1984 — Shoko Asahara, a visually impaired yogi, forms “AUM Shinsen no Kai,” later renames it AUM Shinrikyo. It mixes elements of yoga, Buddhism, and other religions and begins recruiting college students and intellectuals.
1987- AUM incorporates in New York City under the name Aum USA Company, Ltd. In the US it attempts to purchase military weapons, develop chemical weapons.
February 1989–AUM members strangle to death, 21-year-old Shuji Taguchi who had wanted to escape the group at its complex in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Nov. 4, 1989 — AUM members acting on orders from Asahara, kill the lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and their 1-year-old son at their home in Yokohama. The lawyer had been part of growing vocal opposition to the group.
1990 — Asahara and 24 other disciples run unsuccessfully in a parliamentary election. The defeat spurs Asahara to begin plans to take over the country and began developing chemical weapons. The group also began manufacturing methamphetamines and small-scale incinerators which they sell to the Yamaguchi-gumi and other yakuza groups to raise funds.
1993-AUM purchases a 500,000 acre sheep farm in Australia where they test out sarin gas, leaving behind 29 dead sheep.
AUM begins training helicopter pilots in the United States in hopes of eventually dispersing sarin gas over the Tokyo via helicopter. Plans for launching an attack within the US are also considered.
June 1994-AUM purchases a helicopter from Russia
June 27 — AUM members test sarin nerve gas in a residential area of city of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. Eight people are killed, 100 injured.
December 12–AUM members kill a member, Tadahito Hamaguchi, with highly toxic VX gas on an Osaka street. He was suspected of being an informant.
January 1,1995–Yomiuri Newspaper publishes on their front page a special report that the police had found elements of Sarin gas in the ground near AUM facilities in Yamanashi Prefecture, linking the cult to the 1994 attack.
February 28,1995-AUM members abduct Kiyoshi Kariya, 68, to find his sister who wanted to leave the group. He dies under interrogation and his body is incinerated in a cult-built microwave heating device. (This and the other murders were later referenced in the series Millennium episode 2, Gehena).
March 20,– AUM members release sarin gas on Tokyo subway system. Thirteen people are killed and over 6000 injured. Police immediately suspect AUM.
April 23, AUM leader in charge of “Science Technology” and conduit to organized crime, Hideo Murai, is stabbed to death by a Yamaguchi-gumi members in front of the group’s headquarters, while reporters watch. The spokesman for the group says, “I heard that Murai was killed by the Jews.”
May 5–AUM members plant a cyanide bomb in the bathroom of an underground passage connected to Shinjuku stations, near the ventilation system. The poisonous fumes would have killed thousands if the bomb hadn’t been found.
May 16 — Asahara is arrested.
2000-AUM officially disbands and reforms under the name Aleph.
Feb. 27, 2004 — The Tokyo District Court sentences Asahara to death.
Sep. 15, 2006 — Asahara’s death sentence is finalized.
Aleph splits into another faction, Hikari no Wa. Later, a third faction of the group emerges.
June 15, 2012 — The last fugitive former AUM member, Katsuya Takahashi, is arrested for his part in the subway attacks.
Jan. 18, 2018 — The Supreme Court rejects Takahashi’s appeal, ending all trials linked to AUM Shinrikyo cult.
July 6, 2018 — Asahara and six others are executed by hanging. Seven members remain on death rows while their cases are being appealed.
What causes a 5-year old girl to write in her notebook, “Please forgive me,” just a few days prior to her death from abuse? “Please forgive me” is ‘onegai, yurushite,’ in Japanese, and the phrase made headlines after 5-year old Yua Funato was found dead in her apartment home in March. According to news reports, Yua had been beaten by her father and starved by her mother. The direct cause of her death was sepsis, brought on my poor nutrition and untreated pneumonia. Asahi Shimbun reported that Yua was ordered (by her mother) to practice writing Japanese at 4 in the morning everyday and was punished when she made mistakes, usually by being forced to sit for hours on the concrete veranda of their apartment, in the dead of winter.
According to Nippon.com, Yua’s treatment is pretty much standard among the growing number of child abuse cases in Japan. The father beats the child in places were bruises can’t be seen (in her case, injuries were confirmed on her upper thighs and back) and the mother stops feeding them. Verbal abuse, beating s and starvation form the unholy trinity of Japanese abuse cases and Yua, apart from everything else, was told by her mother Yuri that she shouldn’t have been born into the world, and that she was hated by everyone. Yua had to sleep in a tiny room with no heating, away from her parents and younger brother who occupied a bigger room with an air conditioner. At the time of her death, she was 8 kilos lighter than the average 5-year old and her digestive tract was clotted with vomit.
Now three months later, neighbors and sympathizers continue to place incense, candy and flowers outside the Funato family’s apartment in Tokyo’s Meguro ward. Social commentators have sighed and shook their heads with pity. Even Prime Minister Abe has been moved to comment that child abuse “cannot be overlooked.” But all that sympathy came too late for the 5-year old. The whistle had been blown on Yua’s parents several times over two years before the tragedy but the authorities had done nothing to help. Japan’s infamous child consultation centers (notice it’s consultation and not welfare) are hindered by an antiquated rule that favors parents’ rights over children’s, parents’ testimonials over children who, like Yua, had cried to a social worker that she didn’t want to live at home because her father beat her. Japan’s social workers mainly consult with the adults, and the first thing they ask the parents of a child perceived to have been beaten, is: “Are you abusing your child?” Yeah, right, like the parents are going to come clean and admit it. In the case of Yua, the parents had been “cautioned” and invited to attend a parents seminar, designed to help adults become better carers of offspring. The Funatos never showed up.
The damning, daunting fact is this: As of 2016, there were well over 100,000 cases of child abuse reported in Japan, up 100 times since 1990. In the US, that number is something like 67,000. And before Yua, there was Riku and Takumu and many other children of pre-school age who had been beaten, abused, starved or outrightly murdered by their parents. In spite of the government’s pledge to build more day care facilities and put families first, Japan is a place that’s not very nice to kids. Daycare is one thing, but public schools – once the bastion of a legendary educational system, is rife with problems from bullying to underpaid, overworked teachers who are mostly too tired to notice that a kid is showing up to school with bruises, or haven’t had a square meal in days. As the media keeps reminding us, one out of six Japanese children live in poverty, and go to school (if they are able) on empty stomachs.
As for children blessed with a stable home life, they often feel crushed by a tremendous pressure to succeed, i.e., get into a good university that will ensure a well-paying job 15 years down the line. Many kids start going to cram school as early as second grade, studying for entrance exams that will ensure at least a partial foot in the door of a prestigious university.
The experience of being born a Japanese national used to be described as following the ‘Bathtub Curve,’ meaning the best years of a Japanese life came at the beginning, between 0 and 12 years old, and in the end, between 65 and 75. My high school politics teacher taught us that, and I still remember the shock of seeing the long, flat line that supposedly represented the years between adolescence and retirement. Equally shocking was that upward curve representing babyhood and primary school. Were those years really so glorious? In primary school, summer vacation lasts just over a measly month and even that was tempered with shitloads of homework that had to be completed and submitted on September 1st. School lunches were for the most part, awful rations laid on prison-like tin trays. At home, dads returned on the last train, stressed to the very core of their beings and moms were equally tired from chores and childcare.
Dismal as it often is, there’s no comparing a normal Japanese childhood to what Yua, and tens of thousands of children like her, are going through on a daily basis. Some commentators have lamented that there are simply not enough social workers to go around. True, every time a child dies from abuse, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor (Koseirodousho) issues a statement about labor shortage being the definitive problem in the service industry. There are just not enough Japanese to do the work of caring for children, the elderly or the sick and diseased. When a staff member of a senior home was arrested last year after killing one of his charges, the reason given was fatigue. He was fed up with having to care for helpless people, and his work chart showed he had been pulling 12-hour shifts with almost no days off.
With Yua, the social workers who had been in charge of her case had also been understaffed, which led to carelessness and cutting corners. Yua’s parents moved the family from Kagawa prefecture to Tokyo, after a neighbor blew the whistle on Yua’s father. The child consultation workers in Kagawa then neglected to pass the full bulk of the paperwork from Kagawa to Tokyo, and Yua’s case was never reviewed in her new locale. Add to that the fact that child abuse facilities are notoriously crowded. Barring extreme circumstances, abuse victims are often returned to their parents, and the cycle of violence begins all over again. This was certainly true of Yua, who spent 3 months in a child care center in Kagawa but was not allowed to stay.
Sometimes, family is the most horrendous aspect of a child’s life. If Yua had been separated from her parents, chances are she would have lived. But Japanese tradition dictates that families must stick together, and what goes on within that circle is sacrosanct. More than the labor shortage, or parents seminars, we need to rethink the Japanese family, and take a long, hard look at its dysfunctions.
“A 2016 revision to the child abuse prevention law simplified the procedure for officials of such centers to carry out on-site inspection of homes where child abuse is suspected without the parents’ consent. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry says that protection of children should be prioritized and that officials should not hesitate in the face of parents’ objections to take abused children under protective custody. However, it is believed that many welfare officials balk at resorting to such action out of concern that support for the family may not proceed smoothly if the action is taken over the parents’ opposition.
Japan’s efforts to stop child abuse are weak when compared with the systems in many Western countries. For example, in the United States, where efforts to prevent abuse of children started much earlier than in Japan, far greater numbers of child abuse cases are reported to and handled by child protection service agencies. Such agencies are staffed by far larger numbers of experts per capita than in Japan, and the police and the judiciary are more deeply involved in the effort against child abuse. What’s lacking in our system to stop child abuse should be explored so that similar tragedies will not be repeated.”
Shiori Ito is a brave journalist who has taken on Japan’s rape culture and has pursued justice in her own case. The BBC released a documentary “Japan’s Secret Shame” about Japan’s lack of ability to deal with sexual assault in the country and why her accused assailant was allowed to walk away, even after an arrest warrant on charges of rape were issued by the police. The documentary is hard to view outside of the UK, so if you’d like to know mere, here’s everything you should know until it’s released here. Many of these articles were written for The Daily Beast, which has been supportive of the investigative journalism behind these stories.
Also, it should be noted that weekly magazine, Shukan Shincho (週刊新潮), was the first periodical to write about this story and pulled no punches in accused the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of blocking a rape investigation.
Below is a list of articles that we’ve written on the case, some at a time, when no other major news media outlet would touch the story.
The stories are in chronological order here and the final entry is being updated when possible.
(originally posted in October 2017. periodically updated)
Japan’s ruling coalition, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has been mired in scandal for several weeks amid allegations Abe personally bent the law or broke it to benefit his political cronies and friends. Even a senior member of Abe’s own Liberal Democratic Party says, “There is nothing this administration wouldn’t do to crush its enemies and reward its pals.”
The story became national news on May 29 when a 28-year-old journalist named Shiori Ito held a press conference at the Tokyo District Court as she sought to reopen the closed investigation into her case….(Click here for part one: Is Japan’s Top Politician Behind a Shameful Rape Cover-Up and for the follow up Japan’s Big #MeToo Moment) . She did not win a reopening of the case but filed a civil suit at the end of September. Last March, the civil courts did essentially find a man guilty of rape and fine him for damages—after police failed to file charges in time for a criminal case to be possible. Shiori Ito also came forward with her full name and published a book, Black Box, referring to the fear of sexual assault victims to come forward in Japan, (only 1 in 5 do, and half of cases resulting in arrest are dropped by prosecutors) and the government and police discouragement of sexual assault investigations and their refusal to discuss why they drop cases, even to the victims. Shiori Ito has gained a groundswelling of public support in recent months.
The arrest warrant for Noriyuki Yamaguchi was reportedly pulled by Itaru Nakamura, the acting chief of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Investigative Division at the time, on June 8 2015.
The chief detective waiting to arrest Yamaguchi, the alleged rapist, informed Ito over the phone, “We have to let him go. The arrest has been stopped from above. I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t do enough.”
Itaru Nakamura is a more important figure than his title as an acting police chief might suggest. He is also a former political secretary to Cabinet Minister Yoshihide Suga and a friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He immediately moved the investigation from the original police department, Takanawa PD, to the police headquarters so that it was under his control.
The prosecutor who had signed off on the arrest warrant was taken off the case. The new detectives handling it drove Shiori Ito to a lawyer to convince her to make a settlement with the accused and drop charges, a highly unusual move.
The Daily Beast has tried to reach Nakamura for comment several times with no luck.
Nakamura is currently the chief of The National Police Agency Organized Crime Control Division, which gives guidance on the controversial and Orwellian criminal conspiracy laws that the Abe administration ramrodded through the parliament.
“I’ve sent him letters,” says Ito. “I’ve tried to meet him now six times––the first time I’ve ever done a stakeout. He won’t talk to me. I just want him to look me in the eye and tell me why he stopped the arrest and scuttled the investigation.” She even once chased him as he ran to his chauffeured car–only to be nearly ran over as he sped away.
Only in Japan do rape victims have to chase the police to seek justice. In a better world, the cops would be actively chasing the suspected rapist.
It is possible that Prime Minister Abe, his second in command, and Nakamura may be pursued in the Japanese Parliament by opposition party members seeking the truth. But don’t hold your breath. Many are reluctant to open the black box. If #metoo (#私も) ever starts trending here, it would do a lot to pry the lid open. Shiori Ito has at least made a dent in it…..and her press conference is something that says a lot about how things still work in Japan.
For reference purposes, here is the text of her speech, translated from Japanese, with some editing for clarity.
Thank you for coming today.
First of all, I would like to address why I decided to hold this press conference.
Two years ago, I was raped. Going through the subsequent procedures, I came to the painful realization that the legal and social systems in Japan work against victims of sex crimes. I felt strongly about needing to change this adverse structure, and decided to go public with my case.
I will go into details later, but in the beginning, the police would not even let me file a report on this case. They told me that it was difficult to investigate sex crimes under the current law. Also, the person in question, Mr. Yamaguchi, was the Washington Bureau Chief of Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) at the time, and a public figure. During the investigation, I received insults that were unbearable as a victim.
However, my intention is not to criticize the entire police force. The Takanawa Police eventually became sympathetic to my situation and worked hard to investigate this case. Thanks to their efforts, investigations were completed and an arrest warrant was issued. But just as the warrant was about to be executed, the then-Chief Detective ordered investigators to call off the arrest. I question the existence of a police organization that allows such unforgiveable circumstances to transpire.
I also question the procedures that sex crime victims are required to undergo at hospitals in order to receive treatment and examinations, as well as the insensitivity of organizations that provide information for victims. A fundamental change needs to be made to this structure.
On the legislative level, the Diet is currently prioritizing discussions about conspiracy laws over the proposed bill to revise rape crimes, whose content is also something that we need to reconsider to ensure that they are truly satisfactory.
I hope that by talking about my experience publicly, I will help improve the current structure and start discussions that will lead to changes. This was my motivation behind making this announcement.
This afternoon, I made an appeal to the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution about my case being dropped.
I will omit details of the incident itself, as it would be difficult to read them aloud. Please refer to the handouts for details. What I can say is that a sexual act was committed against me, unrelated to my will, against my will. I will talk about the events that ensued after the incident.
Circumstances of the Incident
I met Mr. Yamaguchi, then TBS’s Washington Bureau Chief, in the fall of 2013, when I was studying journalism and photography at a university in New York. I met him a second time in the US, but we did not engage in any deep discussions on either occasion.
After I graduated, I aspired to work as a freelance journalist because I wanted to lend an ear to unheard voices, and to listen to their stories over long period of time. But upon returning to Japan at the beginning of 2015, my parents convinced me to first work at a company for a few years. In March of the same year, I emailed Mr. Yamaguchi to ask if there were any openings at the TBS Washington Bureau, because he had previously told me that he could arrange for me to work there. And when I was interning at Nippon Television’s New York Bureau, there were people who had been hired locally. So I didn’t question Mr. Yamaguchi’s offer.
Mr. Yamaguchi’s replies were positive about my employment: “You could start working here while we look at getting you hired you officially;” “The biggest barrier will be the visa, but TBS could help you get one.”
After several email exchanges, he said that he would be coming back to Japan for business and asked me to meet him. We agreed to meet on Friday, April 3, 2015.
At the time, I was working as an intern at Reuters. I had to work late, and ended up being late for my meeting with Mr. Yamaguchi. When I called, he reassured me and told me that he would go ahead and start eating without me. This conversation led me to believe that someone else was joining us, as I had never met him alone before.
That night, he was already eating at one of his favorite restaurants, a kushiyaki place in Ebisu. I had 5 brochettes, two glasses of beer, and a glass of wine. At the restaurant, he made small talk and didn’t discuss the visa, which was supposed to be the objective of our meeting. He said, “There are other restaurants I need to pop by in Ebisu. I’ve made a reservation for the next restaurant, where I want to have a proper meal. Let’s have a quick bite here, and go to the next place together.” The next place was another one of his favorite restaurants, this time a sushi place.
At the sushi restaurant, he said, “I’ve heard good things about you and want to work with you.” An hour or so after we had arrived at the second restaurant, I suddenly felt dizzy and went to the bathroom, it was my second time to go to the bath room at this place. The last thing I remember is leaning my head against the water tank. I don’t remember anything else after that. As far as I can remember, I shared two servings of sake with him at the sushi restaurant. Prior to this incident, I had never lost my memory from drinking alcohol.
Investigators later told me that I left the sushi restaurant with Mr. Yamaguchi around 11PM. He apparently took me to a hotel in Minato Ward. According to the taxi driver who drove us to the hotel, I repeatedly asked to be dropped off at the nearest station. But Mr. Yamaguchi said, “Don’t worry, I won’t do anything. We’ll just talk about work,” and instructed the driver to head to the hotel. According to the driver’s testimony, I wasn’t able to get out of the taxi on my own, so Mr. Yamaguchi had to carry me. This scene was recorded on the hotel’s security camera. I plan to submit these testimonies and evidence to the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution.
At 5AM the next morning, I regained consciousness. I was lying naked in a hotel bed, face up with Mr. Yamaguchi on top of me. I will refrain from providing explicit details, but what I can say is that a sexual act was committed against me, unrelated to my will, against my will.
After the Incident
Several hours after the incident, I went to see a gynecologist in my neighborhood. Mr. Yamaguchi had not used any contraception, and I did not know what do. As soon as I entered the consultation room, the gynecologist asked, “What time did you make the mistake?” without even looking at me. I was then given a pill and told to take it outside. That was it. I could not bring myself to explain my situation to someone so mechanical. So I decided to call a nonprofit that supported victims of sexual violence, hopeful for an introduction to another medical facility.
However, the person who took the call said, “I would like to interview you first.” I was devastated. I barely had the strength to get up from my bed, and had called in desperation. But the first word I heard from this organization was “interview.” I’m certain that other victims with similar experiences would be deprived of any will power at this point. What is critical at this stage is not an interview, but an introduction to a medical institution for an examination.
At first, the police would not let me file a report. Investigators repeatedly tried to convince me not to file and said things like, “This kind of thing happens often, but it’s difficult to investigate these cases;” “This will affect your career;” “You won’t be able to work in this industry after this;” and “All the effort you’ve made so far in your life will go to waste.”
I pleaded investigators to check the footage from the hotel’s security camera, and that by doing so, they would see that I was telling the truth. When they finally did check the footage, they agreed to handle this incident as a case and start investigating.
On June 8, 2015, several investigators were waiting for Mr. Yamaguchi at Narita Airport. Equipped with an arrest warrant, they were going to arrest him upon his arrival in Japan on charges of incapacitated rape. However, this arrest warrant was never executed.
At the time, I was in Germany for work. Immediately prior to the scheduled arrest, one of the investigators had contacted me to say, “We’re going to arrest him. Please return to Japan immediately.” So I was preparing to come back when I received another call from the investigator. Even now, I have vivid recollections of this call: “He just passed right in front of me, but I received orders from above to not make the arrest,” “I’m going to have to leave the investigation.”
Why did this happen? Surprisingly, the then-Chief Detective had ordered the arrest to be called off. In an interview with Shukan Shincho, this Chief Detective admitted that he had “given orders to cancel the arrest.”
Japanese laws do not protect us. The investigation agency has the authority to suppress its own arrest warrants. I will never forget the sense of helplessness I felt that day.
After the incident at the airport, the police sent criminal papers to Mr. Yamaguchi on charges of incapacitated rape. But on August 2, 2016, the prosecution decided to drop charges against Mr. Yamaguchi due to insufficient suspicion. This process took over 1 year and 4 months. The investigations revealed evidence of me being dragged into the hotel through testimonies from the taxi driver and the hotel bellman, as well as footage from the security camera. DNA test results also provided additional evidence. I could not accept the case being dropped, and conducted my own inquiries. And today, I finally made an appeal to the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution.
I want to ask a question to all people living in Japan. Are we really going to continue to let this happen?
For the past two years, I often wondered why I was still alive. The act of rape killed me from the inside. Rape is murder of the soul. Only my body was left, and I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I had become a shell.
After the incident, I concentrated on seeking the truth as a journalist. I had no other choice. I felt like I would be mentally crushed if I considered myself a victim. Focusing on work was a way for me to protect myself.
I then came across a photo documentary of rape victims and their families by Mary F. Calvert in a World Press Photo exhibit. In the exhibit, there was a diary of a woman who had been raped. In this diary, there was a drawing of wrist cutting, accompanied by a message that said, “If only it was this easy.” In the end, this woman killed herself.
I understand this woman’s pain. She doesn’t exist in this world anymore, but I witnessed those photos and received her message. And this is what I thought: “I have to reveal the horror of rape and the enormous impact it has on the victim’s life.”
Becoming a rape victim myself made me realized just how small our voices are, and how difficult it is to have our voices heard in society. At the same time, I recognized the need to face this issue as a journalist. If I hadn’t been a journalist, I may have given up. I know there are countless women who have gone through the same experience, leaving them hurt and crushed. I know that, both in the past and still today, many of these women have given up.
How many media outlets have published this story? When I saw Mr. Yamaguchi repeatedly broadcasting his side of the story through his powerful connections, I couldn’t breathe. Where is the freedom of speech in this country? What are the laws and media trying to protect, and from whom? That is the question I want to ask.
I have travelled to over 60 countries, and have been asked if I have ever been in a dangerous situation. My travels have included interviewing the guerrilla in Columbia, going to the cocaine jungle in Peru, and other areas that would be considered dangerous. But I am sad to say that the only time I actually encountered real danger was in Japan, my homeland, which is considered a safe country. I wholeheartedly wish that no one else has to experience what I went through.
This could happen to you, your family, your friends – it could happen to anyone. If we remain silent and ignore this opportunity to change the legal and investigation systems, each and every one of us will be approving these crimes to continue.
That is all from me. Once again, thank you for your time.
Chronological order of events:
April 3, 2015 Met Mr. Yamaguchi
20:00 Entered kushiyaki restaurant
21:40 Entered sushi restaurant
April 4, 2015 5:00 Woke up in pain and realized that I had been raped. Memory
lost half way in sushi restaurant
April 9, 2015 Consulted Harajuku Police Station
April 11, 2015 Interview with lieutenant from Takanawa Police Station
(currently at Metropolitan Police Headquarters) at Harajuku Police Station
April 15, 2015 Watched security camera footage with aforementioned
lieutenant at Sheraton Miyako Hotel
April 30, 2015 Filed criminal complaint at Takanawa Police Station
Beginning of June 2015 Collected evidence such as: testimony from taxi driver,
testimony from hotel bellman, investigation results from DNA sample collected from underwear. Arrest warrant issued. (Due to the possibility of the rape being filmed, confiscation of Mr.
Yamaguchi’s computer was also a requirement)
June 4, 2015 Informed about the scheduled arrest of the accused upon his
return to Japan at Narita Airport; requested to return from Germany
June 8, 2015
Informed by lieutenant that he had gone to the airport, but that the arrest had been cancelled due to orders from above. Also informed that the lieutenant had been relieved from this case. Subsequently, the case was transferred from the Takanawa Police Station to the First Section of the Metropolitan Police Department
August 26, 2015 Criminal papers sent to Mr. Yamaguchi
October 2015 My first interview with prosecutor
January 2016 Mr. Yamaguchi’s interview with prosecutor
June 2016 My second interview with prosecutor
July 22, 2016 Charges dropped against Mr. Yamaguchi
Editor’s note: Mr. Yamaguchi has categorically denied all charges and his rebuttal can be read on his Facebook page and in the article linked above. This was originally published on June 18th, 2017 and was slightly updated on October 24th.
She’s old, really old. You could describe her as an ancient relic. But at 103 years old, Brunhilde Pomsel seems strong, confident, even blase. Pomsel is the centerpiece of the stunning documentary, A German Life (released in Japan as Goebbels to Watashi ) in which she recounts the years she spent in the employ of the Third Reich, as a personal secretary to Joseph Goebbels. Shot in a gradations of black and gray, A German Life, highlights her still soft hair and the brightness of her eyes. What you’ll notice however, are the deep crevices crisscrossing her face, an incredibly creasy visage that make her look like some kind of exotic deepwater fish. Only once does her confidence falter, and that’s when she’s asked to recall whether she was aware of the existence of the concentration camps. “I didn’t know it,” she says but her voice lacks conviction. “I wasn’t guilty of that, but if I was, then the whole of Germany during the reign of the Third Reich – was guilty.”
The film will resonate with many viewers in Japan, not least because Germany was an Axis partner in WWII, but for the radical difference in the way the two nations have dealt with their wartime legacies of shame and humiliation. For many Japanese, the war years are a receding memory, most often romanticized and tinged with sentiment, as in The Eternal Zero. The stories told in the media or retold by our elders, have always varied little, summed up in a singular theme that combines victimization and valor. In this theme, the atrocities committed by the military in Asia, are glossed over. After all, the Japanese starved, Japan went through unspeakable deprivation, was relentlessly firebombed and then the Japanese people had two nuclear bombs dropped right on their heads for good measure. Whatever terrible things the Japanese military did in China and Southeast Asia, was paid for with our own suffering. We’ve checked off the items on our rap sheet of atonement. So let’s agree to sweep all that stuff under the futon and get on with the business at hand, shall we?
This particular logic (or lack thereof) has come to define the collective memory in the 7-plus decades after the Japanese surrender. It wasn’t really our fault, but the fault of the entire era, and the unstoppable war machine! Compare this mind-set to Germany. They also suffered from the air raids and bombings and went through hell. But they are also a people unafraid to rub their faces in the shit pile of defeat. To this day, they are still examining what exactly happened, and why. New revelations of Nazi atrocities are being unearthed all the time, to be dissected and discussed. The Germans have not averted their gaze from the past, rather they’ve been pretty relentless in their cause to track down and then lay bare the gruesome details of their own crimes. Consider the meticulously categorized displays at the Auschwitz Memorials. The unforgiving precision that characterize the guided tour of those Memorials. The sheer number of movies and documentaries that have come out about the camps and the Third Reich. Or the revived public interest in Sophie Scholl, the young political activist who was guillotined for her fierce anti-Nazism.
“For all that, I believe that Germany is experiencing an eerie deja vu of the Nazi years,” said Florian Weigensamer, one of the four-man directorial team behind A German Life. Weigensamer was in Tokyo to promote the film, along with another director Christian Krones, who is also the founder of Blackbox Films and Media Productions. Blackbox engineered the whole endeavor that is this movie and other award winning documentaries. Krones and Weigensamer have been colleagues and friends for over 20 years and they’ve dedicated a good chunk of their professional lives to the excavation of some of humanity’s most complex problems. (One of their recent projects is a documentary called Welcome to Sodom that examines Ghana’s burgeoning waste problem, born of discarded home appliances.)
Krones is the oldest and most experienced member of Blackbox but he stresses that there’s no corporate hierarchy at work. “I like to take a democratic approach to filmmaking. No orders are issued top-down. There are no one-man decisions. We hold extensive meetings and discuss the film process every step of the way, like a real democracy.” And he added with a chuckle, “We do this because the film industry tends to be very dictatorial and we are very sensitive to anything that smacks of dictatorship!”
Blackbox is an Austrian company as are Krones and Weigensamer. Because they don’t carry German passports, the pair say that their gaze on WWII and the Nazi atrocities are a little distanced. “We were both born many years after the war,” said Weigensamer. “And growing up, I remember my own family didn’t really talk about the war unless it was to say that we were victimized. In this way, I guess we are a lot like the Japanese.” In 1938, Austria was forcibly annexed to Germany in what was known as the Anschluss, and according to Krones, it “laid the groundwork for turning a blind eye to Nazi atrocities. The Nazis held Austria in a grip of terror and the Austrians felt powerless. They descended into denial, and most people just tried to make it through the war years without getting killed.” Weigensamer nodded in assent, but said, “And now we are seeing the rise of neo-Nazis, and the end of tolerance for refugees and outsiders.” Indeed, Krones said, “When we first started filming ‘A German Life,’ I thought, we would be talking about something that was past and over with. Now I feel like I’ve gone back in time, and traveled to a future where the nightmare is beginning all over again.”
As for Brunhilde Pomsel, she comes off as neither a tragic heroine or an evil monster but a woman with exceptional secretarial skills and a breathtakingly banal personality. Astonishingly, before taking up her duties for the Third Reich, Pomsel had worked in a Jewish insurance company in Berlin while having a side gig in the afternoons working for an official in the Nazi Party. Her lover and fiance was half Jewish. (In the film, she has a silver band around her ring finger.) He was killed in Amsterdam in 1942. Her best friend was a young Jewish woman named Ava, who died in one of the camps. All around her, Jewish people were being taken away, ostensibly to a place of “re-education,” and she didn’t think to question what this may really mean. Her take on Joseph Goebbels is that he was “so dapper, so dashing! The cut of his suits was perfect.” Pomsel even remembered how Goebbels’s children would come to pick him up at lunchtime so that they could all walk home together for the midday meal.
Pomsel apparently compartmentalized all that into her life, and shut out whatever she deemed unworthy of attention. She never stopped to examine the contradictions of her thoughts or her actions. She simply wanted to perform her duties well, and then go home.
“The thing is, she was very likable,” described Weigenhamer. “She was articulate, self-sufficient and loved going to the theatre. She took very good care of herself and liked to have a good time. At first I thought I liked this woman but the more time I spent with her, the more I got to hate her.” Krones said: “What struck me was her incredible selfishness. I honestly got the feeling that she was alone because she didn’t want to share her life with anybody. She enjoyed living. But as in the war years, she wanted her life to be hers alone. And this mentality, this wish to shut out others – is part of what made Hitler successful.”
Brunhilde Pomsel died last year, at the age of 106.
Ever since the #Me Too movement landed in Japan late last year, there’s been a greater awareness of women’s rights and sexual harassment. In Tokyo subways cars, there’s a video ad exhorting female teens to refuse to work inside Japan’s infamous underage sex industry. Some train station kiosks sell pin badges for young women, printed with an anti-groping slogan. All this marks quite a progress from the days (only 5 years ago) when sexual abuse and discrimination were so much a part of the daily fabric that many victims didn’t think it worthwhile to raise their voices.
Recently however, Japanese women were given a rap over the knuckles, jolted back to reality and reminded that we were second-class citizens in a male-dominated society. The incident happened during a sumo exhibition match in Kyoto earlier this month. After the match, the mayor of Maizuru City, Kyoto, got up on the arena to make an award-giving speech when he suddenly had a stroke and crumpled to the ground. In a flash, two women in the audience went up, massaging his heart while calling an ambulance. These women were professional nurses and knew what they were doing. In other circumstances, they would be applauded, lauded, maybe even paid for their heroism. Instead, they were told – a total of three times – to get off the arena. Over a loud speaker, no less.
In the world of sumo, the arena is sacred – and females are not allowed to even touch its holy rim. Why’s that? Traditionally, women have been deemed impure, and feared to contaminate the match if they got too close to the arena. A century ago, women weren’t even allowed to watch sumo bouts, as their poisonous gaze may harm the godly flesh of the sumo wrestlers. Tides will turn and times may change, but sumo has, and will always hold women unworthy. Two days after that Maizuru City mayor was carried away on a stretcher, another exhibition match was held. This time, the mayor was a woman and her request to give out the award ON TOP of the arena, was adamantly refused. She had to make her speech from under the arena, stretching her arms above her head, to the winning sumo wrestler.
This incident is by no means the first of its kind. Women mayors, and even a Cabinet Minister acting on behalf of the prime minister, were banned from mounting the steps to the arena for no other reason than that they were women. Women were dirty – after all, they menstruated, had babies and grew old. How despicable. Sumo wrestlers on the other hand, were glorious creatures whose dense muscles and shining flesh were a testament to male power and the incarnation of ancient deity. Never mind that these wrestlers were born from women like everyone else. Never mind that some of sumo’s staunchest supporters are women. Never mind that the sacred arenas are made from packed dirt, and taken apart and shoveled away after each tournament, so what’s the big deal?
After the Kyoto fiasco, the head of the Sumo Association issued an apology to the nurses. But the rules have not been radically changed and will likely stay the same forever. On April 28, the association did announce that it was acceptable for women to enter the arena if a man’s life was in imminent danger or in other dire emergencies. But for the time being, if Japan were ever to have a woman in the Prime Minister’s seat, she too will be told to get the hell off the holy arena during the award ceremonies.
Sumo and tradition have been air-tight for over two millennia, though unlike Judo or Kendo with their forbidding, too-solemn public image, this particular sport is extremely accessible. The spectators gather around the arena in a circle, often taking off their shoes to sit cross legged on mats. They’re free to drink beer, sake and munch boxed meals sold in the numerous lobby stalls. And though it’s closed to women, the sumo world is open to foreigners. Two out of the three current “Yokozuna” or highest ranking wrestler, are Mongolian. There have been wrestlers from Russia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Brazil, respectively. Taiho – one of the greatest and most popular sumo wrestlers of all time, was half Ukranian and raised by a single (Japanese) mother.
There are, of course, no female sumo wrestlers recognized by the Sumo Association. That happening is as likely as Japan’s other bastion of misogyny and tradition, the Yakuza, letting a woman sip the sake cap of fraternization. There are no sexy female yakuza. Whether there are sexy yakuza or not, is a matter of taste.
On or off the arena, sumo wrestlers are admittedly sexy. They are a splendid sight: enormous men with protruding stomachs, naked save for the “mawashi” or sash elaborately wound around their middles, leaving backsides exposed. They seem cuddly and friendly – like giant teddy bears that bow politely to the stable masters before going at each other with the full force of their mighty weight. In terms of celebrity status, sumo wrestlers are on par with kabuki actors, also entrenched in anti-woman tradition. In spite of this (or maybe because of it) there’s never a shortage of women who want to marry into those worlds, though both may be riddled with scandal and rife with discrimination. Adversity acting as an aphrodisiac, maybe.
While condemning the discrimination, I have a tiny, grudging sliver of respect for sumo. As the world continues its relentless march toward total globalism, sumo still prefers to be weird and backward, mired in a logic that’s 2000 years too old. At the same time, the wrestlers are for the most part, smartphone-wielding college graduates that pal around with pop idol groups. The combination is fascinating, even alluring. True, I will never be allowed to touch the sacred arena but I’m free to ponder, (and be frustrated by) its unfathomable mystery.
For reasons beyond me, in Japan, it is mistakenly believed that Thai people eat pakuchi (coriander) all the time. For Thai people, Japan’s pakuchi craze seems really crazy; we may use pakuchi in cooking but it’s not the spice of our lives. It’s not our main staple either.
Pakuchi or ‘パクチー’ is derived from a Thai sounding word ‘Pakchee’ meaning coriander. It is an herb seen in many Thai dishes, either sprinkled on top or put in the soup. When I first moved to the Tokyo vicinity in 2011, it was actually the first time I saw pakuchi sold in supermarkets and even spelled with a Thai sound. I was very surprised to see the Japanese knew of the existence of this little herb we find so cheaply anywhere in Thailand.
In reality, pakuchi is nowhere near a vital part of Thai food ingredients. True, we sometimes grind the roots of pakuchi and mix it with other ingredients to create a curry paste, since this herb gives the paste a nice flavor and smell. In day to day usage, we usually just put a few leaves on top of a finished dish for decoration. When I was growing up, there was even a proverb in Thailand that says ‘Sprinkle pakuchi on top’. This applies to situations when you decorate something to make it look nice or sometimes even to cover up something. At school, we used this proverb at times such as when we knew a teacher was going to come by and check up on us. As you would imagine, we cleaned up the classroom, sat straight, and maybe pretended to be doing some work — that is metaphorically the real role of pakuchi in Thai cooking. We see it a lot but we never see piles of it in our food.
In recent years, I have been noticing a growing trend of people eating pakuchi in Japan. Many people here also asked me about it thinking that it is Thai food and I always explain that it is like a garnish, similar to parsley or green onions (ネギ negi) in Japan. The trend really startled me but at the same time, I was amazed by the variety of pakuchi products available. From pakuchi chips, soup, ramen, spicy sauce, fried rice, spring rolls, porridge to even pakuchi candies. There are even pakuchi specialty restaurants with menus such as pakuchi salad, tempura, stir-fried pakuchi, and pakuchi cheese. Some places also serve drinks like pakuchi mojito or pakuchi lassi. On top of that, pakuchi cheesecake and other pakuchi flavored desserts are also on the menu. As I saw once on TV, a Japanese TV star came out to a cooking show and taught people how to make ‘pakuchi fried rice’ with more pakuchi than I had ever eaten in my life.
Like many Thais who travelled here, my first reaction was ‘is this for real?’. This was ollowed by about 5 minutes of laughter and probably another 5 minutes of instagram photo snapping time. What pops up in our heads when Thai people think about pakuchi isn’t ‘yummmy’, it is more of an ‘ewww’, which is probably a universal reaction people would have when thinking about eating a huge amount of garnish alone as it is. It took me literally years to finally decide to try some myself.
I have to admit, I liked it. Pakuchi dishes turn out to be really good..
First, I visited Coffee Kaldi to, a shop full of delicious food ingredients for many ethic cuisines. At Kaldi, there are many lines of pakuchi products. I tried pakuchi fried rice, chips, porridge (though this says Vietnamese soup) and pakuchi noodles. And the result was far beyond what I imagined — they were all good. I also found my winner — Pakuchi potato chips (パクチーポテトチップス）. They tastes salty, earthy with a little bit of sweetness and tint of (very) nice pakuchi smell. I am now a regular repeat pakuchi potato chips eater. My only complaint would be that the bag is too small — not enough chips. I found Vietnamese pakuchi porridge and pakuchi fried rice to be very tasty — I like to have the porridge for breakfast especially. Some other products could be some hits and misses but what surprises me the most is that nothing really tastes bad. I was so sure it would all taste horrible but as it turned out, it was not. Only the pakuchi chips and pakuchi cheese in the photo below are what I would not recommend.
I tried going to Pakuchi restaurants. Each restaurants has quite a different menu. But just seeing ‘pakuchi salad’ on the menu just blew my mind away. There is no way you can find this menu anywhere in Thailand. There are many interesting menus. I have tried: pakuchi stirred fried, pakuchi beef tongue, pakuchi cheese dakkalbi, pakuchi roots tempura, pakuchi chichimi, pakuchi spring rolls, pakuchi gyoza, and others. For desserts, I even got to try pakuchi cheesecake. For drinks, I got pakuchi mojito and pakuchi lassi. I have to say that they are all very delicious but it takes many plates to feel full as pakuchi is very light. It is hard to pick a favorite but mine would probably be pakuchi roots tempura, pakuchi chichimi, and pakuchi cheesecake. What makes it good is how pakuchi has a faintly sweet taste with a lovely smell. Who would have imagined it to be this tasty.
Some side info I learned from the Japanese friend I went to one restaurant with; she told me that there have been a lot of research about pakuchi in Japan. It is believed to have a lot of nutrition that is good for health and the Japanese also believe that that is why Thai people are skinny. I don’t know if either of these theories is true. She also explained that in Japan, girls who say they like pakuchi are considered cute; they’re considered to be the same type of girls who say their favorite color is pink.
Despite me finding pakuchi products here delicious, none of my friends back home believe me. Their reactions to my social media posts were skeptical, awkward, horrified, or some just burst out laughing — all of which were my reactions before I actually had a taste. Japan is a master of strange productions of things. I am still amazed at how they can turn a garnish like pakuchi into delicious dishes. Next time I visit home, I will make sure to pack a suitcase full of pakuchi chips for people to try. I challenge you readers to try pakuchi here as well. By the way, just be sure not to order pakuchi salad in Thailand, people will just think you’re clueless or weird or both.
As the Abe administration tries to accelerate “work style reform” to address the issue of chronically long working hours, probably in an ultimately negative way, another case of karoshi (過労死) also known as death by overwork, was made public by family members of a victim last month. A 51-year-old sales manager working for Sansei, a mold manufacturing company in the city of Oshu in Iwate Prefecture, passed away after an intracerebral hemorrhage in 2011. The family waited many years before finally deciding to take the case to court. The man had been working up to 111 hours of overtime in a month. Family members of the victim insist that the company should have taken necessary measures to lessen his workload. They held a press conference this month.
The father of two children, the karoshi victim, was hired as an engineer working at the company’s plant in his hometown of Oshu in 1989. After being assigned to sales manager’s position, his daily tasks included sending out invoices and promoting the company’s supplies to potential customers, making several business trips a month. In addition to those tasks, he had to assess the work of his team members to determine their bonuses. He was also asked to organize company sponsored softball games and annual end-of-the-year parties. His workload began to gradually increase and the records his family members were able to collect show he continuously worked 60 to 80 hours of overtime a month since 2002. His son recalls that since he always left home at 7:00am and came home very late at night, sometimes later than 11:00pm. They were able to dine with him just once a week, on Sunday nights.
Even the worker himself became aware of being dangerously overworked. He once told his wife, “I’m working way too much so that if something happens to me, don’t hesitate to sue the company.”
Several months after he collapsed in his home on a Saturday afternoon in front of his family, his wife, certain that it was the work condition that pushed him to die, applied for worker’s compensation which was later accepted by the labor standards inspection office in Hanamaki, Iwate. However, the company insisted it was actually his preexisting health conditions that was the main cause and refused to apologize or compensate for his death. His wife and the two children decided to take the case to civil court. “The government concluded after investigation that this is karoshi but the company decided not to admit. Now, it needs to be held responsible for what it has done to my father,” the son stated. The first hearing is to scheduled to be held in January 2018.
Cases like this are not at all uncommon in Japan. It was 1978 when a doctor specialized in occupational diseases first introduced the term karoshi, literally translated as “death from overwork” in Japanese[i]. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, one in eight (12.6%) full time workers work more than 60 hours per week; the government considers death from overwork becomes a serious possibility if working more than 60 hours a week[ii]. The government finally passed legislation, the act on promotion of karoshi prevention countermeasures, in 2014, amid increasing pressures mainly from a group of karoshi victim family members[iii]. However, the number of karoshi incidents has been held steady. In 2016, 198 cases of suicide karoshi (or karojisatsu) were filed to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in addition to 261 cases of karoshi from brain and heart related disorders[iv]. Experts say this is an extremely conservative figure because many workers and their families simply do not know what to do when their loved ones suddenly pass away. Even if they come to conclude work is the cause, they must find ways to prove victims actually worked excessive overtime. Many companies forge timesheets, ordering to clock in and out on a fixed time everyday, and the rest do not keep track of work hours at all.
“It is extremely difficult for family members to find evidence of overwork. They are not experts of labor law and often those companies hide the evidence or even try to persuade family members not to speak out by offering a small compensation,” Haruki Konno of POSSE, a labor rights organization that has been supporting the family in this case. “There must be so many cases that fly under the radar. We need to support karoshi victim family members or those faced with bad working conditions so that they can to take actions against management.”
As reported last month, an equity sales manager at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co. has filed a claim against the Japan-based brokerage, asserting that he’s been the victim of “paternity harassment” since 2015. He asked the Tokyo District Court to order the firm to withdraw its decision to put him on unpaid leave and recognize his rights as a father.
The case is drawing attention not only internationally but also in Japan, bringing attention to the bullying of working parents — a social problem that undoubtedly contributes to Japan’s declining birth rate. The bullying of working parents was recently highlighted when municipal lawmaker,Yuka Ogata, brought her 7-month-old baby to her job in the overwhelmingly male Japanese legislature, outraging members, who finally kicked her and the baby out. But working mothers aren’t the only ones subject to harassment. Fathers can also be treated badly. The father, Glen Wood, will be having a press conference today at December 16th at the Labor Ministry Press Club (厚労省記者クラブ). The details are below.
Editor’s note: From time to time, @Japankenkyu aka Japan Subculture Research Center does post press releases, especially when they relate to articles or subject matter previously published here, such as maternity harassment, or articles by contributors.
Paternity Harassment Press Conference to be Held at the 厚労省記者クラブ
or the Ministry of Labor Press Club, 3pm Friday December 15th
Mr. Glen Wood vs. Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities
Ministry of Labor Press Club, 3pm, Friday December 15th, 2017:
In this case of Mr. Glen Wood vs Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co. Ltd we are formally filing a law suit seeking compensation for damages together with confirmation of employment status and wage payment.
As has been reported, we filed a temporary injunction on October 26, 2017 stating that Mr. Wood had been harassed upon application for paternity leave. Further, upon returning to work the company refused to return him to his duties which after many months of negotiations led to Mr. Wood becoming depressed.
The company’s court arguments so far have been outrageous and deserve social criticism. Firstly, as an absolute condition to Mr. Wood’s reinstatement to his job the company insists that Mr. Wood have the media publish an equal number of articles stating that the situation was simply a misunderstanding. Further, the company is stating that Mr. Wood has a “persecution complex” that has resulted in him feeling harassed. This is despite having 3 doctor’s statements verifying that Mr. Wood is fine and should be returned to his job. One of those doctor’s statements is from Mitsubishi’s own company employed doctor.
Thus, we file this law suit and hold this press conference where we shall share all color and recent events in real time for those in attendance.
The Japanese government, particularly the Abe administration, has had a lacklustre attitude towards basic human right and worker rights, since taking power after Christmas in 2012. By 2013, the word ブラック企業 (black company/burakku kiygo) meaning “evil corporations” had become a well-known buzzword. Japanese labor conditions are getting worse, hours are getting longer, and wages are stagnating.
Death by overwork has always plagued Japan but in recent months, one case after another has come to light. As noted in this article written for Forbes, Japan Is Literally Working Itself To Death: How Can It Stop, “NHK, Japan’s state-run news channel, reluctantly admitted this year that overwork had caused the death of a 31-year-old NHK female reporter in 2013. The Labor Standards Board reached the conclusion in 2014 but it was not publicized. Miwa Sado, who worked for NHK in Tokyo, died of congestive heart failure in July 2013. She had worked 159 hours of overtime with only two days off in the one-month period prior to her untimely death (She was found dead with cellphone in her hand). Chronic overwork, even when it doesn’t result in death, is a serious blight on Japan’s society. There’s even a word for it: karoshi (過労死). Her death is only one of the suspected thousands of deaths from overwork each year.”
Well, just when it seemed that Japan Inc. just didn’t care, the Ministry Of Health, Labor, and Welfare took decisive action. They declared November to be, “Special Month Of Raising Awareness Preventing People From Working to Death And Other Things” and have adorned the stations with these powerful (not) eye-catching (not) posters. But the unintentional irony is the sub-text of the poster which loosely translates all together as, “Don’t work yourself to death so we can have a society where you can keep working!”.
I searched for the words, “Work Will Set You Free”, but they haven’t added them yet. However, in consideration of how much the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his second in command, Aso Taro, admire the Nazi regime— I guess it’s only a mater of time.
Note: Thanks to Rachel Padilla who copy-edited this article.