Brush up on your pole positions at the International Pole Championship

Tokyoites are no virgin brides; we know a good pole dance when we see one.

Or we thought we did, until the International Pole Championship rolled into town last year and took our brains for a ride. Packed to the rafters of Shinjuku’s cavernous Christon Cafe, aficionados and laymen alike were wowed by cowgirls, brides, monks, wild Amazon natives and other masters of the pole. From sultry numbers that would make a Roppongi stripper jealous to exotic acrobatic feats you’d expect of Cirque du Soleil candidates, it was definitely not the child’s play found in any red light district. This was some serious schooling in gymnastics. But sexier!

And as incredibly disappointed as I am that I won’t make it this year, I’m here to spread the word about the International Poledance Championship 2010, run by the lovely Ania Przeplasko of the International Pole Dance Fitness Association. The biggest pole dance event ever, this year’s competition will see representatives from 21 countries work the pole to its limit, including last year’s champions Mai Sato and Dave Kahl (pictured above). As a testament to how popular pole dancing has become (as if it wasn’t popular before!), the venue has been upgraded to the plush JCB Hall, ensuring everyone gets a great view of the acrobatic action on stage.

Jake helped judge the 2009 competition, but I see he’s relinquished the coveted position in order to spare competitors his harsh judgment of inner thigh gripping strength.

And because pictures speak louder than words, here’s some scenes from last year’s competition, including Mai’s breathtaking performance.

International Pole Championship
JCB Hall, Meets Port, Tokyo Dome
9 December 2010
¥4,000

Featuring two world-firsts: First ʻDisabled Divisionʼ and the first time National Champions from around the world will compete for the title ʻUltimate Pole Championʼ

Don’t forget to check out their workshops!

Memo from Jake: Ania Przeplasko has been a close friend for years, and even took the photos for  the cover of Tokyo Vice on a pro bono basis. So of course, I’m totally biased in praising the event, but last year it was awesome and this year I suspect will be even better. And I don’t even like watching modern dance! They have an awesome line-up this year. V. Lea from Hong Kong, when she’s working the silk-ropes, makes Spider-man look clumsy. Sexy fun for the whole family–as long as the whole family is over 18.

Everything I Ever Needed To Know I Learned From the Yakuza or the Cops That Arrest Them #3: If you love your family, don't shoot yourself to death

A few weeks ago, a yakuza boss who I only knew vaguely shot himself to death. He was badly in debt and facing charges of extortion. I’m sure he was guilty.  I knew his son from a story I did years ago on a Korean-Japanese Savings and Loan Bank that had folded  (Saitama Shogin).

When I read the article about his death, I called the son and expressed my condolences. He was relatively calm about it all. He ran a pachinko parlor in Saitama and unlike his father had stayed out of organized crime.

“Yeah, I was sad. He owed a lot of money. He couldn’t pay his association dues and kept borrowing money from another yakuza loan shark. In the end, with the trial coming up and chances of having to pay a penalty, he did what he thought was best. I respect that. But he left behind a huge debt and not much money.”

I asked if they were going to hold a funeral but he said it wasn’t usually done for suicides. As we were talking, he said there was one thing that bothered him a lot about his Dad’s death.  I asked what it was.

“He shot himself with a really expensive gun. He should have sold that gun. It was a great gun. A Sig Sauer. Relatively new model. Worth at least $20,000 on the black market. He should have sold the gun and gave Mom the money and stabbed himself to death or jumped in front of a train or something.  Blowing his brains out may have been the easiest way to die but it was a little selfish.”

Of course, there was no irony as he was saying this. I guess that’s the lesson to be learned: if you’re a yakuza with a family and you’re going to kill yourself, don’t use a gun. Sell the gun, leave something behind, then whack yourself by other means. It’s the courteous thing to do.

There is a slightly happy end to this story. The old man had taken out a life insurance policy for a substantial amount two years previously. In Japan, after two years of paying life insurance, there is a pay-out for suicide. Even for yakuza. (It used to only require one year but it was made to two years to discourage suicides and murders disguised as suicides and loan sharks pressuring deadbeats to make themselves dead so they could collect their loans).

The son called to tell me the good news and I wished him well, but as I was about to hang up, he had to add, “I guess Dad really did think about us. It was a nice gesture. Still, it’s a shame about that gun.”

Note: Portions of this were first “tweeted.” I have altered some details as to avoid causing trouble to the family or his replacement in the organization. 許してください。

Anticlimactic weekly roundup

Excuse us for the lull, but it was the sunniest Golden Week in 25 years, and while Jake was out doing the rounds in New England and soaking up more juicy content for a future report, the JSRC base back in Japan was getting our fill of vitamin D for the spring.

As the rest of the country was on vacation during the first half of the week, there was not a lot to be missed. And with the DOW and Greece pulling unforseen tricks out of their sleeves, the latter half will likely be spent avidly watching exchange rates and reading financial news.

Some tidbits:

The Financial Times drummed up some coverage on love hotel funds (perhaps spurred by the same weekly article we were), with super special obligatory commentary by foreign loveho tycoon Steve Mansfield.

In guffaw-worthy yakuza news, two Yamaguchi-gumi-affiliated Shouyuu-kai gang members were arrested Thursday for selling fake Viagra. Police say that the pair sold about 100 million yen of the stuff to around 7,000 wishful guys, and were outsted out by another group of three men who were arrested for the same crime in February.

A 63-year-old Yamaguchi-gumi boss is on the run after police issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of fraud and attempted fraud. The gangster rented a room in a municipal housing complex for two months under someone else’s name in order to take advantage of reduced rent for low-income earners. The boss weasled out of paying a total of 28,200 yen, and police suspect he may be involved in a conspiracy with two other rooms.

The manager of a delivery health shop in Gotanda went for a run himself and ended up with a broken foot during a robbery on Tuesday. He and a fellow employee were running from a man armed with a knife who had entered the shop late that night. The manager jumped through a window in an A-Team-worthy escape but broke his left foot when he landed. The robber got away without any cash.

And finally a video: “Yakuza’s Attempt at 早口言葉: Tounge-twisters in Kansai Dialect” (via @AdySan)

24-Hour Tokyo: Tokyo Government To Run Subway Line All Night?!! Scoop!

There is serious talk in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government of running the city managed subway systems Toei Chikatetsu(都営地下鉄) 24 hours a day when Haneda Airport opens to more international flights later this year. You might think of Tokyo as the city that never sleeps but in fact all public transportation stops around 1 am. This forces any one living far from the city to head home before midnight or be stranded until five or six am. However, with flights arriving into Haneda at all hours of the night–a lack of any other transportation other than expensive taxis is sure to go over poorly with much sought after tourists.

The Tokyo Managed Subway System May Soon Run 24/7
The Tokyo Managed Subway System May Soon Run 24/7

At the same time, merchants in Kabukicho, the former red-light district of Tokyo, located in Shinjuku are pushing to allow the area to be designated a special region where all businesses can stay open 24 hours a day. Currently, host and hostess clubs are forced to shutter their windows at one am. They are circumventing the laws by transforming the places into “girl’s bars” or “boy’s clubs” after hours, with stand up counters where customers can order drinks,–which makes them “bars” instead of cabarets, technically. Tokyo has a fair amount of latitude in how they run their own subway system, and while the 都営地下鉄 (toeichikatesu) routes are limited, if they run 24 hours a night there is a good chance they will become the last resort of the night owls and newly arrived passengers at Haneda. Longer hours should translate into more employment for the locals–and the cops as well.

"Where Is The Romance?"–a hard-boiled meditation on mating rituals in Tokyo (for V-day)

In a departure from our usual somber posting, I’ve written an original prose-poem, which is for a friend’s upcoming “Where is the Romance” theme party in Tokyo–a pre-valentines’s day event.  I’ve been in Japan (not just Tokyo) for over twenty years now and it seems to me that this city as overpopulated as it is, is also a very lonely place.  I’ve heard more dating horror stories than any man should hear in his entire life.  If Hong Kong is the graveyard of marriages–Tokyo is where the infanticide of them is widely practiced–and marriages, when they happen, seem to last as long as the cherry blossoms or linger on, liked fish being dried in the sun. Of course, this also a city where fake marriages run 3,000 dollars for foreign women wanting to work in the entertainment industry, and gay men marry women to maintain appearances, and marriage fraud schemes are a semi-institutionalized crime.

I should say that I’m parodying one well-known author/poet with this masterpiece and whoever figures out who it is gets a pack of dried umeboshi and honorable mention on this humble blog. Hopefully, those of you familiar with Tokyo will get some of the subtler references.  By the way, remember on Valentine’s Day in Japan–the women buy chocolate for the men.

Continue reading "Where Is The Romance?"–a hard-boiled meditation on mating rituals in Tokyo (for V-day)

A Maudlin Merry X-mas From Jake, Sarah and Everyone At Japan Subculture Research Center

I wish I could be a little more cheerful around this time of year. I can remember a time when the Christmas season didn’t depress me much but it seems like decades ago.  Maybe if I was in Japan where Christmas is more festively celebrated by buying tubs of Kentucky Fried Chicken and young couples flock to love hotels to consummate their undying love for each in Hello Kitty! themed love hotel suites or in illuminated Jacuzzi baths or round beds shaking to festive tunes channelled through the “body sonic” (speakers embedded in the mattress frame.)

Well, for me it’s the time of year when I began preparing to send out 年賀状  (nengajo=New Year’s Greeting Cards).  It’s an important thing to do in Japan and one  nengajou has the power to keep almost dead relationships alive for yet another year. To receive one and not reply is a terrible social mistake and it’s always important to send one along with a hand-written note if humanly possible. In many ways, your nengajo is considered a barometer of who you are and where you are in your life. They are not to be taken lightly although they weigh next to nothing at all.

And even though I’ve automated the process somewhat, I still find that I spend a lot of time pulling up New Year’s Cards (nengajo) from years past to make sure I have the correct addresses and am not forgetting any one.  Each year that process becomes a little more painful.  There are New Year’s cards from Sekiguchi Chiaki, my mentor, a great cop and and a great friend.  Hamaya-chan, my co-worker and teacher. Shibata–a retired yakuza who is probably burning in hell somewhere but hopefully up for reincarnation someday. There was some good in the man. And there is Helena.  Every year part of me hopes that this year, this year, I’ll get a Christmas card from her telling me she’s fine–that she started a whole new life–that I was played for a fool.  I wouldn’t mind being wrong about that one. I wouldn’t mind finding out I was the class-clown and not the class comedian.

I suppose I have other Pavlovian reasons for associating New Year’s with death. As the lone gaijin at the Yomiuri, I almost always got stuck on the New Year shift, and that meant tallying up the number of people who choked to death on sweet rice cakes (mochi)–which always included old people and sometimes children.  I think I did it for ten years straight and you know what–it’s not fun to talk to the families about the deaths of their loved ones on what should be a joyous occasion. I didn’t have to do it too many times but once is enough.  Talk about feeling like a jackal and a heel. Of course, there are a lot of suicides as well–even if you don’t write them up, you’re supposed to call and see if there is a heart-warming, really sad story behind the suicide.

Continue reading A Maudlin Merry X-mas From Jake, Sarah and Everyone At Japan Subculture Research Center

For the rest of the story, read TOKYO VICE: An American Reporter On the Police Beat in Japan

Today, November 1st, 60 Minutes did a stellar piece on the Yakuza in Japan and my life covering them as a reporter, and the one scoop regarding Goto Tadamasa, the Professor Moriarty of Japan’s yakuza that got me in a lot of trouble. A lot has changed since 60 Minutes came to Japan to report on the story. It remains to be seen how it will all play out. If you want to know more about it all, read TOKYO VICE.  It will tell you more about Japan, the mob, and the underworld than you probably want to know.  For more on Goto-gumi, see the crime resources. Thanks for stopping by.

Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter On the Police Beat In Japan