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

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

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

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

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

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

Einstein, Insanity, Nuclear Meltdowns and Tokyo Electric Power Company

“Would there have been a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant even without the tidal wave?”

福島原発事故の記録:津波が来なくてもメルトダウンは起きた?

The July 11 edition of the 週間エコノミスト (The Weekly Economist, a respected Japanese publication but not The Economist) has a long interview with Mitsuhiko Tanaka (田中三彦氏) a former nuclear reactor manufacturing technician, who in a very well-illustrated and annotated article makes a strong case that the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)  had little to do with the tsunami and that the problem was that the plant did not withstand the earthquake. He asserts that multiple factors, including broken pipes and water circulation pumps, led to an LOCA, Loss of Coolant Accident. It is worth picking up and reading if you can read Japanese. He also makes a point that many overlook: the 9.0 earthquake epicenter was in Miyagi Prefecture, not Fukushima Prefecture. The magnitude of the earthquake at Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant was well under the threshold of what the the plant is supposed to be able to withstand.

Permit me, for a moment, to state my opinion on the nuclear fiasco that has taken place in Japan. It is my opinion and not that of my co-author or the JSRC.

Albert Einstein, the physicist who convinced the United States to begin developing an atomic bomb during the Second World War, once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Perhaps, this is true in normal human relations, but when it comes to nuclear power plants, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results.

When you keep running the same nuclear reactor for over forty years, ten years past the date it was supposed to be closed down—that’s insanity. Because any rational person would you tell you that the risk of a nuclear disaster taking place increases every year, with every unfixed problem, with every sloppy inspection, with the normal wear and tear on each part of a reactor that was never designed for an earthquake ridden Japan in the first place.

TEPCO has a history of falsifying data, corporate malfeasance, and labor violations that fill pages of a book. TEPCO has admitted to over 200 cases of falsifying data. They have had previous nuclear mishaps as a result of an earthquake, in 2007, which released nuclear radiation into the environment. The current chairman of the company, Tsunehisa Katsumata, was president of the firm at the time. He later resigned from the post to take responsibility and took his current position, where he has continued to be the de facto CEO. TEPCO has bullied and bribed the media for years not to criticize their activities; Katsumata admitted as much last month in a press conference. It has funded academics that tow the party line that nuclear energy is safe and efficient. According to the weekly magazine, Shukan Toyo Keizai, it may also have systematically circumvented political donation laws by having company executives and workers donate money to friendly politicians as individuals rather than as a corporation. It has allegedly paid money to organized crime to keep quiet about problems at the reactors. It has employed yakuza as workers.

The sane thing to do would be to stop letting this company keep doing the same thing over and over. It would be to dismantle the corporation, the failed system of government oversight that has allowed this monolithic entity to flout the law and ruin the lives of the Fukushima Prefecture citizens. But the sanest thing of all would be to consider the feasibility of continuing to operate antiquated nuclear power plants, who are only as strong as their pipes and probably can not stand another earthquake close to the scale that came this March. They should be re-checked and inspected diligently.

In a society where TEPCO, government agencies, the mass media, and certain politicians all put their interests before the public good, what is the sanest way to deal with this problem and still provide Japan with the energy it needs? That’s another question that the citizens of Japan and the world are waiting to be answered.

Continue reading Einstein, Insanity, Nuclear Meltdowns and Tokyo Electric Power Company

Missing Organs, Missing Donors, & Yakuza Involvement in Organ Transplants: This time in Japan! (Not UCLA)

On June 24th, 2011,  A doctor, a Sumiyoshi-kai gangster, a former mobster and two others were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to illegally trade a kidney and faking an adoption between 2009 and 2010 . It’s a hell of a complicated case involving a doctor in need of a kidney transplant, a gangster that was paid to help him procure a donor and now revelations that the same doctor received a kidney transplant–and the donor is now missing.

For more on the story, see The Japan Times coverage of the events. The doctor in question, arrested for violations of the organ transplant laws did offer ¥10 million to a Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate member Kazuhisa Takino, 50, to find a prospective donor. The deal fell through but the good doctor was able to find a living donor for a partial transplant elsewhere. However, since the transplant, the donor in question has been reported as missing.

Police sources suggest that the case may turn into a homicide investigation. Japan has very restrictive laws related to organ donation and only a small number of people manage to receive organ transplants in Japan. In some cases, yakuza with enough money have been able to receive liver transplants at UCLA, in fact, four of them but that’s another story altogether. For more insights into the problems in in Japan which allow yakuza to muscle into the medical care business,  please see this post on the history of organ donations in Japan.

Of the four gangster that received liver transplants at UCLA, two of them used Japan’s adoption system to become “adopted” by other families, changing their names and thus avoiding detection by the US authorities when they came into the United States. The adoption system in Japan has been and continues to be a convenient means of changing identity for mobsters and con artists.

While we’re on the subject, while the liver transplants at UCLA received by the four mobsters, were ostensibly paid for with money gained from illegal enterprises, which could technically make the patients and the hospital guilty of money laundering, there was never an investigation into where the money came from that was paid to UCLA. In Japan, I suppose, it is harder for mobsters to obtain organs than it is in the United States. It appears that the police are doing their job on this one.

Film: Cold Fish (冷たい熱帯魚)

reviewed by Amy Seaman

If  you’ve read Tokyo Vice, you’re already familiar with the story of Sekine Gen and Hiroko Kazama, the husband and wife pet-shop owners that killed at least four people in the nineties, poisoning them and dismembering their bodies in a very gruesome but effective fashion and the strange twists and turns the police investigation took along the way to their arrests. (Both have been sentenced to death).  The cult  film director, Sion Sono, made a movie based on the case, in which he changes the venue from a pet shop to a tropical fish shop, but is more or less faithful to the actual events until the final third of the movie. Jake Adelstein, my editor, caught the film while it was still playing in Tokyo and later did an interview with the DVD producers for the UK release.  The protagonist of the film who become an accomplice, Shamoto-san, is based on a real person, who was not convicted for murder but was arrested on those charges.He was later convicted for helping in dismembering and burying the bodies illegally.

Patrick Galloway, at the Asian entertainment blog, Asia Shock, has a very good review of the DVD release  movie and notes in his writing: I received a review copy of the Cold Fish double disk from Third Window Films and particularly appreciated one of the special features, a half-hour discussion of the actual case upon which the film is based. This comes courtesy of Jake Adelstein, journalist and author of the book Tokyo Vice. Adelstein relates the details of the case in great detail, revealing how accurate the film is to real events (although the plot goes in a completely different direction in the third act). Adelstein also offers insights into the way murder is investigated (and often not) in Japan. Apparently 80,000 people a year go missing in Japan, and only 4% of suicides are investigated. So it seems that a lot more people are being murdered in Japan than is reflected in official records.

Jake says that the portrayal of Sekine Gen, called Murata in the film, is eerily accurate.

Jake said, ” I had the pleasure of meeting Sekine twice before his arrest and watching him interact with customers several times and the performance is dead-on. I was awed by the movie until the point on the bridge where the plot bridged off from the real events and knowing the real story as well as I do, I’m probably not able to give the film an objective review.”  However, Mr. Galloway does and if you’d like to know more please check out the review of Cold fish here.  My take on the film is that if you’re interested in the psychology of serial killers, how ordinary people can be coerced into playing a role in murder, and have a very strong stomach–it’s a film worth seeing, but not before dinner.

*Jake Adelstein contributed to this review.

Cold Fish (冷たい熱帯魚)is a recent movie based on the Saitama Dog Lover Serial Killings.

Hidden love hotels come out of the closet thanks to law revisions; It's a love fest in post-quake Japan

It seems business is booming for the love hotel industry. The number of registered businesses has jumped by a whopping 2,700 hotels since the beginning of the year, a hefty number considering that, at the end of 2010, there were only 3,692 love dens on the books.

While it looks like the entire country has decided to tackle head-on Japan’s infamous declining birth rate problem, the apparent boom in love hotels is less due to demand than it is to changes in the adult entertainment law that we reported on last December.

The 2011 revised adult entertainment law is aimed at regulating the operation of deai-kissa and gisou love hotels, or establishments registered as hotel or ryokan that are effectively operating as love hotels to get around legal restrictions on things like location. Gisou love hotels have managed to park themselves far beyond the borders limiting normal adult entertainment venues to certain areas. Some are even located within spitting distance of elementary schools and municipal buildings such as libraries, and many believe this may contribute to child prostitution, such as enjo kosai, despite the fact that people under 18 are not supposed to be allowed in.

The revisions have broadened the definition of love hotel, and closed many of the loopholes previously used by gisou love hotels. New hotels must, of course, be planned, constructed and registered according to regulations. The 2011 revisions contain a vested rights clause, however, allowing all existing gisou love hotels to be exempt from legal action if they formally registered as love hotels before January 31. Needless to say, many took advantage of the opportunity.

And residents are saying, what’s the point? The law, meant to keep love hotels away from things like schools and hospitals has instead given the go for thousands of the businesses to operate openly.

A representative from the “Rid Japan Of Gisou Love Hotels” party told Sankei News, “By allowing for vested rights, nothing changes, and now hotels that hide near schools before can operate out in the open.” Uh huh.

The owner of a love hotel argued against the accusation that gisou hotels can contribute to the rise in child prostitution, saying, “There’s been a big increase in ‘city hotels’ that are aimed towards couples, not just traditional love hotels.” With regards to minors using the facilities, he added, “We can’t ask everyone’s age. All we can do is post a sign saying under-18s aren’t allowed.”

Jake’s note: It turns out that the new love hotels are great earthquake shelters as well. Solidly built and once you’re in bed with your partner and you turn on the “body sonic” *–the earthquake tremors won’t bother you at all or become indistinguishable from other more intimate tremors. The earthquake has also resulted in a rise in marriages and hook-ups as the confrontation with mortality has made people realize the importance of carnality, and intimate relationships.)

Read the original article here.

Tokyo Prosecutor Special Investigation Unit Takes Lead on TEPCO case, as new evidence contradicts TEPCO claims.

As reported on April 4th here, Japanese law-enforcement continues their investigation into TEPCO, the managing entity of the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor for charges of professional negligence resulting in death or injury, but now the Tokyo Prosecutor Special Investigation Unit has begun their own independent investigation. Update: The investigations may extend to public officials as well.  In addition to this TEPCO is now under investigation by the Labor Standards Bureau for multiple violations of the labor laws.

The investigation is focussing on what TEPCO did after the Tsunami as well as before (in terms of criminal negligence). The two individuals most likely to be charged with criminal incompetence resulting in death and/or injury are the CEO at the time and the current chairman.  During the first 24 hours after the accident, the chairman and the president were both unaccounted for and/or unreachable considerably delaying countermeasures which could have prevented death, injury and the meltdown. There are also reports that putting sea water into the reactor were delayed as TEPCO executives used political connections to buy time to try and save the reactors, rather than focussing on saving lives and the environment around the reactor.

One thing that is now increasingly coming into question is TEPCO’s assertion that “this accident was beyond the scope of our imagination” (想定外). This only holds true if the cause of the reactor meltdown was due to the flooding of the emergency generators by the tsunami (tidal wave) which were supposed to power down the reactor. There is a great possibility that the earthquake itself immediately did so much damage to the containment vessel and parts of  reactor 1, that the tidal wave influence was negligible.  There are reports that for several years TEPCO was warned by the original manufacturers to replace the core of the reactor and failed to do so.

There is a distinct possibility that what happened was not  “beyond imagination” but was simply a case of what had been predicted happening just as predicted.  The Fukushima Nuclear Reactor accident is not a natural disaster; it’s a man-made disaster, created on several levels. How far the prosecution will go is an unknown. In light of recent arrests of prosecutors for forging evidence, and allegations that the prosecutor’s office in Fukushima trumped up charges against the former Governor of Fukushima, who was one of TEPCO’s most vocal opponents–national trust for the prosecutor’s office is at an all time low.

A source close to the Ministry of Justice, on conditions that his name not be used, said, “This is a chance for the prosecutor’s office to show that we are instruments of justice and not tools of whatever administration assumes power in Tokyo. We have a chance to regain public trust and we won’t squander it. All we have to do to prove criminal negligence resulting in death or injury is to show that the the parties involved had an understanding of a great danger which they did little to prevent. We don’t think that will be hard to prove on multiple levels.”

The May 25th edition of  SAPIO also touches on the current investigation, although, I think that they are a little off the mark, it’s worth a read.

UPDATE May 16th, 2011 4:30am (US Time)/ (May 16th 6:30 pm (Tokyo): Kyodo news put out a news story today which back ups what we wrote previously that  there is a great possibility that the earthquake itself immediately did so much damage to the containment vessel and parts of  reactor 1, that the tidal wave influence was negligible.” Kyodo asserts that two other reactors were severely damaged before the tidal wave.

This "bowing down in shame" (土下座)figurine bears a tremendous resemblance to the chairman of TEPCO. The figurine is labelled CEO. If it was a puppet, it would actually represent the relationship between the Chairman and the CEO perfectly.

Child pornography, government corruption color 2010 US Report On Human Rights in Japan

One that totally flew under our radar:

On April 11, the US State Department released their 2010 Human Rights Report for Japan, detailing human rights conditions on everything from the right to collective bargaining to institutionalized hazing. While Japan is hardly a major violator like, say, friendly neighbours China and North Korea, it is surprising (and in some cases, unfortunately, not so surprising) to see some of the areas where the country falls short of ideal.

As brought to our attention via Polaris Project:

“Child prostitution is illegal, with a penalty of imprisonment with labor for up to three years or a fine of up to one million yen ($12,150) for offenders, including the intermediary and the person involved in solicitation. However, the practice of enjo-kosai (compensated dating) and easy facilitation by means of online dating, social networking, and delivery health (call girl or escort service) sites made de facto domestic child-sex tourism a problem.

“The country continued to be an international hub for the production and trafficking of child pornography. The distribution of child pornography is illegal; the penalty is imprisonment with labor for not more than three years or a fine not exceeding three million yen ($36,460). … The law does not criminalize the simple possession of child pornography, which often depicts the brutal sexual abuse of small children. While this continues to hamper police efforts to effectively enforce existing child pornography laws and fully participate in international law enforcement in this area, child pornography investigations increased 40 percent in 2009 to 935 cases. New measures announced in July included instructing Internet service providers to voluntarily block Internet access to child pornography, increased cooperation with foreign law enforcement agencies, and boosting resources for investigations … But children’s advocates criticized the measure to block access, noting that it does not require Internet service and cellular data providers to block the images and, in fact, the law prohibits providers from censuring any user access.

“The new measures also do not address the unfettered availability of sexually explicit cartoons, comics, and video games. While the NPA maintained that no link has been established between these animated images and child victimization, other experts suggested the situation harms children by creating a culture that appears to accept sexual abuse of children.”

This one is hardly a revelation, as any long-time JSRC reader would know. Other highlights:

Continue reading Child pornography, government corruption color 2010 US Report On Human Rights in Japan

Reports of sexual violence remain a rarity in disaster zones as both women and the media keep quiet

FNN news is reporting on the arrest of one Kyo Matsunaga, a 28-year-old man who is accused of raping a woman in her Iwate home during a blackout following a major aftershock. The case has caught media attention because Matsunaga’s DNA matches DNA left at the scenes of two other rapes in Tokyo’s Musashino area back in 2005. Police plan to transfer the suspect back to Tokyo and press additional charges.

This report is a rarity. It’s a known fact that rape and other forms of sexual violence are common in the wake of natural disasters. Accounts of rape and violence after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake still trickle in today, despite the fact that they remained largely uncovered by the media at the time.

Just days after the March 11, the foreign media showered endless praise upon the ‘noble’ Japanese for their orderliness and honesty in numerous articles about how had been so little looting. (Check out this interesting Slate article hypothesising why) The next week some were redacting their astonishment as reports of theft and more widespread crime began to emerge. There are still very few reports of sexual violence, with articles instead focusing on police warnings against false rumours of rapes in evacuation centers (as noted by Debito). This April 1 Nikkei article even goes as far to say that, along with there having been no rapes reported in the disaster zone, rates of reported rape in Hyogo Prefecture–center of the Hanshin Quake–were the same in 1995 as they had been in 1994.

A few organizations have been working to prevent any further violence, documented or not, from occurring. Perhaps the newest of these, The Post-Earthquake Support For Women and Children Project (震災後の女性・子ども応援プロジェクト – English here) was started through the cooperation of several women and children’s rights groups, including Polaris Project. The group has been working to distribute cards advising women and children to put their safety first and not hesitate to report sexual violence.

One wonders how many rape- and violence-less disasters it’ll take before both the media and authorities realize the problem is real and needs to be given attention. Word of some evacuation centers setting up “Women Only” areas, much like a Tokyo train, are a start, but likely a small comfort for those who are forced to walk alone down streets with no electricity, or return to homes that lie empty because family members have been stolen by the tsunami.

Ladies going under the laser and razor in anticipation of a sweaty summer

As electricity conservation remains a grudgingly important fact of life in post-disaster Japan, many urbanites dread what this eco-friendly movement will inevitably lead to: a summer with no air conditioning. With Tokyo’s concrete covered streets, lack of trees and summer temperatures that often reach above 30 degrees Celsius with 80 percent-plus humidity, one can understand why the thought strikes fear into the hearts of city-dwellers.

But one industry in particular is benefiting from the proposed aircon-less summer. According to Shukan Post, Japanese woman are flocking to esthetic salons, looking to strip as much body hair as possible before they’re inevitably forced by the heat to reveal inches more skin then ever before. A typical summer would see department stores, trains and homes blasting the air conditioning and often forcing ladies to grab a sweater, cardigan or blanket to keep warm. Now having nothing to rely on but cool breezes and simple uchiwa, estheticians report their post-disaster demand for hair removal treatment has jumped as women feel they’ll need to wear lighter, more revealing clothes but don’t want to be spotted with unsightly hair. One electronics store in Shinjuku also reported they’re seeing their sales of electric razors rise with the temperature. Jake’s note: we can probably expect Japanese men to be doing the same thing soon. I predict sales of No! No! For Men Laser Razor to sell like takoyaki at an Osaka matsuri.

But, says Shukan Post, these aren’t the only products forecast to be swallowed up by electricity-saving consumers. Sales of mosquito repellant (to fight mozzies coming in through open windows), adhesive cooling sheets, freezable pillows and other essentials are predicted by some relaters to skyrocket as the weather gets warmer.

Buy your stock in ice pillows now!

Thanks to Shihoko Fujiwara of Polaris Project for the link.

Of earthquakes, tsunami and the ephemeral

by Orlando Camargo

Those of us living far away from our parents dread the thought. A call in the middle of the night asking you to book a flight – ASAP.

“Dad is not well.” March 2nd.

The next day I got the first possible flight out of Narita to Florida but did not make it in time to say good-bye to my 84-year old Papi. RIP.

Within 9 days I would get another middle-of-the-night call, this time from Tokyo asking me to get the first flight back to Japan.

“Japan is not well”. March 11th.

So starts my March to remember.

After quickly returning to Japan on the 13th of March, and making sure family, clients and work were fine, the decision to volunteer in Ibaraki was a simple one.  27 years ago I first came to Japan to work as a Monbusho  (Ministry of Education) English Fellow, the precursor program to today’s JET program. I was assigned to Ibaraki and lived in what was then a beautiful scenic capital – Mito. After two years helping in Ibaraki schools, I then accepted a government scholarship to attend graduate school at Tsukuba University – also in Ibaraki. So those first five years in Japan rooted me deeply to the Prefecture.

When I was watching the news of the devastation from outside of Japan, the focus was on Miyagi and Fukushima – but I knew that Ibaraki had also been hard hit, especially along the coast, and especially on the northern tip near the Fukushima border.  No one was telling the Ibaraki story. I felt I owed so much to the people of Ibaraki who had given me so much. It wasn’t enough to just send money or make calls. I had to do something.

I was also seeing news of foreigners “fleeing” Japan – the now infamous flyjin. I was amazed upon my return to see Narita airport full of foreigners leaving the country. The only large group of incoming foreigners to catch my attention was the Mongolian emergency rescue team!

Mongolian Rescue Team at Narita

I could not fathom leaving Japan at this time. I had to go up to Ibaraki to help.

I started making calls and seeing how I could help. All the public volunteer announcements were asking for only locals. Apparently the civil servants did not want to worry about housing or feeding volunteers.  “Don’t come unless you can fend for yourself – there are no trains, few buses and long lines for gas,” I was warned. I had prepared for this and had bought plenty of camping gear and goods from the US to both hold me for at least 10 days and to bring on my trip to Northern Ibaraki.

When I arrived to the Kita Ibaraki City Offices looking like a back packer, the head coordinator smiled like he knew me, “So you are Mr. Camargo. We were told you would likely arrive. Welcome”. I had been tweeting and talking to many people in the Prefecture before my departure so apparently news of my possible arrival had already reached them.

As you can guess I was the only foreigner in our group of volunteers. No one would have cared if I had come from Mars. There was work to do. For the next week I would carry boxes of water, bags of rice and bundles of futon with about 40 other volunteers. We would also travel to either the coast or inland to help clear out debris from damaged homes. We would also visit the community centers and deliver goods.

There is where my March moment would come.

It was when I saw so many elderly alone and unattended.

The shelters have and will get plenty of relief aid. They can always use more money but that too will come. But what I saw in athletic gyms turned community centers were elderly folks sleeping on cardboard boxes near kerosene stoves. Many were alone and disoriented. Yes, they still had their lives, but many had lost their homes and some, even their loved ones.


As I watch my the 27th season of cherry blossoms twitter in the spring outside my Tokyo window, I ask myself, “what do the people in the Ibaraki shelters need most?”

Maybe what they need most is what I could not give my Dad enough of –

…..a warm hand and more time to share the blossoms.

BIO
Orlando Camargo has worked for the Japanese government, for a Wall Street Investment bank and has headed a global public relations company in Tokyo. When he is not volunteering in Ibaraki (http://orlandojpn.posterous.com/) , he can also be spotted around Tokyo’s rustic neighborhoods taking photos (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kurokoshiroko/) in search of the perfect yakitori.

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