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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Yamatogunkan, 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.
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.
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.
Note: We’d like to thank Mr. Wilcox for his submission to the blog. While some of this material has appeared elsewhere, Mr. Wilcox has also found an abundance of interesting quotes and references that are enlightening and informative. Normally, I’d edit out the few nice things Mr. Wilcox has to say about me personally, but I’ve decided to print the article as is. Please pardon me. Also a per the course these days, the views expressed by Mr. Wilcox do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of JSRC. It is an opinion piece that makes its point well.
Thank you for your understanding. –Jake and the JSRC team
“End of the day, factory whistle cries, Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes” – Bruce Springsteen, Factory (1)
“Bring us the living dead. People no one will miss.” – Fukushima official’s request to Yakuza (2)
“TEPCO’s involvement with anti-social forces and their inability to filter them out of the work-place is a national security issue … Nuclear energy shouldn’t be in the hands of the yakuza. They’re gamblers and an intelligent person doesn’t want them to have atomic dice to play with.” – Japanese Senator (3)
The technological issue of nuclear energy is intertwined with the exploitation of human labor in a hierarchy of interests, and how human labor is expended is an economic and moral issue. The Grand Scientific Project from the time of Francis Bacon up to the Manhattan Project of Oppenheimer and Fermi has been a dangerous gamble for humanity even though the advertised purpose is that progress is good.
The exploitation of labor at nuclear plants depends on the tools of social engineering, of government, mass media and schools. This is the hidden and shameful side of today’s materialist society and belies our complicity in a criminalized culture.
Inefficient and corrupt employment practices at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant (FNPP) are prolonging the disaster. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) outsources 90 percent of the work to subcontractors, mainly utilizing Japan’s criminal syndicates, “the Yakuza.” Japan is still a middle class society and most people will not volunteer for nuclear work. Japan risks running out of workers who have not exceeded their legal radiation limits.
Considered to be “Japan’s largest organized crime group” — who are on the radar of the US Treasury Dept. (another big crime group) (4) — the Yakuza offer a service to society by sopping up its losers and giving them a dodgy occupation.
Journalist, Jake Adelstein, an expert on the Yakuza, risked his life as a reporter on the crime beat in Japan. Not because of shoot outs or knife fights, but because he had to take up smoking cigarettes in order to fit in with police and yakuza! These short video interviews offer a useful introduction into how the Yakuza operate (5; 6). Tepco’s relationship with the Yakuza is a cesspool of corruption from the highest to the lowest levels in its organization. “A senior National Police Agency officer, speaking on grounds of anonymity said, ‘TEPCO has a history of doing business with the yakuza that is far deeper than just using their labor’ ” (Op. cit. “The Yakuza and the Nuclear Mafia”).
Adelstein notes that the Yakuza has 86,000 members in Japan, of the 22 major organizations the “Yamaguchi” has almost half of all members. The Yakuza are:
“[c]riminal trade associations legally recognized by the Japanese government … They exist out in the open. The Japanese government regulates them and there are laws restricting their behavior but as criminal organizations themselves they are not banned. It is very difficult for the police to do an investigation that goes all the way up to the top. It’s problems within the Japanese law itself. There’s no plea bargaining, very limited wire tapping, no witness protection program … no undercover work allowed. The Japanese police are never able to destroy the Yakuza” (Op. cit. interviews).
“[T]he nuclear business-industrial-political and media complex in Japan known as the ‘nuclear mafia’ … [the nuclear industry] is a black hole of criminal malfeasance, incompetence, and corruption’ …. The government tacitly recognises their existence, and they are classified, designated and regulated. Yakuza make their money from extortion, blackmail, construction, real estate, collection services, financial market manipulation, protection rackets, fraud and a labyrinth of front companies including labour dispatch services and private detective agencies. They do the work that no one else will do or find the workers for jobs no one wants …. The Fukushima plant is located in the turf of the Sumiyoshi-kai, which is the second largest yakuza group in Japan with roughly 12,000 members” (Op. cit. “How the Yakuza went Nuclear”; “The Yakuza”).
Without the dregs of society to do the dirty work, modern society could not exist its present, most hypocritical form. Most people do not want to get dirt under their fingernails and prefer to apply nail polish or chat on their iPhones.
Working in nuclear power plants in Japan is not considered an honorable and elegant trade, like cabinet making or industrial design, but a brutal, labor intensive experience. While the Yakuza organization itself is an evil, the workers themselves can be considered heroes. The amount of excruciating heat, hard work, physical and mental stress and radiation they endure is inhuman. Even working at a normally functioning reactor is not easy or safe work but the FNPP is highly radioactive.
Fearless Reporter Tells All
Adelstein reviews an astounding new book, “The Yakuza and the Nuclear Industry,” by undercover Japanese reporter, Tomohiko Suzuki (Op. cit. “The Yakuza”). Suzuki truly risked his life, due to radiation exposure and possible threats, to bring us the details from the Nuclear Hell Zone. The book reveals scandalous information such as that mentally handicapped people are recruited to work in the nuke plants by the Yakuza. Suzuki compares the Yakuza with Tepco:
“Yakuza may be a plague on society … but they don’t ruin the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and irradiate the planet out of sheer greed and incompetence.”
Having lived in Tokyo for many years, I concur. I am not a fan of Yakuza culture and can see in my daily experience that the Yakuza have a degrading effect on society. But as long as you don’t mess with them– they won’t mess with you. In this way, the streets of Tokyo remain fairly safe.
Suzuki points out that “Japan’s nuclear mafia … [is a] conglomeration of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, the shady nuclear industry, their lobbyists” with the Yakuza at the center. Is Suzuki implying that the Yakuza run the Nuclear Mafia? It is certainly true that Tepco could not fulfill a nuclear workforce without them. According to Adelstein:
“As the scale of the catastrophe at Fukushima became apparent, many workers fled the scene. To contain the nuclear meltdown, a handful of workers stayed behind, being exposed to large amounts of radiation: the so-called ‘Fukushima Fifty.’ Among this heroic group, according to Suzuki, were several members of the yakuza …. ‘Almost all nuclear power plants that are built in Japan are built taking the risk that the workers may well be exposed to large amounts of radiation …. That they will get sick, they will die early, or they will die on the job. And the people bringing the workers to the plants and also doing the construction are often yakuza’ (Op. cit. “How the Yakuza”).
The very workers who are attempting to shore up the situation at FNPP, many of whom are Yakuza, are being blamed by local people in Fukushima for the disaster. A recent survey reported that 30 percent of 1,495 workers at the site suffer from severe mental health issues. The survey does not even include the most exploited workers at the site (7).
Nuclear Situation Deteriorating
Akio Matsumura is a renowned Japanese diplomat and “founder and Secretary General of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival.” He sounds like the right man for the job to tackle the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Unfortunately, his warnings are falling on deaf ears. In a recent column he reported that the “Skilled Veterans Corps for Fukushima, along with 700 members, want to help clean up” the FNPP. Most of the volunteers are in their older years so getting cancer is not as great of a threat, whereas younger workers could die prematurely. The group’s representative, Mr. Yamada, “doesn’t believe TEPCO has the technological capabilities to deal with the long term issues. TEPCO, he says, doesn’t believe this either. TEPCO’s plan, according to Yamada, is to contain the radiation in the next 40 years. He estimates they will need 50 years or perhaps much longer.”
Matsumura thinks more aggressive actions won’t be taken:
“Regrettably I do not expect much of an outcome. After 17 months, the situation is worsening and unless Japan requests the independent assessment team and guarantees a huge budget to carry out the team’s technical advice, the US government will not step in” to help (8).
US nuclear policy is equally dangerous, thus, a safe and speedy resolution to what appears to be an insurmountable problem is not on the horizon. Tony Boys worked as an interpreter for nuclear expert, Dr. Chris Busby, on his visit to Japan last year. Boys told me:
“They may be ‘rebuilding’ at the FNPP, but I don’t think that solves the fundamental problem. You know how the Japanese love to do something cosmetic to make things look good because they don’t know how to really do it properly, but have to do ‘something’ ? Well, I think that’s largely what is going on at the site.”
Radio host, Jeff Rense, whose website has studiously reported on the nuclear catastrophe and all of Japan’s botched policies, told me that “everything they do is horrendous.” For example, Japan’s decision to ship contaminated Fukushima soil all the way across the country is truly stupefying (9).
Prime Minister Noda recently rejected protester’s requests to shut down the nuclear reactors. As the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes told Noda in a face to face meeting, “[w]e the people do not believe you” regarding his empty promises to phase out nukes in the future. The Nuclear Mafia are restarting reactors even though they are unnecessary for electricity production. An overwhelming majority of people want to abolish nuclear power (10; 11; 12). Having contaminated the world with quadrillions of becquerels of radiation (petabecquerels), Tepco is under a pseudo nationalization process that funnels tax money into their pockets yet maintains their autonomy (13).
A common practice among workers in nuclear plants is to hide their real exposure rate of radiation. Because there are legal limits of radiation exposure, workers will take off their dosimeters, or cover them with lead. In normal times in Japan workers could also migrate from one plant to the other without indicating previous work experience, and work “under the table.” How long it takes to get sick and or die from such a practice is anyone’s guess.
If the “living dead,” the people “no one will miss” and the dregs of society can’t be coerced into sacrificing themselves, how about top Tepco executives or pro nuclear professors from Tokyo University for a helping hand? Good idea! But first you will have to chase them down on the golf course. NHK reports that:
“[M]any workers crucial to the effort are reaching the limit for radiation exposure …. University of Tokyo Professor Kazumitsu Nawata warns of the consequences of losing nuclear plant workers with necessary expertise. He says young workers must be trained due to the need for massive manpower to fully bring the Daiichi plant under control.”
Is Professor Nawata volunteering other’s children for this dirty job, or maybe his own children would prefer to work in the High Sievert Zone? Tokyo University bears a heavy responsibility for the current catastrophe for its role in legitimizing the Nuclear Mafia.
A notable percentage of workers are leaving once they have reached the legal radiation limits. Of the 3,000 daily workers, “[s]ome of the firms have adopted stricter exposure standards … so that they do not breach the limit and become unemployable” (14).
A number of recent incidents have highlighted the scandal over worker safety, including:
* Over 140 workers have been found to have used fake names when getting jobs doing reconstruction work and are presently unaccounted for (Op. cit., “The Yakuza”).
* Workers have purposely left integral dosimeter off their person while at work. “Tepco is pushing the responsibility to their sub-contract companies but has no solution for the shortage of nuclear workers” which indicates “major staffing problems” at the plant (15; 16).
* Some workers themselves think the only solution to shoring up the plant will be “human wave tactics” as were employed at Chernobyl (17). If that is the case, where will the necessary workforce come from? In order combat the dwindling labor force, Tepco and subcontractors are knowingly telling workers to fake their radiation data. The practice is “believed to be part of a widespread practice at the plant” (18; 19; 20).
Former General Electric nuclear plant inspector, a whistle blower who previously exposed dangers at the Fukushima plant–that were ignored–Kei Sugaoka, admitted that he had heard of young workers in the Taiwan nuclear industry dying from cancer due to radiation. When he worked in Taiwan he says “[t]hey made us wear lead vests to falsify radiation exposure … All the lead did was cover our dosimeters” (21).
Despite the need to quickly resolve the situation, workers are given weekends off, but are also being recruited for decontamination in the 20 km zone. Speculation is that restart of other reactors in Japan will worsen the worker shortage. Japan seems to be going in too many directions at once (22; 23; 24).
The Nuclear Workforce
French sociologist, Paul Jobin, “began research on Japanese and Taiwanese nuclear plant workers in 2002, mainly at Fukushima Daiichi,” and he did follow up interviews after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.
Jobin notes that:
* Subcontracting labor at nuclear plants in Japan began shortly after their creation, in the mid-1970s. “In France, this trend would develop after 1988, reaching a rate of 80% by 1992.”
* “According to NISA’s data, in 2009, Japan’s nuclear industry recruited more than 80,000 contract workers against 10,000 regular employees.”
* Part time employment is carried out in order to limit labor costs “whether in France or Japan, the nuclear industry nurtures a heavy culture of secrecy concerning the number of irradiated workers.”
* Before the Fukushima disaster, “only 9 former workers received compensation for an occupational cancer linked to their intervention in nuclear plants.” This number is probably far lower than the real number of those who suffered from working at NPPs.
* “[S]tatistics from TEPCO (dated November 30, 2011) reported 3,745 workers on the site in March (about 1700 TEPCO employees and 2,000 subcontractors), and 14,000 for the time from April to October. The overwhelming majority … were subcontractors.” But even these figures may not include many low level but highly irradiated workers.
* Radiation exposure depends on one’s status in the hierarchy. Tepco executives and high or mid level engineers are spared exposure, while “there is systematic camouflage of the collective radiation of the most exposed front line workers.”
* Since March 11, 2011, Jobin estimates “that around 30,000 workers have been exposed to significant levels of radiation, some for a few days, many for more than one month” (25; 26). How many of these workers are desperate or “mentally handicapped” to begin with? No wonder they are being used by the Nuclear Mafia as disposable work-bots. Hiroaki Koide, nuclear reactor specialist at Kyoto University says “[t]he truth of the matter is that the subcontract workers don’t really know the dangers of radiation and they don’t know how to protect themselves.” For example, wearing protective masks are so uncomfortable that many workers remove them during their work shift (27). How many health issues have been caused as a direct result of the work? In one case, the worker had been exposed in less than a year to levels far beyond what is considered normal lifetime background radiation. He suffered a heart attack (28).
Worker Rights Advocates Fight For Social Justice
Hifumi Okunuki is an expert in labor law and spends much of her time fighting for the rights of Fukushima’s forgotten heroes. She notes that “the working conditions at Fukushima No. 1 are an emergency within an emergency” and that “special laws should be promulgated to guarantee the safety and fair treatment of the workers.”
“Japan’s Labor Standards Office has thus far recognized only 10 cases of radiation sickness caused by working conditions due to the inherent difficulty in proving causation in individual cases …. Management faces quite serious, possibly criminal, liability if while understanding the risk radiation exposure poses, they endanger those working on-site through a complicated web of outsourcing. Article 87 of the Labor Standards Law holds firms that outsource responsible for workplace safety and sanitation for workers employed by their subcontractor …. Illnesses caused by radiation exposure from nuclear power plants are covered by Japan’s Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage.”
Unsurprisingly, the Japanese justice system which plays an integral role in siding with the Nuclear Mafia has “yet to see a major court case over radiation-related deaths” (29).
A new report from the venerable non governmental organization, Citizens Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), in Tokyo, highlights the FNPP worker issue. One whistle blower reported that in years past:
“Worker accidents are usually covered up inside the nuclear plant. Even if workers suddenly fall ill, they are not allowed to call an ambulance. In my case, after having been left unattended for three hours, I was taken to hospital in a colleague’s car. I therefore suffered aftereffects later and became physically handicapped. Of all accidents occurring in the nuclear power station, 90% were concealed.”
However, thanks to growing international attention, some of the conditions at FNPP have slightly improved. “Currently, ambulances are allowed to come into the nuclear power station and there is a doctor onsite 24 hrs a day“ (30).
Tepco’s Blind Eye
According to CNIC (Ibid.), the system for employing nuclear workers relies on an economically pyramid shaped, “multi-layered structure” of contractors and subcontractors which makes profits for executives and employees. Investigations have revealed the “[p]resence of subcontractors affiliated with crime syndicates and their employees.” In the year 2000 it was known that “350 companies were involved” at the FNPP and that many of the Yakuza employees or subcontractors are presently involved in the clean up operations.
* “Under the utility, there are plant makers, subsidiaries of TEPCO and the plant makers, large, medium- and small-sized construction and repair companies, independent master carpenters and plumbers.”
* The Yakuza enforce a severe hierarchy “between the group leader and the members” which is akin to the military and effective for getting dangerous work accomplished.
* “[I]n 2006, TEPCO reportedly attempted to drive the gangsters … out of the plant.” The Yakuza said: “Do it if you think you can.” Tepco blinked.
* ‘[P]olice arrested leading members of a gangster group affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate based in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture’ who were ‘charged with violation of the Temporary Staffing Services Law.’ A president of a local company who ‘was deeply involved in the staffing of the nuclear power station and was the president of the local chamber of commerce and industry, as well as a member of the Fukushima Prefecture Nuclear Power Plant Town Information Council’ was arrested on suspicion of ‘illegally possessing a gun.’
* “Workers hired by the lowest-level subcontractors were paid only around 5,000 yen [$60] per day, and were not covered by social insurance or employment insurance …. the current average daily wage is said to be 8,000 yen, although TEPCO pays 60,000-70,000 yen per capita to the principal subcontractor.” Everyone in between ‘takes a cut from the worker’s wages.’
In other words, it’s an economic racket. Although an “effective” system, “[i]llegal acts, such as the forgery of health reports … and not allowing workers to subscribe to health insurance and employees’ pension plans, are rampant,” but are tolerated by Tepco. This draws into question how effective such workers can be given the intimidation of violence from Yakuza bosses and the poor working conditions. The “problem is still beyond TEPCO’s control because the subcontractor system is deeply multi-layered and complex, and because the yakuza are so deeply entrenched in the system.”
The 1995 documentary film, Nuclear Ginza, is valuable for its historical perspective on nuclear workers in Japan (31). Corruption, payoffs and coverups were the norm, then and now. As one worker whose health was damaged said,
“The big companies treat workers like objects or tools to be thrown away when no longer needed. Japan is considered a rich advanced and democratic country but its just an illusion I think.”
A Buddhist monk, Mr. Nakajima, who had worked for years to help the plight of workers noted that “[u]nfortunately in Japan, the sad reality is that democracy has been destroyed in the areas where nuclear power exists.”
Streets Of Fire
Adelstein and Suzuki (Op. cit.) supply additional information of a particularly lurid and grim nature:
* Yakuza have a saying: “When a man has to survive doing something, it’s the nuclear industry; for a woman, it’s the sex industry.”
* One mid-level executive in the organization even defends the role of his members in the Fukushima disaster. “The accident isn’t our fault,” he said. “It’s TEPCO’s fault. We’ve always been a necessary evil in the work process. In fact, if some of our men hadn’t stayed to fight the meltdown, the situation would have been much worse. TEPCO employees and the Nuclear Industry Safety Agency inspectors mostly fled; we stood our ground.”
* “Organized crime groups from Kyushu are bringing workers as well. Many of the workers are homeless people, debtors to yakuza loan sharks, or former yakuza who have been expelled from their group.”
* Tepco refuses “to name the companies they use for outsourcing labor, background security checks, and general security at the nuclear power plants.” Recall Tepco’s feigned ignorance about government investigator’s accusations against them for “collusion.” Such bland dismissals on the part of Tepco are curious in light of the voluminous evidence to the contrary. The Tepco president’s denials of any collusion is an obvious lie (32; 33).
* “Suzuki discovered evidence of Tepco subcontractors paying yakuza front companies to obtain lucrative construction contracts; of money destined for construction work flying into yakuza accounts; and of politicians and media being paid to look the other way.”
* “His fellow workers, found Suzuki, were a motley crew of homeless, chronically unemployed Japanese men, former yakuza, debtors who owed money to the yakuza, and the mentally handicapped.”
* “Suzuki claims the regular employees at the plant were often given better radiation suits than the yakuza recruits. ‘Almost every day a worker would keel over with heat exhaustion and be carried out; they would invariably return to work the next day. Going to the bathroom was virtually impossible, so workers were simply told to ‘hold it.’ ’ ”
* “According to Suzuki, the temperature monitors in the plant weren’t even working, and were ignored. Removing the mask during work was against the rules; no matter how thirsty workers became, they could not drink water.”
* “The risk of radiation exposure was 100 per cent. The masks, if their filters were cleaned regularly, which they were not, could only remove 60 per cent of the radioactive particles in the air.”
* “Suzuki found people who’d been threatened into working at Fukushima, but others who’d volunteered. Why? ‘Of course, if it was a matter of dying today or tomorrow they wouldn’t work there,’ he explains. ‘It’s because it could take 10 years or more for someone to possibly die of radiation excess. It’s like Russian roulette. If you owe enough money to the yakuza, working at a nuclear plant is a safer bet. Wouldn’t you rather take a chance at dying 10 years later than being stabbed to death now?’ ”
Faced with an ongoing radioactive nightmare which is contaminating Japan’s food and water supply, what should be done? The Nuclear Mafia’s ethos is silken sewn into the socio-political Kabuki theater of a post modern Japanese society, which seems helpless to save itself. Maybe Ambassador Matsumura, with his international political connections of good will, and the Skilled Veterans for Fukushima would be good people to turn to for advice.
An article which appeared last year in the December 16 issue of “Kinyobi” weekly written by Minoru Tanaka, resulted in a punitive lawsuit against him. The article called the head of a group of nuclear industry related companies, Shiro Shirakawa, a “fixer.”
In Japan a “fixer” is said to be “a behind-the-scenes person who gets paid for mediating with anti-social forces or covering up scandals, or arranging profitable business deals with dubious methods.” It has a generally negative connotation.
According to Mr. Tanaka and other sources, this year, Mr. Shirakawa sued Tanaka for libel. He sued Tanaka only, not the publisher. Shirakawa demanded Tanaka 50M yen in damages and 7.5M yen of attorney fees as well as placing apology ads in morning editions of three major papers: “Asahi Shimbun”, “Mainichi Shimbun”, and “Yomiuri Shimbun.” The total amount demanded was 67M yen including the payment for the ads.
Mr. Shirakawa has been referred to as “a fixer” in many publications and Mr. Tanaka and Reporters Without Borders believe that the lawsuit is a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) and threatens press freedom in Japan. See RSF press release.
The next proceeding is scheduled on September 3 starting at 10:45 am in the Tokyo District Court room No. 615.
The article written by Minoru Tanaka asserts the following:
Mr. Shirakawa has connections with key figures of nuclear businesses, such as Hiroshi Arakawa, the former chairman of TEPCO. Mr. Shirakawa himself operates multiple nuclear-related corporations that offer security service for nuclear plants, leasing, and construction business. In the past he was reported to be suspected of asking gangsters to stop publication of materials, as well as diverting to politicians part of huge profits gained by land transactions. Furthermore, Nishimatsu Construction “gave a loan” to New Tech which is deeply connected to Mr. Shirakawa, using Mr. Shirakawa’s home and land as collateral. A year and a half later, the loan had been cleared.
After the loan was seemingly repaid, according to the registration certificate, the company New Tech received a loan of 700M yen from Shinginko Tokyo bank last October with the same collateral and paid back shortly.
Mr. Shirakawa, according to the article, is connected to Diet Member Kamei Shizuka, as well as a former high-ranking police officer, and his network of connections has allowed him to become a huge profiteer in the nuclear industry using dubious methods.
RSF (Reporters Sans Frontières) or RWB (Reporters Without Borders) reaffirmed its support for Minoru Tanaka and condemned the judicial harassment against him. “It is clear from the exorbitant amount of damages demanded by the plaintiff that the lawsuit’s aim is to silence Minoru Tanaka by crushing him morally and financially.” RSF’s statement says.
The History of Shukan Kinyoubi/週刊金曜日 Weekly
The Shukan Kinyoubi began publication in 1993. It has taken the stance of criticizing the powers that be and taking on the authorities. It is left of center. Therefore long before the Fukushima accident, the publishers have taken a firm stance against the nuclear industry and the so-called “nuclear village.” The nuclear village aka The nuclear mafia refers to the intertwined nuclear industrial complex made up of power companies, politicians, bureaucrats, gangsters and fixers.
Its publisher, Mr. Hajime Kitamura, spoke at the press conference last Friday. Among the 29 staff members of the publication, half of them are involved in editing, and most of the content of the publication are provided by outside contributors who write for the magazine. “We expected Shirakawa to sue the magazine for writing a story about him.” However, to the surprise of the publisher, he just sued the writer, Mr. Tanaka, and not the magazine.
“This is completely unforgivable” Kitamura said, “because when an individual writer is sued, they have to hire a lawyer, pay the lawyer fees themselves, and since they have to prepare for a trial and the legal proceedings, they lose the precious time they could spend doing their job. This is clearly a vicious law suit, and a SLAPP case, if the magazine was sued, of course we have our own lawyers that we could use.”
Shukan Kinyoubi （週刊金曜日） has been sued three previous times, once by the consumer finance company Takefuji, and won the case. In Japan’s civil code, it is possible to sue an individual journalist. Hiro Ugaya, was the first case of a journalist sued individually, not for the article he wrote, but for the comments he gave in a article on a company called Oricon, about 3 years ago. There is no union of journalists or newspapers in Japan, and there is no insurance to protect the reporters neither, unlike in Germany, for example. In Germany, it is not possible to sue a reporter for the content of his/her article, because somebody in the newspaper is already designated to be responsible judicially.
“If this kind of thing continues to spread, individual writers will all refrain from writing anything being problematic. And it will be a huge minus for magazines like our own, which take on the authorities and the powers leading this country.”
Hajime Kitamura, publisher of Shukan Kinyoubi (Friday Weekly)
After 3.11, some of the magazines have been very critical of the nuclear industry. They ran stories in which they called the people of the industry “war criminals,” and they haven’t been sued, because the Japanese mainstream media, up to now, has been criticizing the surface of the nuclear invested interests, but Tanaka’s article is more in depth, and gets behind the scene, and seemingly names the people who have made profits from their unsavory ties to the nuclear-industrial complex.
Mr. Hajime Kitamura, the publisher of Shukan Kinyoubi, used to write in the national news department of the Mainichi Newspaper. He said that the major newspapers in Japan now tend to avoid problematic topics. “If there are some risks of being sued in court, then they won’t touch the story. I’m not saying that the reporters on the ground level are bad, but the reality is that the people in upper management are basically telling the reporters not to write anything that can get the newspaper sued, and that stops and frustrates the young reporters from writing about certain topics.”
According to Minoru Tanaka, currently, Nihon Television is the most pro-nuclear broadcaster and Fuji TV is also doing similar pro nuclear broadcasting. Shirakawa’s older brother used to be a Fuji TV board member, he stated.
Japanese politicians’ ties with the nuclear industry
Minoru Tanaka said that Mr. Yoshito Sengoku, the number two in the (JDP) Japan Democratic party’s political strategy, went to Fukui prefecture and gathered together all the DPJ politicians. He told them that they needed to support the restart of the Oi nuclear reactors, and at a press conference, he said that “stopping Japan’s nuclear generators would be an act of suicide.” Mr. Sengoku used to be a member of Japan’s Socialist party but he became close to Japan’s nuclear industry.
Minoru Tanaka said that there is an entire nuclear tribe of politicians feeding off the nuclear industry, it is not just limited to the LDP, also includes the Koumeito, (also known as the Clean Government Party, a political league, which is supported by the religion group, Sokagakkai), and the DPJ as well.
The state of Japanese journalism
“Up until the 1980’s, I felt that the reporters on the ground level were really making efforts to get controversial stories into print. Rather than becoming weak in dealing with the political powers, I think they became weak in dealing with the public powers and the authorities. And part of the reason for this is that reporting became more a business model than about communicating facts,” says Mr. Kitamura.
He also said that, until the 1980’s, if journalists were writing about a big advertiser like TEPCO, and people at the top said “don’t complicate things,” there was opposition to that kind of interference in reporting, but this resistance has continued to weaken. He added, “When middle management loses its nerves, there is a sort of self-restraint imposed within the newspapers not to handle articles that criticize corporations.” However, it depends on which media, which television etc. He said that he still believes that the Mainichi and Chunichi/Tokyo Newspaper are doing solid investigative journalism.
TEPCO has an advertising budget of about twenty-three or four billion yen ($230 to 240 million) a year. A lot of that was to keep the media under control. For example, the rubble problem was featured in a two pages color advertisement in the Asahi shinbun. That probably cost forty to fifty million yen, according to Mr. Hajime Kitamura. “Usually the newspapers should refuse that kind of advertisement from a company, but they become tempted and attracted by the advertising money.”
The “Yoshiwara Bento” and the honey traps for the journalists
According to Mr. Kitamura, TEPCO entertained clients at Soapland, the sexual service parlors in Japan. The term of “YoshiwaraBento” (Yoshiwara being the Edo period’s red light district and Bento, being the word for “lunch box”) is a crude term to explain the practice that certain Japanese businessmen have to take their clients to a fancy club, for dinner and drinks and then take them to Soapland. The power companies and allegedly even The Nuclear Safety Agency and other associations involved in the nuclear industry have a long a history of wining and dining people in the media to make sure that the myth of nuclear safety is properly communicated to the public.
According to Hajime Kitamura, there are two ways they deal with the media: once a month, the association of electric power providers gives a press conference with the general press. They use “honey traps” or get the reporters involved with other scandals to make sure that they stay under control. The other thing they do is to use DENTSU, Japan’s largest advertising agency, to indirectly threaten the publishers by saying “if you want TEPCO’s advertising, can’t you do something about this article?”
The mainstream media does not support individual victims of SLAPP
“I do not think that this is a lawsuit about the facts, because almost the entire content is based on public publically available information. The attack made by Shirakawa is on the term ‘fixer.’ It is a very vague attack. I believe that Shirakawa has launched this lawsuit to make me suffer as much economic damages as he can,” Minoru Tanaka stated at the conference.
There are a growing number of people supporting Tanaka today, because it is not only his problem, but the problem of freedom of press in Japan. Many reporters think that there should be some kind of laws put in place to limit or suppress these kinds of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). Right now, large corporations and religious groups are able to make these frivolous lawsuits at will with no constraints. He added that one of the reasons that the support for him is not widening at a rapid pace is because of the existence of the press club or the Japanese Kisha Kurabu system. “The major media outlets that are part of the press club system do not welcome freelance or individual writers because they want to monopolize information for themselves. They are not very supportive of individual journalists,” Minoru Tanaka elaborated.
*The editors at Japansubculture Research Center in an effort to avoid giant lawsuits would like to reiterate that the statements and opinions in this article are those of third parties and do not represent the opinions or assertions of this slightly meek and poorly funded project.
Japanese media and other sources reported on July 27th, that the Kanagawa Police Department will discipline four police officers in their thirties for sexually harassing a junior female police officer. According to reports, in March of this year, four police officers went drinking with the victim at a Karaoke bar in Kanagawa’s Yamato City. A traffic cop suddenly kissed the woman, and one of the white collar crimes detectives ordered her to take off her clothes and and change clothes with the traffic cop, which she did, while the traffic cop allegedly proceeded to dress in her outfit. (This isn’t the first time a cop with a penchant for transvestite activity has gotten into big trouble.)
It should also be noted that the white-collar crimes unit usually deals with crimes by 知能犯 (chinohan) literally “intelligent criminals.” One has to wonder about the success rate for that detective if he’s that stupid. It’s not a surprise that he was later transferred to the organized crime control division, which deals with yakuza. Clearly, his thuggish mentality made him perfect for his new assignment.
The other two police officers who were present did not sexually harass the woman but did not halt the activity.
The woman complained to her superior after being transferred this Spring. She did not file a criminal complaint for fear that it would affect her job nor did she disobey the orders to disrobe fearing retaliation in the workplace. The four men involved have admitted to the incident. The Kanagawa Police Department is reviewing proper punishment and whether or not the incident is tantamount to kyoseiwaisetsu (強制わいせつ）forced indecency or other criminal charges.
The Kanagawa Police Department has a long history of internal bullying and misbehavior, including senior cops hazing new recruits by lighting their pubic hair on fire.
Japan’s so-called “nuclear mafia”, the consortium of industry, bureaucracy, politicians and anti-social forces appears to have put out a “hit” on free-lance journalist, Minoru Tanaka. But the attack is not going unnoticed by the Japanese Press or the international community.
Minoru Tanaka (52) is a freelance journalist and expert in the dark side of Japanese politics, who exposed the ties between Shiro Shirakawa, currently head of a nuclear power safety company called New Tech, Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO), and the political circles in the weekly magazine Shukan Kinyoubi issued on December 16th, last year. His case is the first lawsuit against an individual freelancer, victim of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) in the nuclear sector after the March 11th Fukushima Daiichi power plant nuclear disaster.
Three months after Mr. Tanaka’s article was released, Shiro Shirakawa, head of the nuclear power safety company New Tech, launched a lawsuit against the journalist saying that his article “has no foundations.” He was ordered to pay 66,980,000 yen for damage and defamation. In Japan, even if you are factually correct you can still lose a defamation case.
Yesterday, (July 9th) was the second day of his hearing held at the Tokyo District Court. On May the 7th, at the first hearing, Minoru Tanaka said that it was obvious that he was a victim of Japan’s practice of Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. “The complainant has a huge amount of interest as a company working for the nuclear industry, and it is suing one single individual,” he said, “it is important to investigate and write about the way (the entities which play a coordinate role in the nuclear industry) especially after the accident of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on 3/11.”
According to Dissensus Japan, the blog which translates the articles of Japanese freelance journalists and bloggers who report about the Fukushima nuclear accident, free-lance journalist Hiromichi Ugaya once was condemned to pay 50,000,000 yen for damages made to Oricon company for his comments in a magazine.
He lost the first trial and, in 2009, the second judgment was a settlement.
As a journalist who experienced SLAPP, Ugaya said that “this trial (Minoru Tanaka’s trial) is typically a SLAPP, it’s like written in a manual”. Mentally, economically and temporarily those damages aim to dissuade free journalists from doing their job.
RSF, (Reporters Sans Frontières/Reporters Without Borders) an international organization to protect freedom of speech and journalists, declared in a statement that “Tanaka’s description of Shirakawa’s alleged role as an intermediary between TEPCO, nuclear power plant construction companies, leading politicians such as Shizuka Kamei and even representatives of undergrounds organisations was based on public information (press articles, research documents from civic groups, etc).”
RSF urges the court to withdraw Tanaka’s case at once, saying that “any prolongation of this case will just increase its impact on journalists in terms of self-censorship. They already think twice before covering anything to do with Fukushima or trying to break through the lack of transparency surrounding TEPCO and the nuclear power industry in general.”
Tanaka, in his article, also revealed that money had “channelled through” his nuclear power safety company, and studied the links between Shiro Shirakawa and certain key executives of nuclear industry, TEPCO former president, Hiroshi Araki and the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, RSF said.
RSF also noted that prior to the initial hearing, Tanaka received a letter from Shirakawa warning him that he would be ruined financially if the court ruled against him.
“Tanaka criticized the lawsuit at yesterday’s hearing and afterwards told Reporters Without Borders: ‘If I lose this fight, it will mean that no other journalist will later be able to write anything about the danger of the reopening nuclear reactor. (…) So this trial is very important for the future of all journalists.’” RSF added in its statement.
Richard Lloyd Parry formerly the Tokyo correspondent of The Independent and now the bureau chief for The Times, has written the definitive book on the tragic murder of Lucie Blackman, People Who Eat Darkness, which was recently released in the US to rave reviews. He will speaking tonight at Good Day Books at 6:30 pm in Tokyo, on the book if you have time to go.
On May 10th, 2012 Richard Parry and Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice, spoke at The Economist Corporate Network on the subject Crime and Punishment: The Yakuza, deadly violence and justice in contemporary Japan. The two journalists are friends and shared contacts and information while covering the disappearance of Ms. Blackman.
Richard has reported from twenty-seven countries including Afghanistan, Kosovo and Syria. In Japan, he covered three major crime cases, such as the case of Shoko Asahara, leader of Aum Shinrikyou, the cult that released sarin gas inside the Tokyo subway in 1995, killing 12 people and injuring thousands of others.
Lucie Blackman vanished on July 1st 2000. Richard Parry covered the case from the first week and it became the subject of his book People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman, (2011) which was named Book of the Year in the Guardian, Economist and New Statesman. Richard also covered the murder of Lindsey Hawker, another young British English teacher in Chiba in 2007.
The crime rate in Japan seems incredibly low, but at the talk this May 10th (2012) Richard and Jake politely disagreed on what the reasons are for Japan’s low crime rate and the competence of the Japanese police. These are some highlights of the talk.
What happens in Japan from the moment somebody is arrested?
Richard Lloyd Parry said that for the Japanese police, the prosecutors and the judicial system, the moment of arrest is the climax of the media interest in anyone’s crime. The arrest gets more attention than the filing of charges or even the criminal trial. The reason for that is that, “in Japan, once arrested, it’s all over,” he explained. Most people are arrested and charged. Depending on the type of crime, “about 99% of those are criminally convicted,” he said.
“There are exceptions from time to time. But for most people, when the cuffs go on that’s a guarantee that you are going to go down,” he said.
“And so the attitude of journalists reflects this. The arrest is news, and the story is over. An arrested suspect being charged is not such big news. If a criminal suspect being convicted at the end of the trial, is acquitted like Mr. Ichiro Ozawa recently, it is news.” But conviction is generally what one would expect. This is reflected in the way that the public and lawyers regard defendants in Japan, Richard Parry said, “for practical reasons one is not innocent until proven guilty.”
“When an individual is arrested, he/she is no more referred to as the conventional -san but -yogisha, meaning criminal suspect.”
Richard Lloyd Parry said that the Japanese would admit that there is a high conviction rate, “but they would argue that the reason for this is because they (the prosecutors) only charge people who are guilty.” “Guilt or innocence is something that is established not publicly in court rooms, but behind closed doors, in secret, by the police and the prosecutors.”
How is the law enforced?
From the three major crime cases Parry has covered, including the murder of Lucy Blackman (21, when she was allegedly murdered by a Japanese national, Joji Obara), “none of them reflect well on the Japanese justice system, and particularly on the Japanese police. As a façade, the Japanese police are uniquely successful.” But he said that there is a lot of anxiety among Japanese people about crime, “and maybe crime is under-reported.”
Parry said that indeed, drug dealing, burglary are offences that are “between 4 and 8 times lower in Japan than they are in the West.” Violent crime is also rare, “the Japanese police take credit for it, they believe that because Japan has the world’s lowest crime rate, they are the world’s greatest crime fighters,” he said, joking.
The true reason for Japan’s low crime rate, according to Mr. Parry, is not thanks to the law enforcement agencies but thanks to the Japanese people who are respectful of one another and non-violent, “not because of, but despite the frequently disgraceful performance of the Japanese police,” he explained.
“Individually, the Japanese detectives are charming, dedicated, hard working, sincere and very decent, however as an institution, the Japanese police are arrogant and frequently incompetent,” Mr. Parry asserts.
The Japanese police are very good at “community policing”, at the local level. Helping confused old ladies, and giving the reassuring impression that everything is under control. But looking at ordinary crime, they are “lamentably ill equipped, unimaginative, prejudiced, bound by procedure, and they have never been tested by serious case of international terrorism.”
According to Richard Lloyd Parry, one of the weaknesses the Japanese police are criticized for is that when Lucy Blackman vanished, they did not take it seriously, because of the work she was doing. She was a bar hostess in Roppongi,which the Japanese police consider a shady occupation. They failed to protect a citizen against crime, because of their prejudices. Estimated hundreds of victims raped by Jioji Obara did not report it to the police, according to Richard Lloyd Parry. “For the police, a woman who is doing that kind of job and is sexually assaulted, she should not be surprised.” In the book, Richard does note that there were several complaints about Obara before Lucie vanished, and the manslaughter of Carita Ridgway should have sent off the alarm bells in the 90s.
The Japanese police press club system does not allow foreign newspaper reporters to attend the press conferences at a rule and they are kept out of the information loop. This made it extremely difficult for the non-Japanese reporters to understand how the investigation was unfolding.
Jake Adelstein, who was a reporter for Japan’s largest newspaper during the Lucie Blackman case and who wrote a chapter on it in Tokyo Vice, also participated to the same breakfast gathering, and spoke about crime and the Japanese mafia. Jake was a member of the Japanese Police Press Club, when he was a crime reporter at Japan’s largest newspaper organization, the Yomiuri Shinbun.
Jake compared Japan’s declaration of war on the yakuza in 1964, to the US’ “war on terrorism”–long and not very effectual. He said that the latest statistics on the number of yakuza, or anti-social forces, is 80,000 yakuza overall in Japan. Of them the Yamaguchi-gumi, with 39,000 members is the largest, then the Sumiyoshi-kai, which has its offices in Ginza, with 12,000 members. The Inagawa-kai, which has its office right opposite from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Roppongi, with 10,000 members.
Jake explained the audience that, the organized crime syndicates are “licensed,” in a sense. The public safety commission has set criteria to determine whether a group is a “designated organized crime group,” and once the status is achieved, the group is subject to stricter regulations than a non-designated organized crime group, such as the Towa-kai or the Kanto-rengo, who represent the “modern yakuza”, he said.
In the Japanese society, you have the front companies, the yakuza themselves, the police, the politicians and the foreign mafia whom they work with, he explained.
“The power base of the yakuza is strongly political,” he said, “the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was selected by the Yamaguchi-gumi to be their official supporting party in 2007. The Inagawa-kai joined later on. When the ruling coalition of the DPJ sided with New People’s Party, one of the first thing they did was to appoint Mr. Kamei Shizuka to be the Minister of Financial Services.” Kamei is famous amongst the police forces for being a former national police agency bureaucrat with shady connections. Adelstein noted, “Mr. Kamei also is on the record in the National Diet for receiving the equivalent of 5 million dollars paid in his account from a Yamaguchi-gumi boss, which he claimed it was on behalf of his constituents. He has a history of associating with the Yamaguchi-gumi bosses throughout his career and receiving political donations from them.” And when the current ruling party put him in charge of Japan’s Financial Services, it did not generate great confidence in Japan’s initiatives to make its financial market “clean.”
“Seiji Maehara, who was once Japan’s Foreign Minister, Japan’s face to the West, is currently looked at by the prosecutor’s office, because he received several payments from Jun Shinohara, who was a advisor to the Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi,” Jake explained.
“Recently, one of the supporters of current Prime Minister Noda, and other big political donors, got arrested for helping yakuza to falsify their parking records.” He explained.
These are the people who are ruling Japan. They are tied to those they are supposed to be driving out of Japan’s financial industry.
Another thing where the yakuza are involved in is the credit card fraud. “There were several cases in the past when they forged false American Express cards, when someone went to a sex shop and used their American Express cards, paid for their bill, the information was stolen and stored and counterfeited.” He explained.
There are 22 recognized organized crime groups, they all have their own emblems and their headquarters are all listed on the National Police Agency’s homepage. They are not hidden.
Jake said that Japan has a fascination for yakuza. The yakuza portray themselves as noble outlaws, basically enforcing street justice. And if you asked a yakuza, they would say that one of the reasons for the crime rate is so low in Japan is because they keep the streets “clean.” They would say they are “the second police force.”
The yakuza have an internal code of conduct. They can be expelled from their group is they sell drugs. “They are selling drugs all the time, but if they get caught committing theft, petty theft, robbery, sexual crimes, they are expelled. “In this sense they are keeping people’s general sense of peace,” he explained.
In 2008, the yakuza had at least 950 front companies inside of Japan, many in the field of real estate, urban corporation, finance, private companies doing temporary staffing, goodwill groups, investment firms.
“The traditional Japanese yakuza have changed a lot, especially after 2007, a moment in history when they went so bad that the National Police Agency’s annual report on crime said that ‘the Japanese mafia had made such incursion in the Japanese financial market that they have threatened the very basic of Japan’s economy.’ They invest in the stock market, they buy real estate, establish their own investment funds,” Jake explained.
Jake added that, in a book written from the side of the detectives, in the Lucy Blackman case, “in general, the polices attitude towards sexual crime, stalking, have been very bad.” He says that “Japan has a very misogynistic society. For sexual assault, women’s stalking, the police until now, and even currently are very bad at listening to the complaints of the women.” He notes, “As more women are joining the police force, maybe this will improve,” he added, “at least the NPA has the goal to by 2030 have at least 10% of the detectives being women.”
The Chinese mafia moving into Japan is a myth perpetrated by the yakuza and the police. Adelstein said that saying that is a convenient escape goat for everyone, the yakuza could say: “If you think we are bad, wait until the Chinese come.” That’s why the yakuza fanzines have a section on “foreign crime,” and the tone is to say that: “if it was for us, you would be dealing with those ‘evil foreigners’.” So the Chinese mafia has no real presence in Japan. They are convenient when someone needs to be killed. The yakuza can bring them inside Japan, and then be sent back to China.
Richard Lloyd Parry believes that “corruption is institutional in Japan,” meaning that the vast sums of money comes to the police from the Treasury. “I think that is a form of corruption. I am very skeptical of the figures, released by the police. My assumption is by large that they are the least conservative estimates of crime level.” The crime is pumped up where possible to create the sense that this is a terribly dangerous crime lead society in which you need a police with lots of large and new equipment and funding to protect us.
According to Jake Adelstein, the Japanese police, as far as the Tokyo Metropolitan Police go, are not corrupt.
He said that what is surprising in Japan is that there is no background checks to work in a nuclear power plant. It is very well documented that many yakuza have been in and out of nuclear power plants over the past years.
“Japan has no real sense of security, in another country, you wouldn’t want criminals to be working in a nuclear facility handing dangerous materials. But in Japan, the authorities are still debating whether having a background check on the nuclear power plant workers. And even if they have a background check, and the workers turn out to be yakuza or criminals, that doesn’t mean they will be banned from working there.”
The “comfort women” aka 慰安婦 (ianfu) issue is one that divides Japan. Who were the comfort women? They were Korean, Chinese, and sometimes even Japanese women who worked as prostitutes during the Second World War, primarily offering sexual services to Japanese soldiers (There were also Dutch women in Indonesia). Many of the women were coerced into working as virtual sex slaves, while others may have worked on their own initiative, just as many women today still work in Japan’s sex industry. The issue of who ran the brothels aka “comfort houses” during the war was disputed for years but in 1992, Professor Yoshimi a well-known Japanese historian published Japanese archival documents that established the direct involvement of the Japanese military in running a network of military brothels known as “Comfort Houses.” The Japanese government also released over a hundred documents in the same year that supported the research. However, there are still questions as to how many women were coerced into working at the brothels and their living conditions.
However, for Japan’s right wingers and historical revisionists, any suggestion that the Japanese military engaged in human trafficking is anathema. The discussion of the subject and any films, books or exhibitions dealing with the taboo are sure to draw the attentions of these radicals. Therefore, it was not really a huge surprise when Nikon, which had agreed to host a photo exhibition about the comfort women, got cold feet at the last minute.
Korean photographer Ahn Sehong, 41, who married a Japanese woman in 2007 and lives in Nagoya for 3 years, was scheduled to have an exhibition of the portraits and photos of former comfort women at the prestigious Nikon Salon (Shinjuku) starting in June. However, in May of this year, the exhibition was unilaterally cancelled by Nikon without explanation. The exhibition, planned from June 26 to July 9 has finally opened, but not without any problems.
“We are just lending the place,” Nikon officials allegedly told Ahn Sehong, “we cannot help you– if there is any problem we will have to end the exhibition immediately.”
When Ahn Sehong and his colleagues were preparing the exhibition, three lawyers hired by Nikon were systematically after Ahn.
“They were asking me to whom I had talked and what I said, ” said Ahn. The exhibition was only held after a court decision by the Tokyo District Court ordered them to do it.
At a press conference held today at the Foreign Correspondents Club (June 28th, 2012) Ahn said that he felt anxious all the time, fearing that his exhibition might end at any moment.
“I bet Nikon is trying to find any possible reason to stop the exhibition,” he told reporters.
The reasons given by the optical equipment maker Nikon to withdraw the exhibition were unclear at first, but its company representative told Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF/Reporters Without Borders) that Nikon’s measure “was taken after numerous calls and e-mails criticizing the exhibition.”
According to Ahn, inside the Nikon Salon gallery, when reporters came to ask questions to him, the Nikon lawyers and the guardians prohibited any exchange within the gallery.
“I had to go at the first floor, then walk to the closest park outdoors in order to speak to reporters who came to visit my exhibition. In such situation, I feel that my freedom of expression are denied,” he said.
RSF or Reporters Without Borders, an international organization, which defends the freedom of information, condemned “the move to censor the photo exhibition,” it announced in a press release.
Mr. Naomi Toyoda, representing the JVJA (Japan Visual Journalists Association), who supported Ahn Sehong’s photo exhibition at Nikon with great vigor, said at the press conference that, “every photographer has a message. Each photo exhibition has a political message, but the photos and the photographer must be different. As a photographer myself, I defend freedom of expression at any price.”
Mr. Sehong does not approach his subject lightly and has done substantial research.
“My sources almost all passed away by now. Since 1996, I met 12 former comfort women in China, and about 40 in Korea. They did not know each other but they all told me the same facts”
The RSF in a statement about the problem noted, “ (the) thirty-seven photos and portraits of former Korean “comfort women,” who served at the fronts of the Japanese military camps in Asia, “besides their esthetic quality, supported by documentary research conducted by the photographer since 2001, are an important work of education, which must be shown to as many people as possible, without political consideration,”
The topic of the so-called comfort women is indeed embarrassing for Japan, however, in 1993, Yohei Kono, then Chief Cabinet secretary, issued a statement acknowledging that Japan organized during the war a brothel program for its military men, and offered an apology to Korea. But the Japanese government has always refused to pay individual compensation to these women.
Ahn Sehong told journalists in Tokyo that, his project started in 1996, when he first met a Korean old lady living in China, who used to be a comfort woman at the Japanese military front when she was younger. Most of the comfort women were taken away from their houses at very young age. “I wanted to help these old ladies to express their experience. If you look at the photographs, they speak for themselves. Their story needed to be told and remembered. And the Japanese people should also know about these facts.”
The RSF stated that, “it would be unacceptable that Nikon, a private company held in high regard by the world of photography, should become an accomplice to censorship.” RSF also urged the Japanese authorities to “determine if intimidation was perpetrated by individuals opposed to the work of the photographer,” and launch an investigation.
Dozens of Japanese ultra-nationalist group members, uyoku, have demonstrated in Yurakucho, in front of the Foreign press club building to remind their message, which is that these Korean comfort women never existed. The tirades run along the line of: “The comfort women were professional prostitutes not victims, and the photographer is mediocre too!”
At the Nikon Salon, in Shinjuku, a full security management is deployed: heavy metal detectors and guardians are stationing in every corner of the exhibition hall.
According to a FCCJ staff member, some leaders of the right wing groups tried to enter the Yurakucho Denki Building, where the Foreign Correspondents Club is based. They were denied entry.
Ahn Sehong’s family also had to move from their home in Nagoya, for fear of the multiple threats they have received. “I got pressured by Japanese Right Wing groups over time. After Nikon announced the withdrawal of the exhibition, my private contact details were released on the Internet. I received many phone calls and e-mails teaching me that the Korean comfort women never existed,” he said, “some messages said ‘you should die.’”
A BRIEF EXPLANATION OF THE EUPHEMISM OF “COMFORT WOMEN”
The term “comfort women” is a euphemism describing the Asian women, mostly Koreans, who were enrolled to serve as sex workers for the Japanese military troupes during the WWII. The estimates of the number of women involved in this forced sex industry is a huge controversy even in the present days among Japanese, Korean and Chinese scholars. Some Japanese estimate the numbers to “as low as 20,000,” whereas some Chinese scholars estimate the numbers “as high as 410,000,” depending on the definition of the victims. The exact number is still being researched and debated.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department announced the punitive dismissal of a thirty-eight year old male traffic cop yesterday (June 8th, 2012). The police officer was previously arrested in March, for dressing up in sailor girl outfit (school uniform) and exposing his genitals and buttocks to a 16 year old girl in Musashino City–adding a new meaning to the term “sailor moon”.
The officer allegedly became fascinated with dressing up as a woman circa 1995. He told friends, “I really became fascinated with high school girls. I wanted to be a high school girl!” He is also suspected of having exposed himself to the teen-aged objects of his admiration two more times in the last year. (公然わいせつ）
The severe punishment meted out by the authorities and his pending court cases makes it seem unlikely that the officer will return to work as a “police woman.”
On May 5th 2012, Japan’s last operating nuclear power plant among a total of 54 nationwide was shut down for a routine maintenance. It was a first time since 1970 that Japan was not using atomic-generated energy. However, despite last year’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, the biggest since Chernobyl, the Japanese government is intending to restart the Oi nuclear power station, in Fukui prefecture.
Disagreement sparked among the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) over the request made by the administration to restart two reactors of the Oi nuclear power plant, in Fukui prefecture.
Last April, DPJ acting policy chief, Mr. Yoshito Sengoku, including Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) Minister Yukio Edano requested the restart of the Oi nuclear power plant and made several visits to the local government of Fukui to explain that “Japan’s economic society cannot live without electricity,” and compared the state of having no nuclear power to a “collective suicide.” Conclusion of discussions between Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and cabinet members Edano, Hosono and others stated that the reactivation of the Oi nuclear power plant was “appropriate.” Yoshito Sengoku reportedly participated to all these discussion meetings.
Yesterday, as every Friday evenings since April 2012, in front of the Japanese Prime Minister’s headquarters in Kokkai-gijido-mae, close to the National Diet buildings, thousands of anti-nuclear power activists gathered together in a long and very ordered queue to protest against the re-start of the Oi nuclear power plant.
The protest started at 6pm and ended around 8pm, according to the organizers. By 7pm they counted 1505 participants, including some people from Fukushima.
Some protesters who came from Fukushima in the crowd were yelling to ask the people of Tokyo to come and live at least one week at their house in Fukushima, to see how it is to live there on a daily basis. They were also asking the government leaders to stay long term in Fukushima, and “not just few hours and pretend they made an official visit.”
Michiko Mori (71) is a former middle school teacher, currently retired: “I came here today to express that I am against the idea of re-running the nuclear power plant of Oi. I want to say, ‘look at the present situation of Fukushima’, hundreds of thousands are forced to live away from their homeland. Children cannot play outdoors. Is this accident real? No one will take the responsibility of it.”
Yuko Shinkai (34) is a temporary staff in a company: “I would like my government to stop considering using any nuclear energy at all. The people of this country are rarely given the chance to have their voice heard. With the Oi nuclear power plant, they are attempting to repeat the past mistakes. I do not wish anyone in the world to experience the same incident in their own country.”
Harada-san, the organizer said that the Japanese people will not be tricked this time: “I would like to ask the Japanese media and the people in Kasumigaseki central government not to try and trick the Japanese people again, because they are also part of our community. I would like to ask them not to use the lives of their people to make money.”
Jan Hataguchi (51) is a fashion designer in Tokyo and she has a 25 year old son: “The government is trying to ignore the voice of the Japanese people. Letting Oi nuclear power plant to function shows that they did not learn from the lessons of Chernobyl and Fukushima. I wish all the nuclear power plants are banned.”
Hiroyuki Okada (29) is a graphic designer in Tokyo, but his hometown is Ibaraki, one of the affected areas: “I am very strongly opposed to re-start any nuclear power plant. Hundred sixty thousand people are moved from their homes. How can the government guarantee that during that short period of time, (when they function the nuclear power station) there will be no accident? Who can take the responsibility? No one. No nuclear power station should run, even temporarily.”