May 4th has become an iconic day for Star Wars fans across the universe. “May The 4th Be With You” becomes “May The Force Be With You” quite nicely. (If you already knew this, stifle that groan young Jedi, some of us didn’t know). And on this day, what better time to introduce one of the stranger and more delightful books to come out this year in Japan: Zen Wisdom From Star Wars (スター・ウォーズ 禅の教え エピソード4・5・6). It’s written by noted Soto Zen Buddhist priest, Shunmyo Masuno (枡野 俊明) and takes scenes and dialogue from the good episodes of the series to illustrate Zen Buddhist sayings and wisdom. (A full review will come later this month).
The book is well-written, with just enough English sprinkled in to make the book semi-accessible to those who can’t read Japanese or are still struggling to do so. The books works better than you might imagine.
Zen Buddhism, was heavily influenced by Taoism, and George Lucas freely admits to having borrowed heavily from Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and Japanese culture in the creation of the Star Wars mythos.
The book includes such pearls of wisdom as:
山川草木悉皆成仏 (Sansen Somuku Shikkai Jobutsu)/Everything is filled with the light of life (Everything has Buddha-nature).
安閑無事 (Ankan Buji)/Feel gratitude for everything no matter how small. Or rather: appreciate peace and quiet, health and safety. Because that won’t last forever. For example, affordable health care in America? Gone. (安閑無事が懐かしい）
閑古錘 (Kankonsui)/Maturation and calm come as you accrue diverse experience.
Well, remember that Star Wars is just fiction, but good science fiction, and the words of wisdom in the movie were not said by Taoist sages or Jedi masters but written by screenwriters. However, if you want to know the philosophy and sayings that inspired the film, this book is a good place to start.
Or better yet, buy yourself a copy of The Tao Te Ching, and substitute the word “Force” everytime it mentions “Tao”. According to the Star Wars English Japanese Dictionary, the Force (フォース) is all the energy derived from every living thing. The Tao, which is often described as being indescribable, is close to the same thing.
So for your further education, here are few words from The Force Te Ching
Force Te Ching
by Yoda- chapter 81
Truthful words are not beautiful.
Beautiful words are not truthful.
Good men do not argue.
Those who argue are not good.
Those who know are not learned.
The learned do not know.
The Jedi never tries to store things up.
The more he/she does for others, the more he/she has.
The more he/she gives to others, the greater his/her abundance.
The Force of The Light Side is pointed but does no harm.
The Force of the Jedi is work without effort.
(adapted from the Tao Te Ching translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English)
The book opens on one of the most devastating days in Japan’s history, March 11, 2011, which left thousands dead and missing—and culminated in a triple nuclear meltdown. Our protagonist and narrator Jake Adelstein, seasoned American journalist turned private eye, who has brought back bags of supplies from the US to be taken to the disaster area by yakuza friends–discovers he’s having a meltdown of his own: liver cancer.
Join Jake as he takes us back on a journey and recounts the events leading up to the disaster, the 2009 publication of his memoir TOKYO VICE: An American Reporter On The Police Beat in Japan, and how he became a corporate gumshoe. He picks up where he left off, chronicling his other career, battling the yakuza and criminals as a due diligence investigator while battling his own worst enemy: himself. Previously the only American journalist to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club, Jake covered extortion, murder, and human trafficking–fighting to make Japan recognize the problem. No longer a reporter but still trying to be a knight in dingy armor, he realizes that even a paladin has to earn a living. And instead of having 10 million readers now he’s writing reports that will only be read by three corporate executives.
This sequel to TOKYO VICE is written as a stand-alone volume and provides an in-depth history of the inner-workings of crime in Japan, and not just the gangsters. With each job assignment Jake learns more about industries rife with financial fraud, anti-social forces, corruption, and fraudulent bookkeeping–and how to spot a business that no client should engage with.
The book is divided into three parts coinciding with the breakdown of Jake’s personal life in parallel with Japan’s meltdown and an in depth analysis of how the Yakuza operate: UNUSUAL EVENTS, MELTDOWN, and THE FALLOUT.
UNUSUAL EVENTS sets the stage for the state of Japan leading up to the meltdown. The yakuza, like many criminal organizations, were not born out of thin air. Their ranks have come from members of society who do not feel like they have a place. Those marginalized by society such as the Korean-Japanese and burakumin, among others, were not given many opportunities by society, and were drawn into a life of crime.
But it’s a high level of crime now. In fact, one day Japan’s equivalent of Classmates.com is taken over by a Yakuza front company. Information is king.
Jake transitions into a career as a detective introducing a team of characters ranging from fight-til’-the-death former prosecutor Toshiro Igari to brave right-hand researcher and human trafficking victim advocate, Michiel Brandt. He makes new friends and enemies along the way–while dealing with the PTSD from the events that took place in Tokyo Vice by self-medicating with sleeping pills, booze, casual sex and clove cigarettes.
Learn how gangsters were gradually ousted from the financial markets by the due diligence of dedicated investigators, rebel cops, and new laws.
Meanwhile, TOKYO VICE is published but an old foe resurges — the ruthless yakuza Tadamasa Goto. If Tokyo Vice was Jake’s attempt to ruin and get his nemesis ‘erased’– Goto outdoes him with the publication of his autobiography, Habakarinagara, loaded with veiled threats. When Jake asks his mentor, Igari Toshiro, to help him take Goto to court, Igari bravely agrees but…..
MELTDOWN lands us in a disrupted Japanese society. Jake learns he has liver cancer while Japan is in the midst of a nuclear meltdown. His “best friend forever” Michiel is diagnosed with leukemia for the fourth time while the corruption of the Japanese nuclear industry comes to light.
Jake, hired to find out whether Tokyo Electric Power Company is responsible for the accident and what that would mean for investors, returns to his investigator roots with a renewed attitude to not give up and seeks out a new enemy to vanquish.
In chapters from the FALLOUT like The Nine Digit Economy: How The Yakuza Turned Japan’s Stock Market Into Their Casino, he shows how and why the authorities felt that anti-social forces threatened the very foundations of Japan’s economy.
Jake gets ahold of the most dangerous photo in Japan, showing the Vice President of Japan’s Olympic Committee with the head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest yakuza group, but can he break the story before his own knees get broken? And in the process of reporting on the Olympics discovers that the biggest gang of all in Japan may be a political party, founded by war criminals including former Prime Minister Abe’s grandfather, yakuza, ultra-nationalists and funded by the CIA.
What’s the difference between the Liberal Democratic Party politicians and the much-feared Yamaguchi-gumi thugs? It may only really be the badges they wear on their lapel.
While the book can be an enriching companion and sequel to TOKYO VICE: An American Reporter On The Police Beat in Japan, TOKYO PRIVATE EYE: Investigation, Damnation, and Salvation In The Land Of The Setting Sun is a memoir that can stand alone recounting the years 2007 to 2014 through the eyes of an intrepid reporter and gumshoe with three decades spent covering the dark side of the sun.
Not only is it a riveting memoir about the life junctions we all face, including grief and career changes, but it also provides a working knowledge of Japanese organized crime, political corruption, the process of corporate investigations and shows the collusion between mafia, state, and business that led to a nuclear disaster. It also shows that Japan’s biggest problems are not necessarily the fading yakuza.
TOKYO VICE has been adapted for television into an eight episode straight-to-series on HBO Max starring Ansel Elgort playing Jake Adelstein. The series also stars Ken Watanabe and is written and executive produced by Tony Award-winning playwright J. T. Rogers (Jake’s high school senpai) with Endeavor Content serving as the studio. Michael Mann directed the pilot episode and served as executive producer.
Jake Adelstein is one of few experts on Japanese organized crime and the underworld. A former special correspondent for the LA Times, he has written for the Times, the Washington Post, the Japan Times and Vice. His other two books, Le Dernier Des Yakuzas (2017) J’ai Vendu Mon âme En Bitcoins (2019) with Nathalie Stucky, have both been published by Marchialy in France, his “third home.” He currently writes for the Daily Beast, the Asia Times, Tempura in France, and ZAITEN.
“Intimate Stranger” will be screened with English subtitles at 6:50 pm on March 17, and at 4:15 pm on March 21 at Shibuya Eurospace. On March 21, there will be a post-screening talk with Jake Adelstein, the journalist and author of “Tokyo Vice.” https://www.cine.co.jp/shinmitunatanin/eng/
In Intimate Stranger a razor blade – the old fashioned kind that you see barbers wielding in movies, with an open blade that folds into a scabbard – makes a frequent appearance. So often in fact, that its significance shifts from symbolic to menacing, and the film starts to feel like a horror story. It’s pretty sharp, this blade, enough to slash open the face of a yakuza but with the right pressure, will leave a photogenic wound on a young man’s face. One of the questions that came up during the Q&A session after the screening of Intimate Stranger held at the FCCJ, was whether the writer/director Mayu Nakamura went around with a razor blade stashed in her bag. To which Nakamura replied breezily, in English: “I keep a razor blade in my heart.”
Intimate Stranger is about a woman with a missing son, who connects with a 17-year old boy during a mask-clad, pandemic stricken winter in Tokyo. The woman works in a high-end shops that sells baby clothes, and at night she trawls the Net in search of a son who, in his photo that sits on her desk, looks incredibly unhappy. The teenager whom she takes under her wing (though the story reveals the circumstances are far less benevolent) is missing a family who cares about him. They strike up a relationship of sorts, each enabling the other to be what they want: a devoted mother, an adored and adoring son. Only the older woman is aware that this charade has a payoff.
The woman is Megumi, and she’s Nakamura’s creation as well as a bit of her altar ego. Megumi has no qualms about keeping a razor blade on her person: she uses it as much for self-defense as a source of sensual pleasure. An attractive, fiftyish woman played by veteran Asuka Kurosawa, Megumi is first seen as a lonely single mother looking for 17-year old Shimpei, who one day left their little home and never returned. The young scammer she befriends is Yuji (Fuji Kamio) who shows up to claim the reward cash promised for ‘any information’ about Shimpei. Yuji is one of the runners for a phone scam operation but he’s not very good. His boss is abusive and violent and Yuji sticks around because he has nowhere else to go. When he meets Megumi, he cadges a cafe meal and 5000 yen in return for fabricated information. “I met your son in an Internet Cafe. We played some video games together, and then he left.” He’ll probably feed her enough lies to string her along, and at the right moment another runner will call her up, pretending to be Shimpei, and ask for money.
Megumi however, surprises Yuji by inviting him into her apartment “just until Shimpei comes home.” And Yuji can’t resist the prospect of home-cooked meals and a warm bed, plus a maternal figure who scolds him for throwing his dirty jockeys under the bed. She promptly picks them up, launders them, hangs them out to dry and irons them out. Megumi is a great launderer as well as cook, cleaner and knitter of baby clothes. She revels in doing what other women may consider domestic drudgery, with a repressed, almost secret joy. This trait may be particular to Japanese women – they grow up expecting and expected, to spend their adult lives running a household, bearing and raising children and receding into a hard shell of domesticity. After years of doing that, a kind of demon may take up residence in her mind. “I feel like I’m in a pressure cooker,” says Megumi at one point. “The pressure mounts and mounts and one day, I snap.”
Sparse and minimal on the surface, Intimate…ispacked with a roiling, murky weirdness Nakamura feels is unique to Japan. In one scene, Megumi airs her views to Yuji: “Did you know that phone scamming happens only in Japan? Grown men calling up their mothers and grandmothers for money and expecting to get it…this would be unthinkable in the West. Why does this society pamper their males so much?” And Yuji, who earlier had scammed an old woman out of 200,000 yen by pretending to be her Covid-infected grandson, has no answer.
Intimate…is Nakamura’s second fiction feature, since 2006 when she made her debut with “The Summer of Stickleback.” Nakamura is not your ordinary Japanese filmmaker, meaning, she didn’t apprentice (read: slave labor) under an older, established male director or work in Japan’s tradition-entrenched, labor intensive studio system. Nakamura got her filmmaking experience and eye for frame composition in London, first as an undergrad at the University of London’s film society, and later in the graduate program of NYU film school. She made her first film at the age of 18, “on a Super 8” and 2 years prior to that, had quit high school in Tokyo to enroll in a London boarding school. “My father was a poet and my mother was a journalist,” Nakamura told me in a separate, private interview. “They never said ‘no’ to my plans. I’ve always been independent and competitive and I hate to lose.” You could say Nakamura benefitted from this upbringing but she also made paid a hefty price to be the person she is today. Her parents were so wrapped up in work that they left their 6-year old daughter to live with her grandparents in Kyoto, where she subsequently spent the rest of her childhood. “Kyoto is heavily conservative. They don’t take kindly to outsiders and since I was from Tokyo and couldn’t speak the local dialect, I was bullied.” It was the kind of intense and destructive bullying designed to break her spirit – everyone in school ignored her totally and pretend she didn’t exist. “As a result, I became very strong,” laughed Nakamura adding that whatever hardships came her way, they couldn’t match what she suffered through in Kyoto.
As soon as she could, Nakamura got herself out of Japan and spent the next 14 years of her life abroad. She even got a green card in the US (“I won it in a lottery”) indicating that there could be a god out there who evens up past misfortunes with a destiny jackpot.
That god, in the scheme of Intimate Stranger, is definitely female. Nakamura, who had waited a decade to make Intimate…, says that after her years abroad, she was floored by many aspects of Japanese womanhood and felt the need to unleash her bewilderment and rage. “I had a very tough time getting funding. I was told by male investors that it was disgusting for an older woman to be in a semi-erotic relationship with a teenage boy. I am sure that they wouldn’t have said that if the genders were reversed. In Japan, women past 30 are no longer women, they’re expected to become mothers and morph into asexual beings.” Megumi, for all her allure, clings to her identity as a mother. The apartment she shares with Yuji is a metaphor for her uterus, explained Nakamura, which account’s for the feeling of deep security, coupled with unbearable claustrophobia. They say that few people ever survive their mothers but my guess is that even fewer women survive the experience of being a mother.
Drive My Car which opened last August 2021, was one of the best things to hit Japanese theaters in years. Yet many Japanese cinephiles or people who footed it to theaters in spite of the pandemic, quietly gave it a miss. Two weeks later audiences were willing to sit through the new 007 movie with masks on throughout the nearly 3 hour duration, refused to pay the same tribute to what is effectively the first successful cinema adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story by a fellow Japanese. Shame on us. Drive My Car bagged three awards at Cannes including Best Screenplay, (the first such feat for a Japanese filmmaker) and won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. It’s now firmly placed on track for an Oscar.
So never mind the box office beating. The careers of director/writer Ryusuke Hamaguchi and lead actor Hidetoshi Nishijima went on a meteoric ascent as Hamaguchi picked up the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for Wheels Of Fortune And Fantasy months before Drive My Car and is now being inundated with offers from Hollywood and Netflix. Veteran lead actor Hidetoshi Nishijima was all over the media in TV and film last year before giving his best performance yet in Drive...He was named Best Actor by the US Films Critics Award, the first for an Asian actor.
Through it all, the 43-year old Hamaguchi appeared unfazed. In interviews he has stated that Japan isn’t his only playing field though he has professed a love for its cinema industry and in early 2020, he crowdfunded over 330 million yen to save arthouse theaters from Covid bankruptcy. Hamaguchi discipled under Kiyoshi Kurosawa, another auteur whose international reputation has come to overshadow his Japanese notoriety. Under Kurosawa, Hamaguchi learned the ropes of competing in the film fest circuit, dealing with foreign distributors and grooming his stories for global appeal. Otherwise, Hamaguchi is a visionary filmmaker with a special flair for intricate and nuanced storytelling, which comes to the fore in Drive My Car. He took a 40-page Murakami short story and leavened it up to a running time of 3.5 hours, adding Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Korean actors and the Hiroshima City backdrop in the mix. Through Hamaguchi’s careful doctoring, Murakami’s original story was reborn with much more weight and muscle, able to grapple with emotions that have both urgency and relevance. This is some serious cinema alchemy we’re looking at here.
On the other hand, Hamaguchi is respectful of Murakami and makes sure the film has the author’s logo stamped all over it. There’s no mistaking the elegant lassitude permeating the storyline, the finicky intellectualism and inherent narcissism of the characters. The only factor that strikes a non-Murakami chord is the presence of Toko Miura, who plays a woman named Misaki. She’s a chauffer with a skeleton or two in the closet of her mind and she’s at once fragile and tough, capable and vulnerable. In Murakami’s story, Misaki serves as a young, female sounding board for the protagonist’s inner musings. In Hamaguchi’s film, her importance goes up several notches and she’s recreated into a women with her own agenda and personal demons, who’s not there to be sexually objectified or soothe anyone. Miura, who used to work part-time at a Tokyo gas stand when she wasn’t working as an actress, is now one of the most watchable performers in the Japanese film industry and Drive My Car owes a huge chunk of its success to her prowess.
Still, being a Murakami story, Drive My Car ultimately comes off as tale of male ego, or more to the point, the taming of it. Nishijima plays a slender, 50-ish man named Kafuku (an obvious play on the name ‘Kafuka’ from the Murakami bestseller “Kafka By the Sea”), a stage actor who discovers that his wife Oto (played by a splendid Reika Kirishima) has been sleeping around. Kafuku has been semi-aware of Oto’s infidelity but when confronted with the scene of her having sex with another man, his mind shuts down. That night, Oto is found dead from a brain hemorrhage and Kafuku retreats into a shell of wordless grief.
Two years later, Kafuku accepts a residency position in Hiroshima and he’s introduced to Misaki, who has been hired to drive him to and from the theater in his car (a Saab 900, of course). Through their brief conversations finds himself able to face Oto again, not as a wife who betrayed him but a woman in her own right. In the meantime he collaborates with Korean actors for the stage production of Uncle Vanya and builds a rapport with Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), who had been Oto’s last lover.
Murakami’s story is part of a compilation titled Men Without Women, a fate which, in the Murakami scheme of things is akin to death by torture. Men cannot exist without women or their fantasies and much of Murakami’s words are devoted to describing the subtleties of their allure. In his fiction the female is never objectified outright but she’s not to allowed to exist outside the confines of the male ego, either. Murakami always hands over the reigns of power to his women characters, making sure they will never abuse it. If she gets too much for the man to handle, she tends to make a fast exit. Like Oto. Or Naoko from his trademark novel Norwegian Wood.
This Murakami penchant is in perfect keeping with the Japanese literary tradition and reveals, that for all the Americanisms and western-liberal icons/props scattered across the pages of each and every one of Murakami’s works, the master is in fact, a traditionalist. The combination was dazzling and exotic back in the 20th century. Personally I likened a Murakami novel to a cool, fizzy drink ordered in a bar in an American military base, not that I could set foot in such a place. But two decades plus into the 21st century, the magic of Murakami’s words come off as nostalgic and quaint. It took an alchemist like Ryusuke Hamaguchi to filter out the antiquated grunge of the original short story and upcycle it into a masterpiece.
For all that, many of us who grew up on Murakami are not ready to cancel him altogether. Generations of Japanese owe him for showing us a world outside the archipelago, for writing about jazz and beer and summer afternoons spent swimming laps at the pool, for dedicating an entire book to marathon running as a pleasurable hobby, for girls who enjoy sex and own up to their sexuality, for boys who are clumsy about relationships but bafflingly knowledgeable about coffee. We owe him for being easily translatable and comprehensible to an international audience that would otherwise equate Japan with anime and karoshi (death by overwork). Maybe Haruki Murakami can’t carry the brand on his own anymore but that happens to every established business with a recognizable logo. And now that Ryusuke Hamaguchi has set the precedent, more Murakami adaptations are sure to follow. If you’ll excuse the slightly nationalistic tone, it’s a good time to be Japanese.
Editor’s note: If you’re a fan of Haruki Murakami, with a sense of humor, be sure to avail yourself of a copy of 村上春樹語辞典 (Dictionary of Haruki Murakami Words) which is tongue in cheek tribute and guide to his writings. Even if you don’t read Japanese, the great illustrations, the haiku-like use of English, and the pin-pointing of his common themes and motifs is a delight to read.
Scientists have abundantly proven that global warming is real and causing havoc on the planet. CO2 levels are rising with Earth’s temperatures, but the truth of the matter does not make the relationship a cause and effect. There is a rising level of CO2 with now 412 parts per million. In addition to increased levels of methane and nitrous oxide, this is considered the primary reason for global warming. This theory, which receives strong support from scientists, may not be the only factor. This article proposes other mechanisms that may play a role in global warming.
There is a massive nickel-iron ball at the center of the earth with a diameter of 760 miles, spinning faster than the rotation of the earth and having a temperature of 5000°C. It generates heat in the earth so that when you dig to 32 inches deep in Missouri the pipes don’t freeze. Additionally, it produces magnetic fields that are easily measurable. Around this ball of solid iron-nickel is another layer with a radius of 2,165 miles. It is believed to be made up of a liquid alloy. There is an interface at this level with the outer mantle, and some scientists believe oil is produced there. Exactly how this heat is generated or the mechanism is unknown. It’s almost as if we have a sun buried deep inside the earth.
The origin of man or how we have been designed is a mystery to me, but lubrication is built into our physical self. Our joints, eyes, and reproductive organs are lubricated. There may be a mechanism in place at the interface with this giant heat-producing ball at the center of our planet that deals with the friction that it produces. Current theories suggest that the spinning ball and surrounding liquid iron might produce their own oil, reducing friction. The removal of portions of this oil may cause irregularities in the spinning ball, contributing to global warming and earthquakes.
Editor’s note: In short, we are pumping so much oil out of the earth, that we’re essentially running a car without oil, causing tremendous friction and making the engine overheat.
Several scientists believe that oil is produced at the interface between the heated sphere and the carbon surrounding it.
This is the abiogenic theory of oil‘s origin. As this oil seeps between the plates, Saudi Arabia has an infinite supply of oil, whereas when drilling in the Gulf of Mexico closer to its source, there were such great pressures that it took many months to stop the leak.
We have not identified any planets that support life as we know it. We have the water vapor cycle, the carbon dioxide/oxygen system, and the nitrogen cycle. How do we know that oil is not a vital component of the planet’s survival? Approximately 135 million tons of oil have been extracted since 1850, yet the world is not running out of oil.
When the oil is taken from the earth, the spaces around it are apparently filled with water. The water supply is affected but more importantly the water acts as a poorer insulation than oil, which could also contribute to the warming of the earth. Many of our weather patterns are caused by the heating of vast amounts of water. The heat produced causes global warming and an increase in hurricanes. In recent days, we have witnessed tornadoes wreaking havoc on Kentucky and its neighbors. While glaciers are melting, ambient temperatures do not appear to be high enough to cause this. There is a possibility that the melting is caused by heat from the earth itself.
The solution to global warming remains the same, stop taking oil out of the earth. We still have time.
A very wise friend recently told me that it is unlikely we would find similar life forms on other planets–because they would have likely destroyed themselves already. As a species, we are destructive, not only killing each other, but also destroying the planet. We have the intelligence to stop doing one thing that is undeniably bad for the environment, drilling for oil and using it. Next time the oil light in your car comes on, think about it.
Alice, the founder of almost legendary international idol group, Maidoremi (2019-2020), former maid cafe meister, irreverent Twitterdachi, stealth commentator on Japanese culture is leaving Japan—-but not before she and four other idols, the gang of five, unite for their first and last concert together on December 14th as KUROFUNECHAN. Yes, it’s the international idol community equivalent of the supergroup, CREAM, or for those in a younger generation, NKOTBSB (An American pop supergroup consisting of the members of American boy bands New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys).
Meet the other girls:
Riria, from Mexico. She’s lived in Japan for 3 years. She originally came because she wanted to be an idol but now she’s more interested in cosplay
Yuriko, who’s Italian, but one of the most famous foreign cosplayers in Japan. She came here to be an idol.
Heidi, an American, who graduated from a seiyu (voice actor) school in Tokyo and does voice work. She is currently producing her own idol group where she performs as three different characters and sings in three voices
Raaya: she’s half Japanese, half—british, and 100% otaku. She used to be an idol but quit earlier this year, and now works at a cosplay bar. She considering getting back into the idol world so stay tuned
Join Alice and crew for an epic twenty-minute set as they do newly choreographed covers of J-Pop classics. Alice assembled this super-team, much like Nick Fury assembling the Avengers. They hope to bring a little light to the gaijin stranded in Japan while the entry rules make leaving or entering this country a colossal gamble but also are there to support Alice perform her swan song.. It’s also Alice’s bittersweet farewell to a country that in the last two years has made everyone who feel like they belonged here uncertain of whether they are really welcome at all.
Alice, who was born in England, speaks Creole, English, German and Japanese. She became interested in Japan as a pre-teen when she was making maze boxes in wood-working class. She was planning to decorate her wooden box with Egyptian hieroglyphics but evil classmate Olivia stole her idea. Alice decided to paint her box with kanji, but after noticing the character on the cover of a book about Chinese looked like a centipede (and she hates centipedes), Alice decided to use Japanese characters instead. That was beginning of her descent into the labyrinth of the Japanese language.
In her teens, she became a huge fan of Hello Project associated idols like Morning Musume and Buono! (Buono! was initially formed as an idol project group to perform theme songs for the Shugo Chara! anime series, which ran from 2007 to 2010). After studying Japanese intensively, she was able to come to Japan on a Lion’s Club fellowship, staying with several Japanese families and falling in love with this island country, even climbing Mt. Fuji. The following year, after writing to a talent agency, she was flown to Japan for auditions, turning 18 in the land of the rising sun.
Unfortunately, the demanding talent agency told her to lose 13 kilograms if she wanted to perform in Japan. She told them to fuck off. Undaunted she returned to Japan for a working holiday and after some severe ups and downs, including an abusive Japanese boyfriend from Nagasaki, she managed to begin building a career for herself as a talento, appearing on Japanese TV, modeling, dancing and working odd jobs. Of course, she ran into trouble because she was told “your Japanese is too good and that’s boring” thus failing to fall into the desired stereotype of the hapless Japan-loving gaijin who can offend no one.
Eventually, in 2019, Alice formed her own idol group, Maidoremi, which started small and grew to become a serious idol powerhouse. “At our early concerts, sometimes we performed for only one or two people. But that was all right.” They gradually developed a following and were filling live houses. Unfortunately, when the group was signed by a major production firm, things fell apart quickly as the girls lost autonomy and the overbearing push of the management became too much to bear. Since the group’s official dissolution in December of 2020, Alice has only performed a few times. Now she’s ready to hang up her idol shoes and head home.
What did she like about being an idol?
“I love dancing, singing and acting and as an idol you get to do all three. You become a different character with every song you sing. I had quite a good range of songs and that meant playing people in the same set. When people tell you that your performance made them happy—that’s a great feeling. The costumes, the singing, the adoration and the satisfaction from performing well made me really happy. And I also get tremendous happiness from watching other idol groups. It energizes me as well. There’s a wonderful synergy between the performers and the fans that I’ll miss.”
So let Alice and company share there joy with you one more time. The doors open at 6pm at Shinkoenji Loft X (新高円寺LOFT X) and Kurofunechan will take the stage sometime between 6:30 and 7:30. Yes, it’s a weeknight but what else do you have going on, anyway? Like the lunar eclipse we had several weeks ago in Japan, there will probably never be another event like this in your lifetime.
My first encounter with the ‘yakuza’ or the crooks and gangsters of Japan’s underworld, happened when I was 14 years old, on my way home from cram school. It was around 10 PM and having no friends who lived my way, I found myself walking alone through a deserted back street when a man in a loud red shirt and loose trousers seemingly materialized out of nowhere and stood blocking my way. In vain I tried to pass, and then brought my book bag up to my chest, probably to protect myself. “You’re out late,” he sniggered, edging closer. “Do you want to make some money? It will be so easy. Let’s go somewhere and we’ll talk about it.”
Could this really be happening? I felt the blood pounding behind my ears and my vision go black around the edges as I stood there paralyzed. After what felt like an hour but couldn’t have been more than a second or two, another voice came out of the dark. “What are you doing? Don’t waste time, we got things to do.” An older man drawing on a cigarette joined us. “What the hell are you playing at? Let’s go,” he said to the shirt and then to me, “sorry. Were you scared? You must have been. Be safe going home, your parents will be worried about you.”
Without a word, I fled and didn’t look over my shoulder until I was safely in front of my apartment building.
I learned later that this was an old yakuza tactic. There was always the younger guy who came on strong, and the older man who stepped in, seemingly to admonish him and then rescue you. But if you showed signs of hesitation at leaving, or showed up at the same spot the next evening, they would snatch you up. Later, they would blackmail the victim’s father into making cash payments in return for silence and the assurance that the incident will not crab his daughter’s chances of making a good marriage.
As anachronistic as this sounds, similar scenarios still play out all over Japan. Having any connection to the yakuza, even if it’s innocuous or remote, can spell disaster for the average, law-abiding Japanese. It could sabotage their chances of getting into private schools. Jeopardize their job applications to good corporations. And will likely botch up marriage prospects between respectable families. The yakuza are well aware of the fear and suspicion they trigger, and will milk it for all it’s worth. Blackmail and extortion continue to comprise a huge chunk of yakuza revenue. In 2020 alone, they made over 28.5 billion yen from just such practices, according to Asahi Shimbun.
That first encounter left a mark of some kind, subtly swerving my life in a certain direction. I longed to quit school and hang out in smokey coffee shops. I pined to get away from the boring, oppressive place called ‘home.’ My parents complained that I had ‘loose morals’ and would come to a ‘bad end’ unless I buckled down to my studies and became more serious about my future. “You’re not ‘katagi,” my mother would say, which means ‘solid citizen.’ In Japan, once you stepped off the rails of ‘katagi’ you were out of the game, and no one gave you a second chance. The opposite of ‘katagi’ of course, was ‘yakuza.’
In spite of my parents’ dire predictions, I somehow made it to adulthood, marriage and a baby. After about three years, my family and I moved into an apartment building in a town called Akasaka, famous for its criminally expensive real estate, high-end restaurants, exclusive bars, a lucrative sex trade and a sizable yakuza population. This was in the tail end of the 90s, when the Tokyo yakuza had the staunch support of right wing governor Shintaro Ishihara and were seemingly invincible. In Akasaka, they were the best-dressed people on the streets, with impeccably tailored suits and Italian silk ties. They were driven around in sleek German sedans and slurped their soba noodles in the same restaurant as the Cabinet Ministers who came down from the nearby Diet Building. Consequently the streets were perpetually crawling with security people, cops in uniform and police detectives. The combination of law enforcement, politicians and gangsters made it impossible for anyone to get out of line.
Akasaka was the safest place in Tokyo.
My neighbor, who lived on the same floor and whose daughter went to the same day-care as my own, was the son and heir to Tokyo’s most powerful yakuza clan. He drove a sparkling white Mercedes and would often give me a lift as I walked down the slope to the subway station. He was always elaborately polite with me and his wife and daughter often came over for dinner when he was “late at work.” By an unspoken agreement, we never talked about this “work” or even referred to him in conversation. One day when I suggested that we take a photo together with our girls, the wife looked uncomfortable and then refused outright. That night, realizing that I had committed an unforgivable faux pas, I couldn’t sleep. After that, she didn’t come around as much and a year later, announced that they were moving out of the building to a condo on the other side of Akasaka.
This thawed the ice between us and we laughed together like the old days. “We’re not abandoning Akasaka,” she said. “This whole town is just right for us.”
I too, found it hard to tear myself away from Akasaka even as I watched the oldest and richest properties being sold off to overseas investors, mainly from Hong Kong and China. From the early aughts to about 2012, the Japanese economy sank into the marshlands of a twenty year recession, and chipped away at the glamorous, old-money prestige of Akasaka. Companies went bankrupt. A famed record company downsized, and then moved away. Small businesses folded, and the premises were bought out by discount shop franchises.
I started working at a neighborhood cafe to supplement the dwindling income I made from journalism, for 900 yen an hour. It was a charming place, a real Tokyo coffee shop with Richard Ginori crockery and a little booth for roasting the beans, Fifteen minutes into my first shift, the owner/proprietor took a call on his cell phone and after a few words, hung up and told me to cordon off the best table in the place, because ‘an important customer’ was arriving in exactly 45 minutes.
At the appointed time, a black BMW drove up to the cafe entrance. Two burly men were already waiting, and opened the heavy glass door of the cafe for an elderly man who had been helped out of the vehicle by his driver. The man came in, wielding a walking stick, and sat down at the table. No one said a word. My employer quietly poured out a cup of ‘blue mountain’ coffee which at 1200 yen a cup, was the most expensive item on the menu. The man picked up his coffee and sipped slowly. The tension was so thick you had to hack it with an ice pick, and I could feel the blood pounding behind my ears all over again. After he finished, the man spoke a few words to the two burly men, and one of them got up and paid the bill as the other got on his phone. In a matter of a seconds, the BMW was parked at the entrance and the elderly man got up. The three men left, and after making sure that they were truly gone, the owner gave me a sickly smile and said: “this happens at least once a week. You’d better get used to it.” It turned out that the elderly man was a yakuza boss and the cafe was his favorite haunt.
After that, I discovered that while the boss might show up once a week, his underlings and his personal driver was there most days. They monopolized the terrace seating area, smoking incessantly and ordering innumerable cups of coffee, talking in undertones or laughing raucously. When they were there, the regular customers – salarimen from neighboring web design companies and editors from a jazz magazine, avoided the place like the plague.
There was no denying that the yakuza were the cafe’s best customers and when they were there I rushed around with trays of coffee and cheese cake, replacing full ashtrays with clean ones and refilling glasses with iced water poured from a stainless steel pitcher. The yakuza are very particular about the establishments where they take their coffee which is why you won’t see any of them at a Starbucks. I became a little chummy with the boss’s driver who lived in the neighborhood. He told me to ignore him if we met in the street. “Pretend you don’t know me. Believe me, it’s for your own good. But in here, we’re friends, okay?”
In the mornings, the Korean hostesses working in the cabaret club owned by the clan, would come in to nurse their hangovers and air their complaints. Though they spoke Japanese well enough, they couldn’t read the text messages sent by their clients and often asked me to do so. Some of the messages were disgustingly racy, others were declarations of love or modest invitations to go out.
“So what does this guy want with me?,” asked Jun, a pretty 24-year old girl from Inchon who had the unfortunate habit of grinding out her cigarette in her piece of half-eaten marmalade toast. “Says he wants to play golf with you before taking this relationship to the next level,” I read out loud. “Ohhh. Is he going to pay me to play golf?” “I don’t know and you probably shouldn’t ask that over a text message.” “Japanese men are such wimps.” “No kidding!”
I worked at the cafe for two and a half years before the owner went bust and sold the place to a Korean businessman who happened to be a distant relation of Jun. In the end, my employer disappeared, owing me two weeks wages. I heard that he returned to Akasaka six months later, and was working in a rotisserie chicken shop. By that time, the cafe had changed completely, its air of old world charm completely quashed by the new owners. The clan stopped frequenting the place, and moved on to somewhere else. The driver was gone too, and I never saw him again.
In 2018, my husband said that he had had enough of Akasaka and wanted to move. I was inclined to agree. The entire neighborhood was a shadow of what it had once been. Small, green plots of land and shrine-owned gardens were paved over and turned into parking lots or hideous houses. The once flourishing love hotels were torn down and Internet cafes went up in their places, with cheap private rooms catering to salarimen and prostitutes. Little dark bars went bankrupt and were replaced by glaringly lit convenience stores. Korean restaurants with plastic storefronts muscled their way into quiet alleyways. In the midst of it all, many of the yakuza moved out. The streets filled up with Chinese tourists and digital nomads toting backpacks.
The boss with a penchant for ‘blue mountain’ coffee was in a posh nursing home, or so I was told by the gossipy grandma working the counter at a tobacco shop, which soon closed down.
After we moved, memories of working at the cafe and my brushes with the Akasaka underworld went sepia toned like a sequence in a cheesy Hollywood movie. And then it all came back this August, as I followed the trial of Satoru Nomura, head of the notorious Kudo-kai. This is Japan’s most powerful yakuza clan that had terrorized Kokura City in Fukuoka prefecture where they had their headquarters, for the last 3 decades. On August 24 Nomura was sentenced to death by the District Court in Fukuoka – marking the first time in the history of Japanese law that a gangster boss received such a verdict. Usually the bosses are immune to societal rules and their crimes go unpunished since the clans always have a set number of young thugs in the ranks to shoulder the blame. They go to prison with promises of being welcomed back into the organization once they get out, with hefty salaries and underlings of their own to kick around. And in the meantime, their families will be well taken care of, nothing to worry about there.
This time however, the District Court made it clear that they were trying Nomura as an individual criminal and not as a clan head, thus severing the chain of command that would have placed all the blame on an underling.
I had met just such an underling in the cafe, during my second August of working there and the memory has a special poignance because this man had seemed so pitiful, He came in at around 5PM, dressed in a suit that was too big for him, with a tie frayed on the ends. He looked around with something akin to sheer, delighted giddiness, saw there was a female on the premises and immediately started talking to me. He had just gotten out of prison. He hadn’t seen a woman in five years. He was longing to touch a woman’s skin, and the desire was enough to make him scream. Can he touch me please? (The cafe owner intervened at this point, and asked him not to harass the staff.)
He complained that his legs were aching from sitting in a chair, since he had gotten used to sitting on a prison floor with his calves tucked under his knees, like a Buddhist monk or a tea master. He had an upset stomach too, from eating restaurant food after years of prison fare. “My god, but this all feels so good! It’s so great to be out!”
I brought his coffee, which he spiked with many spoonfuls of sugar and a dollop of cream. “You don’t know how I’ve been waiting for this moment,” he said, before taking a big swallow and coughing most of it up, all over his shirt. He laughed it off and started to sip slowly. “I’m only 30, I feel like an old man. Five years of my life down the drain. But I’m determined to have a woman, every single night for a whole year! Just watch me!” By this time, the only remaining customer in the cafe was the yakuza who had come in with him, obviously the caretaker, who looked none too happy with his charge.
After that, the ex-con came to the cafe several times. He never tried to talk to me again, though he always had a smile plastered to his face and wore a new suit that fit. I heard him say to my employer that prison caused him to shed 15 kilos and he always felt tired. “But I can still have sex! That’s great, right? That’s what counts, right?”
The last time I saw him, he had taken off his shoes and was sitting with his calves tucked under his knees, atop the hard backed chair of the cafe. He was smiling beatifically, humming out of tune to a Coldplay song coming over the speakers. A short while later, two men who I’d never seen before came in and said a few words to him. He nodded, still smiling and put on his shoes. After paying for his coffee, he bowed deeply to my employer and then to me, before turning his back and walking out.
The National Institute of Infectious Diseases, which filed the report, has not made it public in Japan.
By Jake Adelstein and Chihiro Kai
(Originally published at 12:08 am August 6. updated August 6, 8:35 a.m.)
For a multi-language database of clinics offering a wait-list for vaccine appointments, click here
The National Institute of Infectious Diseases (Tokyo) reported the first finding of the highly infectious Lambda variant of COVID19 here to an international database three days before the Olympics Opening Ceremony. The Institute has not publicly disclosed the details in Japan yet. One scientist who worked on the report told Japan Subculture Research Center that it was detected at an airport checkpoint and had not made it “into the wild”. He believes it originated in Peru but public data suggests it came from the US into Japan. Please note, on August 5th, Tokyo alone recorded 5,000 new cases of COVID19, the highest number since the pandemic began in Japan. Many infected are being told to self-medicate as hospitals fill up with serious cases. The entry of the Lambda variant into Tokyo is not a welcome development.
On July 20th, three days before the Tokyo Olympics began, Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases reported, for the first time, that the highly infectious Lambda variant (ラムダ株) had been found in country. The report was submitted to an international COVID19 and other infectious diseases database known as GISAID. The Japanese government has not formally announced that the variant, first found in Peru, had also been found here now, as well. The variant has now been found in 26 countries. Japan could be the 27th country to host the virus.
Last month, a team of researchers at Tokyo University published an academic paper which noted that the Lambda variant was highly infectious and resistant to vaccines. In Peru, where the variant was first discovered, 80% of the infections are now traced to the Lambda variant. The research team at Tokyo University believes the variant “has potential to be a threat to the human race”. (ラムダ株が人類社会に潜在的な脅威になり得る)
The National Institute first reported finding the Lambda variant to the GISAID database on July 20. GISAID is non-profit organization that maintains a database for infectious diseases including COVID-19, founded in 2008. GISAID originally stands for Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data. The database shared the first complete genome sequences of COVID19 in early January 2020 and there have been nearly 2.5 million submissions logged with the database since. Institutes submitting data to the group must have their credentials confirmed and agree to a database access agreement.
The variant was confirmed by the SARS-CoV-2 testing team at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (Tokyo) and the data submitted by the Pathogen Genomics Center at the same institute. Nozumu Hanaoka (花岡希) a senior research scientist at the Infectious Diseases Center for Infectious Disease Risk Management and several other researchers signed off on the submission.
The National Institute of Infectious Diseases has not responded to requests for further information about the discovery of the variant. For example, when was the variant found in Japan? Was it found at the airport and never made it to the wild? Was it brought to Japan by a participant in the Olympics? Where was the carrier of the virus located? Calls made to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare which oversees the institute were not returned. We will continue to pursue the story and get clarification.
Any information pertaining to the Lambda variant in Japan would be welcome. Please post in the comments, which are reviewed before being made public. If you wish to submit information without disclosing your name, let us know, we will contact you privately and remove the comment if requested.
What You Should Know About the Lambda Variant
Lambda’s origin and WHO classifications for COVID-19 variants.
The Lambda variant of COVID-19 was first discovered in Peru in August 2020. As of July 14, 2021, it made up roughly 90% of COVID-19 infections in the nation and is likely responsible for the spike in coronavirus cases in Peru’s second wave of infections this spring. The World Health Organization designated the Lambda variant as a “Variant of Interest” or VOI on June 14, 2021, the lower of two classifications used to survey the public health risks of existing COVID-19 strains.
A Variant of Interest is defined as a COVID-19 variant with genetic changes that are predicted to affect the transmissibility, disease severity, and the ability of the virus to escape diagnosis and medical treatments. Furthermore, VOIs are identified to cause significant community transmission in multiple countries and suggest an emerging risk to global public health.
The good news is variants under the VOI classification carry a “keep a close eye on it” designation where WHO and member states monitor the spread as a precaution. Although the emergence of a VOI in a new country, like Lambda’s introduction to Japan in July, should be investigated, medical and government officials are more concerned about Variants of Concern.
A VOC is a variant that meets the definition of a Variant of Interest and is shown to be more contagious, induce heavier symptoms, and less responsive to available public health and social measures. The Delta variant, currently the world’s predominant strain as contagious as chickenpox, is categorized as a VOC.
The Lambda variant in Japan. What we know so far.
According to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data, GISAID, a primary international source for open-access influenza virus data, the Lambda case detected in Japan was transmitted from the United States.
It is currently unclear as to how, why, or where this transmission took place. However, there have been no other Lambda cases declared in the country. Whether this is due to a properly followed quarantine protocol or a lack of Japan’s ability to detect and report additional infections is unknown. Click here to access the complete interactive Lambda database.
On July 28, Japanese scientists posted a report on the Lambda variant eight days after its domestic detection. The document is yet to be peer-reviewed.
In the document, the authors state that the Lambda variant is highly infectious, less susceptible to current vaccinations, and shows resistance to antiviral immunity elicited by vaccination. The report continues that because the “Lambda variant is relatively resistant to the vaccine-induced antisera” (blood serum containing antibodies produced in response to vaccination), “it might be possible that this variant is feasible to cause breakthrough infection” in already vaccinated populations. The scientists worry the variant’s categorization as a VOI instead of a VOC downplay the virus’s potential threat to public health.
What you can do to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19 variants.
Although the Japanese scientists’ pre-print report suggests that Lambda may possess a greater ability to escape vaccine-induced immunity, currently available vaccines are still the best way to significantly decrease your chances of catching and transmitting the virus. Vaccines provide even better protection against severe illness and death from COVID-19.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the current surge in COVID-19 cases caused by insufficient vaccination rates gives the virus “ample” time to mutate into a more dangerous new variant in the fall and winter.
“[Q]uite frankly, we’re very lucky that the vaccines that we have now do very well against the variants — particularly against severe illness,” Fauci said to McClatchy Washington Bureau on August 4.
“If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but also is much more severe, then we could really be in trouble,” he said. “People who are not getting vaccinated mistakenly think it’s only about them. But it isn’t. It’s about everybody else, also.”
As of Wednesday this week, only 32.39% of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The most effective way to prevent further illness and death from all variants of the coronavirus is to promptly get as many residents of Japan fully immunized. For a multi-language database of clinics offering a wait-list for vaccine appointments, click here.
Early on July 23, hours before the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremonies, a Senegal musician posted on Facebook that he had been dismissed from performing at the event because a member the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee questioned, “Why is an African is here to perform?” He was dismissed unilaterally in May, he asserts, even though he had been scheduled to perform.
The ceremony, that surprised the world by having Naomi Osaka, a biracial Japanese tennis champion, light the Olympic flames, may have an underbelly that yet places great emphasis on looking “Japanese enough” to succeed in this country. There are already many who question if the theme of “diversity” is really understand by the organizers who have employed for the opening ceremonies an abuser of the disabled, a comedian who joked about the holocaust, and despite all warnings, used the music of an notorious homophobe who also denies Japan’s war crimes.
Latyr Sy is an accomplished percussionist that has appeared alongside Japan’s top artists in concerts and television programs, including the December 2020 FNS song festival. He has also performed at events attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was “the face of the Tokyo Olympics” and instrumental in making sure Japan won the bid in 2013. (Of course, the several million dollars worth of bribes helped).
“So ashamed. I feel good that I’m no longer performing at the Tokyo Olympic Opening Ceremony…Though I’ve been contributing to the Japanese music industry since 1995…They completely violate the Olympic principles of human rights and diversity.” Sy wrote in English in his social media post. He also wrote eloquently of his plight in Japanese. (See below)
The Japan Subculture Research Center is scheduled to speak with Sy later today. We are also reaching out to the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympics as well as the International Olympic Organization for comment,
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics are turning into a coronavirus spreading festival of bullies. Despite allegedly having a theme of harmony and diversity, the Olympics appear more and more to be symbolic of cruelty and callousness. The latest case in point: this week, composer Keigo Oyamada, 52, who is the composer for the opening and closing ceremonies was revealed to have brutally tortured and bullied special needs students through elementary to high school. He said on record to two separate magazines in the 90s that he forced his victims to eat feces and masturbate in public. He ridiculed them, beat them, and egged on other accomplices. His gleeful retelling of these hate crimes resurfaced a day after his role in the Olympics was announced.
He issued an apology on Friday (July 16). He won’t step down and the Tokyo Olympic Committee issued a statement late in the evening the same day that they won’t fire him.
However, as we have already seen in the long history of Tokyo Olympic debacles, when the tone-deaf organizers finally hear the voices of dissent, they will probably eat their previous words, but unlike Oyamada’s victims—they won’t literally have to eat shit.
“I’d strip (one disabled kid) naked and roll him up in cords and make (him) masturbate. I made him eat shit and then performed a belly- to-back-drop wrestling move on him.”
That’s too bad.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Organizing Committee announced on July 14 that musician and composer, Keigo Oyamada, would be overseeing music at the Tokyo opening ceremony. He is a world-famous musician, also known by his moniker, Cornelius. However, it didn’t take long for his ugly past to emerge, and the hashtag “Boasting About Bullying” began to trend the next day, racking up over 10,000 retweets. The original tweet cited two interviews in the past in which he appeared to be proud of his younger years as a bully. The interviews appeared in the January 1994 issue of music magazine, Rockin’ On Japan, and the March 1995 issue of subculture magazine, Quick Japan.
In the interviews, Oyamada confessed to bullying classmates from a nearby special needs school from elementary school all the way through high school. In Rockin’ On Japan, he describes what he did as follows: “I’d strip (one guy) naked and roll him up in cords and make (him) masturbate. I made him eat shit and then performed a belly- to-back-drop wrestling move on him.” In the interview with Quick Japan, he admitted that he also made gleefully fun of kids with Down’s Syndrome attending a nearby school. He alluded to spurring others to bully the special needs children, “providing ideas”. Also, in another interview he seems to have admitted to what could be construed as attempted murder*, “Remember that case where kids rolled up another kid in a mattress and killed him? We did that sort of thing (to the special needs kid) and stuffed them in the vaulting horse…”
*A boy died in Japan Jan. 13, 1993, after being rolled up in a mattress in the school gymnasium’s storeroom by bullies. The mattress was placed vertically in the storage area and he was placed in it upside down; he died of asphyxiation and/or suffocation.
One of the magazines followed up Oyamada’s interview by contacting the family of his victims, who told the reporter that the bullying had nearly driven their son to suicide.
Here is the truth. Oyamada has confessed to committing sexual assault, assault, forcible indecency, public indecency, and attempted murder.
The actions Oyamada took would normally be crimes in Japan, but the statute of limitations has long passed.
In a statement released to the press Friday (July 16), the composer admitted that he did not show any regret when he spoke to the magazines years ago and he deserved the criticism he was receiving. He said that he would not step down and implied would atone for his past by contributing to the Olympics.
Ironically, the unifying concept of Tokyo 2020’s opening and closing ceremonies are “Moving Forward,” something the formerly respected musician must be praying for. The theme of the opening ceremony, which he is responsible for, is “United by Emotion.” The overarching disgust of the Japanese public at his criminal past has achieved exactly what the Olympic and Paralympic committee wanted. The entire country is united by repulsion.
“I am deeply sorry for how my words and actions hurt my classmates and their parents. I regret and take responsibility for taking the role of an antagonizer rather than a friend during my school years, a time that should be filled with fond memories,” Oyamada wrote in his Twitter apology essay on July 16.
However, in his sincere apologies to the world, and to the victims he traumatized, the singer clarified that not every heinous act recorded in the interviews were factually accurate.
“Regarding the contents of the article, as I was not able to confirm the final draft before it was published, there are many parts that deviate from the truth. However, there is no doubt that my classmates were hurt by my words and conduct. Therefore, I felt personally responsible, and chose at the time to not point out any mistakes or exaggerations in the story,” he defended himself in his Twitter post.
Perhaps the first magazine article published in 1994, followed up by a 22 page Odyssey retelling of his psychotic escapades in 1995, contained some factual errors that made it to copy. Instead of forcing a fellow student with a disability to eat feces, maybe he presented it to them on a clean plate with napkins.
What Oyamada did not do in his lengthy apology was resign as an Olympic and Paralympic ceremony composer.
“In hindsight, I should have declined the position offer considering some people would be displeased by my participation for various reasons. However, in these difficult times with its numerous challenges, I consulted the creators of the opening ceremonies who were making strenuous efforts to build the best event possible. After much thought, I chose to accept the job out of a hope that my music would bring some good to the ceremony,” the singer explained his noble self-sacrifice.
“In addition, I have invested considerable effort into this musical project,” he continued. Whether the Paralympians competing in this year’s games will be so forgiving is not certain.
The Tokyo Olympic Committee issued a statement acknowledging a failure to screen Oyamada properly, adding that, “We would like him to continue to do his utmost in preparation until the very end,” expressing no desire to have him resign or fire him. They also added in his defense, “Oyamada clearly regrets his past words, has reflected on them, and is currently maintaining a high moral standard while dedicating himself to creative activities.” One might note that the Committee recognizes that Oyamada regrets speaking about his inhumane activities but is vague about whether they believe he really regrets what he did. Words are cheap. The Olympics are inevitably, “Moving Forward.”
The reaction of the Japanese public has been overwhelmingly negative, calling the decision to employ him for the Olympic music “a fatal mistake in the selection process.” One twitter user, posting an article about Oyamada’s past bullying, noted wryly, “Well, after all, it’s like the Olympics itself is making the public eat shit.” A few days ago International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach appeared to be the most hated man in Japan, but in the low-bar race for a gold medal in unpleasantness, Oyamada may now be the leading contender.
Mark Bookman, a historian of disability in Japanese and transnational contexts, and Postdoctoral Fellow at Tokyo College, part of the esteemed Tokyo University, emailed us, his understanding of the problem, taking time to explain the significance of the games. “The Olympic and Paralympic Games provide activists, policy makers, and members of the public opportunities to reflect on the past, present, and future of disability rights on local and global scales. They have helped catalyze change and lead to improvements in accessibility and social welfare for diverse demographics of disabled people in multiple countries, including, but not limited to, Japan.”
But he also points out there is a downside to the games.
“However, the games do not always lead to positive results. On many occasions, their spectacle has shifted public attention away from the needs of ‘ordinary’ disabled people in favor of elite athletes. Indeed, the games have helped to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and foster unfavorable outcomes for many individuals, in part due to awareness issues and lack of resources for carrying out reforms.”
Bookman warns that ‘going forward’ with Oyamada may actually roll back advances for the disabled in Japan, and more.
“While stakeholders involved in the games, myself included, have worked to mitigate such negative consequences and use the games as a platform to promote inclusivity, one cannot help but question the Tokyo Olympic Committee’s decision to ‘move forward’ with Oyamada Keigo as a key figure. By elevating (him), who has confessed to committing harmful acts against disabled individuals, the committee is (perhaps unwittingly) creating a space for people who sympathize with his actions. As rates of abuse against disabled persons continue to climb in Japan due to stresses on the nation’s care economy (tied to its rapidly aging population, declining birth rate, and shrinking labor force), one cannot help but wonder what kind of future might come from the Tokyo Committee’s decision. Indeed, as conversations about ‘selecting lives,’ eugenics, and equitable distribution of resources continue to unfold around us in relation to COVID–19, their decision may have dire consequences.”
Michey Peckitt, who runs the blog, Barrier Free Japan, had this to say. “I’m only disappointed. Obviously I did not grow up or go to school in Japan, but Oyamada’s behaviour does not surprise me at all. At school in Britain I was treated in a similar fashion. Being made to eat sh*t is pretty standard bullying behaviour in my experience, although being made to masturbate in public is a new one. I’m glad I didn’t have to do that as it’s difficult to masturbate when your hands don’t work because you have cerebral palsy. As a disabled person living in Japan I’m sad Oyamada’s music is being used in the Olympics, but ultimately nothing surprises me about the Tokyo Games now.”