A Short History Of Aum Shinrikyo, their murders, and the failure to stop them

1984 — Shoko Asahara, a visually impaired yogi, forms “AUM Shinsen no Kai,” later renames it AUM Shinrikyo. It mixes elements of yoga, Buddhism, and other religions and begins recruiting college students and intellectuals.

AUM even used manga (comic books) to recruit members.

1987- AUM incorporates in New York City under the name Aum USA Company, Ltd. In the US it attempts to purchase military weapons, develop chemical weapons.

February 1989–AUM members strangle to death, 21-year-old Shuji Taguchi who had wanted to escape the group at its complex in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Nov. 4, 1989 — AUM members acting on orders from Asahara, kill the lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and their 1-year-old son at their home in Yokohama. The lawyer had been part of growing vocal opposition to the group.

1990 — Asahara and 24 other disciples run unsuccessfully in a parliamentary election. The defeat spurs Asahara to begin plans to take over the country and began developing chemical weapons. The group also began manufacturing methamphetamines and small-scale incinerators  which they sell to the Yamaguchi-gumi and other yakuza groups to raise funds.

1993-AUM purchases a 500,000 acre sheep farm in Australia where they test out sarin gas, leaving behind 29 dead sheep.

AUM begins training helicopter pilots in the United States in hopes of eventually dispersing sarin gas over the Tokyo via helicopter.  Plans for launching an attack within the US are also considered.

June 1994-AUM purchases a helicopter from Russia

June 27 — AUM members test sarin nerve gas in a residential area of city of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. Eight people are killed, 100 injured.

December 12–AUM members kill a member, Tadahito Hamaguchi, with highly toxic VX gas on an Osaka street. He was suspected of being an informant.

January 1,1995–Yomiuri Newspaper publishes on their front page a special report that the police had found elements of Sarin gas in the ground near AUM facilities in Yamanashi Prefecture, linking the cult to the 1994 attack.

February 28,1995-AUM members abduct Kiyoshi Kariya, 68, to find his sister who wanted to leave the group. He dies under interrogation and his body is incinerated in a cult-built microwave heating device. (This and the other murders were later referenced in the series Millennium episode 2, Gehena).

March 20,– AUM members release sarin gas on Tokyo subway system. Thirteen people are killed and over 6000 injured.  Police immediately suspect AUM.

April 23, AUM leader in charge of “Science Technology” and conduit to organized crime, Hideo Murai, is stabbed to death by a Yamaguchi-gumi members in front of the group’s headquarters, while reporters watch.  The spokesman for the group says, “I heard that Murai was killed by the Jews.”

May 5–AUM members plant a cyanide bomb in the bathroom of an underground passage connected to Shinjuku stations, near the ventilation system. The poisonous fumes would have killed thousands if the bomb hadn’t been found.

May 16 — Asahara is arrested.

2000-AUM officially disbands and reforms under the name Aleph.

Feb. 27, 2004 — The Tokyo District Court sentences Asahara to death.

Sep. 15, 2006 — Asahara’s death sentence is finalized.

2007–

Aleph splits into another faction, Hikari no Wa. Later, a third faction of the group emerges.

June 15, 2012 — The last fugitive former AUM member, Katsuya Takahashi, is arrested for his part in the subway attacks.

Jan. 18, 2018 — The Supreme Court rejects Takahashi’s appeal, ending all trials linked to AUM Shinrikyo cult.

July 6, 2018 — Asahara and six others are executed by hanging. Seven members remain on death rows while their cases are being appealed.

 

New Movie “The Trial” (審判)Shows The Kafkaesque Side Of Japan’s Often Criminally Unjust Justice System

If you are unlucky enough to be indicted for a crime in Japan, you’ll find that the system actually works on the presumption that you are guilty until proven guilty. The conviction rate is 99%.  If Franz Kafka was alive today, he’d find that Japan’s courts provided ample material for his pessimistic work. The recently released film The Trial (審判)based on Kafka’s famous work, and directed by John Williams, thus seems tremendously disturbing.

The Trial (審判) is a new film which updates Franz Kafka’s classic nightmarish novel to modern Japan–with great effect.

John Williams is that rare western filmmaker who has chosen to live and work in Tokyo, though he originally came to Japan in 1988 with the intention of saving enough money to go to film school in the US. “I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker since the age of 14,” he said, in the offices above the Eurospace Theater in Shibuya, where his latest work The Trial (Shinpan) is showing. It’s not everyone who keeps a promise made in their teens, but John Williams did just that, albeit in a place very far from his native England.

John Williams is from South Wales  and back in the mid 1980s when he graduated from university, the British film industry wasn’t what you’d call thriving, in fact it was rather gomping. “Actually it was at a very low ebb,” laughed Williams. “Of course in the 90s, works like ‘Trainspotting’ changed the landscape but we couldn’t see that coming just yet. There were practically no film schools for young students and the average age at the National Film School – the only institution for aspiring filmmakers, was 27.” So John Williams decided, like many others before and after him, to study movie-making in the US, specifically at NYU film school. To that end, he needed to get some cash together and Japan seemed like the place to earn it.

Fast forward 30 years and with the completion of “The Trial,” Williams has 5 films under his belt. He also teaches film production/European films at Sophia University’s Foreign Languages Department. But he never did get to NYU since, just like in the Lennon song, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. By the time Williams got the funds together for New York, he was deep in the throes of life in Japan and travels in Asia. “I was in India when the acceptance letter came and didn’t even see it till I got back. And, well, going to the US seemed to me like a conventional, boring choice. Staying here seemed much more interesting.”

Listening to Williams say that in the Eurospace office, the moment felt like a movie scene all by itself. Eurospace is an iconic Shibuya theater, famed for showcasing indie gems from around the world. There was Wayne Wang’s “Smoke.” Francois Ozon’s “Criminal Lovers.” More recently, it put on “Frances Ha” when few Japanese were even aware of the now Academy award contender Greta Gerwig. And now Williams’ “The Trial” is being shown as a limited release, it will currently be running as the late show every night until the 20th. Given the story (based on the Kafka novel) and weird but intriguing vibe, “The Trial” and the Eurospace venue seem to be made for each other. (Please check with Eurospace website for movie times as they may change).

Eurospace – situated in Maruyamacho, and sandwiched between two love hotels. In fact, every square meter of land in the area is occupied by love hotels. Couples sheepishly stroll around, checking on room prices and curiously eyeing the movie theater. “The Trial” – a film about a young Japanese salariman suddenly condemned for an unnamed crime, and who has a weakness for women and sex.

Otherwise the movie is an invitation to match and compare. Williams does a superb job of superimposing Kafka’s most famous character Josef K., a 30-year old German banker in 1914, onto the life of Yosuke Kimura, a 30-year old banker in present day Tokyo. “It’s present day, but I deliberately made the time frame abstract, almost non-technological,” said Williams. Indeed, Kimura’s hand isn’t welded to his smartphone the way everyone’s is these days, and he almost never looks at a computer screen. Kimura’s main interest seems to be women, as he tries to hook up with every female who crosses his path. His success rate is dismal however, and there’s clearly no emotion or chemistry involved. “I thought about Japanese women a lot when making this movie,” said Williams. “They’re trapped in a society controlled by men. They get so much encouragement to please men and become good wives and mothers, and practically no support when it comes to voicing their opinions or carving out careers.”

Aptly, “The Trial” is wintry and bleak, steeped in various shades of black and gray. Kimura (played with studied excellence by Tsutomu Niwa) even lives in a monotone apartment, devoid of color, clutter or any human warmth. On the morning of his 30th birthday, Kimura wakes up to find two strange men in his bedroom, and they inform him that his “case” is coming up for trial. Kimura has no idea what they’re talking about but in a few days, he receives an envelope summoning him to court the following Sunday. It doesn’t say what time or where exactly and when Kimura finally arrives, the Judge (Ichiro Murata) informs him that he is one hour and 26 minutes late. Kimura is incensed by this, and tries to argue that he cannot be late for an event that doesn’t specify the time. While this is going on, a woman (Shizuko Kawakami) has loud sex with a man in a dark suit in a back room. When Kimura returns to court the next day, the woman crudely seduces him and Kimura is ready to fall for it, until they’re interrupted by the janitor (Ichi Omiya) who tells Kimura that the woman is his wife. Later, Kimura encounters a group of people who are all awaiting trial, and no one seems to have any answers, either to the nature of their crimes or the system that seems convinced of their guilt. Yes, I know – surreal, right?

“For me, it was less about Japan’s judicial system than it was about dealing with the bureaucrats in Tokyo,” said Williams. “And what I’m seeing in Japan right now – the secrecy law, changes in the constitution, the rise of the nationalistic, quasi religious groups – I find all that very creepy. But at the same time, life goes on here. The Japanese don’t seem to paying much attention to this shadow creeping across the country. The metaphorical message of ‘The Trial’ works really well for what we’re seeing in Japan at this point.”–John Williams (photo by Kaori Shoji)

On another level, “The Trial” shows up the very Kafka-esqueness of Japan’s judicial system – the long, grueling process of scrutiny between arrest and indictment, and how, once indictment kicks in, it’s impossible to overturn it*. “For me, it was less about Japan’s judicial system than it was about dealing with the bureaucrats in Tokyo,” said Williams. “And what I’m seeing in Japan right now – the secrecy law, changes in the constitution, the rise of the nationalistic, quasi religious groups – I find all that very creepy. But at the same time, life goes on here. The Japanese don’t seem to paying much attention to this shadow creeping across the country. The metaphorical message of ‘The Trial’ works really well for what we’re seeing in Japan at this point.”

And how. Watching Kimura’s expression shift from incredulity and contempt to finally – defeated resignation, a kind of dread washes over me like a wave in a polluted ocean. The whole thing is maybe a little too close to home.

Editor’s note: One of the dark secrets of Japan’s criminal justice system is that the prosecution in Japan will punt (fail to prosecute) any case that is not a slam-dunk for fear of losing. Sexual assault cases have a particularly low prosecution rate and politicians or high-ranking bureaucrats are often allowed to walk free–including the 39 bureaucrats involved in forging, deleting and altering documents in a dubious land deal involving a right-wing school and the Prime Minister of Japan. The prosecutor who dropped the cases was recently promoted. 

Child Abuse In Japan. Why Japan Keeps Returning Abused Kids To Their Parents Until They Are Killed

What causes a 5-year old girl to write in her notebook, “Please forgive me,” just a few days prior to her death from abuse? “Please forgive me” is ‘onegai, yurushite,’ in Japanese, and the phrase made headlines after 5-year old Yua Funato was found dead in her apartment home in March. According to news reports, Yua had been beaten by her father and starved by her mother. The direct cause of her death was sepsis, brought on my poor nutrition and untreated pneumonia. Asahi Shimbun reported that Yua was ordered (by her mother) to practice writing Japanese at 4 in the morning everyday and was punished when she made mistakes, usually by being forced to sit for hours on the concrete veranda of their apartment, in the dead of winter.

“Better to light a single candle then curse the darkness a thousand times.”

According to Nippon.com, Yua’s treatment is pretty much standard among the growing number of child abuse cases in Japan. The father beats the child in places were bruises can’t be seen (in her case, injuries were confirmed on her upper thighs and back) and the mother stops feeding them. Verbal abuse, beating s and starvation form the unholy trinity of Japanese abuse cases and Yua, apart from everything else, was told by her mother Yuri that she shouldn’t have been born into the world, and that she was hated by everyone. Yua had to sleep in a tiny room with no heating, away from her parents and younger brother who occupied a bigger room with an air conditioner. At the time of her death, she was 8 kilos lighter than the average 5-year old and her digestive tract was clotted with vomit.

Now three months later, neighbors and sympathizers continue to place incense, candy and flowers outside the Funato family’s apartment in Tokyo’s Meguro ward. Social commentators have sighed and shook their heads with pity. Even Prime Minister Abe has been moved to comment that child abuse “cannot be overlooked.” But all that sympathy came too late for the 5-year old. The whistle had been blown on Yua’s parents several times over two years before the tragedy but the authorities had done nothing to help. Japan’s infamous child consultation centers (notice it’s consultation and not welfare) are hindered by an antiquated rule that favors parents’ rights over children’s, parents’ testimonials over children who, like Yua, had cried to a social worker that she didn’t want to live at home because her father beat her. Japan’s social workers mainly consult with the adults, and the first thing they ask the parents of a child perceived to have been beaten, is: “Are you abusing your child?” Yeah, right, like the parents are going to come clean and admit it. In the case of Yua, the parents had been “cautioned” and invited to attend a parents seminar, designed to help adults become better carers of offspring. The Funatos never showed up.

The damning, daunting fact is this: As of 2016, there were well over 100,000 cases of child abuse reported in Japan, up 100 times since 1990. In the US, that number  is something like 67,000. And before Yua, there was Riku and Takumu and many other children of pre-school age who had been beaten, abused, starved or outrightly murdered by their parents. In spite of the government’s pledge to build more day care facilities and put families first, Japan is a place that’s not very nice to kids. Daycare is one thing, but public schools – once the bastion of a legendary educational system, is rife with problems from bullying to underpaid, overworked teachers who are mostly too tired to notice that a kid is showing up to school with bruises, or haven’t had a square meal in days. As the media keeps reminding us, one out of six Japanese children live in poverty, and go to school (if they are able) on empty stomachs.

As for children blessed with a stable home life, they often feel crushed by a tremendous pressure to succeed, i.e., get into a good university that will ensure a well-paying job 15 years down the line. Many kids start going to cram school as early as second grade, studying for entrance exams that will ensure at least a partial foot in the door of a prestigious university.

The experience of being born a Japanese national used to be described as following the ‘Bathtub Curve,’ meaning the best years of a Japanese life came at the beginning, between 0 and 12 years old, and in the end, between 65 and 75. My high school politics teacher taught us that, and I still remember the shock of seeing the long, flat line that supposedly represented the years between adolescence and retirement. Equally shocking was that upward curve representing babyhood and primary school. Were those years really so glorious? In primary school, summer vacation lasts just over a measly month and even that was tempered with shitloads  of homework that had to be completed and submitted on September 1st. School lunches were for the most part, awful rations laid on prison-like tin trays. At home, dads returned on the last train, stressed to the very core of their beings and moms were equally tired from chores and childcare.

Dismal as it often is, there’s no comparing a normal Japanese childhood to what Yua, and tens of thousands of children like her, are going through on a daily basis. Some commentators have lamented that there are simply not enough social workers to go around. True, every time a child dies from abuse, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor (Koseirodousho) issues a statement about labor shortage being the definitive problem in the service industry. There are just not enough Japanese to do the work of caring for children, the elderly or the sick and diseased. When a staff member of a senior home was arrested last year after killing one of his charges, the reason given was fatigue. He was fed up with having to care for helpless people, and his work chart showed he had been pulling 12-hour shifts with almost no days off.

With Yua, the social workers who had been in charge of her case had also been understaffed, which led to carelessness and cutting corners. Yua’s parents moved the family from Kagawa prefecture to Tokyo, after a neighbor blew the whistle on Yua’s father. The child consultation workers in Kagawa then neglected to pass the full bulk of the paperwork from Kagawa to Tokyo, and Yua’s case was never reviewed in her new locale. Add to that the fact that child abuse facilities are notoriously crowded. Barring extreme circumstances, abuse victims are often returned to their parents, and the cycle of violence begins all over again. This was certainly true of Yua, who spent 3 months in a child care center in Kagawa but was not allowed to stay.

Sometimes, family is the most horrendous aspect of a child’s life. If Yua had been separated from her parents, chances are she would have lived. But Japanese tradition dictates that families must stick together, and what goes on within that circle is sacrosanct. More than the labor shortage, or parents seminars, we need to rethink the Japanese family, and take a long, hard look at its dysfunctions.

****

Editor’s Note: The Japan Times in a recent editorial , What is lacking the fight against child abuse, had some suggestions on how to prevent further tragedies. 

“A 2016 revision to the child abuse prevention law simplified the procedure for officials of such centers to carry out on-site inspection of homes where child abuse is suspected without the parents’ consent. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry says that protection of children should be prioritized and that officials should not hesitate in the face of parents’ objections to take abused children under protective custody. However, it is believed that many welfare officials balk at resorting to such action out of concern that support for the family may not proceed smoothly if the action is taken over the parents’ opposition.

Japan’s efforts to stop child abuse are weak when compared with the systems in many Western countries. For example, in the United States, where efforts to prevent abuse of children started much earlier than in Japan, far greater numbers of child abuse cases are reported to and handled by child protection service agencies. Such agencies are staffed by far larger numbers of experts per capita than in Japan, and the police and the judiciary are more deeply involved in the effort against child abuse. What’s lacking in our system to stop child abuse should be explored so that similar tragedies will not be repeated.”

Japan’s Secret Shame (The Story Behind The Story)

Shiori Ito is a brave journalist who has taken on Japan’s rape culture and has pursued justice in her own case. The BBC released a documentary “Japan’s Secret Shame” about Japan’s lack of ability to deal with sexual assault in the country and why her accused assailant was allowed to walk away, even after an arrest warrant on charges of rape were issued by the police. The documentary is hard to view outside of the UK, so if you’d like to know mere, here’s everything you should know until it’s released here. Many of these articles were written for The Daily Beast, which has been supportive of the investigative journalism behind these stories.
Also, it should be noted that weekly magazine, Shukan Shincho (週刊新潮), was the first periodical to write about this story and pulled no punches in accused the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of blocking a rape investigation.
Below is a list of articles that we’ve written on the case, some at a time, when no other major news media outlet would touch the story.
The stories are in chronological order here and the final entry is being updated when possible.
The cover-up (June 2017)
Shiori Ito came forward to talk about her rape and the lack of investigation of sexual assault in Japan.

Rape in Japan is a crime but justice is rarely served. A Non-Arrest & Shiori Ito’s Full Statement

(originally posted in October 2017. periodically updated)

Japan’s ruling coalition, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has been mired in scandal for several weeks amid allegations Abe personally bent the law or broke it to benefit his political cronies and friends. Even a senior member of Abe’s own Liberal Democratic Party says, “There is nothing this administration wouldn’t do to crush its enemies and reward its pals.”

But new allegations have raised the possibility that the administration may have gone so far as to quash a rape investigation on behalf of a close friend of Abe: the dapper, hipster-bearded broadcast journalist Noriyuki Yamaguchi, who also penned two laudatory books on the prime minister

The story became national news on May 29 when a 28-year-old journalist named Shiori Ito held a press conference at the Tokyo District Court as she sought to reopen the closed investigation into her case….(Click here for part one: Is Japan’s Top Politician Behind a Shameful Rape Cover-Up  and for the follow up Japan’s Big #MeToo Moment) . She did not win a reopening of the case but filed a civil suit at the end of September. Last March, the civil courts did essentially find a man guilty of rape and fine him for damages—after police failed to file charges in time for a criminal case to be possible. Shiori Ito also came forward with her full name and published a book, Black Box, referring to the fear of sexual assault victims to come forward in Japan, (only 1 in 5 do, and half of cases resulting in arrest are dropped by prosecutors) and the government and police discouragement of sexual assault investigations and their refusal to discuss why they drop cases, even to the victims. Shiori Ito has gained a groundswelling of public support in recent months. 

There is dispute to what happened and Noriyuki Yamaguchi has categorically denied raping Shiori Ito, “I have done nothing to touch the law.” And this month, he has even published a long rebuttal implying that Shiori Ito is a tool of shadowy anti-Abe political forces in ultra-right magazine, Monthly Hanada  (月刊花田). The editor of Hanada is famous for having okayed publication of an article denying that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz, implying that there was no holocaust. However, there is on undisputed fact: an arrest warrant on charges of rape (準強姦) was issued for Yamaguchi, only to be revoked by a political and personal friend of the Abe administration, Itaru Nakamura. See below. 

The Non-Arrest of Shiori Ito’s Alleged Rapist (an annotation in The Daily Beast)

The arrest warrant for Noriyuki Yamaguchi was reportedly pulled by Itaru Nakamura, the acting chief of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Investigative Division at the time, on June 8 2015.

The chief detective waiting to arrest Yamaguchi, the alleged rapist, informed Ito over the phone, “We have to let him go. The arrest has been stopped from above. I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t do enough.”

Itaru Nakamura is a more important figure than his title as an acting police chief might suggest. He is also a former political secretary to Cabinet Minister Yoshihide Suga and a friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He immediately moved the investigation from the original police department, Takanawa PD, to the police headquarters so that it was under his control.

The prosecutor who had signed off on the arrest warrant was taken off the case. The new detectives handling it drove Shiori Ito to a lawyer to convince her to make a settlement with the accused and drop charges, a highly unusual move.

The Daily Beast has tried to reach Nakamura for comment several times with no luck.

Nakamura is currently the chief of The National Police Agency Organized Crime Control Division, which gives guidance on the controversial and Orwellian criminal conspiracy laws that the Abe administration ramrodded through the parliament.

“I’ve sent him letters,” says Ito. “I’ve tried to meet him now six times––the first time I’ve ever done a stakeout. He won’t talk to me. I just want him to look me in the eye and tell me why he stopped the arrest and scuttled the investigation.” She even once chased him as he ran to his chauffeured car–only to be nearly ran over as he sped away.

Only in Japan do rape victims have to chase the police to seek justice. In a better world, the cops would be actively chasing the suspected rapist.

It is possible that Prime Minister Abe, his second in command, and Nakamura may be pursued in the Japanese Parliament by opposition party members seeking the truth. But don’t hold your breath. Many are reluctant to open the black box. If #metoo (#私も) ever starts trending here, it would do a lot to pry the lid open. Shiori Ito has at least made a dent in it…..and her press conference is something that says a lot about how things still work in Japan. 

For reference purposes, here is the text of her speech, translated from Japanese, with some editing for clarity.

 

Thank you for coming today.

Shiori Ito has come forward to talk about her rape and the lack of investigation of sexual assault in Japan.

 

First of all, I would like to address why I decided to hold this press conference.

Two years ago, I was raped. Going through the subsequent procedures, I came to the painful realization that the legal and social systems in Japan work against victims of sex crimes. I felt strongly about needing to change this adverse structure, and decided to go public with my case.

I will go into details later, but in the beginning, the police would not even let me file a report on this case. They told me that it was difficult to investigate sex crimes under the current law. Also, the person in question, Mr. Yamaguchi, was the Washington Bureau Chief of Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) at the time, and a public figure. During the investigation, I received insults that were unbearable as a victim.

However, my intention is not to criticize the entire police force. The Takanawa Police eventually became sympathetic to my situation and worked hard to investigate this case. Thanks to their efforts, investigations were completed and an arrest warrant was issued. But just as the warrant was about to be executed, the then-Chief Detective ordered investigators to call off the arrest. I question the existence of a police organization that allows such unforgiveable circumstances to transpire.

I also question the procedures that sex crime victims are required to undergo at hospitals in order to receive treatment and examinations, as well as the insensitivity of organizations that provide information for victims. A fundamental change needs to be made to this structure.

On the legislative level, the Diet is currently prioritizing discussions about conspiracy laws over the proposed bill to revise rape crimes, whose content is also something that we need to reconsider to ensure that they are truly satisfactory.

I hope that by talking about my experience publicly, I will help improve the current structure and start discussions that will lead to changes. This was my motivation behind making this announcement.

This afternoon, I made an appeal to the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution about my case being dropped.

I will omit details of the incident itself, as it would be difficult to read them aloud. Please refer to the handouts for details. What I can say is that a sexual act was committed against me, unrelated to my will, against my will. I will talk about the events that ensued after the incident.

Circumstances of the Incident

 

I met Mr. Yamaguchi, then TBS’s Washington Bureau Chief, in the fall of 2013, when I was studying journalism and photography at a university in New York. I met him a second time in the US, but we did not engage in any deep discussions on either occasion.

 

After I graduated, I aspired to work as a freelance journalist because I wanted to lend an ear to unheard voices, and to listen to their stories over long period of time. But upon returning to Japan at the beginning of 2015, my parents convinced me to first work at a company for a few years. In March of the same year, I emailed Mr. Yamaguchi to ask if there were any openings at the TBS Washington Bureau, because he had previously told me that he could arrange for me to work there. And when I was interning at Nippon Television’s New York Bureau, there were people who had been hired locally. So I didn’t question Mr. Yamaguchi’s offer.

 

Mr. Yamaguchi’s replies were positive about my employment: “You could start working here while we look at getting you hired you officially;” “The biggest barrier will be the visa, but TBS could help you get one.”

 

After several email exchanges, he said that he would be coming back to Japan for business and asked me to meet him. We agreed to meet on Friday, April 3, 2015.

 

At the time, I was working as an intern at Reuters. I had to work late, and ended up being late for my meeting with Mr. Yamaguchi. When I called, he reassured me and told me that he would go ahead and start eating without me. This conversation led me to believe that someone else was joining us, as I had never met him alone before.

 

That night, he was already eating at one of his favorite restaurants, a kushiyaki place in Ebisu. I had 5 brochettes, two glasses of beer, and a glass of wine. At the restaurant, he made small talk and didn’t discuss the visa, which was supposed to be the objective of our meeting. He said, “There are other restaurants I need to pop by in Ebisu. I’ve made a reservation for the next restaurant, where I want to have a proper meal. Let’s have a quick bite here, and go to the next place together.” The next place was another one of his favorite restaurants, this time a sushi place.

 

At the sushi restaurant, he said, “I’ve heard good things about you and want to work with you.” An hour or so after we had arrived at the second restaurant, I suddenly felt dizzy and went to the bathroom, it was my second time to go to the bath room at this place. The last thing I remember is leaning my head against the water tank. I don’t remember anything else after that. As far as I can remember, I shared two servings of sake with him at the sushi restaurant. Prior to this incident, I had never lost my memory from drinking alcohol.

 

Investigators later told me that I left the sushi restaurant with Mr. Yamaguchi around 11PM. He apparently took me to a hotel in Minato Ward. According to the taxi driver who drove us to the hotel, I repeatedly asked to be dropped off at the nearest station. But Mr. Yamaguchi said, “Don’t worry, I won’t do anything. We’ll just talk about work,” and instructed the driver to head to the hotel. According to the driver’s testimony, I wasn’t able to get out of the taxi on my own, so Mr. Yamaguchi had to carry me. This scene was recorded on the hotel’s security camera. I plan to submit these testimonies and evidence to the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution.

 

At 5AM the next morning, I regained consciousness. I was lying naked in a hotel bed, face up with Mr. Yamaguchi on top of me. I will refrain from providing explicit details, but what I can say is that a sexual act was committed against me, unrelated to my will, against my will.

 

After the Incident

 

Several hours after the incident, I went to see a gynecologist in my neighborhood. Mr. Yamaguchi had not used any contraception, and I did not know what do. As soon as I entered the consultation room, the gynecologist asked, “What time did you make the mistake?” without even looking at me. I was then given a pill and told to take it outside. That was it. I could not bring myself to explain my situation to someone so mechanical. So I decided to call a nonprofit that supported victims of sexual violence, hopeful for an introduction to another medical facility.

 

However, the person who took the call said, “I would like to interview you first.” I was devastated. I barely had the strength to get up from my bed, and had called in desperation. But the first word I heard from this organization was “interview.” I’m certain that other victims with similar experiences would be deprived of any will power at this point. What is critical at this stage is not an interview, but an introduction to a medical institution for an examination.

 

At first, the police would not let me file a report. Investigators repeatedly tried to convince me not to file and said things like, “This kind of thing happens often, but it’s difficult to investigate these cases;” “This will affect your career;” “You won’t be able to work in this industry after this;” and “All the effort you’ve made so far in your life will go to waste.”

 

I pleaded investigators to check the footage from the hotel’s security camera, and that by doing so, they would see that I was telling the truth. When they finally did check the footage, they agreed to handle this incident as a case and start investigating.

 

On June 8, 2015, several investigators were waiting for Mr. Yamaguchi at Narita Airport. Equipped with an arrest warrant, they were going to arrest him upon his arrival in Japan on charges of incapacitated rape. However, this arrest warrant was never executed.

 

At the time, I was in Germany for work. Immediately prior to the scheduled arrest, one of the investigators had contacted me to say, “We’re going to arrest him. Please return to Japan immediately.” So I was preparing to come back when I received another call from the investigator. Even now, I have vivid recollections of this call: “He just passed right in front of me, but I received orders from above to not make the arrest,” “I’m going to have to leave the investigation.”

 

Why did this happen? Surprisingly, the then-Chief Detective had ordered the arrest to be called off. In an interview with Shukan Shincho, this Chief Detective admitted that he had “given orders to cancel the arrest.”

 

Japanese laws do not protect us. The investigation agency has the authority to suppress its own arrest warrants. I will never forget the sense of helplessness I felt that day.

 

After the incident at the airport, the police sent criminal papers to Mr. Yamaguchi on charges of incapacitated rape. But on August 2, 2016, the prosecution decided to drop charges against Mr. Yamaguchi due to insufficient suspicion. This process took over 1 year and 4 months. The investigations revealed evidence of me being dragged into the hotel through testimonies from the taxi driver and the hotel bellman, as well as footage from the security camera. DNA test results also provided additional evidence. I could not accept the case being dropped, and conducted my own inquiries. And today, I finally made an appeal to the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution.

 

I want to ask a question to all people living in Japan. Are we really going to continue to let this happen?

 

For the past two years, I often wondered why I was still alive. The act of rape killed me from the inside. Rape is murder of the soul. Only my body was left, and I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I had become a shell.

 

After the incident, I concentrated on seeking the truth as a journalist. I had no other choice. I felt like I would be mentally crushed if I considered myself a victim. Focusing on work was a way for me to protect myself.

 

I then came across a photo documentary of rape victims and their families by Mary F. Calvert in a World Press Photo exhibit. In the exhibit, there was a diary of a woman who had been raped. In this diary, there was a drawing of wrist cutting, accompanied by a message that said, “If only it was this easy.” In the end, this woman killed herself.

 

I understand this woman’s pain. She doesn’t exist in this world anymore, but I witnessed those photos and received her message. And this is what I thought: “I have to reveal the horror of rape and the enormous impact it has on the victim’s life.”

 

Becoming a rape victim myself made me realized just how small our voices are, and how difficult it is to have our voices heard in society. At the same time, I recognized the need to face this issue as a journalist. If I hadn’t been a journalist, I may have given up. I know there are countless women who have gone through the same experience, leaving them hurt and crushed. I know that, both in the past and still today, many of these women have given up.

 

How many media outlets have published this story? When I saw Mr. Yamaguchi repeatedly broadcasting his side of the story through his powerful connections, I couldn’t breathe. Where is the freedom of speech in this country? What are the laws and media trying to protect, and from whom? That is the question I want to ask.

 

I have travelled to over 60 countries, and have been asked if I have ever been in a dangerous situation. My travels have included interviewing the guerrilla in Columbia, going to the cocaine jungle in Peru, and other areas that would be considered dangerous. But I am sad to say that the only time I actually encountered real danger was in Japan, my homeland, which is considered a safe country. I wholeheartedly wish that no one else has to experience what I went through.

 

This could happen to you, your family, your friends – it could happen to anyone. If we remain silent and ignore this opportunity to change the legal and investigation systems, each and every one of us will be approving these crimes to continue.

 

That is all from me. Once again, thank you for your time.

 

 

 

Chronological order of events:

 

April 3, 2015                          Met Mr. Yamaguchi

20:00               Entered kushiyaki restaurant

21:40               Entered sushi restaurant

 

April 4, 2015   5:00                 Woke up in pain and realized that I had been raped. Memory

lost half way in sushi restaurant

April 9, 2015                          Consulted Harajuku Police Station

April 11, 2015                        Interview with lieutenant from Takanawa Police Station

(currently at Metropolitan Police Headquarters) at Harajuku Police Station

April 15, 2015                        Watched security camera footage with aforementioned

lieutenant at Sheraton Miyako Hotel

April 30, 2015                        Filed criminal complaint at Takanawa Police Station

Beginning of June 2015           Collected evidence such as: testimony from taxi driver,

testimony from hotel bellman, investigation results from DNA sample collected from underwear. Arrest warrant issued. (Due to the possibility of the rape being filmed, confiscation of Mr.

Yamaguchi’s computer was also a requirement)

June 4, 2015                           Informed about the scheduled arrest of the accused upon his

return to Japan at Narita Airport; requested to return from Germany

June 8, 2015

Informed by lieutenant that he had gone to the airport, but that the arrest had been cancelled due to orders from above. Also informed that the lieutenant had been relieved from this case. Subsequently, the case was transferred from the Takanawa Police Station to the First Section of the Metropolitan Police Department

August 26, 2015                     Criminal papers sent to Mr. Yamaguchi

October 2015                         My first interview with prosecutor

January 2016                         Mr. Yamaguchi’s interview with prosecutor

June 2016                               My second interview with prosecutor

July 22, 2016                          Charges dropped against Mr. Yamaguchi

 

Editor’s note: Mr. Yamaguchi has categorically denied all charges and his rebuttal can be read on his Facebook page and in the article linked above. This was originally published on June 18th, 2017 and was slightly updated on October 24th. 

Help Support Japan Subculture Online. Reporting on the strange side of the Rising Sun since 2007!

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Welcome to our semi-annual pledge drive. Japan Subculture Research Center (@japankenkyu) was founded in 2007 by Jake Adelstein and many contributors to expose the hidden side of Japan – its underground economy, its transient and strange trends, its robust sex trade, wacky politics, corruption, social issues, many subcultures, yakuza, host clubs and hosts, Japanese cinema and all the other intriguing and seedy aspects that keep the country running. Balancing commentary, reporting and dark humor–we’re the kakekomitera (駆け込み寺) aka “last resort” of some news stories that no one else will touch. We’ve covered rebel graffiti artists, crusading lawyers, and some real heroes.

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HOW TO BE ICONIC: Onitsuka Tiger’s World Domination Strategy

 

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It was the summer of 2004, a blistering humid day in August when we touched down in Kansai Airport in Osaka, Japan. I was 12 and it was my first time in a foreign country, accompanied by my twin sister and father. Exhausted from the thirteen hour flight but elated that we had finally arrived, we waited excitedly in the sterile white paneled baggage claim area to collect our luggage and see this land of the rising sun for ourselves.

Bags came out of the shoot. A lopsided one, a pink one, those hard cases which Americans haven’t caught onto and only seem to be owned by East Asian travelers. One after another they came toppling out and then finally, a diminutive black suitcase dropped out with a small thud. The belt continued to move for a few more moments whirring until coming to a sudden complete and final stop. A lot of suitcases and bags. None of them appeared to be ours.

“Where are our bags?”

I turned to my father, perplexed and not quite understanding what this meant.

“I”m not sure let’s go check with the United customer service,” he replied with a hint of worry, gathering our carry-on baggage and belongings.

But the bags never came that day.

They hadn’t made the connecting flight and were still in Los Angeles.  “They will be on the next flight from LA, “ the United staff said.  “You should receive them sometime tomorrow.”

They handed us the yen equivalent of aboutt $300 US dollars to buy clothes in the meantime.

With only our carry-ons we clamored onto the shuttle bus which would take us from Kansai airport to Downtown Osaka.

What’s the first thing you do with apology money?

Go shopping of course! It was amazing wandering around the mall. It seemed familiar in many ways but still reverberated with that mystique which everything in Japan seems to be coated with in the eyes of a western foreigner.

We passed by one unfamiliar Japanese brand after another and there it was. A humble but sturdy bold sign that read Onitsuka Tiger. Surrounded by an array of familiar brands like Nike, Puma, and Adidas there stood out this very Japanese sounding brand with a fierce tiger as its logo. The shoes were flashy and bold but elegant at the same time.

“Pick whichever one you want!” my Dad said.

That day a pair of Onitsuka Tigers became my first and most useful souvenir from Japan.

What was it about these shoes that fascinated not only the 12-year-old bespectacled me but my 48-year-old father?

image003
IMAGE El Japatillaz Tio

For the past 50 years Onitsuka Tiger has been a worldwide powerhouse promoting athleticism from its inception. Arguably the most popular and recognizable Japanese shoe brand, Onitsuka Tiger, and the  parent company ASICS, traces its roots back to 1949. WWII had recently ended and Japan was in a state of rebirth. Former military officer Kihachiro Onitsuka took that mindset and ran with it creating a shoe he hoped would raise spirits and promote youth health through athletics.

The brand quickly grew in popularity through strategic athlete partnerships. In 1955, it partnered with 500 sports shops in Japan, with its first US sales occurring in 1963. The great ASICS stripe made its debut in 1966 at the pre-Olympic trials for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico – this was to be the start of their most famous line, Mexico 66. Today the once small Japanese athletics shoe company reports 428 billion yen (approximately 4 billion dollars) in  net sales for 2015 (reports for 2016 will be released in the coming months), growing year after year into a mecca for “Intelligent Sports Technology” and “highly functional products developed with human-centric science” (ASICS).

ONITSUKA  POPULARITY DECONSTRUCTED

The brand has the incredible ability of evoking reminiscence and at the same time a refreshing modernity.

What is the Onitsuka secret? How has this brand remained popular and hip in Japan while so many have fallen? Asahi Shimbun Digital back in 2015 published an article identifying four major secrets behind the Onitsuka success.

 

#1 Modern Retro Design Born from Performance

Onitsuka started with athleticism in mind and has kept that a core of its business. With its narrow long nose silhouette, thin sole, and striking color combinations, the Onitsuka retro design  is instantly recognizable. It’s a unique and understated recognizability that remains classic.

image005

#2 Limit Sales Channels to Maintain an Expensive Brand Image

 image007

Think about it. You’ve just put on your fresh straight out of the box Onitsukas and slipped into your freshly purchased and pressed outfit (that you paid a bit too much for).  You step out of your apartment, it’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining and you look amazing. You’re strolling head held up high with a knowing smirk, people are looking and suddenly out the corner of your eye you spot it. The end of your moment. The shock of an older gentleman completely lacking in any fashion sense, wearing the exact same pair of  your  beautiful shoes. Now that is a fashion tragedy. A tragedy that Onitsuka has strategically strived to avoid. It’s incredibly difficult to get your hands on a pair of Ontisuka Tiger shoes within Japan in today’s discount stores. They aren’t sold in outlets or warehouses. As soon as a shoe enters the discount world its brand image is immediately at risk of degradation. Onitsuka’s bold and daring strategy heralded by President Oyama in 1999 to avoid the tempting wholesale market ensured that Onitsuka Tiger would become a high-end brand. In addition to limiting sales channels, the heightened brand image would start from the construction of their products, putting high quality materials at the forefront. That’s an image to be proud of.

#3 Establish Reasonable Pricing

Onitsuka Tiger manages to deliver high quality with the NIPPON MADE label at pretty economical prices. You can attain a heightened NIPPON MADE sensibility without the crazy price tag. Mostly all of the shoe models sell for less than 13,000 yen. The Serano which uses natural leathers is priced at 8,640 yen, the all natural leather upper Mexico 66 you can get your hands on for 12,960 yen.

#4 Surprise of A Mysterious Brand Name To Remember

 image009

From the name “Onitsuka” to the roaring tiger image the brand screams Japan to even those with the faintest familiarity with the country. It’s a striking brand image and this has definitely played in Onitsuka’s favor.  You look at it and think this is a Japanese brand. And that is enticing for the overseas consumer because along with it come all of the positive adjectives characteristics you would attach to a Japan-made product – quality, cutting edge, reliable, built to last, different. This is the “Cool Japan” that the Japanese government doesn’t get.

 

THE FUTURE OF ONITSUKA

This past year Onitsuka Tiger celebrated the 50th anniversary of the original Mexico 66, arguably the flagship and best-selling shoe from the storied Japanese brand — The company touts it as a fine footwear “discovered on the track, and later on, worn on the streets” . It has sought some of the most exclusive collaborations reaching and securing even the most obscure underground influencers and artists. Pop culture phenom homages, independent Japanese labels and exclusives marketing deals with high end shops like Barney’s New York.

The legend continues to thrive as they expand more and more, recently pushing for raising their presence in rugby. With a Vegan line, it’s riding the wave of eco-friendly animal-friendly fashion consumerism as well. (Editor’s note: The vegan line of shoes are not designed to be edible. Consume at your own risk)

image011 

They’ve reorganized the company to support globalization as well as acquiring technology company FitnessKeeper, Inc, and entering into the world of smart apparel and wearables.

Onitsuka has recently announced its introduction of shoes which are a step away from its iconic stripes but with the same motto paying homage to the past with a vintage feel and performance in mind.

image013 

The new line are Inspired by the Japanese “furoshiki” or the art of cloth packaging – The CHIYO. Available online and instore, it’s a refreshing take enabling the wearer to customize and create their own idea of beauty. The upper consists of soft cloth, like packaging cradling the top of the foot. The lucky owners  can knot and style the shoe however they wish according to the look they’re rocking that day. The line comes in 3 colors-  blue, black, and pink priced at 7,000 yen.

Onitsuka continues to take innovation and trends and instill them with a retro twist. It stays true to the spirit of a Japanese brand with refreshing relevance and distinction.

As you know, last year marked the 50th Anniversary of its iconic stripes logo and it’s looking like Onitsuka is here to stay.

The company that owns the line,  still known as ASICS “Anima Sana in Corpore Sano” or “A Healthy Soul in a Healthy Body.”, continually pushes the envelope looking for opportunities for constant growth. Can we call it world domination with retro class? I think so. However, the best way to appreciate Onitsuka shoes isn’t looking at them—it’s wearing them. Put on a pair and go for a run, you’ll catch on to what I’m saying.

 

 

要約:12歳のとき初めて降り立った日本。荷物を失くされた航空会社にもらった金券でお土産としてオニツカタイガーを購入した。以来すっかり私を魅了してきたオニツカタイガーは、外国人観光者に絶大な人気を誇っている。

オニツカタイガーの代表作Mexico 66 の50周年記念となった2016年。オニツカタイガーはなぜ支持されるのか?ほかと一線を画すブランディング、そして強力なセールス力の秘密とは?

これらの問いに関して朝日新聞デジタルで”アシックス快走、世界3位も射程内 海外で人気の理由は”という記事が掲載されている。そして人気の理由の次のように分析している。

1「性能追求の結果生まれた現代的なレトロデザイン」

2「販売チャネル限定、高いブランドイメージの維持」

3「リーズナブルな価格設定」

4「ミステリアスなブランド名の響き・イメージ」

限界に挑む会社として継続的な経済成長を達成し、グローバルリーチを支えるための構造を整備するオニツカタイガー。世界征服する日は近い。

 

 

Nazis, Goebels, His Secretary and Nippon. An Austrian Documentary Reminds Us Of Japan’s Failure To Reconcile History

She’s old, really old. You could describe her as an ancient relic. But at 103 years old, Brunhilde Pomsel seems strong, confident, even blase. Pomsel is the centerpiece of the stunning documentary, A German Life (released in Japan as Goebbels to Watashi ) in which she recounts the years she spent in the employ of the Third Reich, as a personal secretary to Joseph Goebbels. Shot in a gradations of black and gray, A German Life, highlights her still soft hair and the brightness of her eyes. What you’ll notice however, are the deep crevices crisscrossing her face, an incredibly creasy visage that make her look like some kind of exotic deepwater fish. Only once does her confidence falter, and that’s when she’s asked to recall whether she was aware of the existence of the concentration camps. “I didn’t know it,” she says but her voice lacks conviction. “I wasn’t guilty of that, but if I was, then the whole of Germany during the reign of the Third Reich – was guilty.”

The film will resonate with many viewers in Japan, not least because Germany was an Axis partner in WWII, but for the radical difference in the way the two nations have dealt with their wartime legacies of shame and humiliation. For many Japanese, the war years are a receding memory, most often romanticized and tinged with sentiment, as in The Eternal Zero. The stories told in the media or retold by our elders, have always varied little, summed up in a singular theme that combines victimization and valor. In this theme, the atrocities committed by the military in Asia, are glossed over. After all, the Japanese starved, Japan went through unspeakable deprivation, was relentlessly firebombed and then the Japanese people had two nuclear bombs dropped right on their heads for good measure. Whatever terrible things the Japanese military did in China and Southeast Asia, was paid for with our own suffering. We’ve checked off the items on our rap sheet of atonement. So let’s agree to sweep all that stuff under the futon and get on with the business at hand, shall we?

A German Life, which tells the story of Goebbel’s secretary and seems to explain how Germany allowed the Nazis to rise up and get away with what they did, opens on June 16th in Japan.

This particular logic (or lack thereof) has come to define the collective memory in the 7-plus decades after the Japanese surrender. It wasn’t really our fault, but the fault of the entire era, and the unstoppable war machine! Compare this mind-set to Germany. They also suffered from the air raids and bombings and went through hell. But they are also a people unafraid to rub their faces in the shit pile of defeat. To this day, they are still examining what exactly happened, and why. New revelations of Nazi atrocities are being unearthed all the time, to be dissected and discussed. The Germans have not averted their gaze from the past, rather they’ve been pretty relentless in their cause to track down and then lay bare the gruesome details of their own crimes. Consider the meticulously categorized displays at the Auschwitz Memorials. The unforgiving precision that characterize the guided tour of those Memorials. The sheer number of movies and documentaries that have come out about the camps and the Third Reich. Or the revived public interest in Sophie Scholl, the young political activist who was guillotined for her fierce anti-Nazism.

“For all that, I believe that Germany is experiencing an eerie deja vu of the Nazi years,” said Florian Weigensamer, one of the four-man directorial team behind A German Life. Weigensamer was in Tokyo to promote the film, along with another director Christian Krones, who is also the founder of Blackbox Films and Media Productions. Blackbox engineered the whole endeavor that is this movie and other award winning documentaries. Krones and Weigensamer have been colleagues and friends for over 20 years and they’ve dedicated a good chunk of their professional lives to the excavation of some of humanity’s most complex problems. (One of their recent projects is a documentary called Welcome to Sodom that examines Ghana’s burgeoning waste problem, born of discarded home appliances.)

Krones is the oldest and most experienced member of Blackbox but he stresses that there’s no corporate hierarchy at work. “I like to take a democratic approach to filmmaking. No orders are issued top-down. There are no one-man decisions. We hold extensive meetings and discuss the film process every step of the way, like a real democracy.” And he added with a chuckle, “We do this because the film industry tends to be very dictatorial and we are very sensitive to anything that smacks of dictatorship!”

The directors of “A German Life”

Blackbox is an Austrian company as are Krones and Weigensamer. Because they don’t carry German passports, the pair say that their gaze on WWII and the Nazi atrocities are a little distanced. “We were both born many years after the war,” said Weigensamer. “And growing up, I remember my own family didn’t really talk about the war unless it was to say that we were victimized. In this way, I guess we are a lot like the Japanese.” In 1938, Austria was forcibly annexed to Germany in what was known as the Anschluss, and according to Krones, it “laid the groundwork for turning a blind eye to Nazi atrocities. The Nazis held Austria in a grip of terror and the Austrians felt powerless. They descended into denial, and most people just tried to make it through the war years without getting killed.” Weigensamer nodded in assent, but said, “And now we are seeing the rise of neo-Nazis, and the end of tolerance for refugees and outsiders.” Indeed, Krones said, “When we first started filming ‘A German Life,’ I thought, we would be talking about something that was past and over with. Now I feel like I’ve gone back in time, and traveled to a future where the nightmare is beginning all over again.”

As for Brunhilde Pomsel, she comes off as neither a tragic heroine or an evil monster but a woman with exceptional secretarial skills and a breathtakingly banal personality. Astonishingly, before taking up her duties for the Third Reich, Pomsel had worked in a Jewish insurance company in Berlin while having a side gig in the afternoons working for an official in the Nazi Party. Her lover and fiance was half Jewish. (In the film, she has a silver band around her ring finger.) He was killed in Amsterdam in 1942. Her best friend was a young Jewish woman named Ava, who died in one of the camps. All around her, Jewish people were being taken away, ostensibly to a place of “re-education,” and she didn’t think to question what this may really mean. Her take on Joseph Goebbels is that he was “so dapper, so dashing! The cut of his suits was perfect.” Pomsel even remembered how Goebbels’s children would come to pick him up at lunchtime so that they could all walk home together for the midday meal.

Pomsel apparently compartmentalized all that into her life, and shut out whatever she deemed unworthy of attention. She never stopped to examine the contradictions of her thoughts or her actions. She simply wanted to perform her duties well, and then go home.

“The thing is, she was very likable,” described Weigenhamer. “She was articulate, self-sufficient and loved going to the theatre. She took very good care of herself and liked to have a good time. At first I thought I liked this woman but the more time I spent with her, the more I got to hate her.” Krones said: “What struck me was her incredible selfishness. I honestly got the feeling that she was alone because she didn’t want to share her life with anybody. She enjoyed living. But as in the war years, she wanted her life to be hers alone. And this mentality, this wish to shut out others – is part of what made Hitler successful.”

Brunhilde Pomsel died last year, at the age of 106.

The film opens in Japan on June 16th. Editor’s note: ironically, the current government of Japan doesn’t only have a desire to revise history and bury Japan’s war crimes, the Prime Minister and his cabinet have a great fondness for the Nazi Party and their political strategies. History does repeat itself.

 

Snake Venom, Bee Toxin, Horse Oil, Snail Slime: Saving Face in Japan is Icky Fun

The Face and Lip Mask Haul
The Face and Lip Mask Haul

Japan is a country where saving face is paramount—even if that means covering it with snake venom, bee toxin, horse oil, or snail slime. One company in Japan has been tremendously successful by catering to the Japanese love for looking good, thus saving face, and exotic ingredients. Their array of face masks, which are applied to the skin as shown in the photos, are almost all reasonably priced at 100 yen and are always exciting to find in the local pharmacy. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy the tingly sensation and fresh skin feeling you get from spreading cobra venom on your face?

How To Face Mask

Headquartered in central Tokyo’s glitzy Roppongi district, Sun Smile was founded in 1997. The company, which sells everything from cosmetics to bags, has seen their sales rise in the last 6 years. In 2009 they made 3 billion 997 million yen and in 2014 they posted sales of 8 billion 673 million yen. They produced over 100,000,000 masks since they went into business. Their biggest seller is the essence of pearl mask but it’s the other “natural” items that raise eyebrows (and lift lines).

They’re known best for their cosmetics line, Pure Smile. Pure Smile makes facial masks in every flavor imaginable—and some that are unimaginable. Their Essence Mask series features types as tame as lemon, rose, and pomegranate, but if you want something a bit more “wild” you can try their biodiversity series, which includes snake venom, snail slime, and sea cucumber. If you have no qualms, you can even lather your face with a horse oil mask, which, although smells slightly leathery, leaves your skin feeling as silky as a horse’s mane. (The horse is not as popular as the snail, according to the firm’s representatives). The popularity of these exotic ingredients started in South Korea and soon moved across the sea to Japan, where women have the image that Korean cosmetics are of good quality, in addition to being cheap, which has allowed Japanese women, who would tend to be grossed out by the idea of putting snake venom on their faces, to more easily accept these weird ingredients.

 

There are, however, some who even question the effectiveness of slathering exotic ingredients on your faces and whether it would have a noticeable, if any effect on your skin.

 

Wacky discount chain store, Don Quixote, even sold a special line of their facial masks that come in types such as blueberry cheesecake, cacao, and crème brûlée that smell good enough to eat.

 

There’s even an Amazonian series of facial masks made with the extracts of fruits only found in the rainforest such as guarana and camucamu.

The best are the Oedo Art Masks printed with the rosebud mouths, slanted eyes and pinched faces of ukioe paintings. The mask will most definitely make people think Halloween came early but the age-defying collagen, hyaluronic acid, and Vitamin-E in the mask will leave your face feeling smooth and supple.

The company also makes masks to hydrate your dry elbows, knees, and lips. The lip masks, make you look like a clown when you put them on, but leave your lips feeling moist.  According to the packaging, a suggested application (and definitely one of the strangest) is to put the lip masks on your nipples to remove any blackheads that may appear. It seems Pure Smile has literally thought of everything.

Most of the masks are made in South Korea, with the exception of the high-end whitening masks that bleach your skin. In Japan, where Snow White-like skin is favored over a glowing tan, there’s a huge market for creams and serums that bleach your skin white. Kanebo, one of Japan’s most well-known cosmetics companies, was forced to recall its skin whitening products in 2013 after several women were left with permanently unsightly white blotches on their skin. (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2013/09/16/editorials/kanebos-costly-scandal/#.VNcguN7ufww)

 

 

I tried a few of the face packs myself and this is what I noticed.

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Before The Mask Adventures

I decided to go down the line in descending order of scariness.  I wanted to get the snake venom one out of the way, deciding that nothing is as intimidating as cobra venom.

 

SNAKE VENOM

 

Snake Venom Essence Mask
Snake Venom Essence Mask

First Impression:  As soon as I put the mask on I felt a strong cooling sensation.  The essence of the mask is fairly thick, but not sticky.  It definitely made me feel confident that the mask was doing something positive. This combined with the extreme moisture of the essence was pretty soothing.

 

What does snake venom essence smell like?  I can’t quite pinpoint the smell but it’s light, like cucumbers and water.

 

In 3 minutes, I started to feel a bit of stinging above my lips and more intense cooling sensation on my forehead and chin. I felt one with the snake who sacrificed their venom essence. Ssss. (Technically it’s just the amino acids found in the venom but you get the idea!). Towards the last five minutes I felt more of a slight stinging around the bottom half of my face.  The stinging was somewhat pleasant actually. I have high hopes for this venom.

During and After My Snake Venom Encounter
During and After My Snake Venom Encounter

The majority of the cooling sensation was on my chin, T zone, maybe it’s doing its venomous magic?  After 15 min I peeled off the mask.  My skin felt very refreshed, moisturized, and dare I say plump!  I can see why this would be good to apply before makeup as my face felt pore-less and clean.

 

Verdict:  If the stinging wasn’t there I would buy again for daily use.  Overall it was relaxing so maybe those with less sensitive skin might have more luck. Still, this would be a great mask to wear before makeup on a shoot!

 

CHOOSY FRUIT

Next, I decided to pair my facial with a lip pack.  I was feeling adventurous and decided to go with the fruit type since it was daytime and NYC needs some happy color, to encourage spring weather to come.

CHOOSY Fruit
CHOOSY Fruit

I’ve never heard of a lip spa and as someone who diligently moisturizes her lips, I never even thought that this existed or was necessary.  Well here we go.

 

How To CHOOSY - Fruit
How To CHOOSY – Fruit

 

First Impression: The mask has a very strange texture, like that of silly putty.  2 min in I started getting a burning sensation.

Also, the smell was a lot more subtle than I expected, like a fruity lipgloss.

It works as advertised since I definitely felt the needles on my lips.  Although very fun to touch, the pricking was too uncomfortable and I took off the mask the 8 min mark.

I guess they felt softer than before so it’s a nice addition if you have nothing on however, I will still probably reach for a chapstick over a Choosy pack. which I won’t need to leave on my face for so long.

Post CHOOSY Fruit
Post CHOOSY Fruit

Verdict:  Skip. I wouldn’t purchase this.  I am still not sure of its effectiveness.  Looking forward to trying the honey and seeing if it has a more dramatic effect.

 

BEE VENOM

 

Bee Venom Essence Mask
Bee Venom Essence Mask

What I love about these face masks in general is that the scents are always fairly subtle which in our world of extremes is very pleasant and relaxing.

I waited 2 hours to apply another mask just to give my skin a break.

My skin still felt refreshed after almost 2 hours. The snake venom is definitely great for  photoshoot prep!

I washed my face and was confronted with a lovely mix of honey flowers upon opening the Bee Toxin mask.  This had to be the most pleasant bee poison in the world.

Bee Venom smells so good!!!
Bee Venom smells so good!!!

 

First Impression: I immediately noticed that the essence consistency was more thin, watery, and sticky than the snake mask.

It wasn’t as prickly as the snake venom but had a much more greater cooling sensation, especially on my forehead.  It felt a lot like a gentle, lovely smelling version of Icy Hot.

Mask Struggles and Post Bee Essence
Mask Struggles and Post Bee Essence

It’s very moisturizing but my skin didn’t feel as tight as it did with the previous mask.

Verdict:  It was very refreshing. Would definitely try again!

 

CHOOSY HONEY

The smell is similar to the bee toxin mask but stronger, a bit too strong.  My lips became very tingly 2 min in, like pins and needles.  Again, I’m not a huge fan of these.

CHOOSY Honey
CHOOSY Honey

After removing the mask, my lips felt sticky. The huge size of the mask is a little unsettling as the stickiness covered below my nose to my chin.

Post CHOOSY Honey
Post CHOOSY Honey

Verdict: Skip.  Yes, your lips are soft but there’s nothing drastic.

 

SNAIL

I took  a break from my all-day pampering to attend a friend’s birthday party.  I chose to end my late night with a nice snail essence mask since I figured it would be the most soothing of the exotic choices.

Snail Essence Mask
Snail Essence Mask

First Impression: When I opened the pack the comforting smell of dew entered the air.  In my exhausted state the cooling effects of the mask were incredibly relaxing.  The serum in this pack has a fairly thick consistency and I felt the majority of the cold on my chin.  I felt no stinging whatsoever which was a nice surprise.

 

Late Night Snailing
Late Night Snail-ing

The mask left my face feeling moisturized but slightly tight.  I expected to feel a larger difference in my skin and the effect was less noticeable than the others.

 

Verdict: It’s a gentle soothing mask that is nice to wear after a long day. In terms of effectiveness for skin I’d say my favorite is still the Bee Venom.

 

ROYAL JELLY

 

Pre Royal Jelly
Pre Royal Jelly

 

I decided to treat myself with Royal Jelly the following morning.   Royal jelly is a bee secretion used to nourish larvae and the Queen Bee in a hive.  This was a great name choice on Sun Smile’s part.  Here’s to hoping it will start the day off right!

 

It gave off a soft flowery smell. Upon application it felt warmer than the other masks,  and gave a nice calm sensation This was definitely a good choice for a chilly morning as it gently wakes you up.

Post Royal Jelly
Post Royal Jelly

Verdict: Would use again!  My face feels so nice!!

 

So there you have it.  The masks are definitely worth trying, they aren’t magical but they will give you a mini-spa experience in your home.  They are super affordable so really why wouldn’t you want to lather your face in the essences of snake and bee toxins? And even if you would rather not, they are great cheap gifts to bring back from Japan. Because if you know anything about Japan, going on a trip and not bringing back a souvenir might bring some shame. But spend a few hundred yen on these and everyone saves face—including you. (If you pack some for yourself, double face savings!)

 

 

 

Update! Larceny Is Part of Family Love in Cannes Winner “Shoplifters”–Showing With English subtitles on June 21 (木)

『UPDATE: There will be a showing of the film with English subtitles at 7pm on June 21, at the Roppongi Hill Cinema. There will be a Q & A with the director afterwards. Details of the showing are after the review』

The titular family in “Shoplifters” give a new slant to the term “living in squalor.” (The film is partially based on true events)  Their house looks more like a bizarre crime scene than an actual dwelling for normal people but – and this is a crucial point in “Shoplifters” – the family is HAPPY. They enjoy the kind of freedom that one rarely sees in Tokyo families. The 10-year old son doesn’t go to cram school (or any kind of school for that matter). The dad is not an over-worked salariman whose only solace is the company drinking party. The mom couldn’t care less about keeping up with the Tanakas. And grandma – she’s an entertaining but cantankerous piece of work who drives well-meaning social workers up the wall.

1) One Big Happy Family – clockwise from right, Mayu Matsuoka, Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki and Sakura Ando.
Title: The Shoplifters
©️2018 Fuji Television GAGA AOI Pro.
Distributed by GAGA

Amid the filth and debris they huddle together for warmth and comfort. At mealtimes, they poke chopsticks into ramen tubs and food cans. The catch in this cozy utopia is that they must steal almost everything they need. The other catch is that dad has just kidnapped a 5-year old girl named Yuri. She had been neglected and abused by her biological parents, so the dad just had to rescue her. “We’ll return her to her folks in the morning” he says, but then he doesn’t and Yuri joins their little clan, adding another item to their history of crime.

“Shoplifters” just won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival – a first for a Japanese director in 21 years. The last time this happened was back in 1997, when Shohei Imamura came out with “Unagi,” and put leading man Koji Yakusho’s name on the international map. In Japan however, “Unagi” didn’t exactly break box office. It was artsy, dark and posed too many philosophical questions. While these ingredients worked wonderfully at Cannes, the general feeling in Japan was that everyone would rather watch Keanu Reeves.

“Shoplifters” is another animal. Keanu Reeves isn’t in it (too bad) but the director is Hirokazu Kore-eda: a constant contender at Cannes and other major international film festivals for the past two decades. He’s also a former TV documentarian with a shrewd sense of business. Shohei Imamura was an auteur of the old school, but Kore-eda has a nose for what sells. In his films, art never overwhelms commercialism and on the other hand, it’s not all business either. Kore-eda knows that in the international market, the biggest appeal of a Japanese film is its Japanese-ness and in “Shoplifters,” he adopts a Zen-like approach, letting the characters do their thing at their own pace, in their own space. A lot of things are unexplained or left for the audience to surmise. And pretty soon, the squalor of that awful house starts to grow on you. The ancient and no doubt odorous tatami mats, the wild, unruly shrubbery that grow all over the garden, the stained and mildewed bathtub – somehow, these things begin to assume a patina of Japanese charm. After all, we’re so used to seeing spanking clean Japanese homes inhabited by perfectly manicured people, at least in the media and after awhile, the hypocrisy of this set-up just gets to you. Such a house and family appear in the story for about 5 minutes and the contrast between them and the Shoplifters is jarring.

The Shoplifters’ house is a real one, sleuthed out by Kore-eda’s staff who combed the northeast wards of Tokyo for weeks before hitting upon the perfect specimen. Surrounded by high rise apartment buildings on all sides, the house is a tiny, crumbling Showa era relic. In the movie, it belongs to the grandmother, Hatsue played by Kirin Kiki. Divorced before becoming a widow, Hatsue still keeps her ex-husband’s photo on the ‘butsudan (miniature buddhist shrine)’ and takes out his pension every month to supplement her own. It’s the only steady source of income the family has, since the mother Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) and dad (Lily Franky) earn minimum wage doing part time work and even that’s jeopardized when their employers install a workshare program. “What’s work share?,” asks the son and the dad’s response – “ahhhm, it’s when you share the work.” It also means less pay and less income to share with the family.

Nobuyo’s younger sister Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) works at a ‘JK (short for ‘Joshikosei, which means high school girl) sex shop, which entails dressing in a school uniform and opening her legs in front of a two-way mirror. Aki’s wages are 3000 yen per session and upon hearing this, grandma Hatsue lets out a sigh of real envy. “That’s such a well-paid job!”

Of course, even working an honest job at minimum wage or a shady job at 3000 yen per hour, isn’t enough for a family to survive on and so shoplifting supplements their income. The movie was partly inspired by real events.

Partners in crime – the son Shota (Jyo Kairi) cases the joint with dad Osamu (Lily Franky).
Title: The Shoplifters
©️2018 Fuji Television GAGA AOI Pro.
Distributed by GAGA

The film is full of dark humor but it is also a biting criticism of modern Japan. Kore-eda is not a fan of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The film references how the rights and wages of workers keep deteriorating and a growing number of people live in poverty, while “Abenomics” only benefits the elite.

The Japanese family has cultivated a certain image – that they revere their elders, that fathers work themselves to the bone, that the kids are models of scholastic excellence and good manners. In real life, that image is shattered again and again – consider that 1 out of 6 children live in poverty while the number of abused kids have been on the rise for the past 20 years. In the movie, Yuri’s biological mom is beaten by a rat of a husband and she takes out her anger on her daughter. And for all the love they show the son, the Shoplifter parents think nothing of depriving the boy of his future by keeping him home and teaching him to steal. The son, played by Kairi Jyo, is a compelling figure to watch – he loves the couple who have raised him, but at the same time he knows theirs is not a sustainable relationship. They have good times together but the son comes to realize that they’re bound more by crime and money than blood and love.

So, like a Bruce Springsteen song, it had to end. For me, the final scenes were blurred by a blizzard of tears, triggered by a longing for a raucous, uproarious, hugger-mugger childhood that never happened.

Shoplifters (万引き家族) opened nationwide in Japan on June 8th. 

The English subtitled screening and Q&A session of “Shoplifters” will be taken place on Thursday, June 21st.

【Date】Thursday, June 21st
【Time】19:00~(Q&A session after the screening)
【Venue】TOHO CINEMAS ROPPONGI HILLS
【Guest (tentative)】Kore-eda Hirokazu (director)

<How to buy the ticket>
・By PC & smart phone : Ticket site will be opened from Saturday, June 16th 0:00 at internet ticket vit (https://www.tohotheater.jp/vit/)
・Ticket counter at the theater : Ticket will be on sale from the opening on Saturday, June 16th at the theater (if the tickets are available.)

<Price>
Standard price *This film is rated PG12
※Additional costs will needed for Premium box seats. Please check the theater website.
※Movie tickets can be used.
※Free admission tickets can not be used.

<Caution>
※The screening is with English subtitles.
※Press will cover the Q&A and there will be a possibility that the audience could be on camera.
※The guests and Q&A session are tentative and are subject to change without notice.
※Reserved seating only and the ticket is for only 1 screening. You must obtain the seat for this screening to attend the Q&A.
※Resale is strictly prohibited.
※No camera (including by phoens) shooting or recoding are strictly prohibited.
※Once paid, ticket fees are non-refundable/non-changeable.