Reposted: The high price of writing about anti-social forces–and those who pay. 猪狩先生を弔う日々

In life, we only encounter the injustices we were meant to correct.

Igari Toshiro, ex-prosecutor, leading lawyer in the anti-organized crime movement in Japan. 1949-2010.

Igari Toshiro, was my lawyer, my mentor, and my friend. In the sixteen years I’ve been covering organized crime in Japan, I’ve never met anyone more courageous or inspiring–or anyone who actually looked as much like a pit-bull in human form. Igari-san was a legend in the law enforcement world, the author of several books on dealing with organized crime and preventing their incursion into the business world. He was the father of the “organized crime exclusion clause”, a simple but brilliant idea that is now embedded into most contracts in Japan and requires the signer to pledge that he is not a member of an organized crime group. It’s already been used to arrest one high-ranking yakuza boss, and is the basis for the legislation being adapted prefecture-by-prefecture that will make it a crime to pay off gangs or provide them with capital. He was rather disliked in the underworld.

The last time I spoke face-to-face with Igari was on August 8 2010.  It was a Sunday; he had come back from Brazil and went directly from Narita Airport to his office to meet me. I asked him if he would cooperate in a documentary I was working on as consultant and a reporter for ●●● television, owned by NewsCorp, on the yakuza.

I also had a problem.

It’s rather simple: In 2008, I angered a yakuza boss named Goto Tadamasa, who was head of a 1,000-member strong faction of the country’s largest gang, the Yamaguchi-gumi. In an article published in the Washington Post, I wrote how he had sold out his own group to the FBI in order to get a visa for the United States so he could receive a liver transplant at UCLA. The article along with a subsequent book I helped write for Takarajima Publishing resulted in him being kicked out of the Yamaguchi-gumi on October 14, 2008. Takarijma, without bothering to warn me, published his biography this May. It’s a great book–except for a bit of subtle language that amounts to a yakuza-style fatwa on my life.

I asked Igari to help me deal with the fallout from the book. After much discussion, he and his two colleagues came up with a plan. His parting words were: “It’ll be a long battle. It’ll take money and courage, and you’ll have to come up with those on your own. But we’ll fight.”

On August 28th, his body was found in his vacation home in Manila, wrists slashed. Time of death unknown. It’s been ruled a suicide. Personally, I believe he was killed. I probably will never be able to prove it.

Igari had been working on his final book, Gekitotsu (Collision). It’s an amazing work that pulls no punches, using the real names of the yakuza and the politicians and individuals connected to them. He wrote, “Wherever it was possible, I made it a point to use the real names here. I’m aware that poses a huge risk for myself. I took that risk because I wanted to honestly write about my battles with the injustices hidden in our society and the results of those struggles. It’s proper to write the name of those you’ve fought.”

Ex-prosecutor and lawyer, Igari Toshiro, was a famous crusader in the war against organized crime. These are some of the book he authored.

Igari has been probably more influential than any individual in the anti-organized crime movement in Japan. As discussed above, he was the lawyer who first came up with the idea of the “organized crime member exclusionary clause” (暴力団排除条項). It was inspired by problems the Westin Hotel had when Goto-gumi and his posse stayed there and refused to leave, pointing out, “there’s nothing that says yakuza can’t stay at a hotel.”  Igari realized that legally that could be accomplished since the Japanese government does designate organized crime groups and members officially. All it would take was adding a clause to any contract in which the individual signing has to clarify whether or not they are a yakuza, and if they are, the establishment reserves the right to unilaterally nullify the contract. It’s now part of almost any standard contract in Japan, even Sports Clubs. It has been used effectively by the police. A yakuza boss opening a bank account this year was later arrested for fraud because he lied about his yakuza affiliation on the contractual agreement with the bank.  The organized crime exclusionary ordinances (暴力団排除条例)which are sweeping the country, prefecture by prefecture, were also his brain child.  This year I met up with a high-ranking member of the National Police Agency, who had a copy of Igari’s book on his desk, and said, “In the war on organized crime, Igari-sensei was the equivalent of a five star general. He will be sorely missed.”  The current head of the National Centre For The Elimination of Boryokudan was also very vocally supportive of Igari, adding, “the organized crime exclusionary ordinances would have never made into legislation if it hadn’t been for the man.”  (There are now more than ten local governments in Japan with these ordinances on the book, which differ from prefecture to prefecture, but generally ban pay-offs to the yakuza or providing them with capital. Violators can be fined or jailed. Corporations that do business with yakuza will be publicly named. The ordinances have the potential of being a huge body blow to all organized crime groups, depriving them of protection money and capital. By punishing the individual or firm that capitulates to organized crime, it may have the same efficacy the change in the Commerce Laws had in eliminating racketeers-総会屋.)

Before leaving for Manila on vacation, he told his editor, “I’m nosing around in dangerous places. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. Let me sign the publishing contract now.”

In September, my best source in the Yamaguchi-gumi told me point blank: “Igari-san was murdered by the yakuza. It wasn’t Goto’s direct order. He was exposing yakuza ties to Sumo and professional baseball. It angered people. You should be careful too. The yakuza don’t warn people anymore, they just act.”

It’s a dangerous thing to expose the worst of the yakuza for what they are. Itami Juzo, directed the first realistic film about the yakuza, Minbo, in 1992. Goto-gumi members attacked him for doing it, slashing his face open. He would later tell the New York Times in an interview, “They cut very slowly, they took their time. They could have killed me if they wanted to.” Eventually they did. On December 20, 1997, after a weekly magazine wrote about his extra-marital affair, he allegedly killed himself. A former member of the Goto-gumi told me in 2008, “We set it up to stage his murder as a suicide. We dragged him up to the rooftop and put a gun in his face. We gave him a choice: jump and you might live or stay and we’ll blow your face off. He jumped. He didn’t live.”

In 2005, yakuza fan magazine writer Suzuki T wrote an article that poked fun at a yakuza group. They broke into his office and beat him to a pulp. In 2006, Yamaguchi-gumi thugs stabbed the son of non-fiction writer Mizoguchi Atsushi, because their boss was unhappy with one of his articles. Two members were arrested. Their boss was not. On April 17, 2007, the mayor of Nagasaki was gunned down after refusing local yakuza involvement in public works projects.

I try to be very careful when writing about the yakuza, and mindful of my sources, some of whom are members. I hate to admit it, but there are still those in the organizations that do follow a code of honor.

I understand the unwritten rules in Japan. Yakuza fan magazines are sold here in the open: three weeklies, three monthlies. They do interviews with current yakuza bosses, but the questions are limited and there is an implicit understanding that even after the interview is done, the boss reserves the right to edit or scrap it. As one veteran detective explained to me, “if you violate that rule, there will be harassment and often retaliation.”

I probably didn’t communicate that fact well enough to the ●●● television production crew that came to Japan. Through the sources I introduced they interviewed three current yakuza members, but didn’t alert me that they ran into trouble. The best I could do was warn the local National Geographic offices about it and talk to the head office in Washington DC. They were very responsive and hopefully nothing will come of it. But if it does, it will be my sources and the local Japanese staff who take the hit. I’m not an easy target because I’m under police protection. The staff are not.

The yakuza don’t have much pull in the US. They harass whoever will give them leverage. It’s why I don’t move my family back to Japan and why leaving Japan is not an option for me. I have to take care of my sources. It’s my responsibility.

I went to Igari’s offices in September to pay my respects; there was no funeral. There was a little shrine for him in his office, but everything was pretty much as he’d left it. On his desk, was an article about the Sumo Association and match rigging, heavily noted. His secretary told me, “Igari-san was really happy to take your case. He laughingly bragged to everyone, ‘I’m representing a reporter for National Geographic–that makes me an international lawyer!’ ” I could visualize him saying that with his deep, rolling laugh.

Grief is a funny thing. Seeing his empty desk, for the first time I got a little misty-eyed. Not too much, because there were people around, you know. It wasn’t very manly, but I didn’t cry.

You may wonder why I keep doing a job that is increasingly dangerous. I wonder myself. Partly, it’s because Japan is my home. I’ve lived here for more than twenty years. I’d like it to be a better place. In the old days, we’d call that civic duty.

I once asked Igari-san over wine, “Have you ever been threatened?  Do you ever fear for your life?” He didn’t answer my question directly.

“I became a prosecutor because I wanted to see justice done in this world. When I quit and became a lawyer, I didn’t go to work for the yakuza like many ex-prosecutors do. I continued to fight them. Not all yakuza are bad guys, but 95 percent of them are leeches on society: they exploit the weak, they prey on the innocent, they cause great suffering. If you capitulate, if you run away, you’ll be chased for the rest of your life. And if you’re being chased, eventually what is chasing you will catch up. Step back and you’re dead already. You can only stand your ground and pursue. Because that’s not only the right thing to do, that’s the only thing to do.”

And so I stay. Igari-san wasn’t an investigative journalist and he wasn’t a saint. But he fought for justice and for truth, and as an investigative journalist, I’ve always believed that’s what our job entailed. Forgive me if that sounds naive. I believe that, if no one stands up to the anti-social forces in the world, then we all lose.Igari-san wasn’t an investigative journalist and he wasn’t a saint. But he fought for justice and for truth, and as an investigative journalist, I’ve always believed that’s what our job entailed. Forgive me if that sounds naive. I believe that, if no one stands up to the anti-social forces in the world, then we all lose.

When I called Igari’s editor, he knew who I was. He told me, “Igari said you’re the most trustworthy, crazy, and courageous journalist he knew.” It’s the first time I’ve ever been praised by the dead, and more than I deserve. But it made me feel an obligation to live up to those words. Sometimes, the only way to honor the dead is to fight for what they died for. It’s the only way I know how to mourn.

An abbreviated version of this article was originally published on the Committee to Protect Journalists blog.

Memo: Autopsies are only done for 4% of the suicides in Japan. In the last two years several cases ruled to be suicides later turned out to be murder. Check out this excellent investigative article translated from the Yomiuri Shinbun. I would imagine staging a murder as suicide in the Phillipines is even easier than doing it in Japan.

originally published in 2010.

 

The Year of Dokufu: Poisonous Women in Japan

by Kaori Shoji

 

geisha

 

 

Wow. What a year THAT was, on a whole lot of levels. The unofficial diagnosis is that things will get worse in the year of the sheep, but let’s put that aside for now. A thought to mull over: 2014 was the year the crime rate among senior citizens multiplied by 46 times, and the image of the Japanese Woman – long ranked among the most demure, sensible and persevering humans on the planet – was shattered to smithereens. Now even the heroine of NHK’s trademark morning drama is imported from the US and the tall, blonde “Ellie” represents all that her dark-haired Japanese sisters apparently lost forever: stuff like dedication, endurance, sympathy and a willingness to toil for husband and family. Aw shucks.

Instead, the Japanese Woman is showing aspects of herself that are new, more interesting and often sh*t scary. The Japanese have a traditional name for these femme fatales: dokufu (poisonous women), who end up contaminating and/or destroying the lives of people around her. Novelist Natsuki Kirino once told me that “the women of Japan had been slaves for so long, the wounds of hurt and resentment have festered through generations, passed on from mother to daughter. At their core, Japanese women are capable of incredible acts of cruelty, deception, and violence.” Coming from one of the nation’s most prominent crime writers, famed for fantastically violent stories with women as the culprits, her words carried the weight of truth. Behold, the cast of dokufu who made 2014 a year to remember:

1) Haruko Obokata
She kicked in the year with a bang and has now made her exit, leaving behind a famed press conference statement of “STAP cells DO exist!” – in an adorable, little girl voice. That line was officially nominated for the most fashionable phrase of 2014. The former Harvard University research scientist lead her team in Riken Laboratories to discover and develop the STAP (Stimulus Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency) cell. When deployed, this had the potential to revolutionize stem cell technology. However, Obokata’s paper was disproved in January by “Nature” magazine and 3 months later, Riken concluded she had falsified the data. The golden girl’s fall from grace was swift and hard, compounded by the fact that she had no supporters in sci-tech academia. Rather, Obokata was criticized (especially by women) for being 1) too cute 2) wallpapering her office in pink and 3) showing up at press conferences in Vivienne Westwood dresses. Her supervisor Yoshiki Sasai who co-authored the STAP cell paper, hanged himself in Riken’s laboratory in August, by way of a public apology. Obokata is still an employee there, though her personal lab was shut down along with 200 others, and hundreds of employees were laid off.

2) Ayaka Shiomura
This would have been an open-shut case of sexual harassment (one among many) inside the intricate, mysoginist network of the Japanese political world, but it wasn’t that simple. In June, during a Metropolitan Assembly meeting, Assemblywoman Ayaka Shiomura accused an anonymous male voice, who yelled out jibes to the tune of “Can’t you have kids? What’s wrong with you?,” of rampant sexual harassment. Later, LDP member/Assemblyman Akihiro Suzuki came forward to fess up that the voice was his, and publicly apologized to Shiomura and Tokyo voters. He later resigned. For a brief while, Shiomura became a political heroine and shining advocate of the rights of female public figures. But in a matter of days, her past was exposed: a former swimsuit model and actress who also frequented host clubs. She was also rapped over the knuckles for several unfortunate statements (made on TV) regarding past lovers and how she billed them for terminating the relationship. The highest fee she got was 150,000 yen. After that her popularity plummeted, but she has kept her political position. Akihiro Suzuki on the other hand, disappeared into the ether.

3) The Sasebo Murder by a 16-year old girl
hand_with_knifeThis case sent shockwaves through the nation and temporarily labeled Sasebo in Nagasaki as the city of child-murderers. This 16-year old girl – on the school blacklisst ever since she tried to poison her classmate’s lunch several years ago – was found guilty of first strangling, and then dismembering the body of a friend who came over to her apartment. Sasebo has had similar incidents in the past, most prominently the 2004 murder of a 12-year old girl by her girl friend, which happened inside the school building with a box cutter. Minutes after the deed, the friend calmly attended homeroom.

Ironically, the mother of the most recent Sasebo murderess had been on the city’s PTA board and worked to stamp out juvenile delinquency. Apparently mom had been close to her daughter, but her death in 2012 unhinged the girl. The father quickly remarried and enraged by his coldness, the girl tried to club him to death. He arranged for his daughter to live in her own apartment, and paid for her therapy sessions. After the girl was tried and convicted, the father committed suicide to “apologize for causing such sorrow on the family of my daughter’s victim,” as written on his suicide note.

4) Akane Irisawa
Two years back, Akane Irisawa (then twenty years old) was on trial for setting fire to the futon of an 85-year old woman and burning her to death. Irisawa had been working as caretaker at a facility for elderlies in Hiroshima, and the victim had been a patient. Police arrested her on the strength of a confession, which she later denied. Irisawa did, however, admit to taking the patient’s wallet and pocketing the contents, even as the patient was burning inside the futon covers. In July, the Hiroshima court decided on a verdict of not guilty and Irisawa went free, triggering Net supporters to dub her as the “cutest, sexiest arsonist ever.” Irisawa is now a Net idol, and her bikini photos went viral. The relatives of the victim however, call her “the devil” and are suing the facility for gross negligence.

5) Chisako Kakeiblack-widow-spider
Sixty-eight year old Chisako Kakei isn’t glamorous and she certainly doesn’t have the Black Widow allure. Still, she has managed to marry four times and bury every one of her husbands, making, um, a killing (sorry) on each death. She has also been engaged to three or more men, all of whom landed in early graves, appointing her as the main benefactor to whatever financial assets they owned. Up to now, she had been questioned by the police but never convicted. But in December, husband no. 4 kicked the bucket and the police found traces of cyanide in his stomach and from an empty vial in the trash bin – apparently, Kakei had been a tad too sloppy this time.

How did she get her men? Kakei searched for prey in the nation’s numerous marriage and matchmaking agencies, and she was never without an older man willing to write off his fortune to her, thereby sealing his fate. Interestingly, older Japanese men are much more marriage-minded than women, because right on the day of her last husband’s funeral, Kakei was already slotting eligible men into her “date calendar,” all of whom were literally dying to tie the knot. Kakei’s total savings are rumored to be anywhere between 12 and 15 million yen.

 

Japan’s Dangerous Tilt to The Right: a report from Hamburg, Germany

by Natalia Berner* 

HAMBURG

Japan is plunging to right, as voices of alarm start to rise, but most of German and Japanese society does not realize how serious the recent political situation has become. Reactions are similar to those of a paralyzed moose facing the headlamps of an upcoming truck. Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University (上智大学) is one of the very few outspoken critics still standing up and critiquing the Abe government. He recently lectured in Hamburg, Germany. He explained with great honesty and clarity, why in his opinion, Japan is shifting dangerously to the right. The lecture resonated in Germany in a way it may resonate nowhere else.

         “I can’t remember any time in postwar (Japan) when things looked this bad”.

If you heard the lecture about Japan’s drift to the right, ending with those words, held at the Hamburg University on December 9th,  you might seriously start to worry, if you’re not worried already.

In Germany, Japan's far shift to the right raises concerns. In Japan, the Vice Prime Minister makes remarks praising Nazis and Prime Minister Abe's cabinet appointees not only associate with Japan Nazi Party Members but lavishly praised this book "Hitler's Election Strategy" written by an LDP flack.
In Germany, Japan’s far shift to the right raises concerns. In Japan, the current Vice Prime Minister makes remarks praising Nazis and Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet appointees not only associate with Japan Nazi Party Members but lavishly praised this book “Hitler’s Election Strategy”,  written by an LDP flack. Prior to elections, the State Secrets Law, which muzzles reporting and whistle-blowing with odious punishments went into effect on December 10th. Elections are being held today December 14th, 2014.

 

I know you’re generally not supposed to start an article with the conclusion but it seems appropriate. Why? Because it is like in Lars von Triers film Melancholia: in the very first sequence, it is visualized how the earth is being irreparably destroyed by an enormous planet moving toward the earth. The viewer’s optimistic nature about the future during the movie is being nipped in the bud, it is certain you will feel no hope, because right from the start everyone knows how the story will end. And sadly, this bears a striking similarity to Japan’s recent political situation. Cherishing hope is what we should not do, especially with the elections today. It is very unlikely that Abe’s agenda will be stopped. A surprising failure of the LDP will not come true. The reason: there is no alternative. No opposition. No left left. Japan is in very dark and deep waters right now.

This situation seems not to make the Japanese people concerned and this is in a way, understandable. At first, if you just take a superficial glance, it might seem like nothing really will change or has changed. The LPD has ruled the parliament most of Japan’s post-war history, and it has always had some “nationalist lunatics” within their roster. For example Abe’s grandfather, Nobosuke Kishi, who had been imprisoned as a category A war criminal, was released without any consequences and become the 56th and 57th Prime Minister of Japan. Kishi was synonomous with corruption, shady deals, criminal influence and even put up bail for a Yamaguchi-gumi (yakuza) boss accused of murder in the 1970s.

But exactly this is the reason why it is getting menacing: Japan is drifting to the right and it looks like the society doesn’t really realize, react nor care.

Koichi Nakano is asking exactly this question: “Is Japan shifting to the right?”. In his opinion Japan is on it’s way further “right” and in an almost right-tilting death spiral.

“Oh, gosh, this is just the ‘normalization’of Japan,” some say.  This is one of the arguments used by many, many people to trivialize the changes.

“Oh, Japan is becoming normal. They still have Article 9 in the constitution which forbids wars. The people are pacifists. They’re becoming normal just like Germany become normal. Germany also participates in military action and it’s not like it’s the return of Hitler all over again. So don’t worry: Japan is just doing the same.”

Sure.

Japan could maybe do the same, if Japan’s process of coming to terms with their past existed like it does in Germany. Germany came to terms with the atrocities committed by the Nazis and the nation during WWII; Japan denies them. It doesn’t teach them to their children. The current administration wants to bury the past, whitewash it, but not come to terms with it.

Reputedly in recent years “nothing really changed”. This is such an unsustainable argument like Abe’s declaration that his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the masterminds of Japan’s war are enshrined, is just paying his respects to the spirits of the war dead. He even claims it’s to renew the pledge that Japan shall never again wage war.” Of course, he doesn’t mention his wish to revive militarism.

“New Right Transformation” is the term Koichi Nakasone is calling Japans political development within the last twenty to thirty years. He claims this change doesn’t start with Abe; things started to move from the 1980s. This change of the political system in Japan is a long-term development.

“During the cold war there was the 1955 system. The LDP was always in power, the socialists were always in opposition. It was like the Japanese political system was frozen. No change at all. Prime Ministers were coming and going, one corrupt man replaced by anothercorrupt man. It was impossible in the Cold War context for the socialists to gain power.”

Lost Opportunity

After the end of the cold war, after the end of the bubble economy in Japan, things came into flux. People are given more choices. Japan was more opening up, more self-concious . “The New Right Transformation” was built from this liberalization of the politics in Japan and these liberating moments also became the cause for the Japanese left to collapse.

“The socialists failed to adapted to the new liberalized open politics and they dug their own grave. The liberal opening is eventually ending today in illiberal politics.”

The Japanese have, of course, not become all of a sudden a horde of visible nationalistic maniacs, who go on the streets and spill hatred and blood. People like the Zaitoku-kai – an ordinary bunch of people, who are Japan’s version of neo-nazis—are still the minority, they have just become a little bit more “in your face” than before. But, they are a reaction to the right-leaning tendencies the elites in the politics are initiatin.

Professor Nakano points it out: it is not like Japanese society is outspoken and the government is following, it is exactly the opposite. It is an “elite-driven and not society-driven” process that pushed Japan to the right.

Nakano, explains Japans political development to the right within the last 20-30 years with waves and a pendulum: every time the pendulum (symbolizing the Japanese politicial front) swings to the right, the set-point is also shifting to the right. So the moment the pendulum is going back to the left, the left is more right than it was before.

The rightward tendencies can also be seen as waves, which are coming and going. The very first wave was with Nakasone Yasuhiro, the second wave with Ozawa Ichiro, the third with Hashimoto Ryutaro, the fourth with Koizumi Junichiro and now the rightist tidal wave with Abe Shinzo. So one thing is true: Japan’s right wing shift did not begin with Abe and probably it won’t end with him either.

The New Inequality

One indicator for Japan’s ultra-conservative shift can be also found in Japan’s social-economic conditions. Japan is a very unequal country. Japan used to be often referred to as a very equalitarian society. There was a semi-credible myth, that everybody in Japan was middle class. Now, relative poverty in Japan in according to OECD statistics is 4th from the bottom. A reason: the number of irregular, part-time, unstable jobs increased; decent, stable and regular jobs decreased. Thanks to Abe and his predecessors slowly crippling Japan’s labor laws and empowering temporary staffing companies and corporations over the common people.

Another indicator of a hard-shift right related to domestic politics is the Law and Order Issue. The Secret State Law, that came into effect on December 10th. The state now decides what is a secret, can keep anything secret up to 60 years, and can arrest and probably imprison anyone who is asking about a secret, even if they don’t know it is a secret. Nakano lambastes the law, saying, “It is absurd and makes Japan look more and more like Russia: the state knows everything and we do not know anything.”

Japan has become a very illiberal and undemocratic country in two short years. Japan isn’t just drifting right, it’s plunging into the right.

“I can’t remember any time in postwar Japan when things looked this bad.”

You don’t have to be an expert on Japan to see where things are heading. For those listening to Professor Nakano’s lecture in Hamburg, his words sent a chill up our spines.

History does repeat itself if you don’t know it—or you do know it and try to bury it.

The rulers of Japan seem to be learning a lot from the Nazis. That's not heartening.
The rulers of Japan seem to be learning a lot from the Nazis. That’s not heartening.

 

*Natalia Berner is the JSRC correspondent for Germany. A newbie journalist, we hope to hear more from her in the future. Jake Adelstein also contributed to this article. 

Tokyo Pop: See it, believe it, breathe it. (Especially if you’re human sculpture)

Updated on December 1st.
Talk a walk on the wild side…of Tokyo.

Androniki Christodoulou has spent a decade shooting the photos of Japan’s subculture and its quirky side, with many fine prints of them assembled at the exhibit Tokyo Pop  at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan in Hibiya. They are part of a visual diary formed as she walked the city streets and met Tokyo’s people, through work-related assignments or in the course of doing street photography.

Japan’s unique and colorful popular culture was one of the reasons that brought her to Tokyo in 2004, although she originally hails from Greece. She notes: “Tokyo is a place where tradition and new trends exist side by side. There are zones in the city that have specific character and others where everything is possible. From the surface uniformity of salarymen, the mania of Otaku, to the extremes of fetish culture, there is space for everything. Popular culture in Tokyo isn’t something fixed that can be described in one set of photos. It flows and changes all the time.”

RUBBER BRAIN party (in club Mandala). Tokyo. RUBBER BRAIN party is more about the fashion of dressing up in rubber (with a very strict dress code! you don't get in unless you are dressed up as something) and watching the shows which are quite artistic. In this party, there was Butoh dancing, a comedy show and in the end there were sheets of rubber and a rubber chamber where people would go in wearing a mask to breath with when the air between their bodies and the rubber was extracted. They would stay there for a few seconds until they had their picture taken as a live sculpture, and then an other person would take their place.
RUBBER BRAIN party (in club Mandala). Tokyo.
RUBBER BRAIN party is more about the fashion of dressing up in rubber–with a very strict dress code! you don’t get in unless you are dressed up as something–and watching the shows which are quite artistic. In this party, there was Butoh dancing, a comedy show and in the end there were sheets of rubber and a rubber chamber where people would go in wearing a mask to breath with when the air between their bodies and the rubber was extracted. They would stay there for a few seconds until they had their picture taken as a live sculpture, and then an other person would take their place.

In her photos currently on display at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan, she captures the mood and atmosphere of places and venues that many native Tokyoites never have experienced. She isn’t as entranced by the bondage, fetish and sleazy side of Tokyo as she once was but this exhibition captures some mind-blowing moments of revels past in the murky metropolis. The show ends November 5th. The photos are scattered throughout the club, in the bar, the hall and the sushi restaurant as well. It’s worth the trek–if you’re feeling inspired after the show,, you can even go to Bic Camera when you’re done and get your own camera. The road to Street Photography is just a street away.

HARADAAndroniki Christodoulou freelances for international media and corporate client as a photographer expanding more into the world of video and multi-media. She has worked with Patrick Galbraith on the counter-culture classic, Otaku Spaces and self-published Underworld about the 2011 tsunami.

Harada Mariru (原田まりる),24, at the time of the picture was named race queen of the year in 2006, but in her room you won’t find fashion makeup and designer shoes. In their place are over 13,000 manga, enough to earn her the title “manga sommelier,” 1,000 limited edition anime DVDs and 7,000 videogames, including dating simulator games.”  (from the book OTAKU SPACES, text by Patric Galbraith.) The original photo used for the cover is on display at the exhibition.
Harada Mariru (原田まりる),24, at the time of the picture was named race queen of the year in 2006, but in her room you won’t find fashion makeup and designer shoes. In their place are over 13,000 manga, enough to earn her the title “manga sommelier,” 1,000 limited edition anime DVDs and 7,000 videogames, including dating simulator games.” (from the book OTAKU SPACES, text by Patrick Galbraith.) The original photo used for the cover is on display at the exhibition.

 

 

A Second of Satori: Sunset in Nara

Note: Now and then at JSRC, we come across a whimsical or interesting post about Japan that captures some of the quirkiness or beauty of this place. This is from @tomoshiga aka Jessica Tomoko Perez who is now living in Nara, Japan and working on the JET program. (It’s short musing–but if Tomoko was a Japanese old man and there was a traditional Japanese art described plus a beautiful aloof woman, it could be a Yasunari Kawabata novel. Only Japanese literature buffs may get that joke. Sumimasen). Japan has its charms.

I’m so happy I missed my connecting train. I just witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen in a while as I exited the train station by my house.

Sometimes when we miss something (like the train) we find something better, if we just look.
Sometimes when we miss something (like the train) we find something better, if we just look.

 

I would have missed it if I didn’t think I heard a car behind me and turn around. I walked to a higher point on my hill and stopped and took it all in, listened to the insects, and realized ‘wow, I’m really living here..’

sunset three
The sounds of Nara 奈良

I have those kinds of thoughts in nature a lot. I couldn’t even feel the weight of my duffel digging into my shoulders, or the tightness of my boots on my feet anymore. I’m so happy to be in Nara.

住めば都 Wherever you live becomes the capital.
住めば都
Wherever you live becomes the capital. Home is where you find it.

Saying Goodbye To Japan

REPOSTED (with permission).

There have been countless blogs written by those visiting Japan for a short time, a long time, or just long enough to write a blog. The longer you’re in Japan, the more jaded one tends to become about the things that make being here so interesting in the first place. This last entry from a teacher who left here a year ago, struck me as capturing much of what I would miss if I left this place forever.  The author of the piece was experiencing a bit of “reverse culture shock” after moving back to the US.  Hopefully, she’s now integrated back into rude but sometime friendly US life.

There were things that I didn’t need to do anymore but wanted to do, like taking off my shoes when I walked inside a house. There were things that I had to stop doing, like bowing to people in restaurants and department stores, or beginning every sentence with, “Well in Japan…” How they do things in Japan is fairly immaterial when you’re living someplace like America; you might as well start extoling the virtues of living on Mars.
 Reverse culture shock comes in waves. Take today for instance, five months after leaving Japan. I was walking along the street, and there was this nice-looking older guy, a city worker, and I smiled at him. He smiled back, we exchanged greetings and wished each other a good day, and that was it. And it felt weird.
Here is her nicely written oddly touching goodbye to Japanland.

SAYING GOODBYE

It turns out that when you leave a country after two years, people take note.  I would have been content with a handshake, or if I wanted to be really demanding, a hug, but that would defy the unique level of pomp and circumstance that characterizes farewells in Japan.  As a result, the process of leaving was a marathon; my bon voyage events started in June, even though I wasn’t leaving until August.  Friends, colleagues, neighbors and grannies all wanted to make sure they fit me into their busy schedules before I left.

There are several key elements involved in Japanese send-offs: feasting (which includes copious drinking), costumes, and gifts.  A word about gifts in Japan.  They are exquisitely and intricately wrapped in layers of beautiful paper, bags and ribbons, each redundant layer further dooming our planet to global warming.  The treasure inside might be a pair of plastic chopsticks or a priceless picture frame.  The Spartan PS, overwhelmed by the steady flow of offerings and the clutter that resulted was heard to remark indignantly, “The wrapping is usually nicer than the gift!”

Play your cards right, and you too could be the proud owner of a plastic ground cover with a recumbent Sento-kun.

Presents are also inescapable.  If a Japanese person gives you a gift and you reciprocate, you will immediately receive another present, igniting a never-ending cycle of gift-giving, which you, the foreigner, will never, ever win.  It’s a bit like nuclear brinkmanship, if you replace high-tech weapons systems with food or Japanese souvenirs.  Sometimes the giver bestows upon you an envelope, and you open it in relief, thinking it’s a nice card in which they’ve scrawled, “Good luck,” only to find that there is “going away” money inside.  Which is a really uncomfortable gift to get from anyone who is not your grandma or your aunt or your mom, back in the day when they might slip $5 in a card to you on your birthday.

I don’t want to make it sound as though I’m disparaging these gestures, because the truth is, I am touched.  I was (and am) overwhelmed by how much I owe these people- not because of the physical things they gave me, but because of every smile and kind word and bit of advice.  The offers of help, the jokes shared, the food given, the warmth and camaraderie.  No one was obligated to reach out to me or make an effort, but so many people did.  As the phrase goes, it’s the first gift you can never repay.

A traditional Japanese yukata given to me by the faculty at my school.  I wore it to closing ceremonies for my speech at the student assembly; one of the teachers taught me how to put it on.
The yukata from the back.  One of the teachers had harbored a desire to braid my hair for over a year.  On the day of closing ceremonies, she finally got her wish- and did a great job, I think!

In a country of stoics, it’s shocking to see an overt display of emotion.  It’s even more astonishing when the display is unattractive. Put bluntly, I am an ugly crier.  Some people seemed not to notice as they too were swept up in the sentiment of it all.  Others seemed to find my sadness amusing and flattering.  One young security agent stared at me with undisguised fascination as I waved a final goodbye to my escort at the airport.  Though I think I managed to keep it together fairly well overall, there were several moments where I had trouble.

1. On my last day of class, a Friday, I taught a double period with my lovable, unruly, and totally apathetic third year students.  When I returned from the break in between classes, I found the doors to the classroom shut, and everyone sitting in their seats with an aura of perfect innocence.  I knew something was amiss, but didn’t figure out what it was until I saw what they had done to the chalkboard.

blackboard 1

 
2. Saying farewell to The Grannies was probably the most wrenching goodbye.  Of all the people I came to know and love in Japan, I’m most uncertain as to if and when I’ll see The Grannies again.  I fervently hope I do.We didn’t get much done after that.

3.  The teachers at my school, including the principal and vice principal, followed me out of the building to say goodbye on my last day, and waved as my supervisor drove me away.

4. On my last day of class, the girls from my favorite class showed up at the teachers’ lounge.  They looked as though they were visiting an ill or dying friend.  One of them silently handed me a manila envelope on which was written, “To Eri from class 2-1.  Please treasure.”  Inside was a photo album that featured a picture and message from each student in my class.  The joviality I had fought to maintain all day vanished, and our small knot of people turned into a sobbing, hugging scrum.  Later, their homeroom teacher told me that they had been working on the project for three months.  I didn’t need the prompt on the wrapping; the album is absolutely my treasure.

5.  I count this as one of my teaching successes. One of my students is a budding illustrator, and one of her characters is Gachico.  Last year when she started as a first year student, Gachico’s speech bubble read, “I don’t like English.” I teased her about it a little bit, and eventually we started chatting more and more outside of class.  This year  when she turned in her English folder at the end of term, Gachico’s old remarks had been erased, and this was written instead.

Autumn Equinox (秋分の日): Honor your ancestors, remember the departed

Prayers for the departed at Muenjizobosatsu in Shinjuku, the patron deity (buddha) of those who die without family members, or in obscurity, or with no one to mourn them.
Prayers for the departed at Muenjizobosatsu in Shinjuku, the patron deity (buddha) of those who die without family members, or in obscurity, or with no one to mourn them.

Today is Autumn Equinox (秋分の日), the day of the year when day and evening are of equal length.

The day not only marks the change between the hot summer and the cool fall, but is a national holiday to honor ancestors and grieve for the departed. It’s not a bad thing to do. I sort of wonder if the Abe regime might revise Holiday Laws so that if you don’t worship your ancestors—at Yasukuni Shrine—you get the death penalty. Or as my friend Olga put it so eloquently, “Worship your ancestors or join them.”  But let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Japan established the Autumn Equinox  as a national holiday in 1948 so that citizens could use the time to visit family graves to pay their respects to deceased family members.

The purpose for this holiday is actually included in this law.

“Holiday Laws” (国民の祝日に関する法律)
秋分の日
祖先をうやまい、なくなつた人々をしのぶ。
Autumn Equinox: Worship ancestors, recall those who are gone

So in the spirit of the day, I’ve reposted some tributes to people I admired and deeply miss.  It’s the law, you know.

The Buddha Of The Yakuza, a gang boss who was also a Buddhist priest.

A lawyer who gave his life fighting injustice

Ray Bradbury, one of my favourite authors and a great inspiration. You can’t act if you don’t know. Knowledge is important.

Michiel Brandt, my BFF and a crusader for the rights of the oppressed and the exploited. She should be here. I still have that red dress stored away. I know she’ll never wear it but I can’t throw it away either. Hope is irrational.

For those who have no one left to mourn them, a few words.

And for people who have no idea what to say to remember those who are gone or what to say to those left behind, a benediction for the bereaved that should do the trick.

The summer is over and the fall is coming. Let’s hope for a gentle winter.

 

 

Hello Kitty isn’t a cat?

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Japan’s most beloved icon, Hello Kitty, is not a cat. Or is she? We don’t even know her nationality. Is she British or Japanese? Is she human? Or is she perhaps the daughter of a survivor of the Island of Dr. Moreau?

A recent report in the Los Angeles Times which quoted an anthropologist as saying she was told by Sanrio that one of Japan’s most beloved mascots, Hello Kitty, is not a feline (Felis catus) left fans reeling in shock.

Christine R. Yano, an anthropologist at the University of Hawaii and author of Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek Across the Pacific, which was published last year by Duke University Press, told the Los Angeles Times, “…Hello Kitty is not a cat. She’s a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it’s called Charmmy Kitty.”

The revelation caused a wave of shock and disbelief—and ruined childhoods—throughout social media that has even captured the attention of Japanese national broadcaster, NHK.

“Hello Kitty is a character born in the motif of a cat, but is a 100% anthropomorphic girl. We welcome this understanding of Hello Kitty by people throughout the world,” said Sanrio when reached for comment by NHK.

Even Peanut’s character, Snoppy, took to Twitter to confirm that he was, in fact, a dog and not a little boy.

Yano also told the Los Angeles Times that Hello Kitty is British and was created during a time in which Japanese women were fascinated with British culture.

They loved the idea of Britain. It represented the quintessential idealized childhood, almost like a white picket fence. So the biography was created exactly for the tastes of that time,” said Yano.

Sanrio’s official biography of Hello Kitty also confirms her as being British. However, according to an article in the Atlantic Wire written by Jake Adelstein, Hello Kitty’s Guide to Japan in English and Japanese (ハローキティの英語で紹介する日本) written by Koji Kuwabara suggests differently. In the book, which explains Japanese culture, Hello Kitty is seen showing her American boyfriend, Dear Daniel around Japan and inviting him into her home, in which the floor is covered with tatami mats, and introducing him to her family, who all reside in Japan. In the book, Hello Kitty demonstrates such a wide knowledge of Japanese culture and customs that the reader can’t help but assume that she is, in fact, Japanese.

“That’s the kind of stuff the Chinese say when they pirate our national treasures and goods. It’s outrageous. And unforgivable,” said Tatsuya Nakajima, the leader of right-wing group Junshinkai when asked what he thought about the idea that Hello Kitty wasn’t Japanese.

Because Hello Kitty has pointed ears, whiskers, and a fluffy tail, it’s easy to understand why people would question the idea that she isn’t a cat. Japan Subculture Research Center staff lend their voices to the debate.

Angela Erika Kubo: I honestly don’t give a fuck. I honestly doubt that there is any sort of plastic surgery or genetic manipulation out there that can turn a little girl into a furry creature with no mouth. It’s no wonder Hello Kitty weighs three apples—she’s so severely malnourished since it looks like she’s unable to eat. Also, the fact that Hello Kitty owns a cat herself doesn’t mean anything. Humans keep monkeys as pets and genetically both species are remarkably similar.

Jake Adelstein: I believe that Hello Kitty is not a cat. She is a human being with cat DNA and represents a failed attempt by the Japanese government, the Ministry of Health & Welfare, to create a new breed of Japanese woman who would be silent, fecund, and give birth to litters of Japanese cat people, thus solving Japan’s declining birth rate and growing rat problem at the same time. If you’re familiar with the history of Japan’s biological warfare unit and how they all went to work for the Ministry of Health after “the reverse course” during the occupation—it’s all very clear. Technically, I would classify her as Homo catus.

“Karaoke Man”: An Ode For the Expat In Japan Reeling From Ennui

Inspired by the ennui of the expat who’s spent too many years in Japan and the Billy Joel classic “Piano Man” + a lot of insomnia.  If you can appreciate this, you’ve probably been in Japan way too long.

“Karaoke Man”

The expat blues can only be exorcised by singing this modified version of "Piano Man"
The expat blues can only be exorcised by singing this modified version of “Piano Man”

It’s nine o’clock on a Thursday
The regular crowd is all here
There’s an old man sitting next to me
Making love to his Asahi Super Dry Beer

He says, “Son can you sing me a memory
I’m not really sure it’s popular at bars
But it’s sad and it’s sweet
And I knew it complete
And I think it’s by the Southern All Stars”

Sing us a song you’re the Karaoke man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we’re all in the mood for a melody
And you’ve got us feeling alright

Now Taro at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my mizuwari for free
And he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there’s someplace that he’d rather be

He says, “Akira, I believe this is killing me”
As a smile ran away from his face
“Well, I’m sure that I could be an AV star
If I could get out of this place”

Now Hiro is a real estate mangaka
Who never had time for a wife
And he’s talking with Moroni who’s still at Sony
And probably will be for life

And the hostess is practicing pouring green tea
As the businessmen get drunk real slow
Yes they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it’s better than drinking Jinro

Sing us a song you’re the Karaoke man
Sing us a song that’s manic
Well we’re all in the mood for any thing
And at least this isn’t Gas Panic

It’s a pretty good crowd for a Thursday
And the manager gives me a nudge
‘Cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been coming to see
To forget about the boss they begrudge

And the Laser disc player sounds like a matsuri 
And the microphone smells like red wine
As they sip their beer and yell in my ear—
“Can you sing YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE?”

Sing us a song you’re the Karaoke man
Sing us a song you old dude 
Well we’re all in the mood for MY WAY
And you’ve got us feeling so goood

Scary Tales From Japan’s Marriage Graveyard: My Wife Divorced Me Over “Frozen”

In Japan a married women took “Let it Go a little too literally and allowed her husband’s lack of interest in the popular Disney movie Frozen to ice their six-year marriage. According to the popular web forum for unhappy married people Kikonsha no Hakaba・既婚者の墓場 (The Graveyard of The Married/The Marriage Graveyard), a man claimed that his wife wanted to divorce him because he didn’t care much for the movie when he finally gave in and saw it with her. 

On an on-line forum, "The Marriage Graveyard" a Japan man claims his wife divorced him or rather "let it go"  because he didn't appreciate the Disney film FROZEN.
On an on-line forum, “The Marriage Graveyard” a Japan man claims his wife divorced him or rather “let it go” because he didn’t appreciate the Disney film FROZEN.

“When I asked my wife who would go to the cinema many times why should found it so interesting, she told me that I was defective as a person because I didn’t understand how good this work is…. And on top of that, she asked for a divorce and stormed out of the house,” he wrote.”By the way, do you think that it’s possible in this world to say that you want a divorce for this reason. This isn’t limited to just movies but also a discrepancy in hobbies)?”

For the husband, the declaration of divorce was a cold blow. Responders to his post were baffled, because the husband claimed to have a decent salary, no debts, and no hidden children. He also worked in a department in his company that is made up of men, which meant that he had no lovely female coworkers to tempt him into straying from his wife. One commenter brought up the possibility of his wife having a male “friend” and said, “If you make that much money hire a detective!”

Eventually, the man decided to hire someone in a detective agency to follow his wife and watching over his in-laws’ house.

There’s no way to verify this story, but it certainly has made rounds on the Internet.  It’s a little hard to believe this story, but people have divorced for silly reasons. During the Bubble Years, a term called “Narita Rikon・成田離婚 (Narita Divorce)” came into being because some newlywed couples would divorce as soon as they would come back to Japan, usually after a disastrous honeymoon.

A Disney movie shouldn’t be the main reason to “flake” out on a marriage. The movie incident was likely the icing on the cake of a multitude of problems that the wife might have found in the marriage. Check out this video to get a good idea of what their marriage must have been like. Guess who is which character.

The poster never discusses their sex life or whether one of them was frigid in bed. But judging by statistics, there’s a 50% chance it was a sexless marriage. Maybe she was unhappy with his “icicle” because he had problems getting it “stiff” and wanted to meet a real (snow) man. Anyhow, if that is the reason, it doesn’t look like this  frozen relationship will thaw anytime soon. It too bad he couldn’t some way to make her warm up. Maybe he could have taken her to karaoke and serenaded her with songs from the movie to prove his love? And if that didn’t work, he could always have sang her, Cold As Ice and wowed her with his coolness.

The story may be as fictional as the movie (but we couldn’t help but crack a few puns!). But it does hit on a universal truth about marriage in Japan: they are often stone cold dead long before one party asks for divorce.