UPDATED: Japan’s semi-legal sex industry exists on a mind-boggling scale, yet there are very few books or articles which even give a rudimentary idea of how big a role it plays in the national economy. Japan has laws which forbid prostitution but set no punishment for the prostitute or the customer. Selling uncensored pornography depicting sexual intercourse is a crime but paying for actual sexual intercourse at an established Soapland establishment is not. It’s not that the sex industry exists in a grey zone in Japan, it exists in a pink zone–it’s overwhelmingly legal except for when the authorities decided to make token crack-downs.
Takashi Kadokura (門倉貴史), the economist who rose to fame with his white-paper on Japan’s underground economy, has written the penultimate guide to Japan’s sex industry in his book SEXONOMIC: PROFITS IN THE GLOBALSEX ECONOMY・世界の「下半身」経済が儲かる理由 . It deftly lays out and explains how the varied sexual service industries in Japan (fashion health, image clubs, soap land) work on an economic level and some alarming trends.
If you are an anthropologist, an economic researcher, or simply interested in the seedy side of the sun, than this book is a treasure trove of strange and useful information. For example, the “fashion health” (euphemism for sexual massage to include fellatio/hand-jobs/frottage) industry, which is perfectly legal in most places, brings in ￥678,000,000,000 a year (8 billion dollars). That’s only a fraction of the sex industry. In addition to “fashion health” there are also “image clubs”, in which similar sexual services are provided but the women wear uniforms (maid, nurse, policewoman, office worker, pregnant mother etc) and the sex shop often has special facilities, like a subway car. Think of mini-sexual theme parks and you have a good idea of what an image club is like.
According to the book, based on field studies and calculations, an established fashion health/image club brings in roughly 3 million dollars a year in revenue, is visited by 32, 5000 customers, is open 12 hours a day, and the average waiting time for service is 20 minutes. There are 1,021 such shops in Japan. In recent years, S & M sex shops, have also seen a booming business. Dominatrixes (女王） are more well-paid than girls working as “the slaves” because it requires a certain level of dramatic skill and physical strength to be a dominatrix.
The book also explores Japan’s teenage prostitution problem asserting that 1 in 10 Japanese men has a “lolita complex” (pedophiliac tendencies) and that 15% of the male population has viewed child pornography, while over 10% of the male population owns child pornography. The statistics were not pulled out of thin air but come from a Japanese government survey. In addition, the book notes that there are an estimated 170,000 junior high and high school girls engaged in prostitution each year in Japan, charging higher than the standard market rate (30,000 yen) or roughly 50,000 yen ($600) per customer. The teenage prostitution market is estimated to be as high as 54,700,000,000 yen per year (approx. 700 million dollars).
The book explains also the mechanisms which drives Japan’s human trafficking problem, although the failure to mention the growing problem of domestic trafficking does date the book.
If you want to know why love hotels prosper in Japan, how many there are, and the turnover (no pun intended) rate, this book will also tell you more than you want to know. While the book focusses on Japan, it does examine the sex industry in the US, China, Italy, Thailand and other countries which gives perspective on Japan’s situation.
The book is not all titillation and speculation. The final section “What can be done about the sex industry?” makes a good argument that Japan should abandon the grey zone laws it has now, where prostitution is illegal, but the client and the sex worker can’t be arrested–and legalize and regulate the industry. Many may disagree but he makes a good argument that clarifying the status of the sex industry would better protect the rights of sex workers, increase tax revenue, and also prevent the spread of sexual diseases amongst the general population, including the sex workers and their customers. Of course, his advocacy of realistic and extensive sex education should be a a no-brainer for a modern society, especially Japan which is not bound by ideas that sex should be limited to marriage.
If at times, slightly tongue-in-cheek, the book does convincingly convey the scale and problems of Japan’s sex industry and is worthy addition to the library of anyone studying the underside of Nippon. Recommended. (In Japanese only.)
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.”
In light of all the recent information that has come to light about TEPCO and the Japanese nuclear industry’s problems and involvement with anti-social forces, not to mention the industry’s history of criminal malfeasance, we have decided to repost Professor Kingston’s chapter on the subject. It’s from his eerily prescient book Contemporary Japan published long before the Fukushima triple meltdown. It’s a long read but well-worth it. We first posted this in June of 2011.
Those fears were well founded. The history of Japan’s nuclear industry is as dark as Fukushima Prefecture was on the night of March 11th, when a 9.0 earthquake devastated the nation and a meltdown took place at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) ‘s Fukushima Daiichi Reactor. TEPCO is only one company among several that has had nuclear “accidents.” In his book published in 2010, Professor Kingston describes the problems and history of Japan’s nuclear power industry. With his permission, Japan Subculture Research Center is publishing the relevant chapters from his book cited above. The book eloquently and objectively sheds light on a the problems endemic in Japan’s nuclear power plants, the ministries that oversee them, and the private companies which manage them, often quite badly and to the detriment of the general public.
The Japanese government puts a great deal of faith in, and spends massive amounts of money on, nuclear energy. This reﬂects policy-makers’ dream of securing energy self-sufﬁciency and explains why two-thirds of the national energy research and development budget is devoted to nuclearpower. In terms of reducing carbon emissions and reducing dependence on oil imported from the Middle East, it is a sensible policy. However, there are good reasons why the majority of Japanese remain skeptical about nuclear power.
Japan has witnessed a series of nuclear accidents over the past two decades that raise serious concerns in an earthquake-prone nation with ambitious nuclear power plans. Japan is totally dependent on imported energy and has thus invested billions of dollars since the 1950s in developing its nuclear energy program. Public concerns about the safety of nuclear power contrast sharply with ofﬁcial insistence that the nation’s facilities are both safe and necessary. Polls consistently reveal that 70-75 percent of Japanese have misgivings about nuclear power and fear that serious accidents might happen.
With dwindling reserves of fossil fuels, high prices, and growing concern about greenhouse gases related to consumption of these fuels, the prospects for the nuclear power industry have brightened considerably. Advocates assert that nuclear power is the trump card in the battle to reduce emissions and curb global warming while critics suggest it is more of a wild card given the risks, high costs, and long-term waste disposal issues involved.
Japan currently operates 55 nuclear power plants, up from 32 in 1987, that supply nearly 35 percent of its electricity needs. The government plans to raise the share of energy generated by nuclear power to 41 percent by 2014. Since 1998 two nuclear power reactors have started up with six more currently slated for installation or expansion. In the following sections we examine some notorious incidents and aspects of Japan’s nuclear power program that help explain why so many Japanese have considerable qualms about the potential environmental consequences. Continue reading The Melting Sun: Japan’s Nuclear Follies
Katsunobu Onda is a writer and investigative journalist who has been chronicling the corporate malfeasance in Japan’s nuclear industry for over two decades and his book Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO): The Darkness of the Empire 「東京電力・帝国の暗黒」which was published in November of 2007 was the first book to dig deeply into TEPCO’S problems and sounded a warning that no one heeded. In some passages it almost eerily predicts the disaster that took place on March 11th, 2011. The book has recently been re-issued and his new book, The Last Will and Testament of A TEPCO Foreman published in February 2012, using first-hand accounts of the cover-ups, shoddy maintenance, labor abuse and corporate malfeasance at Japan’s largest energy provider, makes a strong case that TEPCO needs to be shut down or taken over by the government in order to prevent yet another tragedy.
First encounter with nuclear power plants
The first time Onda had the opportunity to visit a nuclear power plant in his career was 25 years ago at Fukushima Number One nuclear power plant. Onda says that inside the nuclear power plant, and the facilities itself, there are many people who do the daily maintenance work: “I decided to go and visit Fukushima Number 1 nuclear power station 25 years ago, because I heard stories about several people who died from exposure to radiation,” he said.
People who work in nuclear power stations
Most of the time, the people who work inside the nuclear power plant facilities tend to be local people whose main work is in farming or in the fishing industry. These are seasonal occupations, and quite often these people spend the off season going to other places in Japan, to do construction work as well. With the nuclear power plants, the people were able to do their off season work locally. Because they could commute from home, it was a rather attractive kind of job.
Speaking with these people, Onda learned that they all had almost no education with regards to the dangers of radioactivity: “Basically they were given a simple lecture. The lectures were short and ceremonial. They were given very simple background information and immediately after they would be standing at the reactors to work.” In Onda’s findings, most of the nuclear power plant maintenance workers had no understanding of radioactivity and the dangers of radiation. Radiation, of course, is also invisible. He also found out that there were no accurate records kept of how much radiation the workers have been exposed to. As a result, “each person had no idea of how much danger he or she was in by continuing to work at the plants” he said in a press conference in Tokyo.
Personal anger and sorrow
Onda says that the very first impression that he got when he started to cover nuclear power energy issues was that basically he could not forgive the way they functioned: “Nuclear power plants exist on the foundation of sacrificing organic life, whether you are a mammal, a beast or a plant.” “The negative effects of radiation is the same for all,” he said while he started to weep.
The power plant and the coming Great Tokai Earthquake
Onda started reporting on Chubu Electric Company, as a result, he wrote a book on the theme of “the power plant and the great Tokai earthquake.” He says he had similar impressions when he visited TEPCO, but in the case of the Chubu power plant, the reactors that he visited were stuck as a result of “undergoing inspections.” Therefore he was able to really get inside the reactor and view the facility from inside, and at that time, his impression was that, “not only there were no real understanding of a danger” or a deeper understanding of the possible replications of high radiation exposure, but he also thought from a technical point of view, that he had very great doubts with regard to the preparations in case a very big earthquake occurred.
Not only he discovered that there was a great danger for the people working inside the plant, but he felt at that time he did his research, that “if there were a real big accident, this would not only be disastrous and dangerous for the people working inside the power plant, but also for the people living around the plant.” And the accident could inevitably affect the people around the world as well.
A causal relationship between nuclear accidents and earthquakes
Onda has spent many years working as a reporter for a weekly news magazines and over time, when there were opportunities, he did more in depth reporting, for example when there was an accident at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant in 2007 and also for the Fukushima accident last year as well. Onda says that he has tried to convey his concerns to the greater public to the best of his efforts.
“I feel very strongly that five years ago, after the accident at Kashiwazaki Kariwa, it was made very clear to everyone who was paying attention, that there is causal relationships between earthquakes and nuclear power plants accidents.” Yet, it seems that the lessons were not very well learnt after the disastrous situation at Fukushima.
At that time, Onda felt that he needed to bring that matter to the public and he brought together his book called TEPCO, The Darkness of The Empire.
A source within the nuclear power plant company
Over the years, he has written many articles in many magazines about the nuclear power plant issues. One person served as a strong foundation for his reporting. That was deceased Mr. Norio Hirai. Mr. Hirai was a foreman at a TEPCO power plant.
Onda says that in the past, it was very difficult for trying to get answers and honest opinions from people within the electric power plants and electric power companies themselves, therefore Mr. Norio Hirai was a very special person to him, because the man was the first person to be a whistle blower, “someone who brought the electric power plants problems to light from within the company.”
From Mr. Hirai, Onda has received very valuable information, such as the status of radiation exposure of the workers inside the plant. Mr. Hirai gave Onda more detailed information about life inside the plant, and told him about the “structural and technical problems with the plants,” and listening to him, Onda says he could understand the issues very well, because, himself has had the opportunity to view the installations from inside.
For years, the government, TEPCO, and other electric utility companies in Japan have insisted on the “safeness” of the nuclear power plant facilities to the public. Onda believes that the electric utility companies, the power generating industry itself, and the government are all one single unit, that’s why he refers to it as “the nuclear mafia.”
Money, the power of “the nuclear mafia”
The root of the power of the nuclear mafia lies in the fact that they have money. Using the power of money, they were able basically to push upon the public this myth of safety and as a result, “they were able to convince the media, including myself that this myth was actually true.” The Japanese media also played an active part in perpetuating the deceptive activities of the nuclear industry: “They bare a tremendous responsibility for helping the government and the electric industry to perpetuate this myth.” Onda says. “When I look back on what has happened, I feel an enormous feeling of anger and regret, feeling powerlessness that I was not able to do anything more.”
Fight against the lobby of nuclear energy
Onda is now a freelance journalist and writer, he said that although he feels tremendous regret, he has not lost his fighting spirit at all, in fact he intends to work and report more regarding nuclear power plants. Now that he heard people like Mr. Naoto Matsumura (the Buddha of Fukushima) and his colleagues are trying to do something about this issue, Onda says it inspires him to keep on writing and investigating. He was the first journalist to really shine light into the darkness of the TEPCO empire; many hope that Mr. Onda will finally expose the dangers of Japan’s nuclear industry before all of Japan is exposed to the danger from their mistakes and corporate malfeasance.
Jake Adelstein’s 2nd book, a narrative non-fiction history of post-war Japanese organized crime, The Last Yakuza: A Life In The Japanese World is due to be published in 2014. The book by focussing on several former yakuza bosses and their associates, including the cops who arrested them, will follow the rise of the yakuza, their movement into the financial world, and the gradual disintegration of the professed code that let them be tolerated in Japanese society.
Agent William Clark, at William Clark Associates, just closed two notable deals. In the first, he sold U.S. and Canadian rights to Jake Adelstein’s nonfiction book The Last Yakuza: A Life in the Japanese Underworld to Tim O’Connell at Pantheon. (Adelstein’s first book, 2010’s Tokyo Vice, is also with Pantheon.) The author is a journalist who grew up in the Midwest before moving to Japan, where he began covering crime for a Japanese paper. The first American to work that beat, Adelstein, who was recently profiled in the New Yorker, has emerged as one of the foremost authorities on organized crime in Japan. The new book, about a former gang boss, is, as Clark explained, “a singular, in-depth, occasionally funny, often dark, but nonetheless inspiring, tale.” A U.K. auction for the book was in progress at press time. (July 2nd, 2012)
Fans of Japanese manga may be familiar with the genre gekiga (劇画), a term coined by renowned artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi in an attempt to demonstrate that not all comics are for children. Literally meaning “dramatic pictures,” the gekiga style is characterised by its realism and often-shocking plot twists. It started as an underground movement, but has since made its debut as an alternative style of manga.
Tatsumi is an animated gekiga film of sorts, inspired by and based on Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s life. In order to create the film, director Eric Khoo had his animators reproduce specific scenes from Tatsumi’s autobiographical work, A Drifting Life. Viewers are treated to an intimate view of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s life as a struggling artist, his failed relationships with members of the opposite sex, and an inside look into his journey to becoming one of the greatest manga-ka in Japan.
Tidbits from Tatsumi’s short stories are interwoven between actual recollections about Tatsumi’s life, an inclusion that is initially confusing but eventually helps viewers understand more about Tatsumi’s thought process and the ideas that influenced him to push the boundaries of what was considered traditional in the manga world.
The 94 minutes of this film will be easier to follow if you are familiar with Tatsumi’s works already, but even if you aren’t, you probably won’t find it too difficult to differentiate experience from fictional narration. So if you’re interested in post-Occupation Japan and what life was like for artists back then, this just might be the film for you.
Tatsumi premiered in Japan during the 24th Tokyo International Film Festival, and is currently being screened at film festivals around the world. It’s slated for a 2012 release in the UK.
** This film is narrated in Japanese with English subtitles and may not be appropriate for young viewers **
英語対訳で読む禅入門, or Introduction to Zen with Accompanying English Translation, was written by Priest Souen Ozeki and translated by a one Elizabeth Mills (whom I suspect may be using a pen name, as the translation is not native). As stated in the preface, the book was intended for both English speakers interested in the religion and Japanese speakers interested in the English terms for Zen method.
Introduction to Zen attempts to clarify the following subjects: the history of Buddhism (and specifically the development of Zen), the basic underlying concepts, the rituals and practices, and the ways in which Japanese culture is intertwined with the religion. The book also has a chapter outlining some of the major players in the history of Zen in Japan.
The cover boasts that this text conveys the content’s “difficult ideas” clearly (むずがしい考えがスッキリ分かる！); though if this leads you to expect something other than the usual interpretation of Zen – non-linear, meandering, parabolic explanations- you will be disappointed. My western brain still struggles to grasp the style typical of Zen masters, their purportedly didactic riddles often leaving me with more questions than answers.
Often, it’s a confusing read. In the beginning, Priest Ozeki devotes a chapter to the importance of maintaining “a pure heart”, without bothering to explain what a pure heart looks like, or the nature of the maintenance required. This is just one of many vague instructions listed for living a Zen life; others include “being present in the moment” and keeping a “free mind, one which is not influenced by anything”. Ozeki further complicates things a few chapters later when he decides to mention that “Zen is not a thing to think about but is training. You can not attain enlightenment even if you read many books and study hard.” Resisting the urge to question why I am reading a book about a subject the author himself has just declared *actually* requires field study, I decide to remain open to his attempts to explain the concept of Enlightenment and corresponding parable:
“Enlightenment could be explained as having the same mental condition as the Buddha had when he attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Enlightenment can be attained when you clean up your mind which is ordinarily messy. Zen training strips away fixed ideas and prejudices and reorganizes the mind. Now I quote one story. In the Meiji period, a scholar visited a training hall in Tokyo to see (a famous master). The master, listening to the scholar, poured tea into a cup. He continued to pour even after the cup was full. The scholar said: ‘Master! The tea is overflowing’. The master answered: ‘Yes. It is similar to you. Your mind is filled with study and there is no room for what I tell you.’ This story explains Zen very well.”
*eyes widen, glaze over*
It only after finishing the entire text that I gleaned what might be the unstated assumption: like a religion, there are values by which Zen abides. However, practitioners believe these values can only be discovered through the practice of Zen, rather than the study.
Without trying to assist the author by creating a framework in which the pieces more or less fit, much of the book’s teachings comes off like the wisdom of “Mystery Men”s the Sphynx: “In order to go down, you must first go up.” I fear this might be unavoidable; the consensus seems to indicate that Zen can not be comprehended using the tools of logic, but must be “observed”. Only those who tough it out for the requisite decades might stand a chance. But who has the time, anyway? We can’t all sit around on tatami mats, reinventing the wheel. Give up the answers already!!
Despite this infuriating quality, the book certainly has some merits.
The way the book is written is by far its best attribute. As you can see to the left, the difficult and Zen-related words are translated underneath the English. Additionally, more abstract phrases (such as “within one’s self” and “the more you X, the more you Y”) that one doesn’t often come across in daily language are also translated, making this a very useful reference for expressions of personal conviction, which are difficult to learn in this language for cultural reasons.
And on the following page, there is a Japanese translations of the entire preceding text. This is a rather enjoyable way to learn or even just reinforce Japanese skills.
And while the book doesn’t do much to clarify the murkier aspects of Zen, the practices of the religion and the lives of the monks are very clearly explained, and with handy illustrations.
And in case you ever visit a temple, and are suddenly struck on the back, you will know “how to” do it!
Unfortunately, the “history of Zen” area and the profiles of the Zen masters could have been written with a little more flavor; they are only slightly more exciting than the endless genealogy lists of the Torah. However, if you are interested in the life of a priest and the rituals involved in Zen practice, this book I found to be unique in its descriptions of Japanese monastery life, one which, if you are not proficient in the Japanese language, you may only find here.
I have a slightly different take on this book than Nakajima-san, but then again I lack objectivity which is why she was the better person to do the first review. I lived in a Soto Buddhist Zen Temple for three years in college and meditated every day. This book is full of great little zen sayings and anecdotes but it doesn’t quite explain the differences between the two major sects of Zen Buddhism. Soto Buddhism, founded by Dogen, essentially looks at Satori （悟り）or enlightenment as a mental state that one can reach through the practice of meditation on a regular basis and remaining centered and aware in daily life. Zazen (座禅) or Zen meditation itself is like a powerful herb–it can be used as medicine or poison. The technique has been show to actually increase activity in the parts of the brain that control behavior and physically change the structure of the brain over time. By being aware of our anger, our greed, and our motives as we act–we can overcome those passions and be better people. However, without motivation or ethical guidelines or commitment to those precepts, zen can just become a tool for being a more efficient killer. I suggest that any Zen Buddhist neophyte read Zen At War for a sobering look at how Zen Buddhism was perverted by the Japanese military rulers for use in the Second World War. It also has some touching stories of those few Zen Buddhists who stood for peace and against the inhumane acts inflicted by the Japanese Imperial Troops and wartime regime.
It’s often glossed over but a Zen Buddhist priest in the Soto Buddhist tradition takes a vow to uphold ten ethical precepts (重十誡). If I could uphold these for a day, it would be a very good day.
Not to kill but to nurture life.
Not to steal but to receive what is offered as a gift.
Not to misuse sexuality but to be caring and faithful in intimate
Not to lie but to be truthful.
Not to intoxicate with substances or doctrines but to promote
clarity and awareness.
Not to speak of others’ faults but to speak out of loving-kindness.
Not to praise self at the expense of others but to be modest.
Not to be possessive of anything but to be generous.
Not to harbor anger but to forgive.
Not to do anything to diminish the Triple Treasure but to support
and nurture it.
I don’t know anyone who can live up to those precepts, except maybe the Dalai Lama. “Not to speak of others’ faults but to speak out of loving-kindness” almost precludes journalism as a career. (LOL). Ultimately, when you put the mystic mumbo jumbo aside, the goal of Zen Buddhism, especially in the Soto School–is to be come a living Buddha, a Bodhisattva (菩薩), who is a beneficial force in the world. Bodhisattvas are men and women committed to the welfare, liberation, and enlightenment of all sentient beings.
Zen master Dogen, in one of his lesser known writings, sums up the teaching of the religion rather elegantly in his essay: The Four Integrative Methods of Bodhisattvas (Bodaisatta shishaho). The purpose of zen meditation is to enable the practitioner to live up to these ideals. At least, that’s my understanding of it. But then again, I’m not enlightened.
The four integrative methods of bodhisattvas are giving, kind speech, beneficial action, and cooperation. This giving means not coveting; not coveting is not being greedy. Kind speech means that in looking upon living beings one shoulfirst arouse a mind of kindness and love and should utter caring, kind words. It is the absence of harsh speech. In ordinary social convention there is the etiquette of asking if someone is well or not; in Buddhism there is the expression “take care” and the ethical conduct of asking how someone is. To speak with the thought in one’s heart of kindly minding living beings as one would a baby is kind speech. Beneficial action means to employ skills beneficial to living beings, high and low. For example, one watches over the road far and near, working out means to benefit others. One should pity even an exhausted turtle and take care of an ailing sparrow. When one hasseen an exhausted turtle or an ailing sparrow, one doesn’t want their thanks-one is simply moved to helpful action. Fools think that when benefit to others is put first, one’s own benefit will be reduced. It is not so. Beneficial action is one principle; it is universally benefiting self and others. Cooperation means nonopposition. It is not opposing oneself and not opposing others. For example, a task of cooperation is a manner, is a standard, is an attitude. After regarding others as self, there must be a principle ofassimilating oneself to others. Self and others are endless with time. (adapted from Shobogenzo.:Zen Essays by Eihei Dogen, translated by Thomas Cleary)
Editor’s note: Mr. Bryan sent us JSRC the book a few months ago but as we were getting ready to post the review, 3/11 came upon us. It seemed like a very wrong time to publish it.
Many people may find this book a little offensive, some may find it eye-opening. Amy Seaman, one of the JSRC staff writers reviewed the book, because I felt that a woman’s perspective on it might be more useful and because she’s a better reviewer than I am.
If you think the term “yellow cab” used to refer to Japanese women itself (easy to ride, easy to leave) is offensive, the term came into vogue in Japan in the year 2000, with the publication of YELLOW CAB (イエローキャブ) written by noted author Shoko Ieda (家田 荘子), who is a woman and also a Buddhist priest. The book describes the adventures of young Japanese women and exchange students who went to America and describes their sexual and romantic adventures with foreign men in lurid detail. In some senses, Mr. Bryan’s book is an English language counterpart to the Japanese “classic” reportage.
Please remember, the reviewer is not the same as the book being reviewed. Love the book or hate it, it’s an interesting read—Jake.
Black Passenger Yellow Cabs
Reviewed by Amy Seaman
Black Passenger Yellow Cabsis a more than fitting title for Stephen FD Bryan’s self-termed erotic ethnographic memoir. The book chronicles Bryan’s sexual exploits during his seven years as an English teacher in Japan, Japanese girl by Japanese girl, one by one, two by two. A acknowledged sex addict, Bryan narrates the numerous affairs he had in Japan from an explicit—if not sometimes superficial—perspective: The majority of the chapters are named for each woman he sleeps with, almost as if he wants readers to keep a running count of his exploits. There’s his Japanese teacher Karin, the half-Japanese, half-Dutch Janelle—who does not catch Bryan’s fancy because of his “yellow fever”—and his wife-to-be Shoko, just to name a few. Sure, there are bits and pieces in there about what it was like to be an English teacher, how it felt to meet parents and descriptions about life in Jamaica and various Japanese phenomena, but the majority of it is focused on the girls.
While readers interested in the fine art of picking up Japanese women may learn a helpful thing or two (speak English even if you aren’t sure your target speaks the language; they will most certainly be flattered by the fact that you think them cosmopolitan (!))those looking for a comprehensive and well-substantiated analysis of Japan’s sex culture should look elsewhere. Perhaps that was not what it was meant to be and I am being unfair by reviewing this as a somewhat academic text, but Bryan’s citations of news articles and statistics, though few and far between, make the book feel somewhat research-based at times. That said, Bryan provides a plethora of interesting tidbits about Japanese culture and formulates a theory about how the many women who are eager to sleep with him are so because of their past experience—he concludes that these women suffer from low self-esteem, perhaps a result of childhood trauma. It’s hard to take his claims seriously though, because they are nestled between chapters boasting how many orgasms he was able to coax out of his newest play toy and how he balance multiple affairs simultaneously.
If you can look past the blatant racism that Bryan demonstrates in the book (he pride fully refers to himself as a Negro because “black does not require capitalization in print, to which I take great offense,” but maintains a somewhat consistent usage of the age-old “yellow” slur when referring to Asian girls), and that many of his universal conclusions are based merely on personal experience, then you will see the true beauty of this book. It is the story of a Jamaican man who followed his sexual cravings to Japan in 2001, satiated them, and returned to America in 2008 to wed his Japanese wife. If you can ignore the fact that many of the chapters are play-by-play descriptions of how he managed to get a certain girl into his bed that leave no detail up to the imagination—and little more than that—then maybe you too will believe Bryan when he says that he is not attempting to brag about his sexual expertise by narrating his tales, but is instead trying to show how easy it is for people to initiate relationships.
Black Passenger Yellow Cab is the story of a black passenger who rode in multiple cabs until he found the best one. It takes readers through Bryan’s seven years in Japan and explains how, out of all of the women he slept with, his wife was the one. It describes a man’s fight to understand Japanese culture and why things work the way they do in a non-euphemistic way, and above all, it is honest. Bryan shows no shame about his addiction to sex with Japanese girls and speaks objectively about the girls he sleeps with to fulfill his desires, which is what makes the book so disagreeable yet engaging all at the same time. True, there were times when I was disgusted by Bryan’s seemingly insensitive behavior, but others when I completely empathized with him, when I empathized with his very true statements about underreported sexual harassment and the subordination of women throughout Japanese history. If you have the time for it and can stomach reading about the sexual exploits of another, Black Passenger Yellow Cab is a intriguing, honest read about a rarely discussed topic that dares to go where few books do.
In a departure from our usual hard-boiled news about Japan, we’re honored to be republishing a fascinating short story that illustrates many cultural aspects of Japanese society and is simply an excellent piece of fiction.
Pufferfish, part of the title of the story, is English for (河豚/fugu) which is a delicacy in Japan often eaten raw as sashimi. When improperly prepared, it’s also quite lethal. Chefs operating without a license to handle the fish have been arrested in the past. The neurotoxin in the fish is extremely fast acting. There is a line I once read about the death of a Kabuki actor who made the mistake of eating fugu liver, poorly prepared, and it has always stuck in my mind: “He was dead before his chopsticks hit the ground.”
DEATH BY PUFFERFISH*
by Mayumi Shimose Poe
I. Kazuo Ikeda’s first and last taste of fugu had been the spring he turned seventeen. Seventeen was practically adulthood. Kazuo’s goals for his adult self were:
Do something interesting. This did not include camping in the car amongst redwoods with his parents; eating salted toffee while visiting historic Old Sacramento and nearly as historic old relatives; or catching the cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf only to end up overstuffed at Ghiradelli Square.
Interact with a girl.
Become a man. A helpful diagram:
Another way to chart it would be simply to frame a picture of his grandfather Masayoshi, who was up from Los Angeles for a few days’ visit.
His goals seemed causally linked. Doing something interesting would make him more of a man, which would make him more desirable to the opposite sex. And Kazuo knew just the thing: he would eat pufferfish. It struck just the right note. A cultured carelessness, weighing his very life against the pursuit of pleasure. Filleting open the underbelly of fear itself. And unique because San Francisco had just opened its first restaurant where fugu was legally on the menu—“Tora Fugu,” meaning tiger blowfish. Even its name sounded fierce, masculine.
Here was where Grandpa Masa was key. Grandpa Masa wouldn’t tell him Tora Fugu was too fancy. They wouldn’t end up, after exhaustive debate, at a tourist-trap restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf. And Grandpa Masa did not disappoint him; in fact, he upgraded Kazuo’s dream.
“Of course you can get fugu in the U.S.—San Francisco, New York, L.A., et cetera, et cetera—but it’s not the same, ne, Kazuo-san?” Grandpa Masa’s tone was a pat on Kazuo’s head, but Kazuo beamed at the respectful “-san.” Although it had been tacked onto his first name instead of his last, which docked a few points of respect from the greeting, “-san” was still infinitely better than “-chan”—a notable upgrade from Grandpa Masa’s last visit.
“Totally. What’s the point,” echoed Kazuo.
Masayoshi’s son and daughter-in-law were hiding their smiles. Masa saw all of this—Kazuo’s eagerness, his parents’ amusement, that they had raised the boy so weakly that he grasped onto anything stronger to emulate it. It was up to him. The boy was already sixteen. Masa hoped he wasn’t too late. He should have visited more. Kept a closer eye on things. “I’m taking him to Japan,” he announced. “For his seventeenth birthday. We are going to eat real fugu.”