

In many developed countries, the average age of its population is rising. But nowhere is this happening as quick as in Japan. This was succinctly exemplified last May, when the Japanese diaper producer Unicharm said that soon they will be selling more adult diapers than regular diapers:

 

At Unicharm, said Takahara, who is also president, the adult diapers business is becoming increasingly important to the company.

“Domestic sales of diapers for the elderly are growing by double digits,” Takahara told reporters last month. “It’s an extremely important business in terms of both sales and profit margin.”

This story was largely ignored in May, but as hedge funds and banks started honing their sights on Japan this fall, the story resurfaced. It was Morgan Stanley that made many people, myself included, aware of the large demographic shift, in a presentation with the lovely title: “Shorting Japan is the trade of the decade. But which decade?”.

Other than a less than optimal demographic, there are three things you need to know about Japan’s economy; they have the worst looking balance sheet of any country (including Greece and Ireland), the country has been in deep financial trouble for a whole generation and somehow the economy has failed to blow up .

 

As I am writing this, Shinzo Abe has just won reelection. He first served only one year and is making his comeback on two issues: boosting the economy and nuclear energy.

 

When Abe left the position as prime minister,  due to “Crippling Diarrhea“, he was known as the worst prime minister since 1994 for Japanese bonds. Based on this, and the fact that he publically said he wants to make sure the Yen weakens, it could be a blessing for the Japanese export sector.

 

That’s probably the reason why the smartest investors in the world are betting heavly against Japan. Both the bonds and the Yen. But that could be great news for Japanese exporters.

Albeit Abe is walking a tight rope, since even a 2 percentage point increase in interest rates, could be enough to crush the Japanese economy. In theory.

The final thing you have to consider, is the way Japanese debt is structured. On the face of it, the country has a debt 195% of their GBP. Meaning the economy is almost half as small as the debt. But who are these creditors? 3 out of every 4 Yen owed, is to Japanese banks, individuals and institutions. That means that Japan has control over its creditors, which gives them significant leverage. (In contrast we can look at Greece, which has almost all of its creditors abroad and no control over its own currency).

Secondly if Abe manages to do what he has pledged to do, to destroy the value of the Yen through “unlimited easing”, the Japanese export sector could be in line for the biggest boost in history. If the value of the Yen drops 20%, that money hits Japanese companies straight on the bottom line. Instant profit.

Now finally we have to consider that investors have been betting against the Yen about once a year for the last four years. Massive losses have built up so far.

But this time, it could be different.

The Ghosts of Sony


The Ghosts of Sony

By Jake Adelstein

In the beginning of this month, the overall Japanese electronics industry recorded billions in losses, “among the biggest in Japanese manufacturing history,” according to the Associated Press. Panasonic Corp. lost 698 billion yen (8.7 billion $ US) for the second quarter of the fiscal year, and its longtime rival Sony also  announced an annual loss of 457 billion yen (5.7 billion $ US) in its fourth straight year of red ink, Sony reported its fiscal results on November 1.

Japanese makers have struggled despite the popularity of smartphones, as the market has been dominated by American Apple Inc. and South Korean Samsung Electronic Co.

Japan Subculture Research Center investigated the human side of this shrinking Japanese electronics’ industry, once the world leader in electronics.

            Sony Graveyards and Sony Ghost Towns

            For some people in Japan, Sony is already dead. The only question they have is how did Sony die, or who killed it, and how long will the spectre of Sony remain haunting Japan. It’s a pessimistic view of the company but it’s one reality in this island country.

Mr. and Mrs. Nakayama have run a home appliance and electrical goods shops for more than 50 years in central Tokyo.

The shop is small and slightly dingy—not dirty or unclean, but there is something faded about it, like an old newspaper that had been kept on a family bookshelf.  There are Sony emblazoned product stands, in capital letters saying Sony, and placards in the store—but they are now for hanging up cords or other products that don’t include the Sony brand. “We do not have Sony products in our shop anymore,” say the owner apologetically.

“Many electronics shops in town do not sell Sony nowadays because Sony itself has pretty much stopped placing products in tiny retail shops like ours.”

A few years ago, Sony shops (stores specializing in their products), and small electronic dealers carrying most of the Sony line could be found in most shopping areas near major train stations. There are not many of them left now. Sony used to be the synonymous with Japan. During the late 1980’s and early 90’s, when it seemed like the land of the rising sun would eclipse the world, it also seemed like Sony would become the one brand to rule them all. But in 2012, the image of Sony has faded, just as the image of Japan has. Sony is shadow of itself in the land of the setting sun.

Hundreds of articles and several books have been written on why Sony fell into decline. Some of them should probably be retitled like a murder mystery: “Who killed Sony?”

The answer is not clear. Was it suicide? Was there an executive who pushed Sony in front of an oncoming trunk? Or is Sony dying from a number of self-inflicted injuries? Was Sony assassinated from the outside? Was there a criminal mastermind behind the fall of the company? Is there a “single-bullet theory” that works?

 Many people claim to know the answer but it seems like the people who really have the answers are the local mom-and-pop stores who used to sell Sony products and the people who once worked there or worked with Sony at its peak.

Sony is not doing well. According to The New York Times: In the company’s financial year that ended in March 2012, it projected a record net loss of ¥455 billion — the equivalent of $5.7 billion. It was Sony’s worst loss ever, as an additional tax expense hurt a company already battered by heavy losses in its television business, a strong yen and natural disasters in Japan and overseas.”

Some would say that Sony is already a living zombie and that the firm won’t survive.

In contrast to the Nakayama store, which is almost a Sony graveyard, at the Sony Building, located in Ginza–once the most expensive and luxurious area in Tokyo– the Sony Show Rooms are immaculate and have almost five floors of space. The irony is that almost every floor is empty on a Friday afternoon. What is meant to be the Sony Show Room turns out to be The Sony Ghost Town.

Pretty hostesses in crisp and no-nonsense uniforms with serious looks and no smiles on their faces welcome the few visitors. Most of them are foreign tourists. Andrew, a 27 year old man, from Australia came to visit the well-known Sony Show Room, because the place is an absolute must for foreign fans of Japanese electronics

“I used to buy Sony stuff, but lately I also bought a Samsung TV, because it was so cheap! I don’t think it is sustainable though. I prefer Sony because it is ‘reliable’ for sure.” Andrew is still a serious believer in the brand.

Neil (20), from the USA was also taking a walk inside the fancy Sony Show Rooms with his parents that afternoon.

“Oh I came here because I love videogames, I’m a total videogame ‘geek.’ I think the Sony Play Stations are really reliable. Microsoft and the X Box break down a lot compared to the Play Station 3. Sony is a well known brand, and you get what you pay for!”

Mr. Nakayama, admits when foreigners think of Japanese electronics, they automatically have the image of Sony or Panasonic. Sony remains synonymous with quality in the eyes of many non-Japanese.

At the polished and fancy Sony Show Room, the Japanese agree as well. A 52 year old businessmen who had a free afternoon that day, fit a visit to the showroom into his schedule.

“Well, I think Sony is not even competing anymore. When it comes to televisions, everybody buys Korean TVs—they’re cheaper, bigger, and the difference in quality is not much.  However, for the cameras, videos, or digital media, Sony still has many technology products. Today, I came here because I needed to buy a computer.”

Yasushi (51) and his wife Yasuko (50), were also among the very few Japanese visitors of the Sony Show Room, in the television corner.

“Sony is quality. Japanese people love Sony.”

 “I think Sony is still on the top,” commented Mr. Yasushi, before sliding away to look at some new thin television models.

However, when you walk out of Ginza, and out of the Sony Showroom, and walk past the mega-electronic retailers like Bic Camera and began focusing on local small retailers, you find a surprising amount of anti-Sony sentiment.

This isn’t good. Sony promotes itself as an international brand, but almost 30% of its sales (for all products) are said to come from Japan.  By alienating the small retailers Sony may have cost itself customers loyalty and sales. Only Sony really knows.

The stores we spoke with say almost the same thing, “We stopped dealing in Sony products a decade ago.”

“Of course, in mass retailing shops, such as Bic Camera or Yodobashi Camera, they sell them, otherwise you have to buy them online. But in the big shops, they won’t explain you well how the products work and so on. If you ask them for a bit of explanation, they won’t know anything or tell you anything.” Mr. Nakayama said.

 “There are many Japanese products that sell well, but in my shop, Sharp, is doing the best so far. In my shop, I do not sell Korean products, and the reason for this is because I am embarrassed afterwards, when there is a problem. I mean for maintenance, repair or arrangements, Japanese products are easier to take care of, and they need less care too. It is true that Korean products are becoming good as well, but for me I prefer dealing with Japanese products. But well, when we say they are Japanese, in the end of the day, many are made overseas! But you know, they are still made by Japanese companies, with Japanese technology.”

He says this very proudly.

“Yes, I remember the time, when I was younger, when we talked about Japanese products, it was all about Sony. If Sony made the product, it was a hit.”

            The dusty small retailer shop still hangs electric cords and products on Sony exhibition furniture. “Ah no, this was before, when I used to sell Sony products, I just kept the furniture, but I hang other stuff on them.”

Mr. Nakayama’s shop is small. It has two Sharp refrigerators, about seven different Toshiba hair dryers, four “family size” Sharp TVs, many electronic devices bric-a-brac and few air fans outside to attract the consumers dealing with the early summer heat.

Mrs. Nakayama, in her late fifties, lived in Chiba before she married and moved to Tokyo. Her husband’s parents owned a small piece of land in Tokyo, that’s why back then, they thought about opening an electronics shop, because it was a good business. “Ten or fifteen years ago, Sony products used to sell very well. Nowadays, Sony doesn’t sell very well. Sony decided to sell at the market value, and then they started selling on the Internet directly. Sony caters to big retailers and has been disconnected from the small retailers. No one take them anymore in small shop,” she explained. “The Walkman was the best hit I remember. We sold many of them when it came out.”

Over the years selling and dealing different Japanese electronic products, Mrs. Nakayama developed a sharp understanding of the economic situation.

She is not an expert in finance, but she gave an explanation of her own: “What happened is that Taiwan or Korea hired the retired Japanese engineers and field technicians for a very good deal, so they learned the Japanese technology very quickly. And in those countries, the manpower costs are very cheap. And with the Japanese high yen, all these things contributed to the fall of Japanese companies. I heard this from discussing with the local retailers. I heard these countries hired retired technicians. And you know, the most expensive part of the business is the employees; it is the labor force. But when it comes to technology they are also very important.”

Nobuyuki Idei CEO: The Supervillan That Killed Mighty Sony?

It turns out that Mrs. Nakayama is very astute. Former Sony executives and current employees blame the fall of the firm on the loss of brainpower and good employees during the reign of Nobuyuki Idei, from 1999 to 2005. Idei was the first Sony CEO to rise up entirely from a management background and in the “Who-killed Sony?” genre of books and articles; he is regularly the prime suspect.

A middle manager at Sony, on background, recalls the Idei age.

“Idei decided to streamline the company and do massive restructuring. When we say, ‘restructure’ in Japanese—we really mean get rid of people. He put together an early retirement plan and strongly encouraged people to use it. Well, that didn’t generate a lot of good feelings. When a company starts promoting early retirement, most people take that as a sign to get out while they still can. And many did. Maybe the idea was that by getting rid of the middle aged and older employees they’d encourage innovation and bring in some young blood. The effect was more like shooting yourself in the foot.”

According to the Sony veteran, the middle-aged engineers and technicians that left were the same ones that brought Sony to greatness. They left behind a younger generation that was insecure, afraid of failure, and only willing to work with technology already in place—not build from the ground up.

“What was even worse is that during this period, Korea and Taiwan immediately welcome the exiting Sony techies with open arms. It was better than industrial espionage—Samsung could openly ‘buy’ the technology that Sony had developed simply by rehiring their best and brightest.”

The representative of a major European investor in Sony recalls his meeting with Idei very unfavorably.

“I came to Japan to talk to Mr. Idei about our growing concerns with Sony’s direction. We had dinner together. I wanted to talk about profit margins; he wanted to talk about the wine we were having. He struck me as a clueless.”

When the investor pointed out that Sony’s operating profits on electronic products were roughly 2-4% and that Samsung was making similar products at a 30% profit margin, Idei hushed him by saying, “They make the parts for our products. We put them together. It’s the difference between a steel maker and an automobile maker. We make the automobiles.”

The investor countered, “Well, I’ve got news for you—the people you laid off from the car plant are now working at the steel mill, and soon the steel mills will be building cars with your technology.”

The warning was not heeded. It was 2004 when they last met, and while the iPod was increasingly becoming the to-go platform for mobile music and multi-media contents, Sony or rather Idei, didn’t take it seriously.

When Sony announced that it would be appointing Howard Stringer to be the new CEO in 2005, the investor sent Stringer a message and offer of support via Sony’s Japan office. Stringer was in charge of the company for several months before the investor heard from Stringer himself that the message had not gone through. The investor drastically reduced their interests in Sony.

“We still have shares in the company so I don’t want to say much more but it was clear to me by 2004 that Sony was a company at war with itself and that the seeds of its downfall had already been planted by Idei and nurtured by his cronies, and that they were quickly taking root.”

Sony And The Changing Japanese Electronic Markets

A Japanese salesman in a big retailer shop outside Tokyo, (38) said that twenty years ago, he remember Sony TVs “had such a good quality, the images were so beautiful. But nowadays the quality has gone down, that’s for sure.” But in the past, they were expensive too. However, he explained that nowadays, no one would pay that much to get a new TV. His large shop sells Japanese electronic products only. “Three years ago the prices were higher. You found TVs at 400,000 yen. It is true that the price went down because of the cheaper Korean products, ”he adds.

“Honestly, when you look at the quality of the screen, the Japanese makers are more subtle than Korean products. The Japanese makers have the same power as the Korean products, but I guess it is a question of price. LG or Samsung are cheap, that’s their sales point I guess. But the after-care is a problem. Sony products last longer. Samsung products break easier I heard from my clients. I can assure you that the Sony TVs will last at least 10 years,” he adds.

“As for the computers, I noticed that people who have used Sony from the beginning continue to buy Sony. But nowadays Toshiba computers sell very well. It depends, people also like the design of the computer, and internally they are very good, but they are more expensive of course, that’s why Toshiba sell better.”

Nowadays, if you want to find a Japanese television that is entirely made in Japan, you can find the Kameyama-models, from Sharp. In terms of price, they are a bit more expensive, but they are entirely ‘made in Japan.’ Even Panasonic have their factories abroad. If the pieces were produced abroad but the final product was assembled in Japan, you could say they are ‘made in Japan.’ The costs are so big, that the companies usually produce them abroad and import them to Japan.

However, there is a hard-core audience for strictly made in Japan products who will pay an expensive premium but it’s an audience that Sony seems to have lost.

Yozo Hasegawa, the author of Rediscoverning Japanese Business Leadership told us that the problem with the Japanese success stories after WWII is that the Japanese industry has been lead by two sectors, the automobile industry and the electronics industry, however after 1989, which was the peak of the Japanese economy, according to the indicator of WEF and Nikkei ranking, in 1999 and 2000, “the global economy had developed, and the Japanese domestic market has faced a dramatic change of economic phenomena, after the collapse of the bubble economy.”

“One common point in the analysis of the fifteen Japanese business leaders whom I investigated in my book is their leadership. These fifteen companies have a strong leader, with a strong mind.” The second thing these managers have in common, he added, is that “they kept the ‘DNA’, or the root of their management from the beginning. These companies succeeded because they managed to keep their ‘DNA’ along the way, as ‘Japanese companies.’”

Mr. Fujio Mitarai, the leader of Canon, for example, said many times that, “the Japanese should not copy the American or Anglo-Saxon business models and…Japanese companies should have their own way.”  However, in some ways, many managers say that the Japanese should learn from the American industries. For example, Mr. Mitarai said that he learnt about the cash-flow business management from the Americans when he stayed in the USA. “He learnt to use the cash flow in a more efficient way. But he also stressed on the Japanese management style. He also stressed the importance of the inheritance of the ‘DNA’, which Canon handed during 60 years after their establishment,” Hasegawa explained.

 The Japanese electronic business, which lead the Japanese business world after the war, was leading the world’s electronic industry offering a very advanced technology. “However recently, the electronic consumers’ goods are becoming commodity products, and not only Japan but also Japan and Korea’s businesses are catching up on technology. And the only difference with the Japanese products is the price, because a cost competitiveness rose and Japan is known for being a very costly nation.”

The good points for Japanese businesses are also that they make the products “more precisely and at a very high quality,” Mr. Hasegawa explained, “but the new market is requiring not only the quality but also a lower price.” In other words, the Japanese companies are losing the price competitiveness. The other point is that they sometimes have been “arrogant” about their technology, and for example, sometimes they believe they can keep the leadership in the liquid crystal technology or the semi conductors sector.

“While the global market is increasingly growing, even Korea or China can produce such high quality products, before the Japanese companies succeeded to make high quality or advanced technology. But recently the speed of innovation is moving quite fast, so they are losing their leadership in that field,” Hasegawa explains. The technological leaps are so fast and furious that spending huge amounts of money on research and development may no longer make sense.

While Japanese consumers still have a loyalty to Made in Japan products, it’s not what it once was.

“Before, the Japanese consumers loved the Japanese products, but recently, the Japanese market became an open market and also the Japanese citizens’ tendency is changing. The Japanese used to love only the Sony or Toyota products, but now they can compare the products, so sometimes they can select and chose imported foreign products.”

According to Mr. Hasegawa, Japanese products are high quality and also very elaborately produced, but recently the life style is changing and the Japanese consumers tendency is also changing, from high quality oriented to reasonably priced products. So the anti-foreign products tendency is fading in Japan. “Of course, the Japanese love the Japanese products, but now they can choose.”

Also, the Japanese makers are leading the distribution system, and they are also focusing on PR, however, they had the chance to import the foreign products, especially after the market opened. For example, according to a survey Nikkei group, when Japanese were asked which company they had the most favorable image of, the answer was Apple. It was not Sony or Panasonic.

A few years ago NTT Docomo cell-phones and other Japanese smart phones dominated the Japanese cell-phone market but then Softbank introduced the iPhone to Japan in the summer of 2008. Response was weak at first but gradually the iPhone has become the most esteemed cell-phone for Japan’s younger and older generations.

Mr. Kazuo Hirai, the new president of Sony Corporation is someone who knows how to win the hearts of American consumers—due to his long background working in the US.  He said he wants to concentrate the business on ‘new businesses’, meaning ‘non-electronic’ businesses in the service sector, mobile phone, movies, gaming or music. He wants to rationalize the electronic divisions and unify the company under his “One Sony” plan.

“Mr. Hirai’s background is non electronic, but of course he knows Sony is an electronic oriented company, one of the key point is how to rationalize the electronics division and the other point is how to make synergy effects in soft and service sectors. In some sectors, Sony should have a better alliance.” Mr. Hasegawa says.

Some experts say that unlike Korean electronic companies, Japanese companies excel in developing original new products. Innovation takes time and is very costly, but in the golden ageSony engineers were free to do what they wanted, they concentrated on technology that was unrealistic or hard-to-commercialize. Sony was fit to develop new technologies. Sony’s corporate culture was ‘free and open-minded” and independent business units worked well under the charismatic Mr. Akio Morita. Morita would only interfere with matters when there were conflicts among company units.  However, under Mr. Idei, the loose structure of Sony became very vertical. Engineers became less esteemed or saw going into management as more desirable than remaining in the technological arena. Sony became stratified.

 

Howard Stringer declared that he would destroy the silo, when became president. He found that one of the things that was blocking Sony was the vertical division style, tatewari—that the different arms and regional firms of Sony were not cooperating each other. He said that was a “Japanese tradition.” To cope with the problems he identified, he said he would change the vertical division style to a more friendly cooperative system. “But after all, he could not stop the red figures of the electronics. He tried to fix things but he didn’t live up to expectations,” Mr. Hasegawa said.

 

Is Sony what it used to be? Urban legends say not so.

An owner of an electronic shop in Machida may understand Sony’s problems better than any financial experts, because he has been selling Toshiba, Hitachi, Sharp, National, Panasonic and Sony products in Japan for over 40 years. He said that the quality of Sony has definitely fallen over the years. “Samsung surpassed Sony, especially in the field of television.”

Sony has allegedly done it’s own internal studies of failure rates for its products and found that their products last longer than much of the competition. However amongst some Japanese consumers, there exists the urban legend of “the Sony Timer.” What is the Sony Timer? It’s the rumor that built into every Sony product is a self-destruct program that will go off after a certain amount of time has passed, usually around the end of the warranty, forcing the Sony loyalist to buy the newest product.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s true or false. Many people believe it’s true.

What is true that in order to lower the costs, Japanese companies including Sony produce their products overseas, such as in Thailand or China. That’s why their products are not “made in Japan” anymore. It’s hard to teach foreigners how to assemble the pieces. That’s allegedly why Sony products have higher failure rates.

In the past, the motto for Japanese companies was to have their products last “a minimum of ten years.” The safety of the brand was that it could live at least 10 years. Before, the Japanese people used to trust the “made in Japan” concept. “Nowadays we find mistakes in the stage of assemblage. I heard that the finalization process of the products and the confirmation processes have always been very strict in Japan, than in other countries.” The owner says.

“Sony is still leading the stereo and the audio field, but the TVs are really below expectations. Sony TV in the 1970s and 80s were really good products and they were selling very well. The problem now is that Sony does not invest in engineers,” he added, “nowadays, also, it is hard to produce technological products in countries, where the weather is too hot.”

The forgotten Japanese consumer

It’s become popular wisdom that the Japanese consumer is unwilling to pay more for a built-in-Japan quality product. Sharp’s moderate success with the Japanese consumer seems to indicate otherwise.

Sharp has its factories in Kameyama, in the Mie Prefecture. Sharp is particularly insistent for producing on Japanese soil. Sharps’ ‘Kameyama model’ TVs are twice more expensive than other TVs, but they sell well to people who really care about quality in products. Sony’s management system is incomplete, they should try either one way or the other, produce in Japan or overseas with Japanese engineers, or nothing.

Sharp opened Japanese oriented TV factories in 2004 in Kameyama, Mie Prefecture. It came at a time when the Japanese electronic companies were starting to locate their factories overseas; to lower their assembly costs. Sharp also started similar factories in Yaita city, in Tochigi Prefecture, and also some in Osaka, as of 2009. This was the first time ever in Japan. TVs produced in Kameyama were called the “Kameyama model TVs” and had a huge popularity among the Japanese consumers.

According to Sharp, “Japanese retailers and consumers were impressed with the good qualities of these really made in Japan televisions. The price of TVs decreased a lot in Japan, and as a brand, the Kameyama models” are indeed expensive, but I cannot say whether it is more expensive than other brands compared to their qualities. Our Kameyama models became famous and popular among the users, because they were domestically produced. People said that because it was made in Japan, they had a sense of security and this was essential for them when buying expensive electronic goods.”

The limited success of the Kameyama model indicates that Japanese consumers will still pay for quality, but that they demand that Made In Japan really means Made in Japan.

“Mr. Sony” says a eulogy to the Sony he loved

            Mr. Yasunori Tateishi has written so many books on Sony, including such titles as Sony: The Inside Story .that sometimes he is jokingly referred to as “Mr. Sony” by other journalists. On November 11th, 2011, his “eulogy” for the firm was published under the title Sayonara, Our Sony. It is not yet available in English but the book convincingly describes how Idei and Stringer by focusing on “net business” and “management streamlining” effectively crippled Sony as a technology giant.

 In April 23rd, after the management of Sony changed, Mr. Tateishi gave a speech at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan and succinctly described what went wrong with the firm.

Mr. Howard Stringer resigned on April 1st 2012 and when Mr. Hirai became president and CEO of Sony Corporation and on April 5th, he announced the management policy. Mr. Stringer’s revival plan was not appreciated by the board because it was not so much different from the previous plan.

Mr. Tateishi states, “I believe there is a problem, not only for Mr. Hirai, but for the whole company dating back to the time of Mr. Idei.”

Mr. Tateishi sees part of Sony’s problem in its diversity. It’s no longer clear what Sony really is all about. For Japan, Sony is a consumer electronic company, but in America, according to Mr. Stringer, Sony, represented by the face of Spider Man, is seen as an entertainment company, and for others, it can be seen as a game company—the people that make the Playstation.

“Sony has too many different faces,” he said, “for me, the biggest problem is that it has so many faces, it has become increasingly unclear what kind of company Sony is.”

Sony is an operational business unit. However it owns holding companies like Sony Corporation of America, meaning that Sony has to function as a holding company as well. Sony Corporation of America owns Sony Pictures, Sony Music, and Sony Electronics. Even though Sony has Sony China, Sony Europe, they are just regional sales companies.

Sony’s management mire came from the fact that they had to learn to manage Columbia Films and CBS records when they acquired them. Sony, as a business operational company, did not have anyone familiar with the entertainment business, when they acquired Columbia films and CBS Record.”

Therefore they had to leave all the decisions of the entertainment business to somebody outside the firm.

Former CEO’s Mr. Morita and Mr. Norio Oga had spent a lot of money to acquire Columbia Films, because they hoped to make the hardware and software businesses work together. However, the management of Sony Pictures (formerly Columbia Pictures) failed.

“It is well known that the Sony money was used as the private money of the management of Sony Pictures back then, and is detailed in Hit and Run: How John Peters and Peter Guber took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood. The book is written by two veteran reporters, Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters about how two American film packagers tried to play the studio executives, at the expenses of Sony. The story tells how difficult it is to manage business in Hollywood. “

When Mr. Idei became the president, back in 1995, he also had many challenges, and some of them were the problem at Sony Pictures and the problems at Sony Corporation America. One issue was to show where the headquarters really was located, and who was the boss of the whole thing. Sony Pictures was the greatest challenge. Because Sony hoped to integrate the software and hardware business to utilize them in the electronics business, they needed to revive SonyPictures, therefore what Mr. Idei wanted to do is to make Sony Pictures as good as Sony Tokyo.  Sony Corporation of America was supposed to manage things but ultimately until Mr. Idei positioned Howard Stringer at Sony Pictures, the company was run from Japan. Howard Stringer was put in place under the rational that no Japanese man could understand the Hollywood business model, and when Sony wanted to utilize the entertainment business into its electronics business, they had to leave the entertainment business to non-Japanese managers. At that time, there were multiple factions within Sony and there were discussions about “how should Sony look like in the future.”

Tateishi believes there was a chance to restructure Sony for success but it was missed.

“If Sony continued with the current structure, which was no longer effective, the only solution was to establish Sony Holdings under which SCA would look after the entertainment business and SonyTokyo would manage the electronics business, and Sony Computer Entertainment would take care of the game business. Sony Holdings would manage the subsidiary only through numerical targets, and it would not intervene into the management of the subsidiaries, such as the budget or employment. This idea shifted into a portfolio management style.”

“I believe that the past CEOs should have selected these options from these two ideas, but rather than making decisions, they just left the problem unattended. Sometimes, the electronics business of Sony is doing very good, sometimes the entertainment business does very good, but we never saw a time when the two businesses are doing well together.”

If Mr. Hirai is serious about the revival of Sony, he will need to decide which option to take, and he will need to support these structural issues, insists “Mr. Sony”.

“If Mr. Hirai decides to maintain the group, then he needs to shift into a portfolio style management. Or if he wants to survive as an electronics company, then all the non core businesses should be unloaded, and the firm should focus on the high quality products only, in such a way as it could compete with companies such as Apple.”

What Mr. Tateishi recommends and what Mr. Hirai envisions as the right path for Sony may not necessarily be the same thing.

Mr. Hirai is certainly serious about reviving Sony but he may seriously need to study Sony’s past history of failure to go forward and achieve some success.

Mr. X, a former Sony executive, who now consults for the company, thinks he knows what has been the root of Sony’s failures.

“Sony has a great love for proprietary technology that isn’t shared in common with other electronic makers. Because it seeks to impose it’s standard as the industry standard, it often forces itself out of the market. They succeeded with Blu-Ray but digital downloading makes that a hollow victory. Who wants to buy a Blu-Ray when you can download a digital HD copy of your favorite movie from i-Tunes as soon as you want to see it?”

He has a point.

The graveyard of Sony products is impressive. Beta-max was killed by the VHS. The Memory Stick was killed by USB memory. The Walkman was killed by the iPod. The common MP3 format killed Sony’s DRM heavy ATRAC format. Even when Sony has had product killers on its hands, they have often failed to mobilize them effectively overseas or in Japan.

In the kingdom of obsolete Sony products one in particular has a special place in the heart of the Japanese consumer.

Tomoaki Kamimura, 30, is an accountant in central Tokyo. He grew up in Chiba, outside Tokyo. He says he is from the “Walkman and Nintendo Gameboy generation” and recalls the time when, as a teenager, he discovered the Sony Walkman, “for the first time, we could transport music outside and we could walk while listening to it. I remember I was very excited to buy CD albums when I was about fifteen, and in my class we would share the CDs and copy them on cassette tapes. It was the good old days. Also I remember the Gameboy, everyone in my class had one. Again, it was a toy we could take out in our nap sacks, it was great.”

“When the MDs came out, I remember I was proud to show my friend from Switzerland how small my discs were. We were very young, and she said she never saw such small discs. However, in Japan, we did not find many music albums in Mini-Discs. So it was quite trendy for a while, but then we forgot about it. Now, I have a collection of useless MDs at my parents’ cellar in Chiba,” he reminisces almost sadly, and then adds, “I store all my music in my iPhone now.”

 

Little Mermaids & Little Fingers: An illustrated yakuza tale

Shira, an Israeli hostess I knew in Osaka, asked if I’d be willing to teach English to her boyfriend, allegedly a Japanese dentist. She told me I could teach him in her one-room mansion while she was out working so, after agreeing to a rate, we began our weekly lessons. Shin was from Nagoya but had set up his own practice in south Osaka, he told me. Work kept him busy and he often had to make business trips to Tokyo so he frequently cancelled our lesson. Nevertheless, Shin was a jovial sort, pleasant to teach and Shira appreciated me taking care of her boyfriend.

After more than a year however, Shin began to cancel more frequently and at longer intervals. Sometimes his reasons sounded suspect, but I never probed. Eventually, he always came back. One day, however, Shin called to say he had fallen ill and needed to rest in Tokyo. “Hataraki sugi (overwork),” he said, offering the Japanese default excuse. Mata, denwa shimasu… He agreed to call me at later at some undefined point.

The next time I ran into Shira she told me I shouldn’t expect to see Shin again. He probably wasn’t coming back. “Not coming back?” I asked puzzled. “You don’t know about Shin and the yakuza?” she replied, and then her voice trailed off, the discussion dead on the vine. But after several months I received a call unexpectedly from Shin who told me he was still in Tokyo but his health had improved and most of his work was finished. He asked if we could restart our weekly English lesson two weeks later.

By this point we had long switched our lessons to my own 2LDK. Shin was something of a tough guy but always very kind to me and not in the least threatening. Still, I knew there was something going on more than “tax work” and “falling ill” in Tokyo. When Shin arrived at my door, he stepped into the genkan (entrance way)  and I immediately noticed an oversized white bandage on his hand, covering his little finger. Automatically I asked, “Shin, what happened to your” – oops! ― I’d spit the question out but the answer was already obvious.

 

Seated in a six mat room Shin asked, “Do you know the Japanese yakuza?” Oh god.. I thought. “A long time ago,” he began. “Long ago, for a short time…” His story involved a business deal gone wrong, a large sum that couldn’t be repaid, and yes, the finger. Everything was okay now though, Shin reassured me, wanting to change the subject. He asked if we could do an English lesson. There was a book he wanted to go over with me so that he could read it to his daughter and there, from his bag, Shin pulled a copy of The Little Mermaid.

contributed by Jon Letman

The JSRC would humbly like to thank Mr. Letman for his contribution to our blog and the education of a little girl. Kudos. 

UPDATE: 10 Thugs Club Man To Death While 300 People Dance at Roppongi Club

UPDATE: According to the Japanese media and other sources, a group of ten men wearing ski-masks burst into the Roppongi Club Flower on September 2nd  at approximately 3:40 am and assaulted four men and women sitting together in the VIP room, clubbing one to death and injuring the others. The men used a backdoor entrance which led directly to the VIP room. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department released surveillance camera video of the men arriving at the crime scene, wearing black, putting on their masks and heading into the club.

The police cordoned off the crime scene, where the killing took place. (Photo courtesy of Jason Gatewood at http://www.jlgatewood.com)

The assailants appeared to be targeting Ryosuke Fujimoto, age 31, a customer of the dance club, the manager of a Korean barbecue restaurant (焼肉屋). The assault lasted less than two minutes and the men spoke not a word while beating Mr. Fujimoto to death with a metal pipes and aluminum baseballs bats. The cause of death is believed to be a severe cranial fracture.

 There were 300 people in the club at the time. No one intervened and many customers didn’t realize what was happening until after the men had fled.  The VIP room is unusually dark and slightly isolated from the main dance floor. The men are believed to have left the crime scene in a van parked nearby and also split up into several cars to flee the scene. While there has been speculation that the men involved were foreigners there has been no eyewitness testimony or evidence to substantiate those reports other than latent xenophobia. (Of course, they could be foreigners. Ski masks hide nationality pretty well as well as they do faces.) 

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Investigation Division One 警視庁捜査一課 (Homicide and Violent Crimes) is investigating the case as a homicide. On December 14th, 2011, a group of twenty men burst into a Roppongi Cabaret club and assaulted four members affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi Kokusui-kai (山口組国粋会), with beer bottles and blunt weapons, injuring one of them severely. The police suspect there may be a possible link to the two cases. The assault in December was believed to have been carried out by members of the Kanto Rengo (関東連合) a loosely networked gang different from the traditional yakuza, and not a designated organized crime group. Kanto Rengo is known for extremely violent assaults and because they are not a designated organized crime group, they are subject to less restrictions than the Yamaguchi-gumi and other crime groups.

The 2nd possibility being considered is that the assault on Mr. Fujimoto was the result of a clash between the Kanto Rengo and another gang fighting for territory in the Roppongi area. Police are checking to see if Mr. Fujimoto had any gang affiliation. He was a regular at the club and had reportedly told is friends earlier in the week that he had gotten a VIP room reservation and was excited to go.

Sources close to the investigation said that Mr. Fujimoto was believed to have been a member of the Kanto Rengo in his youth, when Kanto Rengo was still primarily a motorcycle gang (暴走族).  The police officially are not sure of his present or past ties to the gang. A weekly magazine recently reported that Fujimoto had also borrowed a substantial amount of money from an organized crime group to set up his restaurant and was behind on the lines.

Mr. Fujimoto opened his Korean Barbecue restaurant 雌牛 (Meushi/Male Cow)in Shibuya ward last February with capital of about 3,000,000 yen ($35,000).

Meushi (雌牛)is A "Girl's Yakiniku" restaurant. At 雌牛 (Meushi) attractive women cook the meat for the customers. *Photo from News Post Seven website article about the restaurant.

 

Mr. Fujimoto was reportedly asked to pay protection money by the Kokusuikai in the area but refused. Police are also interested in rumors that another gang tried to shake him down as well.   However, if Mr. Fujimoto was indeed a former member of the Kanto Rengo and still had ties to them, the attack on him may be directly related to the assault on Kokusui-kai members last year. The Kokusui-kai is capable of well-orchestrated violence, including the very public assassination of a Sumiyoshi-kai executive several years ago. 

In recent years, the established organized crime groups have ceded control of the Roppongi area to the gangs in exchange for a regular kickback. One mid-level boss of a Kanto based yakuza group explained it this way, “The class of clientele in the dead zone between Roppongi Hills and Midtown keeps going down and that means there’s more trouble and less money to be made. It’s not worth the trouble and just taking a cut makes better sense.”

A retired detective from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department says the crime is not typical of Kanto area yakuza. “The killing was meant to be a warning, not just a death sentence. The very public execution is more typical of Kansai and Kyushu yakuza or foreign gangs.  It may seem like overkill to go in with a gang of ten people, but in the dark VIP room, it is probably impossible to determine who struck the fatal blow and this will tend to lighten the criminal responsibility across the board.”

In Kanto, the yakuza when making a hit, tend to kidnap their victims, kill them in the mountains and bury them there.  A mid-level yakuza boss says, “Leaving a body behind is not a bright thing to do unless you have a reason for doing it.” The Kanto Yakuza also are less inclined to attack civilians because of the police crackdown that inevitably follows.

The retired detective also pointed out that the use of baseball bats and other blunt weapons by the group was also well-thought out. “Assuming that the assailants get caught, they will face much lighter penalties than if they had used a knife or a gun, which would would be a violation of the sword and firearms laws (銃刀法違反)and result in aggravated charges.” ber 10th

According to the Japanese media and other sources, a group of ten men wearing ski-masks burst into the Roppongi Club Flower on September 2nd  at approximately 3:40 am and assaulted four men and women sitting together in the VIP room, clubbing one to death and injuring the others. The men used a backdoor entrance which led directly to the VIP room. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department released surveillance camera video of the men arriving at the crime scene, wearing black, putting on their masks and heading into the club.

The police cordoned off the crime scene, where the killing took place. (Photo courtesy of Jason Gatewood at http://www.jlgatewood.com)

The assailants appeared to be targeting Ryosuke Fujimoto, age 31, a customer of the dance club, the manager of a Korean barbecue restaurant (焼肉屋). The assault lasted less than two minutes and the men spoke not a word while beating Mr. Fujimoto to death with a metal pipes and aluminum baseballs bats. The cause of death is believed to be a severe cranial fracture.

 There were 300 people in the club at the time. No one intervened and many customers didn’t realize what was happening until after the men had fled.  The VIP room is unusually dark and slightly isolated from the main dance floor. The men are believed to have left the crime scene in a van parked nearby and also split up into several cars to flee the scene. While there has been speculation that the men involved were foreigners there has been no eyewitness testimony or evidence to substantiate those reports other than latent xenophobia. (Of course, they could be foreigners. Ski masks hide nationality pretty well as well as they do faces.) 

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Investigation Division One 警視庁捜査一課 (Homicide and Violent Crimes) is investigating the case as a homicide. On December 14th, 2011, a group of twenty men burst into a Roppongi Cabaret club and assaulted four members affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi Kokusui-kai (山口組国粋会), with beer bottles and blunt weapons, injuring one of them severely. The police suspect there may be a possible link to the two cases. The assault in December was believed to have been carried out by members of the Kanto Rengo (関東連合) a loosely networked gang different from the traditional yakuza, and not a designated organized crime group. Kanto Rengo is known for extremely violent assaults and because they are not a designated organized crime group, they are subject to less restrictions than the Yamaguchi-gumi and other crime groups.

The 2nd possibility being considered is that the assault on Mr. Fujimoto was the result of a clash between the Kanto Rengo and another gang fighting for territory in the Roppongi area. Police are checking to see if Mr. Fujimoto had any gang affiliation. He was a regular at the club and had reportedly told is friends earlier in the week that he had gotten a VIP room reservation and was excited to go.

Sources close to the investigation said that Mr. Fujimoto was believed to have been a member of the Kanto Rengo in his youth, when Kanto Rengo was still primarily a motorcycle gang (暴走族).  The police officially are not sure of his present or past ties to the gang.

Mr. Fujimoto opened his Korean Barbecue restaurant 雌牛 (Meushi/Male Cow)in Shibuya ward last February with capital of about 3,000,000 yen ($35,000).

Meushi (雌牛)is A "Girl's Yakiniku" restaurant. At 雌牛 (Meushi) attractive women cook the meat for the customers. *Photo from News Post Seven website article about the restaurant.

 

Mr. Fujimoto was reportedly asked to pay protection money by the Kokusuikai in the area but refused. Police are also interested in rumors that another gang tried to shake him down as well.   However, if Mr. Fujimoto was indeed a former member of the Kanto Rengo and still had ties to them, the attack on him may be directly related to the assault on Kokusui-kai members last year. The Kokusui-kai is capable of well-orchestrated violence, including the very public assassination of a Sumiyoshi-kai executive several years ago. 

In recent years, the established organized crime groups have ceded control of the Roppongi area to the gangs in exchange for a regular kickback. One mid-level boss of a Kanto based yakuza group explained it this way, “The class of clientele in the dead zone between Roppongi Hills and Midtown keeps going down and that means there’s more trouble and less money to be made. It’s not worth the trouble and just taking a cut makes better sense.”

A retired detective from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department says the crime is not typical of Kanto area yakuza. “The killing was meant to be a warning, not just a death sentence. The very public execution is more typical of Kansai and Kyushu yakuza or foreign gangs.  It may seem like overkill to go in with a gang of ten people, but in the dark VIP room, it is probably impossible to determine who struck the fatal blow and this will tend to lighten the criminal responsibility across the board.”

In Kanto, the yakuza when making a hit, tend to kidnap their victims, kill them in the mountains and bury them there.  A mid-level yakuza boss says, “Leaving a body behind is not a bright thing to do unless you have a reason for doing it.” The Kanto Yakuza also are less inclined to attack civilians because of the police crackdown that inevitably follows.

The retired detective also pointed out that the use of baseball bats and other blunt weapons by the group was also well-thought out. “Assuming that the assailants get caught, they will face much lighter penalties than if they had used a knife or a gun, which would would be a violation of the sword and firearms laws (銃刀法違反)and result in aggravated charges.”

originally published on September 2nd, 2012

Remembering Ms. Mika Yamamoto; War Journalist Killed In Action

One minute of silence for departed Mika Yamamoto.

 

Mika Yamamoto, a well-known and respected Japanese reporter, was killed at the age of 45 in the city of Aleppo in Syria on August 20th allegedly  by the Syrian government army. A Turkish photo reporter, Mrs. Yamamoto and her husband and working partner, Kazutaka Sato, 56, the president of a small independent news agency called The Japan Press was with her in Syria. The three were travelling with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in a zone where the FSA and the government army were fighting over control.

Although there were Free Syrian Army soldiers deployed in front and beside the two Japanese reporters, and although the atmosphere in the area covered looked very safe, with “daily life activities” taking place, “civilians and children playing around,” Mr. Sato did not get the impression that the zone was a battleground. “In front of us, towards the right side, there were several cars parked, and from the shadows of those cars, we saw camouflaged people coming forward, and at that time I thought they were members of the Free Syrian Army and most likely, Mika Yamamoto thought the same. So we started filming.”

At that time, the reporters were about 20 meters away from the people behind the cars. “I tried to confirm their position with my naked eyes, and at that time, I noticed that the individual at the very front was wearing a olive green helmet, which indicated that they are part of the Syrian government forces.” Mr. Sato noticed that the Free Syrian Army soldiers suddenly loaded their guns and someone has shouted, so he immediately shifted to the right side. “As for the position of Mrs. Yamaoto at that time, I think she was between one to three meters to right side of myself.”

“At the moment I took cover, I heard gunshots: one single gunshot and three consecutive gunshots, and then later one this turned to a continuous shots, but at that moment I ran away as fast as I could, and during that time I lost sight of Mika Yamamoto.”

Yamamoto’s body was accompanied home to Japan by Sato, and her funeral was held in Yamanashi, near Tokyo, last week. An autopsy of her body revealed she had been shot nine times, and the exact cause of death was a bullet to the neck that damaged her spinal cord.

“Looking at my tapes, it might be the first single shot that must have killed Mika Yamamoto.” He said at a press conference held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Mr. Sato discusses the death of his wife, fellow war journalist, Mika Yamamoto, at a press conference.

Mr. Sato went to the Syrian embassy in Tokyo to make a request to investigate what had happened and who has killed Mrs. Yamamoto. Mr. Sato received information from various sources, including the Free Syrian Army. They told him that after the battle, a non commissioned officer was captured and interrogated by the Free Syrian Army. The officer testified that there was a meeting on “operations to target journalists” held two days or a week before the reporters entered Aleppo. The meeting’s purpose was to discuss a mission to abduct journalists, or “assassinate them.” Mr. Sato communicated the name of the officer who gave this information, and requested the Syrian embassy to start an investigation. If within one month, the investigation does not lead to some conclusion, he said, he will start looking for other means to find out the facts of the death of his working partner. The information about the operations to target journalists came from the Free Syrian Army, therefore it still needs to be verified, whether it is accurate or not just a propaganda message from their part.

Mr. Sato also said that both reporters were wearing flat jackets during their coverage. Flat jackets have big steel plates in the front and the back, however in the case of Mika Yamamoto, it seems that a bullet has gone right through the jacket, in her back.

Mr. Sato also reported that after the battle, there were five members of the Free Syrian Army who were killed, and the Turkish reporter who was travelling with Yamamoto and himslef had also been “severely injured.” Mr. Sato does not know where the reporter currently is.

“The Syrian conflict is nothing like the other wars I have covered.”

Mr. Sato said that when his crew entered Aleppo, there were helicopters flying above the headquarters, and jet fighters descended rapidly and dropped about three 250 kg bombs and from a low altitude. “Compared to Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia Herzegovina or Iraq, the situation was completely different in Syria. Despite the fact that the place was a residential area, where general civilians were living, the fact that such things were happening caused me to feel anger and astonishment.”

“There is no other war reporter like Mika Yamamoto”

Mr. Sato and Mrs. Yamamoto first met 17 years ago, and their first coverage together took place in Afghanistan, in 1996 when the Taliban took over Kabul. Mr. Sato pointed out that the conflict zones in the world are mostly Islamic countries, where women are living in a “very conservative world,” where expressing their opinion is very difficult to do. Covering and capturing the lives of women in the Islamic world on camera is difficult, and “Mika Yamamoto, as female journalist, wanted to convey the repression of females in Islamic society to the world.” Mika Yamamoto also had strong feelings towards children living in war zones. Mr. Sato believes that she wanted to report their living conditions.

“For me, there will never be any reporter more capable than Mika Yamamoto. I don’t think there will be any reporter like her in the future, although I hope new talents will emerge.” .

Social Justice is unwelcome in Japanese society – “Can journalism stop wars?”

Although Mrs. Yamamoto was a journalist, she was also teaching what journalism can do to change the world to primary school, junior high school or even university students. “Ms. Yamamoto had a very strong sense of justice, and she felt that what is right is right. However, currently in the Japanese society it is difficult to have such views accepted. More than to adults, she wanted to direct her message to younger people who have more flexible minds.” During her teachings, she used to insist on the value of peace. In one of her classes, a university student asked Mika Yamamoto if journalism can stop wars, and she answered with conviction that indeed it can.

With the death of Mika Yamamoto, other journalists may be intimidated from reporting wars.

A memorial event will take place in Tokyo next month, in the memory of Mika Yamamoto and Mr. Sato said that he will establish a foundation in her name.

Mr. Sato said that the mainstream Japanese media do not go locally to those conflict zones and that he has no information whether Japanese freelance reporters do. He said that many western media were present in the field. “At Japan Press, we have experience in covering conflict areas, and we have specialized this in our coverage. So even if major media sources went locally to such areas of conflict, we have the pride that they would not do a better job than us. In that sense, I do not distinguish members of the mainstream media, independent or freelance reporters.” He said the only difficulties being an independent media is the lack of money. “It would not be possible for me alone to report everything, therefore it would be necessary for a greater number of journalists to cover this war, so that a comprehensive picture would eventually arise.”

 

Life With Zero Electricity: Naoto Matsumura in Fukushima, “it’s Possible”

Tokyo – September 11/ 2012 was the one year and six months anniversary of the big Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster, followed by the Fukushima nuclear accident.

The nuclear disaster has displaced more than 100,000 people. The nuclear disaster also made huge amounts unusable land in northern Japan for decades to come. Critics in Japan and overseas have largely questioned, whether TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) has sufficiently considered the tsunami and earthquake risks.

 

Tomioka town, Fukushima prefecture (2011) Photo: Naoto Matsumura

For more than eight months, the 20 km zone around the Fukushima power plant was a forbidden zone where evacuation was an obligation for everyone, except one man. Since the nuclear accident, Naoto Matsumura refuses to leave his farm. At the age of 53, this farmer is physically in a good shape. In the city of Tomioka, in the Prefecture of Fukushima where he currently lives, there is still no water and no electricity. People who can identify themselves as being residents of the evacuated area and members of their families can get inside with a special pass. Reporters have requested these passes by pretending they were “married” or somehow “family related” to the residents who originally lived in the evacuated zone in order to get inside and report how it is. Therefore, Mr. Naoto Matsumura is not the only man going inside the forbidden zone, however he is still living there in his original home with the animals which he took under his responsibility. The police patrols and the border guards do not seem to be very picky on checking the faces and the identities of the people going inside and outside, like foreign reporters, because of the necessary masks and whole body white suits.

Naoto Matsumura has spent two hot summers without electricity at all, and he said it is a matter of accustoms to survive without electricity. “I feel like being Robinson Crusoe in his deserted island,” he said over the telephone today.

Mr. Matsumura usually never gives a phone call from his own initiative, but yesterday night, the phone rang at 9PM. He said that he felt a bit lonely, and that when the evening comes, everything gets dark so he has nothing else to do but to lay in his futon and drink some sake to wait until the night passes. “Time goes by slowly in those moment. I have no electricity, no tap water, no television, nothing else but sake to entertain my evening. But how strange it is, I am not envious of watching TV at all.”

Currently, Naoto Matsumura is taking care of three dogs, Taro and Ishimatsu, and a third little orphan he found near the awful cow skeletons, now so sadly famous. Just three weeks ago, Mr. Matsumura was paying a visit to some remote areas of Tomioka town, and he said “the poor dog probably got a skin or fur infection. He was lying there in the middle of the dead cows, he looked sad and depressed. His fur had gone off, and it looked skinny. When I approached him, he didn’t react aggressively, on the contrary, he looked happy to find a man, alive. So he followed me into my pick up truck and I took him home and fed him.” Mr. Matsumura called the dog “Kiseki”, the word for “Miracle.”

"Cows Tomb" in Tomioka town, Fukushima prefecture (2011) Photo: Naoto Matsumura

Poor little Kiseki, aka Miracle, will probably never be adopted by anyone in Japan, like some other Fukushima dogs had been recently. He looks too ugly, nobody would want it in the living room or even in one’s garden. He can only live in the Fukushima no-go zone, counting on the gentle voice and love of Mr. Matsumura, and his two companions, Taro and Ishimatsu, which accepted him pretty well, since they all share the same fate.

Other than the team of four, who often stay together, there are additional 30 or so cats, which are much more independent and learned to live pretty much in the wilderness, but which still count on the hands of Mr. Matsumura to be fed occasionally.

There are two ostriches, two females. One of them got a big egg recently, but it was technically not fertilized and so will never be the next eggs.

Another photo of the now famous Fukushima ostrich (2011) photo: Naoto Matsumura

Seventy Five Cows and a Pony

Mr. Matsumura also has a little pony, called Yama, like the mountain. As for the famous cows, there are now 60 males and females and happily 15 healthy calves.

“Today, I had a visit from a reporter of Friday Magazine, so I had some human encounter, but those guys leave when it becomes dark, so it isn’t fun.” Mr. Matsumura never complains, but he admitted that the summer had been tough, the water from the well dried up. No air conditioning, no television, no water. “I still eat exclusively precooked food, cup noodles, instant curry and so on. I go to my attributed evacuation home only 2 or 3 times in a month.”

Naoto Matsumura said he dares not ask for help to anyone, since doing anything inside the no-go-zone can affect one’s health, due to the high radiation rate. However, his NGO partners from “Ganbaru Fukushima” had left him aside lately, and he is dealing with the feeding all by himself. He said sometimes he receives donation pet food from Japanese nationals who support him and encourages him. He has stayed in good contact with “Gattsu Fukushima” and its leader Endo-san, but his own NGO “Ganbaru Fukushima” had had only one active member until recently, and it’s himself. Time passes by slowly indeed. But the Fukushima nuclear accident has caused the forced evacuation of more than 100,000 people in Fukushima. Many will never step their foot back in their home land again. The left behind are the animals. “We cannot do anything about them, this is a no-go zone,” the authorities had said. But Mr. Matsumura continues to feed those animals left behind. And he will continue to operate inside the town until someday action will be finally taken by authorities and the Japanese people to rebuilt this region of Fukushima, with decontamination of the soil, and reconstruction of the houses.

Tomioka town (2011) photo: Naoto Matsumura


Note from the writer: the featured image on this post is a photo of Naoto Matsumura taken by photo journalist Munesuke Yamamoto, in 2012.

“Kibou no Bokujo” is an NGO similar to “Ganbaru Fukushima”.

Yasukuni Shrine: The Nation’s Pacifying Shrine That Angers Other Nations

Memo: JSRC is neither opposed to the existence of Yasukuni Jinja nor does it support the views of the group currently operating the shrine or Japanese nationalists.  We felt that it would be useful to get a glimpse at why some people go visit the shrine and who those people are. We apologize if anecdotally shedding light on the cultural background offends you. 

Yasukuni Shrine. 靖国神社.

靖 (Yasu) means “peaceful” “国” (Kuni) means “Nation”. “神社” (Jinja) means “Shrine.”

The Shrine of The Peaceful Nation. And it’s true, Japan is now a peaceful nation, but this shrine in which some of Japan’s war criminals are enshrined and which honors the war dead in general–this shrine is a perennial source of international and national conflict.

“There are three kinds of people who visit Yasukuni shrine every year on August 15th:  There are the opponents to the controversial visit, the ultra nationalists and those who really come to greet the spirit of the dead.”

 A visitor sitting on a bench aside the main alley on the way to Yasukuni Shrine, said this on the day officials of the Japanese government made their first visit to the shrine since the DPJ took power in 2009.

We tried to meet and understand who are the other people going.

In August,  thousands of people visited the controversial shrine of Yasukuni to celebrate the 67th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War and the beginning of peace in Japan. Both interpretations were true.

Thousands of Japanese paid a visit to the Yasukuni shrine yesterday.

Yasukuni jinja, or the “shrine that pacifies the nation” is famous for honoring the war dead, but the political controversy starts at the point where convicted war criminals have also been enshrined in the same place: after being convicted and sentenced to death by the military tribunal of the Allied Forces, the spirits of more than a thousand Japanese war criminals, and later on 14 “class A” war criminals have been enshrined at Yasukuni in 1969 and in 1978.

"Let us mourn the souls of the heroic departed" (Left flag), "We are opposed to replace a new facility to mourn the dead" Fukushima prefecture shinto and political association (Right flag)

The visits made by a big number of Japanese politicians, including prime ministers have raised the concerns of the international community, especially the governments of China and Korea, which were invaded by Japan and view the Yasukuni shrine as the symbol of Japanese Militarism and a strong support for nationalism. The most widely reported visits in the media were those of Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (Liberal Democratic Party), in power from 2001 to 2006, who repeatedly visited the shrine on an official level.

Old men exhibiting their imperial military costumes at the entrance gate of Yasukuni shrine.

This year, the visits by Transport Minister Yuichiro Hata and State Minister in charge of North Korea’s abductions of Japanese Nationals Jin Matsubara, marks the first controversial visits by Democratic Party of Japan’s Cabinet members since they came in power in 2009, despite Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s demand to his cabinet members “not to make an official visit” to the war heroes’ shrine. “The visits may be an indication that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s power is waning,” The Japan Times noted.

"idealism without illusions", Japanese cookies sold for 630 yen at the Yasukuni shrine presents shop.

The visits made by the two Cabinet Members this Wednesday spark the diplomatic tensions already palpable after the official visit by the President of South Korea Lee Myung Bak to dispute the Takeshima islands claimed by Japan.

An official ceremony began under a white tent around 10:30 am with the broadcast of the Japanese national anthem and Emperor Hirohito’s speech broadcasted on national radio on August 15th 1945 to announce the end of the war and Japan’s defeat. Further down the road, closer to the shrine, white doves were thrown in the air and filled the blue sky.

waiting

Back in the white tent, various guest speakers and old timers spoke about their experience of the war standing on a podium facing a number of  senior citizens wearing the black outfits of mourners. At various occasions, a Japanese man in his fifties in the crowd screamed insanities about other Asian people, but  the most disturbing things was that nobody around him reacted to his remarks. He was finally taken away by force from the tent by two men in black.

Two members of the parliament were also part of the ceremony: Mrs. Eriko Yamatani, known for her views on Japan’s territorial claims of the Tsushima Island, owned by 0.007 percent of Korean residents, and Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in charge from 2006 to 2007, and current member of the House of Representatives, was part of the ceremony, visiting the shrine on an official level, unlike his 2006’s visit, which raised concerns from the Chinese and South Korean governments at the time. “Like all of you here, I was blessed with hearing the voice of the emperor 67 years ago. And we gave up our weapons and surrendered. And since that time, we have walked a long hard road.” He said during his speech, before disappearing in a car. It was hard to tell if he actually visited the shrine or not.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2006-2007)

 Under the shades of the old trees aligned along the way to the shrine, the grand son of deceased Tsuekichi Ishikawa is now 62 years’ old and sits on a tatami mat with two or three friends, eating odango rice and red beans sweets. His ancestor was a professional ranked soldier at the Yokosuka Navy. He is the current owner of a hundred years old imperial banner, which used to be carried by his grand father when he served in the Japanese Navy.

"This flag is hundred years old", the grand son of Captain Tsuekichi Ishikawa said.

The grand son of deceased Captain Ishikawa was until recently the manager of pro wrestler Kozo Takeda, and he comes to Yasukuni shrine on August 15th, every year: “I come here to commemorate what people commonly refer as the ‘end of the war’, but in fact we can call it the ‘loss of the war,’ I think it makes more sense.” He said exhibiting a rare copy of the design layout of the famous battleship Yamato gunkan, which sank on April 7th, 1945 near Okinawa, where it was sent to protect the island from invasion by the American Navy and fought until destroyed.

A precious copy of the blueprint of the Yamato battle ship that sank in April 1945, while protecting Okinawa from the invaders.
Captain Tsuekichi Ishikawa, his entire family and the mayor of his town, Hitachi Omiya city when he returned safely from war.

Kazuhiko Ikezoe (53) is a judo teacher, but he used to be a salary man at Honda: “Yasukuni is the place where the dead souls come to meet the living people. If you want to meet your ancestor, you can go to Yasukuni shrine, his bones may not be there, but it was decided that on August 15th, we can all meet up in Yasukuni shrine, living and dead ones. The souls meet up there. I came to visit the spirit of my uncle who died in the Philippines.” He explained.

At another corner of the shrine, a group of nostalgic elderly people gathered together in a circle, singing the war songs “Yokaren no uta” (song of the Japanese air force trainees) also known as “Wakawashi no uta” (song of the young eagles) on the background tunes of an old harmonica. It is a title song used in a propaganda film to recruit Japanese youth for the air force, the song came out in 1943.

Old timers singing "the song of the Japanese air force eagles"

After the recent setbacks created by the South Korean president Lee Myung Bak’s request for his nation to receive “official apologies” from the Japanese emperor for the atrocities of the Japanese occupation, a reporter in his early thirties from a major Japanese newspaper investigating what the foreigners attending the memorial said that if he could express his personal views, he would say that “it is quite disturbing that the Korean president makes such official demand to the emperor of Japan.”

Japanese nationalism is not yet buried nor is it a ghost.  Yasukuni Jinja symbolizes Japanese nationalism and Japan’s imperial hubris to many. What it symbolizes to those who visit it is very different from person to person.