Year of The Dragon Begins With Earthquake But Godzilla Remains Dormant

On January 1st, at 2:28 pm (Japan time), the first major earthquake of the year greeted the Japanese people.  It aroused a minor panic since 2012 is the Year of The Dragon, a time when Godzilla, the destroyer and sometimes protector of Japan, often awakes from his slumbers to wreak havoc on the nation.

During the last Year Of The Dragon (2000), Godzilla caused almost as much damage to Japan as TEPCO. Happily, recent earthquakes did not awaken him.

A solid earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 shook up a wide area in eastern and northeastern Japan on  Sunday, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. There was no Godzilla Warning issued and no Nuclear Safety Inspection Agency staff hurt themselves fleeing from the nuclear reactors where they were stationed.

The Government of Japan has assured the populace that Godzilla did not waken from his slumber to herald in the Year Of The Dragon. Prime Minister Noda assured the public that Godzilla was not in fact a dragon, while admitting that because Godzilla is a fire-breathing, gigantic, destructive reptile–“he does bare similarities to a dragon but Godzilla cannot fly. Thus he’s not a dragon. We have everything under control this time.” The Godzilla & Mothra Management Agency (GMMA) also said that they had checked the ear plugs inserted in Godzilla’s head and were certain that the ruckus had not caused any serious changes in his REM measurements. “He’s sound asleep,” sources said.

The agency noted that quake measured an intensity of 4 on the Japanese scale of 7 in many locations in downtown Tokyo, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures–but only 1.2 in the underwater dungeon in which Godzilla has been imprisoned since the previous Year Of the Dragon.

RIP 2011. Happy New Year 2012

Happy New Year 2012

It was a hell of a year. Literally, for the last surviving editor of this blog, at least. 2011 was the year that an earthquake devastated Japan, followed by a triple nuclear meltdown courtesy of the corrupt and possibly criminally negligent folks at TEPCO. Tadamasa Goto, the former yakuza boss allegedly turned Buddhist priest, was “lucky” enough to have one of his former henchmen shot to death in Thailand, thus basically destroying a five year investigation into him on murder charges. He united with the Kyushu Seido-kai and began working as a gangster again, prompting the police to reunite a “Goto Squad” and making me very uncomfortable.

Olympus, the optical equipment maker brought into focus the extent of corruption and lack of governance in Japan’s corporate world. Stephanie Nakajima, our chief editor took off to Occupy New York. Sarah Noorbaksh continued to be our tech support but began to focus on new projects.

On a personal level, I discovered that no natural disaster seems to trump the natural disaster that is my own body. Years of drinking and smoking too much probably took their toll and I came back to Japan after 3/11 to find a note from the doctor that no patient wants to read. I survived illness #1 only to get knocked down again with illness #2.  I got better. I got smarter. On October 1st, the same day the organized exclusionary clauses went on the books nation-wide, I quit smoking. Except for one binge, I’ve stayed nicotine free. I’m not expecting a pat on the back. As my daughter says, “Not smoking is no big deal. Do we congratulate people for not slamming their fingers in a door for six months or say ‘Hey, congratulations, it’s been two weeks since you walked into a wall!'”  She has a point.

This year we have a new staff, a bigger budget, and hopefully some guest contributors.  Look forward to more articles, more entries and more photos as well. Before burying 2011, I’d like to say a special thanks to Stephanie Nakajima, Sarah Noorbakhsh, Ikuru Kuwajima, Mari Kurisato, and everyone who wrote into this blog and has continued to read it. It is appreciated and hopefully edifying for you as well. If not edifying, at least entertaining. And if neither, hopefully a pleasant waste of time.

May 2012 bring you good fortune, happiness, health and contentment. May the wicked be punished, the just rewarded, TEPCO dismantled, Japan revitalized,  the corrupt imprisoned and may the 99% learn to share a little bit better with the 1%, may I be free from mild dyslexia and may the 1% share a little bet better with the 99%. 合掌!

Wishing you all the best for 2012!


Put a little love (injection) into your heart and your vocabulary!

The year is coming to an end with a sigh and hopefully not with a bang. Well, hopefully not a bang in the bad kind of things exploding, terrible tragedy bang sort of way.We already had enough bangs this year 3/11 and 3/15. Earthquakes and nuclear meltdowns. My oh my. But amidst the disaster, Japanese culture survived and thrived. This year’s buzzwords include the suggestive “love injection.”  For those of us who have spent too much time in seedy places, the word conjures to mind the word: “love juices” aka 愛液 (aieki) the viscous liquid women secrete during pleasurable sexual intercourse which increases lubrication and sexual enjoyment. (There is apparently some debate as to whether 愛液 really exists or not, but those who know don’t really need to argue over it. It’s like the Tao in that sense.)  Let’s move on, because while 愛液 may be related to buzzing, it is not one of the buzzwords this year.

My personal favorite buzzword of the year was 想定外 (soteigai) which literally means, “outside what we could conceive” or “unforeseeable.”   It was used often by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to explain their failure to prevent a triple nuclear meltdown. We hear the word less from the TEPCO flacks as it turns out that for years they were aware that a large earthquake could cause critical damage to the plant and a plant and that a tsunami might wipe out their electrical systems and back-up systems for dealing with damage to the nuclear reactors.  Perhaps, 想定外  in the TEPCO play books means this, “We don’t foresee anyone holding us accountable for our criminal negligence.” They may be right. I’m using it as my excuse for anything poorly planned, for example, when ordering Christmas gifts from Amazon the day before Christmas. “Gee kids, I don’t know why that Lego set didn’t arrive. 想定外ですね”

Gakuranman, has an encyclopedic feature on the 60 buzzwords for the year, including 超可愛い (super-cute) photos. Click on these happy (ageopoyo) girls for the feature. 


For the top ten buzzwords, Sandra Barron, of the Japan Times Japan Pulse, has a great article. Here’s an excerpt.

The news in Japan in 2011 was dominated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of the Tohoku region (and proved the worth of Tokyo’s earthquake-resistant architecture). It’s only natural that words related to the disaster and its aftermath made up a good portion of the top buzzwords of the year as chosen by Jiyu Kokuminsha, publishers of an annual book of new and newly important words. However, the mundane and the downright silly mix with the serious in this list, whittled down from an initial 60 nominees, as life did go on for most of Japan, albeit with a new sense of gravity. In descending order, here are the top 10 buzz phrases of 2011 in Japan.

Grand prize-winner: Nadeshiko Japan (なでしこジャパン Nadeshiko Japan): This name for Japan’s women soccer team actually made it into the 2004 list of buzzword nominees, but it was the team’s amazing and inspiring victory at this year’s World Cup that brought them into the lexicon. Even the losing U.S. side was moved by the down-to-the-wire win just three months after the quake. Nadeshiko Japan was the first sports team to receive the People’s Honor Award from Prime Minister at the time, Naoto Kan, for the “fighting spirit” they showed against a better-ranked team and the joy they brought the country with their victory. It’s worth noting that the phrase “yamato nadeshiko” conjures up images of self-sacrificing wives of soldiers, and appropriately, Team Japan really did have to hold down days jobs while working to become the No. 1 team.


And the rest … 

Bonds (絆 kizuna): Refers to efforts to reach out from within Japan to the devastated areas and to international efforts to reach out to Japan. Among other uses, it appeared as the title of a charity bookto aid survivors and the slogan for the rebuilding of damaged train lines in the area.

Smart phone (スマホ sumaho): With dozens of international and homegrown models to choose from, more Japanese consumers than ever gave up their keitai for touchscreens. The buzz undoubtably began as DoCoMo unveiled new smart phones in February, and 4S iPhone mania hit peak levels in the fall. And this week, Toyota kicked it up a notch by showing off the Fun-vii, a prototype car dubbed  ”a smartphone on four wheels.”

Loach cabinet (どじょう内閣 dojou naikaku): The Japanese media’s nickname for the cabinet appointed by new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in September. The incoming PM attempted to set a tone of low-profile hard work for his administration by good-naturedly invoking an image from a poem by Mitsuo Aida: “A loach does not have to emulate a goldfish.”

“How ya like me now” face (どや顔 doyagao): That’s our translation of the excessively self-satisfied facial expression that was named by Kansai comedians a few years ago and then popularized this year. Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was praised for his fierce doyagao,  people uploaded videos of their own smug mugs, and there was even a TV special, the “Oh! Doyagao Summit“, devoted to the look.


Stranded commuters (帰宅難民 kitaku nanmin): This word for “people who have difficulty returning home” came up twice this year: Once when commuters were stranded by stopped trains on March 11, and again on the evening of Sept. 21, when typhoon Roke stopped trains for thousands of commuters just at rush hour —and destroyed their umbrellas, to boot.

Kodama deshou ka/Is it an echo? (こだまでしょうか kodama deshouka): The end of a poem played as a public service announcement by the Ad Council of Japan, one of several PSAs played incessantly after 3/11 in place of commercials. While the poem’s message — people respond kindly when they are treated kindly — was meant to reverberate in people’s hearts, it was the tune and the rather grating “AC” chime at the end that echoed in people’s heads.

For the rest of the article and the meaning of “love injection” see Sandra Japandra’s feature from The Japan Times. You’ll be wiser or at least more of a wise ass.

Hafu – The Film

this brochure, published in November 2010, gives insight into the lives of hafus

Birthed from the Hafu Project, the Hafu Film is a documentary that follows 5 half Japanese subjects as they explore their identity and place in modern day Japan. It is expected to be released next year.

Erika Wiseburg of the project describes the film as “an attempt to open the channels of communication and break down stereotypes that are so prevalent (in Japan)”.

Hafu Film is currently running an “Indie Go Go” campaign (For those who don’t know, Indie Go Go is a site where different artists can introduce their projects and ask for pledges in exchange for gifts). The directors of the film are looking for donations to help with post production.

For $10 you can get a postcard from the directors and a shout out on facebook. For $50 you can get a copy of the DVD, and for $100, you can receive artwork from a half-Japanese artist or your name in the end credits. The campaign runs until December 11th.

As a half myself, I am very intrigued by what these individuals will say about their experience. On the website for the film, the creators refer to the feeling of “being an outsider” in one’s own culture, or being regarded as such by full-blooded Japanese, a feeling I am certainly familiar with. I was bullied by my white-er classmates in NY for being Japanese, and when my well-intentioned parents took me to a Japanese summer camp, I was bullied there as well for being only half Japanese.

However, I have found my positive experiences of meeting other half-Japanese more rewarding than my negative experiences are discouraging. Before my most recent move to Japan in 2009, I had met only a few half-Japanese in my life; I became acquainted with severalfold this number over the past 2 years, an experience that has been a catalyst for revisiting the ever-problematic issue of my cultural identity. Maybe as a reaction to the difficult socialization process I underwent in my younger years, I tend to define myself by my intellectual interests, my political opinions, and by other purely cerebral points; discussing the ways in which we are defined, not by choice but by pure circumstance, is a different way of connecting with people, and an experience that had been missing from my life.

I’m happy to see this conversation happening. The brochure cites that 1 in 30 babies born in Japan today are of mixed race, and over the past 10 years in the United States, the number of mixed-race children in America has risen by 50%. If you yourself are not a hafu, you probably know someone who is (besides of course, the most famous one of all- President Obama).

We will keep you posted on its official release date. Check out their indie go go site for some preliminary profiles of half-japanese or to donate:

Has Japan's largest newspaper, the Yomiuri, been co-opted into a personal weapon of the Chairman?

Former Yomiuri Giants General Manager Hidetoshi Kiyotake hold a press conference Friday, November 25th , at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan to discuss legal action against the Yomiuri Shimbun group for “illegally” and “unjustly” firing him last week.  He publicly criticized group Chairman Tsuneo Watanabe for meddling in the team’s hiring affairs.

Legendary investigative journalist and fired General Manager of the Yomiuri Giants discusses compliance problems at a press conference on November 25th

The Yomiuri Newspaper (読売新聞) is the largest newspaper in the world (10,000,000 circulation) and Mr. Watanabe is the de facto ruler of the paper. He is the Rupert Murdoch of Japan, combined with the power of Richard Nixon in his prime. The Yomiuri Giants, one of Japan’s most popular baseball teams, are part of the Yomiuri Empire that includes its own amusement park, Yomiuri Land. It is wholly owned by Yomiuri Holdings, of which Watanabe is also the chairman.

Watanabe Tsuneo: Media and Power--an expose of "The Rupert Murdoch of Japan" which was highly critical of the Yomiuri Chairman

The Giants fired Kiyotake, 61, on Nov. 18, saying his actions were inappropriate because he was told not to go to the press by other executives inside the Yomiuri group and disclosed sensitive information on personnel matters.

Kiyotake’s press conference on Nov. 11 criticized Watanabe, who allegedly ignored all rules of management in place and accused him of “serious violation of compliance.”

Mr. Kiyotake noted, “I was a reporter of the social news department of the Yomiuri Shimbun. And in those days, I attacked the noncompliance of other companies and strongly criticized the leaders of the companies who violated compliance,”

“Therefore, if I had condoned this serious noncompliance that would betray the fans, players, coaches, field managers and honest employees in order to save myself, it would have been an immoral act,” said Kiyotake. He has represented the Giants in some capacity since 2004. Kiyotake was the former number two in the Yomiuri’s Social (National) News Department (社会部) which does most of the investigative journalism at the newspaper. After he was transferred to the Giants, the entire Social (National) News Department was moved from a secluded corner of the Yomiuri building into the middle of the floor, where the reporters came under the scrutiny of middle-management, essentially put on “a watch-list.”

 According to this book and other sources, Watanabe, a former political reporter, has always regarded the Social (National) News Department (社会部) with disdain since they have exposed corrupt acts by politicians he was particularly friendly with.  In many circles, it is joked that the Yomiuri was the official newspaper of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) which had a stranglehold on the Japanese government for more than four decades.  (The Democratic Party of Japan ruling coalition took over in 2009 after winning the support of Japan’s largest criminal organization, the Yamaguchi-gumi and affiliates in 2007.)

 Kiyotake also told the assembled press on Friday that Watanabe tried to get him to cancel the press conference just before he was about to hold it.“By the end of our call he was threatening me by saying things like ‘You are going to ruin yourself. You are waging all-out war against the Yomiuri Shimbun,’ ” Kiyotake said in his statement.

It is an interesting threat, if true, in that it seems to indicate Chairman Watanabe sees both the newspaper and the baseball team as his personal property and suggests that he is able to and willing to use the Yomiuri Newspaper as a tool in personal vendettas. This could call into question the entire credibility of the newspaper.  The Hidetoshi Kiyotake Statement In English and 清武さんの声明文 can be read here.

*Editor’s note: Due to an inability to contact the public relations department of the Yomiuri Shimbun today, a revised version of this article will be posted later in another forum.  The author (that’s me), was a reporter at the Yomiuri Shinbun from 1993-2005 and  worked under Mr. Kiyotake as a reporter and therefore is not completely objective. From personal experience and other sources, I believe he is telling the truth. I contributed an article on recent events at the Yomiuri to a daily newspaper in the Sankei Group, Yukan Fuji (夕刊フジ), which I will translate here, if given permission. 

OLYMPUS: a closer look with an excerpt from THE GUARDIAN

In April this year, Michael Woodford became president of Olympus, a Japanese optical and medical equipment maker with a God-like reputation to match its name – until recently.

Last July, a small Japanese magazine called Facta published an article on Olympus’s spectacular money-losing investments. Another magazine,Zaiten, followed up with an expose on Olympus’s failed investment branch, ITX. This prompted Woodford to begin examining the company’s records. By 12 October, Woodford urged the company chairman, Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, to step down due to “serious governance concerns”. The response of the Olympus board was to strip Woodford of his executive position, while playing it to the Japanese media that he had been fired due to cultural clashes with management.

The Japanese mainstream press went with the cultural angle. But the foreign media – led by the Financial Times – began an assault on Olympus, strongly questioning its management decisions. When mainstream Japanese newspaper Sankei Shinbun ran an interview with Woodford in which he voiced his misgivings, the rest of the Japanese media began pursuing allegations of malfeasance as well.

Japanese Corporate Chess is an easy game until the pawns start refusing to play as pawns. This can only be done once you reach the other side of the board...or the ocean.

By 26 October, with Olympus stock prices tanking, Kikukawa stepped down as chairman to become a director – while remaining on the board. The Tokyo stock exchange’s head lambasted the company shortly afterwards. Japan’s financial services agency began their own investigation, and the Japanese police began to look at whether Olympus executives could be charged with special breach of trust.

The series of mysterious transactions that have taken place at Olympus since 2006 would take pages to describe. To sum them up succinctly, between 2006-2008 the company is said to have bought three firms for ¥73.5bn, and wrote them down ¥55.5bn in 2009. In addition, the firm spent ¥210bn buying UK medical-instruments maker Gyrus Group in 2008, of which almost a third of the costs were paid to two mysterious financial advisory firms in the US and the Cayman Islands.

Most of the press coverage, except for that from the astute Hiroko Tabuchi at the New York Times, has been primarily focused on the dealings involving Gyrus, but a look at Olympus’s investments in the three supposedly unrelated companies – Altis, a waste disposal and recycling company, Humalabo, a nutritional supplement maker/facial cream seller and News Chef, a seller of microwave cooking ware and asset management firm – may be more revealing of core problems at the firm.

For the rest of the story, go to The Guardian 

Tadamasa Goto, ex-crime boss, Buddhist priest, about to learn more about karma (因果応報)

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (TMPD) is tightening up their investigation of former mob boss Tadamasa Goto, alleged Buddhist priest and best-selling author,  on charges of two murders. Last week the TMPD arrested former Goto-gumi member and currently Yamaguchi-gumi  Rachi-gumi member (山口組良知組)–Hideo Matsumoto (松本英也容疑者) of charges of pre-meditated murder. On the 24th of October (2011) the TMPD raided the offices of Rachi-gumi looking for related evidence. Rachi-gumi was one of two groups that Goto-gumi was split into after Goto’s ouster in October of 2010.

 One of the two person teams that was used to kill Nozaki, former Goto-gumi member Takashi Kondo, (近藤毅), was himself gunned down in Thailand this April. Mr. Matsumoto may have functioned as the look-out. Goto-gumi assassination squads usually functioned with four to five people, often with no previous meetings—aka Reservoir Dogs style.Police sources believe that Matsumoto, instructed Mr. Kondo to flee to China. Matsumoto is also believed to have financially supported Kondo while he was in hiding, possibly with Goto’s financial aid.

This April, according to underworld sources, Kondo was promised a new passport and a new life by Tadamasa Goto, and left China for Cambodia where he entered Thailand and was killed in a bloody shooting match. The Thai Police are dubious that the Thai guide who turned himself in actually shot Kondo and his friend.


 Goto Tadamasa was the head of the Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi (山口組後藤組)until October 14th 2008, when he was forced out of Japan’s largest criminal organization, the Yamaguchi-gumi, which has 39,000 members. In his prime, he controlled over a thousand gangsters and affiliates, one hundred front companies and assets of over a billion dollars. He may also have been involved in the Olympus scandal as well which could have generated huge funds for the Yamaguchi-gumi Corporation. However, his back-door deal with the FBI to get a liver transplant at UCLA, along with liver transplants for three other yakuza, his insubordination, and his habit of condoning and/or ordering attacks on innocent civilians resulted in the organization council deciding to force him into retirement.

In December of 2010, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police (TMPD) arrested a former member of the Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi (Nobuyuki Yamamoto) for killing a real estate consultant,  Kazuoki Nozaki,  in a dispute over a valuable  building in Shibuya ward. The murder took place in 2006. A Goto-gumi front company was laying claim to the building and Nozaki-san was an obstacle in their plans. He was stabbed to death on the streets of Minato-ward. Yamamoto has denied receiving direct orders from Goto Tadamasa, his former gang-boss. An international arrest warrant for the superior of Nobuyuki Yamamoto was issued after Yamamoto’s arrest, a man known as Kondo Takashi (近藤毅) also a former Goto-gumi member. The TMPD felt they had a strong case on circumstantial evidence alone that Goto had ordered the hit but no direct testimony from someone receiving orders. Kondo, they felt, was the key to making their case.

Nobuyuki Yamamoto was convicted of murder on May 14th and sentenced to 13 years of hard labor, as requested by the prosecutor. The judged at sentencing noted, “It was an outrageous killing of an ordinary citizen.” According to the ruling, Yamamoto, who was a member of the Goto-gumi and under Goto’s supervision at the time of the crime, working with another Goto-gumi member Kondo Takashi (under international arrest warrant for the same murder), plotted together and on the evening of March 5th, 2006, they stabbed Mr. Nozaki to death on the streets of Minato-ward Aoyama area.

Kondo is unilikely to be prosecuted since he was assassinated in April before he could talk. 死人に口なし: Dead men have no mouths. (Harlan Ellison would appreciate this saying.)

On April 27th,  2011, a Thai tour guide was arrested after he confessed to shooting to death one Japanese tourist and wounding another while they were trekking in northern Thailand. The two “tourists” are former yakuza members.

Apichart Inphisak, the 41-year-old guide, was arrested at a friend’s house 30 kilometers from Chiang Rai. The pistol he said he used to shoot the two Japanese was confiscated, according to local Thai press sources. Japanese police sources assert that the two Japanese individuals were both members of the Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi. One of the individuals is believed to have involved in the murder of real estate agent, Nozaki Kazuoki, in 2006.


On conditions of anonymity, Japanese police sources said, “It’s clear that the two were assassinated on orders of former members of the Goto-gumi, possibly Goto himself. This makes prosecuting the case or taking it all the way up to the top extremely difficult.” The Thai English Newspaper, the Nation reported one of the victims as being “Takashi Kodo,  age 44,  of the Sedu-kai gang in Tokyo”. This was Kondo Takashi (近藤毅)of the Yamaguchi-gumi Yamaken-gumi Seiryukai. (山口組山健組誠竜会)which has 120 members. The Goto-gumi was closely tied to the Yamaken-gumi in the past. Other law enforcement sources place him as having been in the Yamaguchi-gumi Rachi-gumi Seiryukai (山口組良知組政竜会). Kondo was lured to Thailand from China where he had been in hiding. He allegedly was promised via a Goto emissary a new passport, a reward for keeping quiet, and a new life. He just ended up very dead. Police have confirmed that Kondo was the man killed. Local sources also note that the gun brought in by the Thai guide and the caliber of the bullet shot into Kondo don’t match. Further details are unavailable.

Earlier last month, the TMPD sent police officers to Thailand inquire into the death of Kondo and positively identify the body. The TMPD believe that Kondo may have been  killed on Goto’s orders. The Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office is reconsidering charging Goto with murder based on circumstantial evidence alone and possibly newer evidence as well.  Goto Tadamasa renounced his life of crime and became a Buddhist priest in 2009, and has been doing charitable acts. It may not be enough however to escape a lifetime of bad karma in the metaphysical world or justice in this world. Police sources note that Goto has been associating with a senior boss of the Kyushu Seido-kai (九州誠道会)and could possible be considering a return to organized crime.

Goto’s  biography, 憚りながら (Habakarinagara) (Pardon me…but you’re wrong), was issued last year by Takarajima Publications last year and was a huge best-seller. In the book, Goto brags of his political connections and shows no remorse for the attacks his own gang members made on the film director Itami Juzo in 1992. Itami had made a movie, The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion, (民暴の女) depicting the yakuza as a cancer on society and this had offended Goto. In the book Goto denied ordering the director to be attacked but praised the guts and initiative of his underlings who slashed up the face of the film director.  Former Goto-gumi members also assert that Goto was responsible for later having the director killed, by forcing him to jump off a roof-top at gun-point as to make it appear as if he committed suicide. The Goto-gumi member believed to have done the killing, Takao Mikuni (三國孝雄) a Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi Ishikawa-gumi Wakagashira, has been missing for two years. The last communication fellow gang member had with him was a cryptic conversation in which he said, “The old man (親父)is going to have me killed. I know too much.”


 Itami’s wife is still under police protection. Whether Goto will be arrested for the murder of Mr. Nozaki or Mr. Kondo is an unknown. What is definitely known is that he is a major suspect in both murders. He was kind enough to also mention me in the book with an implied death threat, punctuated by a note that he was laughing while saying it, making it hard to prosecute as a threat.

On June 16th, rough 8:40 am, someone fired a shotgun into the construction schedule sign posted at the building mentioned above. The police are investigating on weapons violations charges. Law enforcement believes that Goto would not likely shoot up what is now his own property and that it may be a sign of anger from other Yamaguchi-gumi members for orchestrating the death of his former subordinate–if he did so.

Memo: I wil admit to lacking objectivity in this case. I believe that in one way or another, Tadamasa Goto bears responsibility for the death of two close friends, and his failure to show real repentance for the suffering he inflicted on innocent people during his career makes me doubt the sincerity of his religious conversion. As on priest put it, “滅罪なき懺悔は懺悔にならない”–There is no real repentance without acts of atonement.”  Admittedly, unlike Shimada Shinsuke, according to police sources,  Goto has used some of his ill gotten gains to build a very good school in Cambodia, improve the local infrastructure, and make it possible for almost 700 children to receive a decent education. Whether that obviates what he has done so far or allowed his gang members to do–that’s a question only Enma (閻魔)–the final Judge of the Dead can really answer.

OLYMPUS: Bringing It Into Focus–A Special Breach Of Trust? UPDATE

In the last week, the New York Times, the Financial Times(article in Japanese)  and Reuters have reported heavily on suspicious transactions at Olympus Corporation, one of Japan’s oldest and most distinguished camera and optical equipment makers. The board forced out acting CEO,  Michael Woodford, after he became too diligent in doing his due diligence on questionable financial transactions at the company. Olympus claimed he was forced out for cultural differences. In one sense, they were correct. If Mr. Woodford was Japanese, he would have understood his promotion involved an implicit exchange of power for shutting up about things no one wants to talk about it. He just doesn’t get it.

Yes, the world is always made complicated by honest men with a sense of justice and duty–to themselves and to their shareholders or to some greater good. The whole scandal emerged first in the Japanese media. Yes, despite what you have been told good investigative journalism does exist in Japan. The magazine FACTA, has been following the story for months and ZAITEN, also ran a long feature on how Olympus’s money bleeding investment arm, ITX,  had been amputated quietly–but not so perfectly that  the huge pools of financial blood were not noticed. The mainstream Japanese media has chosen to ignore the story, probably because HUMALABO, the cosmetics and supplements maker, which Olympus now owns—is also a huge advertiser, especially in newspapers.

In year 2008, something happened at Olympus that turned the company from an entity focussed on seven major business areas, into a company completely out of focus, blurred by a total of seventeen business areas, to include real estate, investments, consulting, waste disposal, labor dispatch, and running travel agencies. Igari Toshiro, former prosecutor turned anti-yakuza crusader, who was Japan’s greatest expert on white-collar organized crime aka the keizai yakuza (経済ヤクザ)and many veteran organized crime detectives have stated that one of the first signs that a company has been infiltrated by anti-social forces is a sudden and totally new change in company direction–especially into areas like waste disposal, labor dispatch (temporary staffing), and real estate—all areas where anti-social forces have carved out a large niche for themselves.

Olympus seems to have lost their focus in June of 2008. Anti-social forces may have set their sights on the company at this time.

Olympus invested at current exchanges, what would be over 700 million dollars into three companies, in 2008 circa the time of their transformation into Super Olympus–and later wrote down the value of those investments by three quarters in the same year.  The three companies shared addresses and office space with several other companies with different names but sometimes the same employees, creating a web of real and paper companies that make tracking the money very difficult. One of the auditors involved is considered a corporate blood brother (企業舎弟・kigyoshatei) to the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group, by law enforcement and regulatory agency sources. In short, what happened at Olympus has all the earmarks of anti-social forces gaining entry into a company and draining it of cash. The Yubitoma case in 2007, the taking of Lehman Brothers Japan for 350 million by a yakuza connected firm Asclepius in 2008, and other cases bear a striking resemblance to what seems to have happened at Olympus.

When the board of a company continues to make decisions that negatively impacts the financial situation of the company, it is the duty of the CEO under the The Companies Act (会社法)to address these acts of corporate malfeasance and if need be, make the shareholders aware of the problem and possibly file criminal charges. It would appear, based on all that has surfaced, that Mr. Kikukawa, who ran Olympus during the periods where the suspicious transactions took place, and possibly other directors as well, may be guilty of the crime of an aggravated breach of trust . (会社法第960条・取締役などの特別背任罪)The law essentially says the following, “when a director (executive officer etc), for the purpose of promoting such person’s own interests or the interests of a third party or inflicting damage on a Stock company, commits an act in breach of such persons duties and causes financial damages to such Stock Company, such person shall be punished by imprisonment with hard labor for not more than ten years or a fine of not more than ten million yen or both.  If this is what Mr. Kikukawa and other board members have done, then under the The Companies Act (会社法), Mr. Woodford would be an accomplice to a crime by remaining silent.

I’m certainly not the judge and jury in this matter. However, as a reporter who has been covering organized crime since 1994, I feel confident in saying that if there hasn’t been a takeover or collusion of the company by anti-social forces, there is certainly a level of corporate malfeasance here that has already drawn the attention of the Japanese law enforcement agencies and regulatory agencies. It is drawing world attention as well. Investigations will come. No one can be sure what will be found until the digging is done.

The Neojaponisme Blog has a very interesting catalog of the players involved in the transactions. It begins like this:

A Guide to the Olympus Mysteries

Updated October 25

On October 14, 2011, Japanese camera maker Olympus (オリンパス) fired its CEO Michael Woodford after a mere eight-months on the job. Woodford, through a serious of interviews with the foreign press, revealed that the dispute arose over his investigations into the company’s use of $1.3 billion USD on two mysterious sets of corporate deals. (Full back story here.) These controversies set off a 50% decline in Olympus stock price as well as calls for independent investigation from the company’s top institutional shareholders.

Ignoring the boardroom drama for a moment, there are two major mysteries of this Olympus story. First is the $687 million in fees paid to financial advisors AXAM Investments Inc. and Axes America LLC. Second is the over-payment in acquiring three minor companies — Altis, Humalabo, and News Chef — that have little to do with Olympus’ core business. While the Western media is working hard to investigate the ultimate recipients of the $1.3 billion, we thought it would be helpful to keep tabs here on what we know about the mystery companies in question.

As new details emerge, we will update this page. Please feel free to offer any further details or corrections.


The Financial Advisors: AXAM Investments and Axes America

Olympus has confirmed its paid $687 million USD in “financial advisory fees” to two companies AXAM Investments Inc. and Axes America LLC for assistance with its $2 billion acquisition of British medical company Gyrus Group Plc (Business Week). With standard M&A fees at 1-2%, AXAM and Axes’ haul ended up being the largest financial advisory fee paid in history (Reuters). According to Reuters, Olympus paid AXAM and Axes $177 million in preferred shares, but the companies asked Olympus to buy them back in March 2010 — at the price of $620 million.

Who is AXAM Investments, Ltd.?
There is almost no public information about AXAM Investments Ltd. other than its registration in the Cayman Islands. The company, however, was stricken from the Cayman Islands’ local registry in June 2010, and there are no materials on the Internet revealing further information about its existence.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report on the deal suggests that Hajime Sagawa of Axes America LLC represented AXAM in the negotiations with Olympus (Reuters). TheNew York Times reported on October 24 that Axes “assigned” its Gyrus shares to AXAM after it closed in March 2008. Sagawa’s wife, however, denies Sagawa’s involvement with AXAM (Reuters). While not proof of a connection, there are, however, records available on the Internet showing Hajime Sagawa shipping personal affects from/to aSeven Mile Beach location on the Cayman Islands to/from his Boca Raton home in 2006 (waybill).

Who is Axes America, LLC?
Axes America LLC is nearly as obscure as AXAM, but there are traces of the “dormant” company on the Internet. The firm was first established on February 13, 1997, and according to FINRA records, dropped its “broker-dealer registrations” in 2008, three months after the Olympus deal closed (Axes websiteFortune). The company originally had $160,000 USD in paid-in capital (ref).

Axes America was once based in office suites at 420 Lexington Ave Rm 2009, New York (Biz Find), but Reuters found a security guard who said the office had been closed for a few years (Reuters). Earlier, the company had two addresses in Connecticut. One at 220 Fox Ridge Rd, Stamford, which is a normal house rather than an office complex (reference). The 2001 website for Axes (Japan) Securities meanwhile lists the address 70 Seaview Avenue, Stamford, CT 06902 (office building images).

Axes America’s President and CEO for many years was the aforementioned 64 year-old Hajime “Jim” Sagawa (in kanji, 佐川肇). In the 1980s, he was employed at Nomura Securities and now bankrupt investment firm Drexel Burnham Lambert (the one time home to “junk bond king” Michael Milken). He then later headed up M&A at Sanyo Securities America and was a managing partner at stock brockerage PaineWebber(now part of UBS AG) (ReutersFortune). Reuters traced Sagawa to a “resort home” in Boca Raton, Florida (Reuters). Sagawa in recent years has been associated with companies Sagawa Capital (registered to his Boca Raton home, closed in December 2010), Sagawa & Company (registered in NY, home jurisdiction in Delaware), andSagawa International Services (Pompano Beach, Florida),

In 2001, Axes’ Japanese website identified the shareholders of Axes America LLC as three employees Akio Nakagawa, Masayuki Hamada, and Hajime Sagawa. Other key personnel of Axes America include Takahashi Yoshinori (高橋芳徳) (originally hired as a “Technical Translator” in his H1B visa application) who has been CEO (c. 2002-2006) and Executive VP (ref).

The New York Times reported that Nakagawa and Sagawa first worked together in 1988 at Drexel Burnham Lambert. Nakagawa had worked at Merrill Lynch. Both left Drexel in 1990 and moved to Paine Webber, from which Sagawa was laid off in 1996. (The Times article provides the best biographical detail on Sagawa.)

According to the New York Times, an unnamed official at Olympus approached Axes about assisting with M&A deals.

Axes America LLC eventually shut down on March 5, 2008 — one month after the Gyrus deal closed (New York Times).

Who is Axes (Japan) Investments?

For the complete article continue on to The Neojaponisme blog

TEPCO Ties To The Yakuza: Gone? Police Sources Still Skeptical.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the monolithic corporation that controls all electric power in Greater Tokyo, and was responsible for a triple meltdown at their nuclear power plant in Fukushima (March 11th-March 15th) pledged on July 19th (2011), that they would try to keep organized crime members (yakuza) from participating in the reconstruction of the power plant and related projects. They have been working with the Japanese National Police Agency to accomplish this but sources inside that agency are dubious as to whether there have been any real results.  TEPCO officials met with the National Police and agency and 23 subcontractors on the 22nd  of July and created a conference group on the issue. This was the first official conference group they have ever held with the police on organized crimes issues according to government sources.

TEPCO has been an equal opportunity employer. They were willing to work with any organized crime group. *Artwork by @marikurisato


Tokyo Electric Power Company explained, at the time, that the reasons behind the sudden announcement and pledges is, “that we want to people to widely know our exclusionary stance towards organized crime.”

According to TEPCO and police sources, since the reconstruction project has picked up speed, the number of workers has dramatically increased to several thousand. The Japanese NPA (National Police Agency) has directed TEPCO from as early as June, to keep the yakuza out of the workers—although many of the subcontractors of the subcontractors are known yakuza front companies. Over forty workers or more later were found to have used fake names when getting jobs doing reconstruction work and are presently unaccounted for.  A former yakuza fan magazine editor, has also been able to get into the reactor as a worker under false pretenses. He has written extensively about yakuza working on the reconstruction site at present. Another recently published book detailed how a reporter was able to fake his credentials, and get access to the core control sections of the nuclear reactors.

Even before the meltdown, it was very common for TEPCO to use outsourcing firms that that would ultimately outsource work to organized crime front companies, many of which are temporary labor dispatch services, such as Kodo-kai backed M-Kogyo in Fukuoka Prefecture and Yokohama city. Organized crime groups from Kyushu are bringing workers as well. Matsuba-kai related firms are handling waste disposal and site clean-ups.

In fact, in May, TEPCO’s Public Relations Department, when asked by this reporter, if TEPCO had what are now the standard “organized crime exclusionary clauses” (暴力団排除条項) in their contracts with subcontractors, replied, “We don’t have them standardized into our contracts. We don’t check or demand that our subcontractors have them in their contracts. We are considering doing so in the future.” TEPCO has also not fully implemented the Japanese government issued guidelines for corporations who wish to avoid doing business with organized crime. TEPCO also refused to name the companies they use for outsourcing labor, or doing security checks, and the general security at the nuclear power plants, “because to do so would be in non-compliance with personal privacy information protection laws.”

At the conferences with the police, TEPCO was supposed to share information with the police, learn the proper methods of dealing with organized crime shakedowns, and study how to do the paperwork to require the subcontractors to exclude organized crime from their businesses. However, TEPCO will probably not be held responsible for the second or third tier firms to which the work is further subcontracted. A senior National Police Agency officer, speaking on grounds of anonymity said, “I doubt these meetings with TEPCO have produced any great results. TEPCO has a history of doing business with the yakuza that is far deeper than just using their labor. Under the new laws that went into effect on October 1st, providing capital or profits to anti-social forces becomes a crime.  The TMPD (Tokyo Metro Police Department)  may have to issue TEPCO a warning. After the warning, there would be arrests.”

The same source noted that  a TEPCO employee was arrested for insurance fraud along with a Sumiyoshi-kai member in May of this year but there was no evidence that TEPCO itself or any other TEPCO employees were involved in the crime. It only indicated that at least one TEPCO employee had organized crime connections. In January of 2003, it was reported that TEPCO had been making pay offs to the Sumiyoshi-kai for over twenty years via leasing plants and buying green tea from them. TEPCO also allegedly paid Yamaguchi-gumi associate and former member, Takeuchi Yoichi (竹内陽一元山口組組長), several thousand dollars to stop writing about safety problems at the Fukushima nuclear reactor in the 90s. Circa 2002-2003 Mizutani Construction, after being named  a sub-contractor on TEPCO’s  Fukushima nuclear reactor waste disposal project (残土処理), paid Takeuchi’s front company  as “consulting fees” an amount over a million dollars (約一億2千万円). This is well-documented in the recently published book on Mizutani Kensetsu by Isao Mori.   I spoke with one NPA official responsible for the Fukushima District about Takeuchi and his involvement with TEPCO. He had a very short response: “I know the name very well. I’d be careful where and to whom you asked that question. That’s all I have to say.”

There’s one good thing you can say about TEPCO: they have been equal opportunity employers for many years and don’t discriminate against the yakuza. Sumiyoshi-kai, Yamaguchi-gumi, Matsuba-kai–everyone is welcome at TEPCO.



Occupy Tokyo: Another Good Excuse to Come Out and Hate on TEPCO

Saturday, October 15th, Occupy Wall Street went global. Around 300 people around Tokyo came out to march in 2 separate locations. Japan Subculture went to check out what was happening at Hibiya Park, where 100 protestors marched through the Roppongi district.

How did Occupy Tokyo come about? The story is another testimony to the efficiency of social networking in organizing demonstrations. According to participants, just a few days prior to the event, “meetup” group members on the forum Occupy Together were testing out interest in Tokyo. Michele from California, one of the first to post on the Tokyo thread, tells about how she and many others decided to participate; “It started off with the post ‘What’s going on in Tokyo? I’m ready if you are’, and picked up from there”. It moved from the forum to Twitter, and then Facebook; and on Saturday about 150 people showed up at Hibiya Park to march in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests.

While many of the demonstrators carried signs in step with the New York City movement, many were not related to income inequality at all. Several people were out protesting against nuclear power, TEPCO, and the government, and there was also a small cohort carrying signs that said, “Free Tibet”.

All pictures were taken by Said Karlsson. More of his work can be seen at


The Procession



 The Characters

many present were echoing Occupy Wall Street's dissent
"Japanese people - keep your mouth shut til you get slaughtered like sheep? Smash your TV!"
many held signs protesting the Chinese government's treatment of Tibet
a woman in a passing bus contemplates the protest
boys in a passing bus take interest
anti-nuclear signs were among the most numerous
anti-nuclear signs were among the most numerous
Michele, from California, and her son (middle and left) with friend Rohini from Seattle have washed and re-used this towel many times since before the Iraq invasion. It previously read, "War is Wrong"