The JK Biz (日本語版)未成年の性的搾取(JKビジネス)と日本の異様な「カワイイ」

(本記は未成年の性的搾取(JKビジネス)と日本の異様な「カワイイ」。仮和訳が英文の下です。

This article was originally run for VICE NEWS as (元原稿→)

In Japan, Teenage Girls Folding Paper Cranes Has Taken on a Whole New Meaning

 

 

When weekly magazine Shukan Shincho reported on AKB48 management past ties to the yakuza, no one was surprised. The JK Business is a seedy con game and who knows how to run one better than former criminal associates & loan sharks?
週刊新潮がAKB48の経営者らが暴力団と関わりを持っていたことを特報した時は、大手マスコミがその記事を無視した。稼ぎ頭の秋元君を怒らせると、金銭的に損するだけだから。道徳的損害は配慮していない模様。

 

性は商品として売られることに日本人は男女を問わず寛容な傾向がある。大人が合意によって行っている前提であればそれは「寛容」と呼べるだろうが、未成年が対象となると全く別の話だ。また、「合意」の部分についても誤謬がないか。

日本の10代の少女たちが折る千羽鶴が全く別の意味を持ち始めた(2015年7月21日掲載)

禎子と千羽鶴という児童書の中で、1945年広島に原爆が投下されたとき爆心地の近くに住んでいた12歳の女の子が白血病と診断され余名宣告を受ける。女の子は鶴を折り始める。日本では千の鶴を折れば願いが叶うと言われているのだ。

 

禎子はこの作業を完遂すれば生きられると願って鶴を折るがやり遂げる前に亡くなる。実話に基づいた本である。

 

しかし最近、折り鶴は希望ではなく10代の少女搾取の象徴となった。5月、警視庁は池袋で下着姿の女子高生が鶴を折るのを男性客に見せる店を営業していた男3人を逮捕した。クリオネという名のそのクラブは警察が踏み込んだ際、18歳未満の少女2人を働かせていた。

 

客はマジックミラーのある半個室に座り、鶴を折っている少女たちのスカートの中を覗き見ることができた。入場料が40分間で5000円だが5分間に1000円払えば指名した少女を見ることができた。警察筋によると店はまた、個室で少女と2人きりになり性的行為を受ける機会も提供していたという。

 

クリオネの強制捜査は日本で急増するJKビジネスと警察の闘いの最新局面だ。JKとは女子高生を表しているが、10代の少年を搾取するビジネスもある。我々はドキュメンタリー「売りに出される女子生徒(Schoolgirls for Sale in Japan)」に見られるJKカルチャーを取材した。

 

https://news.vice.com/video/schoolgirls-for-sale-in-japan

 

最も広くみられるサービスにJKお散歩がある。「女子高生と一緒に歩かせてもらうこと」という意味で、客は金を払って日本のティーンエイジャーと出かける。こうした散歩の行き先は往々にしていわゆるラブホテルである。つまりJKビジネスの多くは10代の青少年の売春と違法な性的取引である。

 

「どうして男性が女子高生に夢中になるのか分からない。私たちが無力だからか、自分と同じ年頃の女性の相手をできないからかも。」と19歳のバーテンダー、リサは匿名を条件に我々のインタビューに応じた。リサは世田谷区でガールズバーと呼ばれるようなホステスクラブで働いている。女の子をカウンターの向こうから ―基本的には― 出さないことでガールズバーは風営法に触れるのを逃れてオールナイト営業している。

 

16歳のころ、リサは秋葉原のメイドカフェの店先に立ってJK体験をしたい男性がデートに誘ってくるのを待っていた。メイドカフェは主に男性客を相手にし、名前のように女性がセクシーなメイド服を着ている場所である。そこではしばしば客を「ご主人様」と呼ぶ。リサは店の外に立つだけで、中では働かなかったのだが、ただセクシーな服を着ていたのだという。

 

近づいてきた男性は20代前半から80歳くらいまでと様々な年齢だった。大抵リサに夕食をご馳走し、連れて歩いた。それでリサは1時間に5000円から1万円稼いだ。リサの下着を買いたがる男には12,000円くらいで売った。いつも何枚か用意して持ち歩いていたのだ。リサは当時母親と東京の郊外に住んでいて金銭的に豊かでなかったのだという。

 

リサは放課後や週末働いていたが、こうした男と性行為をしたことは一度もないと言う。また、自分が何をしているかを友だちには話さなかった。

 

「私は馬鹿だからそういうことをしていたわけじゃない。自分は賢いと思っていた。どんなバイトよりもたくさん稼げたし。」とリサは言う。

 

17歳のとき、30代前半の男性がリサを夕食に誘い、飲み物をおごったあとカラオケをしにラブホテルに行こうと提案した。男はその時間分もっと金を払うしセックスはしないと言って安心させた。しかしホテルの部屋に入ると男はドアを閉めてリサを押し倒してレイプした。事の後、リサが泣いている間に男はリサの携帯電話から電話番号を書き留め、財布から身分証明書を盗んだ。

 

「男は警察に行くなら行けと言ったの。警察にいって好きな事を言えばいい、おれは警察におまえはあばずれだ、金は払ったんじゃなくてお前に揺すり取られたって言ってやる、そうすればお前は未成年売春で少年院行きだ、って。ものすごく腹が立ったけど、すごく怖かった。私は被害者だったけど、男の言う通りで、警察に届けたくなかったの。」

 

JKビジネスはめったに強制捜査を受けない。ほとんどのJKビジネスが表向きやっていることは完全に合法なのだ。女子高生に話しかけるのは犯罪ではないのだから。JKビジネスには公開の撮影会で男と一緒に写真撮影しDVDを売り出すジュニアアイドルというものもあり、こうした中には13歳にしかならない少女もいる。

 

JKカルチャーの影響は社会の末端部分に留まらない。先月、ソニーの仮想現実ヘッドマウントディスプレイ、Project Morpheus用に作られたデモ画像では透けるセーターとホットパンツを着た若い白人女性がユーザーにむかって、先生になって日本語を教えてくれるかと尋ねていた。

 

JKビジネスへの寛容さはおそらく、絶大な人気を誇る少女「アイドル」グループ、AKB48にも繋がっている(アイドルとは公的人格において少女っぽい可愛らしさが強調される歌手、女優、モデル、テレビタレントなどの若い芸能人のことである)。頻繁に入れ替わるメンバー ―AKB48は88人ものメンバーがいて、全員がファンの間での人気でランク付けされている― が煽情的な歌詞の歌を歌いビキニで雑誌の表紙写真のモデルになる。

 

メンバーはセックスしたりデートしたりするのを禁じられている。2013年、メンバーの一人、峯岸みなみは恋人と夜を過ごしたのを見つかった後、いかに反省しているかを表明するため頭を剃った。AKB48は2013年の年間総売上が132億円と報じられた。2014年の3月までにグループは3000万枚を超えるアルバムを売り上げ、同年12月には3000万枚を超えるシングル盤の売上げ記録を作った。

 

日本最大の購読数をもつ読売新聞は「KODOMO新聞」にAKB48のコーナーを作っている。

 

AKB48はおニャン子クラブで成功を収めた秋元康が発案した。秋元は「会いに行けるアイドル」というコンセプトで2004年にAKB48を立ち上げた。彼は、たまにあるコンサートでしか会うことができない他のアイドルとはちがい、専用劇場で頻繁に公演する身近なアイドルグループを作ろうとしたのだという。東京にあるAKB48劇場は今やファンのメッカである。

 

秋元は日本の芸能界の請負人としてもてはやされている。ベテラン記者の庄司かおりは2014年にJapan Subculture Research Centerの記事で秋元をそれとは違う名で呼んでいる。

 

秋元康は50年前なら年配の日本人の多くが女衒(若い女性だけを売買する商人)と呼んだ存在である。女衒は少女を(多くの場合親のはっきりした同意を得て)性風俗や遊興業界に売買する仲介業者であった。戦後GHQは東京および周辺での女衒の営業を撲滅に努めたが、こうした仲介業者たちは単に同じ商売を続け「エンターテイメントプロデューサー」という別の名を持つようになった。彼らはセックスショーやストリップ劇場から売春宿や婉曲的にバーと呼ばれる場所まで、これという商売にはすべて関わり、一番売れそうな少女たちをヤクザと直接繋がりを持つ芸能界のために取っておいた。

 

秋元とパートナーの芝幸太郎は2004年にマネージメント会社オフィスフォーティーエイトを設立した。設立の資本の一部は東京の広域暴力団山口組系後藤組(現在は良知組に引き継がれた)が出資したと言われている。2013年5月、週刊新潮がAKB48のマネージメントと組織犯罪(山口組後藤組等)との繋がりについての暴露記事を掲載した。記事では2003年に芝が暴力団員や準暴力団員と一緒に撮った写真が紹介された。この写真で芝は暴力団組長後藤忠政の妻と並んで立っていた。

 

この記事によると ―我々VICE Newsも警察筋に確認済みであるが― 芝は背後に暴力団がついた高利貸屋でキャリアをスタートした。警察の情報では秋元は2008年の秋まで暴力団員と付き合いがあった。

 

オフィスフォーティーエイトは当初は暴力団の資金供与を受けたのだろうが、現在では日本の芸能界において存在を確立している。その芸能界では繰り返しヤクザを排除する試みがなされては失敗に終わっている。

 

秋元はまた2020年東京オリンピック組織委員会の理事を務め、内閣官房が日本文化の宣伝のために設置したクールジャパン推進会議のメンバーでもある。

 

AKB48のトップアイドルたちは何百万も稼ぐ事ができるが、残りのメンバーの多くは時給1200円も稼げない。AKBを「卒業」した ―言い換えれば失業した― 少女の多くは結局アダルトビデオ業界で働くようになった。しかしAKB48は日本の芸能界にとってドル箱なので秋元を糾弾する者はほとんどいない。2012年にCNNが行ったどうしようもないインタビューにおいてAnna Corenは秋元にこう問いかけた。「日本社会には10代少女の性的特質の強調が確かに行われていて、食い物にしているという人もいます。あなたの映像では、そういった少女に、制服やビキニやセクシーな下着を着てお互いの顔から食べ物を舐めとったりキスしたりお風呂に入ったりさせていますが、あなたは何らかの形でこの問題に加担しているのでしょうか。」

 

秋元の答えは「ないですね、それはアートですから」というものだった。

 

それ以来秋元は外国メディアを避けている。

 

今年、人身売買の被害者支援組織ライトハウスがブルーハートという10代の少女向けの漫画誌を発行してJKビジネスの危険について警告した。

 

ライトハウスの代表、藤原志帆子は我々の取材に答えて言った。「JKビジネスは日本の社会病理です。AKB48の存在がそれを助長していると言うことはできませんが、その名前は始終耳にします。『AKB48の誰それが今アダルトビデオ(AV)に出ているよ。それもスターになる道だよ。』―そんなふうに騙されて少女たちはポルノに出演するんです。」

 

藤原によると少女が「10代のアイドルになれる」契約をもちかけられるのは珍しいことではない。路上でスカウトされ「モデルエージェンシー」に連れて行かれる。そこで契約書にサインし、即、AVスターになるのだと言い渡される。スカウトはわざと未成年をポルノ出演に勧誘するが、スカウトだけが責任を負わされ、プロデューサーは少女が未成年だとは知らなかったふりをする。スカウトは高い報酬をうけてそのリスクを引き受けるが、起訴されることはまれである。

 

「日本には性は商品として売られるものという文化があります。男女に関わらず、そのことを問題だと思わない人が多いのです。でもJKビジネスで若い女性や少女が口車に乗せられ、欺かれ、搾取される場合、これはもはや人権問題です。」

 

 

 

I’m not the Jake Adelstein you’re looking for.

SQUEEZING TOKYO WITH A VICE

Jake’s note: I meet a lot of people and BG is a friend of a friend. So I took him to my usual haunts. One thing that you learn in life, is that there is a huge gap between how people see you and you see yourself. 灯台は元暗し. BG is an incredibly bright fellow and I hope he visits Japan again soon. The opinions expressed here as his own although most of them I found pretty true. 

Trying to sum Jake Adelstein up as simply “a character,” as I attempted to do so with my colleagues, doesn’t do him a shred of justice.  The Missouri-born journalist has been opening the kimono to expose everything from the complexities of the Yakuza to the expectedly bizarre Japanese porn industry for nearly 20 years now.   In addition to being print published hundreds of times over, he is also a prolific online publisher for the likes of VICE and the Daily Beast and is one of the most active journalists on social media, clocking more than 50k tweets to his handle. However, despite his apparent digital fluency, he strikes me more of a throwback to a hard boiled, hard drinking detective meets justice above all gumshoe reporter.

jake

I met Jake through a high school pal, a producer on the film adaptation of Jake’s personal memoir, TOKYO VICE.  Apparently, Daniel Radcliffe is in negotiations to play Jake-san.  I was intrigued a year ago when I saw the book on my pal’s shelf,  and borrowed it but never got to reading it until I boarded a plane for Tokyo last week.

I read half, and listened to the rest on mp3.  The stories were gripping and Jake’s commitment to his zig zag path was compelling, there was no question I had to meet dude.

The person that snuck up on me in the cinematic 25th floor Ritz lobby in Tokyo Midtown was not who I had expected.  I’m a pretty good gauge of character when I meet somebody in person, but it just goes to show that a book on tape, a one-way monologue, reveals only a shred of insight.

I expected a soft-spoken ex-pat with a respectful low pro, which would make sense on an island that has a derogative term for foreigners (gaijin.)  Or a writer who had chronicled his experience in TOKYO VICE as a nostalgic memoir, reflecting on the many brushes with death, unimaginable sex-capades, but who had thrown in the towel in exchange for some peace and quiet.

To the contrary, Jake is an anxiety ridden Tasmanian devil, both nervous and cocky. He surprised me as I contemplated my glass of Hibiki, instantly making me feel like a bourgeois pig.

“You Brandon?”

“Uh-huh”

“Here you go”

He presented me with a crumpled shopping bag containing a Foreign Reporter Press Club t-shirt, a gift of sorts and gesture that embodies his menschy Jewish roots with a far Eastern sensibility of hosting.

“You eat dinner?”

“No.  Let’s do it.”

I threw the 40 bucks of whiskey back like I had just joined the Tokyo beat, gumshoes have not time to swirl.  And then we were off, ears popping as the elevator free fell to the pristine Tokyo streets, the cleanliness now only a veneer after having read Jake’s book.

As we sped walked through the underground channels, I couldn’t help but feel like somebody may be following us, or maybe my imagination had grabbed a hold of TOKYO VICE and was running amuck.  Regardless, Jake walks like a shoplifter who knows better than to run and call attention to his lift.  I think this is his natural disposition, a neurotic energy, that if he were to cease moving may induce sempuku. A clumsy shark of sorts.

“I know this great Chinese place – it’s cheap and you can get a whole Peking Duck for next to nothing… you’ll like it and we can walk there.”

image

Cut to me just trying to keep up with his furious pace. He navigated us starting from the Ritz and through the underground walkways to our destination, the entire time, rifling from yakuza, the movie, and the Japanese porn industry. He led me into a magazine shop with no explanation, nearly bulldozing a few locals in the process.  He operates with either reckless abandon only a person with little self awareness can in a country that takes politeness very seriously or with over-confidence, only afforded to those who’ve managed to penetrate the most protected institutions in Japan, never mind as a gaijin… Another dichotomy Jake embodies.

He grabs two magazines that look to may be porn, “these are really rare now.  Here’s one for you and one for Adam [our mutual connection], I’ll explain what they are later.”

He never explains, but I know that they’re Yakuza fanzines from a reference in TOKYO VICE.  Think People magazine for mafia fanboys.

We continue on our way.  I consider jogging, two feet off the ground at once would be less strenuous.  We arrive at a hidden restaurant up a flight in a non-descript building, only to walk in and find a bustling dining hall filled with locals and smoke.

We get a vat of sweet Chinese wine that tastes like shit. Jake insists he can only have  a drink or two as he’s on deadline.  We’re seated next to a gaggle of Japanese girls in their mid twenties.  Our duck finally arrives, I’m drunk, and Jake offers the remaining bits to our neighbors.  He has them cackling, he’s a naturally charming guy – though questionable whether he’d have the same mojo stateside.  At this point, probably so.  His triumphs in Japan, cracking a notoriously isolationist society has earned him stripes of confidence he can take anywhere, that much is obvious.

His phone rings and he takes the call at the table, leaving me to kibitz in broken Japanglish with the girls.

He barks into the phone in a familiar tone that tells me he has a lady at home expecting him not to be home too late.  I can’t make out the conversation, as I’m struggling to not completely embarrass myself with my poor Japanese.

“I’ll do the translation tonight, don’t worry. [pause] Yes!  I’m with a friend of the producer of the film right now.  We’re eating.  I’ll be home in an hour and do it, I promise.”  The call is actually work related, however, all work for Jake is personal.

It seems that Jake’s always on deadline in an obsessive sort of way.

 

Jake shows me his phone, sharing a photo he claims is worth a billion dollars.  It’s a yet to be released shot of a crime family boss with the president of Japan University, who’s also the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee.  The implications for corruption are obvious.  “I’m publishing a story on this.  The reporter who originally had this was beaten severely.” It was my idea that we meet and get dinner in the first place so I naturally offered to treat when we first corresponded. When the waitress brings a to go bag with dishes never intended to be eaten during dinner I can only laugh to myself… journalism never has, and maybe never will pay, but I’m more than happy to subsidize the honest work of a damn good investigative journalist.

Jake clearly feeds off the danger. Sure enough the piece was published days later.  I get a strange feeling, not that I’m a clairvoyant, but just sometime tells me that Jake is pushing his luck.  He insists that he knows what he’s doing.  But that’s what I’m afraid of.

It was my idea that we meet and get dinner in the first place so I naturally offered to treat when we first corresponded. When the waitress brings a to go bag with dishes never intended to be eaten during dinner I can only laugh to myself… journalism never has, and maybe never will pay, but I’m more than happy to subsidize the honest work of a damn good investigative journalist.

TOKYO VICE the movie is scheduled to start production in 2015 – but it’s a small miracle getting a feature film made in today’s market.  I’m a fan of Daniel Radcliffe, so nothing against him, but I’ll be shocked if he can do justice to the real Jake-san.

BG

Half-Devil Vulcan

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 Ides Of October: Japan’s nuclear reprocessing “dream” is the world’s nightmare

Japan plans to restart its troubled nuclear fuel reprocessing facility, Rokkasho (六ヶ所再処理工場)  in October of this year, but is that a good idea? Experts say Japan should simply shutter its nuclear reprocessing plants & avoid making more dangerous plutonium. Why doesn’t this happen? We decided to see if we could explain. Here is our short primer on the nuclear fuel cycle follies of the land of the rising sun.

Why do most nuclear power dependent countries including Japan want to reprocess spent nuclear fuel?

 This is a very good question. If you have no idea what reprocessing nuclear fuel is all about, please hold on. We’ll get to that. Let’s talk a little bit about nuclear plants in general.

The Rokkasho Nuclear Fuel Cycle PR Center can explain to you why nuclear spent fuel is so hand to have.
The Rokkasho Nuclear Fuel Cycle PR Center can explain to you why nuclear spent fuel is so handy to have.

Guess what? Building a nuclear power plant on a volcanic island isn’t a good idea. In fact, it’s probably very dangerous and stupid. This is the conclusion the island nation of Taiwan reached last week. Taiwan’s government said on Thursday it would seal off a nuclear power plant due to open next year. The public has repeatedly criticized the plant as unsafe, and it will be shut for three years, at a cost of nearly 162 million dollars, pending a referendum on its future.

Meanwhile, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan is rushing to restart its nuclear reactors (despite widespread opposition) and plans to reopen the dysfunctional Rokkasho Nuclear Reprocessing Facility in October. Japan’s plans to have a self-perpetuating nuclear fuel cycle have been a colossal & expensive failure—and the Rokkasho facility (as well as many other nuclear facilities) pose a serious threat to the safety of those living near them and possibly the rest of the world. Japan’s nuclear security is poor at best and the workers are not screened making them a potential target for terrorists.

Mr. Frank von Hippel, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University, and Mr. Klaus Janberg, former CEO of a German nuclear service company and nuclear advisor, told reporters in Tokyo last month that storage of spent nuclear fuel should be an alternative to the reopening of the Rokkasho Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Plant operational this year. Mr. Hippel is the former Assistant Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He advised the Clinton White House on aspects of the joint U.S.-Russian non-proliferation programs.

Why does Japan reprocess nuclear fuel even though it would be far cheaper to store it?
Why does Japan reprocess nuclear fuel  even though it would be far cheaper to store it (saving at least 2 billion dollars a year)? Because they don’t have enough space.

As mentioned above, Japan’s nuclear reprocessing plant is planned to finally start running by this October, after more than 20 years of disastrous attempts to make it work. In July of this year, the two nuclear experts proposed to the Japanese government, including the Foreign Ministry and METI (Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry) officials that it would be advisable to install dry cask spent fuel storage units at nuclear power plants sites and elsewhere to prevent the Rokkasho reprocessing plant from generating plutonium that would further increase Japan’s excess stock. They said their proposal could help implement possible alternatives to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s commitment made at this year’s March Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague not to possess plutonium reserves without specified purposes. Abe pledged to minimize stocks of separated plutonium by matching supply and demand.

The two experts spoke at the FCCJ on July 1st about Nuclear Security and Reprocessing: Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Option & an Alternative to the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. We have summarized the Q & A below, adding exposition where we felt it was needed.

Frank von Hippel, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University (right)  Klaus Janberg (left), Former CEO of Gesellschaft für Nuklear Service, experts in the nuclear industry say Japan should leave Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing plant shut and store nuclear waste.
Frank von Hippel, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University (left)
Klaus Janberg (right), Former CEO of Gesellschaft für Nuklear Service, experts in the nuclear industry say Japan should leave Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing plant shut and store nuclear waste.

Why do most nuclear power dependent countries including Japan want to reprocess spent nuclear fuel?

 The Rokkasho plutonium plant was built to end Japan’s dependence on imported uranium, oil, gas and coal. Most countries started civilian reprocessing to acquire plutonium breeder reactors, like the Monju breeder reactor, in Japan. It turned out that such reactors are much more expensive and much less reliable than water-cooling reactors. Currently, the argument in Japan is that spent fuel pools are filling up and it is necessary to have a place where to send the spent fuel. Rokkasho is the only place.

This chart shows how nuclear fuel reprocessing would work ideally. "Let's recycle our limited important resources!" Yes, let's. Just don't spill any plutonium or let the bad kids get any.
This chart shows how nuclear fuel reprocessing would work ideally. “Let’s recycle our limited important resources!” Yes, let’s. Just don’t spill any plutonium or let the bad kids get any.

“TEPCO and KEPCO (Kansai Electric Power Company) built and completed in Mutsu city, in Aomori Prefecture, a spent fuel storage facility, which would be much enough for storing the spent fuel but Aomori, which also hosts the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is reluctant to use the storage facility unless the reprocessing plans begins,” says Frank von Hippel, He explained it was a political problem rather than a technological problem.

There is a nuclear fuel storage facility not being used due to political reasons rather than technical ones.
There is a nuclear fuel storage facility not being used due to political reasons rather than technical ones.

 

Several countries like the UK an the US have also tried to operate plutonium “breeder” programs but abandoned them after several accidents occurred and because they have come to the conclusion that it was not economically feasible. They are now struggling with what to do with the tons of leftover plutonium.

Japan is the last state without nuclear weapons to still reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

Japanese officials also know how costly it is to continue the project that started almost thirty years ago. But why do they insist continuing the process?

 “Keep the zombie alive”

 

Why does Japan cling to its spent nuclear fuel reprocessing program despite all the economic and technical problems?

Japan cannot stop its nuclear fuel cycle plans because the Japanese government has an agreement with Aomori Prefecture, where the Rokkasho plant (located in Rokkasho village) was built. If they can’t reprocess the spent fuel stored there, Aomori Prefecture will remove it immediately. According to high Japanese government officials, the agreement is equivalent to an international treaty, therefore it cannot be turned over. Besides, Japan has nowhere else to move away the fuel. And which country in the world outside of Japan could ever take it? Right now, all the spent nuclear fuel (使用済み核燃料) stored at Japan’s nuclear facilities, on the assumption that it can be reprocessed, is counted as an asset by the power companies.

If Japan abandons its nuclear fuel cycle plans, the “asset” would become a huge liability and every single electric power company would become insolvent. In other words, as long as the pipe-dream of nuclear fuel reprocessing is government policy,  the nuclear waste itself— is an asset; it has value. But if the stored fuel is found to have no value, than the fuel and the costs of storing it–all of this become a liability. If this were to happen, TEPCO, (Tokyo Electric Power Company) is already a de facto insolvent entity. The so-called nuclear village insists that this would be disastrous for the Japanese economy.

The current administration wants to make sure Rokkasho is ready to go and restart reactors to keep TEPCO alive. If TEPCO has another fiscal period where they are in the red, banks will stop lending them money. Restarting the reactors is one way to keep the TEPCO zombie alive.

Now, you may counter by saying, “Hey didn’t TEPCO make 4 billion dollars last year?” Yes, well part of that was a gift from the Abe government which agreed to pick up 47 billion yen (That’s $458,134,380) worth of cleanup costs for the water leaking out of Fukushima—because TEPCO was doing such a lousy job. Okay, well, 3.5 billion is still a great profit. And TEPCO will stay in the black—just as long as nuclear waste is considered an asset.

Some current and former U.S. officials said they expect Japanese officials will abandon their plutonium fuel program once they realize how much it will cost. But it isn’t happening.

The US has been building a MOX plant for its excess weapon plutonium, it was supposed to be operating in 2007 but experts are now saying it can start by 2020. But it has become so expensive that the Obama Administration is talking about abandoning the project and trying to find another cheaper way to the plutonium disposal management.

But for Japan, which is supposed to be a country of honor and promises kept, it is very unlikely. Reportedly, Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda in 1977 called the program’s promise of energy independence a “life and death” issue, and that attitude persists at the highest level of the Japanese government.

“It is in the Japanese mentality to never go back after they made an agreement,” a prominent anti-nuclear activist and attorney told JSRC when discussing the agreements in place that keep Aomori’s Rokkasho plant alive.

How safe is the Rokkasho plant from terrorism? The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) is formerly responsible for ensuring that plutonium does not get removed from the Rokkasho plant by a third party, how accurate is the system installed there since it is going to start operating this October?

The measures and accuracies for the IAEA checks that plutonium won’t leak from the plant is of about 1%. If operating at full capacity, it would separate about 8 thousand kg of plutonium per year. Therefore 1% accuracy is about 80kg. The IAEA considers 8kg is enough to make a nuclear weapon. In other words, if the 1% not accounted for was actually stolen, it would be enough material to produce the equivalent of 10 nuclear weapons in a year. The IAEA recognizes that that’s not good enough, and added a system they called “surveillance and containment,” to monitor all the doors to ensure the plutonium could not be stolen.

“I don’t know about Rokkasho. The problem is that there is no way to check within the accuracy measurement that everything is still there. Reprocessing is recognized as a serious problem for safeguards and for these reasons, even though the IAEA spends globally 20% of its safeguard budget on Rokkasho and Tokaimura, it is recognized as being a hugely costly operation,” Frank von Hippel explained.

The US spends about a billion us dollars a year for the security of nuclear materials. Even so, the US still has some problems. Last year, an 82 year-old nun reportedly penetrated the security system and went to the central part of a nuclear facility. There is no perfect security. “The only perfect security is to not have the nuclear material in the first place.” Von Hippel said. “If you aren’t making nuclear weapons, I’d argue that nobody needs to have the nuclear material that could be used to build them.” (Of course, some would argue that Japan wants plutonium precisely for those reasons.)

Final disposal of the spent nuclear fuel: at which stage is the nuclear material less harmful?

The fuel is the most dangerous when it’s in the reactor, becomes less dangerous when it goes into a pool, even less dangerous when it goes into a cask, and least dangerous when the cask is buried deep underground. The two countries that understood that it isn’t in their best interests to keep the spent fuel on the surface of the earth forever are Sweden and Finland. The issue in Japan may be the suitability of the geological situation of the country. Those casks that contains spent fuel elements under helium that keeps the fuel intact—they can keep the fuel for about 38 or 39 years.

Why do the power companies not want to abandon nuclear power? 

Nihon Gennen, the company which owns the Rokkasho plant, is currently bearing a huge debt for the construction of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, and the electric power companies are guaranteeing/insuring this debt. The current law states that the money to pay back the debt with the fund raised by the consumers can’t be used if the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is not running. The moment you say that you stop the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, Nihon Gennen will go bankrupt. And the debt will be a loss for the electric power companies. The major electric power companies will register a collective loss of about 2 trillion yen and those companies can’t endure this.

Instead of thinking about all these impossible things, Japan believes it will be easier to start running the reprocessing plant. If the reprocessing plant becomes operational, there will be an additional amount of plutonium that will be produced, and that plutonium will be useless without the Monju plant running. In which case the plutonium will have to be burnt with (plutonium thermal use) MOX fuel. And therefore they can’t stop the MOX plant either.

As long as Rokkasho and Monju keep running, the power companies make money—if they are put out of commission, the power companies fail. All the politicians, scholars, ex-bureaucrats, investors and their cronies who are riding the nuclear gravy train will be left out in the cold and suffer losses as well. The so-called costs of nuclear energy do not take into account compensations for disaster, nor the costs of storing nuclear waste for centuries. The cost is only cheap for the power companies—the taxpayers pick up the rest of the bill. The storage facilities for nuclear waste in Japan are nearly full and no one wants to take them.

Kei Shimada, a japanese photographer and director of the documentary movie “Rokkasho Mirai” (2013) told JSRC that at the time under the DPJ, right after the Fukushima nuclear accident, when the cabinet proposed the zeroing out of nuclear power stations in all Japan, the head of Rokkasho village and the city hall members opposed the phasing out of nuclear energy and they repeatedly went to Tokyo to demand the continuation of the nuclear energy policy.

“As for the villagers, there are so many of them who work at the Rokkasho plant, that in case a zero nuclear energy policy in Japan is decided, and in case the Rokkasho plant has to close, they will all lose their jobs. That’s the kind of reaction I heard from the villagers of Rokkasho when the government was walking towards a no nuke policy. Therefore, I think that after the LDP started ruling the country, the people around Rokkasho were happy about the movement to restart the nuclear power plants. But it doesn’t mean that the anxiety has disappeared. I think the people are anxious, but they are also torn between the fact that they will loose their jobs and therefore their living.”

The Rokkasho reprocessing plant is designed to extract metal from spent reactor fuel. If it starts running this time, it will separate more plutonium, despite the fact that Japan already has about 45 tons of it stockpiled in Europe and domestically–enough for more than 5,000 nuclear bombs. The US and the IAEA has continually raised concerns that the lax security at Japan’s nuclear power plants—which do not even run background checks on the workers–and tolerate yakuza (gangsters) working on site–could make them a target for terrorists. However, when we examine the history of mismanagement and incompetence of the utility companies running the plants, it seems the greatest credible nuclear threat of them all is yet another accident.

 

 

Notes:

Several JSRC members contributed to this post. 

Frank von Hippel is Professor of Public and International Affairs, emeritus and co-chair International Panel on Fissile Materials. He served as Assistant Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (1994-5). Nuclear consultant Klaus Janberg managed the development and production of the casks at GNS that provide interim storage for spent fuel in Germany and a number of other countries.

 

 

 

 

And justice after all? Prosecutor Review Board Say “Charge TEPCO Execs with criminal negligence”

The Fifth Tokyo Prosecutorial Board announced a decision yesterday that three former executives of the Tokyo Electric Power (東京電力)company, including former Chariman Tsunehisa Katsumata (勝俣恒久元会長)  should be prosecuted for criminal negligence resulting in death and injury for the triple nuclear meltdown in March of 2011.  They also scolded the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office (TPO)for letting them off the hook. The Prosecutorial Review Board oversees the decisions of the prosecutors to try or not try a case. The TPO now has to consider the decision and decide whether to reopen the investigation or attempt to close the case again.

The accident at Fukushima Nuclear Power plant resulted in over a 100,000 people being displaced and possibly a surge in thyroid cancer in children living in the area. TEPCO workers also drowned to death on site after being sent to check on equipment in the basement despite a looming tidal wave. The manager of the Fukushima plant died of throat cancer this year. TEPCO claims it had no connection to the radiation exposure he received while working at the facilities.

TEPCO executives might possibly be prosecuted for criminal negligence resulting in death and injury over the 3/11 triple nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. But will justice prevail? The odds are as good as there never being another nuclear accident in Japan. Ahem.
TEPCO executives might possibly be prosecuted for criminal negligence resulting in death and injury over the 3/11 triple nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. But will justice prevail? The odds are as good as there never being another nuclear accident in Japan. Ahem. TEPCO did admit after censure from a National Diet Investigatory Body that it had lied about it’s understanding of the risk, but it’s hard to believe that after being documented as lying to the public again and again that it will change its corporate. However, with the bad image they have now maybe a more honest name would win them back public confidence. Better the enemy you know than…..

 

However, if the Tokyo Prosecutorial Board again rules that prosecution of the TEPCO executives is warranted then a team of lawyers will be chosen to play the role of the prosecutors and the accused will be charged.  An independent government investigatory board, National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, concluded in 2012 that the nuclear accident could have been prevented and that TEPCO management was criminally negligent.

Last year TEPCO made 4 billion dollars in profits, much of it due to  the Abe administration’s decision to bear huge amounts of the costs of the Fukushima nuclear disaster clean-up.

The Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office is well aware of how unpopular their decisions to let the TEPCO executives go scot free would be. The news that there would be no prosecution was leaked on the day it was also announced that Japan would hold the 2020 Olympics.

Prior to the 2020 Olympics, Abe also assured that the nuclear clean-up at Fukushima was “under control”. The next day media reports about radioactive water seeping ing into the ground soil and contaminating the ocean made him look very foolish and dishonest. Perhaps that was the inspiration for the Special Secrets Act which his administration rammed into law on a night in December last year, which will cripple press freedom and allow almost all nuclear issues to be labelled “top secret”—criminalising reporting on them.  (We can be sure the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office will leap to do those cases.)

A special prize to whoever figures out the day the TPO are most likely to bury the news that they are going to ignore the Tokyo Prosecutorial Board and do nothing.  We could be wrong. We’d like to hope we are.

Stalking in Japan: Another needless death

(This was originally posted on February 18th, 2014. A day later, a woman in Gunma Prefecture was most probably shot to death by her stalker) 

February 21st, 2014 . Updated again on February 22nd, 2014. 

Stalking in Japan is a serious problem and the laws can’t seem to catch up with it. On the 19th of this month, yet another woman was apparently killed by her stalker.

“To build a Buddha image but not to put in the soul (仏作って魂入れず/Hotoke tsukutte tamashii irezu)” is a well-known saying stemming from a folk belief that statues of Buddhist deities are meant to have a spiritual presence. In other words, it’s a metaphor for making something that’s structurally sound but missing the most vital components.

Japan’s antistalking laws are a good example. Although they have been on the books since November 2000, they are deeply flawed, outdated — and poorly enforced for a multitude of reasons, including problems endemic in Japanese police culture.

The result of these “life-less” laws is that innocent people keep losing their lives. The most recent victim appears to be a 26 year old female who was shot to death on the 19th this month.

According to news reports and other sources, on February 19th (2014) around 3pm,  Chihiro Suzuki, aged 26, was shot in the head at a supermarket in Tatebayashi City in Gunman Prefecture. She died almost immediately. The police suspect the assailant was her former boyfriend. Last November (2013), she consulted with the police in Tochigi Prefecture about being stalked by her ex-boyfriend. The police acted quickly and arrested him for assault. He was fined and released. The Tochigi Prefecure Police, in accordance with the anti-stalking laws, issued him a warning to stay away from Ms. Suzuki. The Tochigi police urged her to move out of the prefecture, advice that she followed and moved to Gunma Prefecture in December of the same year. The Gunma Police, in cooperation with the Tochigi Police, kept in contact with her on a regular basis to assure her safety but she was not under constant police protection.

Her wallet was found with cash still inside the car at the crime scene. The police believe that it makes the possibility of a robbery unlikely. They were unable to get in contact with her former boyfriend. (UPDATE) The suspect was found in his car on the 22nd, dead from what is presumed to be a self-inflicted shot to the stomach*.  

In October of 2013, 33-year-old Rie Miyoshi, a newlywed living in the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Zushi. She had repeatedly asked the police there to protect her from her ex-boyfriend, who was stalking her both online and stealthily in the real world.

Between January and August of 2012, police issued 1,511 warnings against stalkers — a figure already surpassing the all-time high of 1,384 for the whole of 2007. 1n 2011, when 1,288 warnings were made to alleged violators of the antistalking laws, only 205 arrests were made, according to the National Police Agency (NPA).

Recently, even the wife of the Prime Minister of Japan has raised her voice in protest about Japan’s lackluster stalking laws and a failure to enforce them. Together with former Miss International, Ikumi Yoshimatsu, they have launched a petition drive to encourage serious change in the laws and concrete actions. Ms. Yoshimatsu writes in the petition:

As a first step, I ask that you establish a taskforce to investigate stalking and violence against women with the objective of laying out an immediate national strategy to address these issues and offer real protection for women.Out of all the industrialized nations, Japan is by far the lowest ranking country on Gender Equality. –A disgraceful 105 out of 136 countries.We need strict anti-stalking laws and strong punishment for perpetrators of crimes against women. We need a police force that will protect women and immediately act to prevent stalking and intimidation.We need Restraining Orders granted by the courts for any woman who has been threatened, BEFORE she is actually harmed, murdered, or forced to commit suicide. We need media that report on these issues without fear. Without protecting the women of Japan, our country will never enjoy the economic and moral benefits of a truly equal society.

You can sign the petition by clicking below.

Stalker Zero –End the Japanese “Culture of Silence” toward crimes against women!

 

For those of you who don’t want to wade through a lengthy article, our resident social critic and manga writer, Kaori Shoji, explains it all for you in manga fashion (Note: the comic was written in 2013, so it’s a little out of date) If you encounter a stalker in Japan, go to the police. They are more helpful than they have been in the past.  Which isn’t saying a lot…but it’s better. The police are trying to deal with the problem but when stalkers are simply fined and let out of jail, can there victims really be safe?

 

 

Stalking Comic Book _Page_1 Stalking Comic Book _Page_2Stalking Comic Book _Page_3 Stalking Comic Book _Page_4 Stalking Comic Book _Page_5

 

Note to the stalkers of the world: If you want to prove to your victim how much you love them, kill yourself first before killing them. It will leave a lasting impression. Yes, if you kill yourself first it will be difficult to kill them so no one else can have them but at least they’ll know you loved them. Just skip the murder and go directly to your own suicide.

 

Underwear designer by day, Underworld yakuza boss by night: The Quiet Don

by Giles Poitras

 Nitta Tatsuo’s Shizukanaru Don (静かなるドン), translated into English as The Quiet Don, began publication in November 1988 in the men’s manga magazine Shukan Manga Sunday (Weekly Manga Sunday) and ran until the January 2013 issue when it concluded with a 50 page chapter. The cover of that final issue had the two major characters set against a night sky and text announcing this final chapter of this long running series. The series was so long running there are a total of 108 tankobon of the series, the last volume being released on June 29, 2013, with well over 1,000 chapters selling over 44 million copies. The last volume had the same image of magazine cover except with a sunrise in the background.

Underwear designer by day, yakuza by night. The Quiet Don
Underwear designer by day, yakuza by night. The Quiet Don

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This is a gag manga about yakuza, not the most humorous subject. However laughter goes well with the contrast of the stereotypical scary tough yakuza of  Japanese entertainment and gags, often at their expense.

This is a tale of a mild-mannered salaryman who works in the design department of a lingerie company, and the tale of a tough young yakuza boss who is head of the largest yakuza organization in Kanto region of Japan. The salaryman is the bottom man in his office— short, sloppy, meek, picked on, yelled at. His habit of regularly producing bungled designs don’t do him any favors either. On the other hand the sharply dressed young yakuza boss radiates authority, impressing everyone who happens to meet him.

The contrast between these two is especially interesting because, in reality, they are one and the same person. Born into a high-ranking yakuza family, Shizuya Kondo wanted to distance himself from the dark dubious trade of his parents and walk in the light of day as an ordinary person. He worked at creating such a life for himself and became a designer for the lingerie company Pretty. However fate had something different in store for him. One day, after scolding him for another failed design, Shizuya’s boss turns on the office TV to watch the first broadcast of the company’s new commercial. A news alert comes on: Isamiashi Kondo, the head of the Shinsengumi, has been shot by members of the Choshu-kai. Shizuya is unable come up with an excuse to leave early and after work rushes to the hospital, only to find his father has just passed away.

At the funeral for their kumicho, the tension is thick between the major oyabun in the group as they vie for the organization’s most prestigious seat. Shizuya’s mother takes him aside and explains that the only way to prevent a bloody internal struggle is for him to take command. He reluctantly does so on the condition that he keep his day job and carry out his role as a yakuza boss at other times. Comedy ensues as Shizuya works to balance the two sides of his life, and the two sides of his persona.

This is a story that will delight Japanophiles of all kinds. As seen from the names above, the story contains characters and groups named after many famous foes and persons from the Bakumatsu period of the mid 19th century. On a more contemporary front, The Quiet Don began near the end of the bubble economy of the 1980s, giving readers a glimpse of a booming Japanese economy, the glitter and glamor of hostess clubs included. We’re also taken to see small neighborhood eateries, middle ranking yakuza operating modest enterprises, and salarymen trying to do their job in a very competitive environment. Another interesting touch is Shizuka’s mother. She’s drawn in a dramatically different style that manga fans will identify as the high realism of Ryoichi Ikegami, a manga artist who has also drawn yakuza manga such as the Sanctuary series.

For all of the drama contained in The Quiet Don this is a gag manga filled with slapstick, very earthy humor, humorous situations, and a great mix of references to 19th century history with late 20th century reality.

The yakuza are portrayed as competitive as the corporations, both between gangs and internally, trying to rise up the ranks. Often, this is a gag manga after all, they are buffoons whose grandstanding is obvious to the reader. The yakuza side of Shizuya Kondo at first comes off as eccentric and weak, but those around him soon start to realize just why his mother says he is most capable of leading the organization. There is in fact a beast lurking inside this mild office worker, one more than capable of strategies and action to handling the fiercest opponents, one-on-one or in a showdown against other bosses at a major event. But then, as a salaryman, he is also capable of  lowering himself to dancing in his underwear to amuse drunken coworkers at a hot spring resort. Romance also plays a role in the story with Kondo having to keep his darker persona secret from the woman he loves and who knows him as a bumbling co-worker.

Behind those sunglasses lurks a nice guy who just wants to make great women's underwear.
Behind those sunglasses lurks a nice guy who just wants to make great women’s underwear. In the final issue, is he finally united with his true love? It’s not quite clear…but one can hope. 

The first 15 volumes of the manga are available in English for the iPad via the ZQ Books app created by NTT Solmare, you can get the app from the iTunes store. Also, don’t expect to pick up yakuza related vocabulary from this translation. The translation is rough with many terms in English that could have been left in Japanese. These days readers of English translated manga are used to Japanese terms left un-translated when there is no real English equivalent. One example of a word that could have been left untranslated is oyabun consistently translated as “father”.

Also the English translation of the first two volumes is available in the US, and possibly other areas, as an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Each volume is broken up into four parts that are sold separately. It will also display on an iPad in a small window. There is a free app that gives a preview of the manga, so it’s easy to try out some of the early story. The downside with the iPhone version is that reading manga on small screens leaves plenty to be desired as you are basically doing it one frame at a time, making it hard to maintain a reading rhythm as you have to tap to go to the next image (or in the case of large frames, wait for the system to scan across).

All in all, the story of The Quiet Don is compelling, the characters full of depth, and it’s easy to understand how this series ran for over 20 years. There have even been adaptations of the story, including an OVA (straight to video anime), a TV drama series and two movies, both of the movies have been released in subtitled versions through iTunes in North America and perhaps elsewhere.

When the series ended the author stated that he had written enough of this series in the 24 years it ran. Less than 6 months later the “Grand Finale” issue of Shukan Manga Sunday was published with a group image of  characters from many series, including Shizuya Kondo, on the front cover.

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 (Jake’s note: In addition, there is a long out of production computer game/interactive manga based on the book that in some ways may have been the model for Sega’s popular Yakuza series. I don’t know any yakuza with sons that went into the apparel business but I do know one mid-level yakuza enforcer who’s son became a hairdresser. He is not interested in taking over “the family business”, and his father seems very happy with that decision.)

*About the author of this piece, see below. Check his blog out for more on Anime and Japanese pop culture.

Gilles Poitras

Profession: Librarian    Obsession: Anime

http://www.koyagi.com – cowpunk@koyagi.com

http://gillespoitras.blogspot.com/

 

DJ Police, Save Me Mama Fraud, Big Data: The Words of 2013 Japan

Peter Durfee aka @Durf wrote a great piece on the most important words in Japan for 2013–including such classics as “Save me mama!” fraud (母さん助けて詐欺)DJ Police and Big Data. We’ve posted part of the article here. For the complete article click the link at the bottom. 

DJ Police

 

Each year Jiyū Kokumin Sha, publisher of the popular annual reference Gendai yōgo no kiso chishiki (Basic Knowledge on Contemporary Terminology), selects its “most popular word of the year” along with a top-ten list. The terms are those that have captured the popular imagination that year—the words on everyone’s lips.

A guide to reading the annual monolithic almanac of important words in Japan. 現代用語の基礎知識
A guide to reading the annual monolithic almanac of important words in Japan. 現代用語の基礎知識

Today the company announced its long list of 50 nominees; the finalists and champion will be announced on Monday, December 2.

Below we walk you through the nominated terms. They provide an interesting window on the events and ideas that impacted the Japanese people over the past year.

  • PM2・5 — PM2.5 is particulate matter of a size smaller than 2.5 micrometers, particularly dangerous for its ability to penetrate deeply into the lung tissue. China wrestles with serious air pollution, particularly in the winter months, and Japan must deal with the PM2.5 pollution that blows over from the continent.
  • NISA(ニーサ) — NISAs, or Nippon Individual Savings Accounts, patterned after the British ISA system, will become available to Japanese individual investors in January 2014. These allow investment of up to ¥1 million annually with dividends and capital gains exempted from taxation for the first five years.
  • 母さん助けて詐欺 — Kāsan tasukete sagi. “Mom, I need help!” frauds are the latest version of scams to target mainly elderly Japanese people. The perpetrator calls the victim claiming to be her child, asking for an urgent transfer of funds to pay for a traffic accident or other emergency.
  • 弾丸登山 — Dangan tozan. “Bullet climbs” send climbers up a mountain with ascent speed as the main goal. They’re a common way to do Mt. Fuji these days, with tourists taking buses up to the fifth station, climbing overnight, watching the sun rise from the peak, and heading back down that same morning. Officials have urged climbers to avoid this strategy in climbing Japan’s highest mountain, particularly during the serious crowding that followed itsdesignation as a World Heritage site.
  • 美文字 — Bimoji. Fashionable young calligraphers like Nakatsuka Suitō are helping create a resurgence of interest in “beautiful characters.” The ability to handwrite elegant Japanese script has been lost by many who rely more than ever on computers and smartphones to do their writing for them.
  • DJポリス — DJ porisu. The “DJ policeman” guided people across the chaotic Shibuya Crossing with humor and good cheer after they spilled onto the streets on June 4 celebrating Japan’s qualification for the 2014 football World Cup.
  • ななつ星 — Nanatsu Boshi. The Seven Stars cruise train is Kyūshū Railways’ top-of-the-line luxury addition to the already rich rail touring lineup on the southernmost main island of Japan.
  • パズドラ — Pazudora. Puzzle & Dragons was a breakout hit this year in the mobile gaming scene. Originally released in 2012, by spring 2013 it had become one of the highest-grossing applications on both the iOS and Android platforms.
  • ビッグデータ — Biggu dēta. “Big data” proved to be just as sexy a business concept to Japanese companies in the IT and other industries as it was to their counterparts abroad.

For the rest of the story, go to The Words of 2013 at Nippon.com

Book Review: Tokyo Underworld–a classic on the dark side of Japan

There are very few gaijin (foreigners) who know what happens on the dark side of the rising sun like Robert Whiting. Whiting is an American author and journalist living in Japan, one of the rare ones who has written great books published in both English and Japanese language after he first set foot in Japan in 1962, when he was 20.

His most popular book, Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan, published by Pantheon, N.Y. 1999, and Vintage Departures, 2000, has been optioned for being made into a major motion picture several times but still hasn’t made it to the silver screen. It’s not surprising that the book would appeal to Hollywood. The main protagonist in the book seems to pop out of a movie! But he isn’t, Nicola Zappetti, aka “The Mafia Boss of Tokyo,” an Italian American GI whose pizza restaurant in Roppongi became the informal headquarters of the Tokyo underworld, really existed and lived in the country where you would think modesty and order reign.

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Whiting’s book while revolving around Zappetti, openly draws out the influence of the yakuza on Japanese society and politics. He illustrates historical facts by including Nick Zappetti’s encounters with some of the most intriguing Japanese figures, who brought Japan to become the world’s second largest economic power after the United States. He creates a great visual and fascinating world no one would imagine that modern-day Japan would emanate from.

Tokyo Underworld was translated into Japanese by Midori Matsui, at Kadokawa Bunko.[1]

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The book illustrates the genesis of the so-called keizai yakuza, or “Economic Yakuza,” the ones who intelligently mutated into financial wizards spurring the creation of new anti-mob laws in Japan—which also spurred more of the white-collar yakuza to go into finance. In Tokyo Underworld, Whiting explains how Japanese criminals, even suspected class A war criminals such as Yoshio Kodama, could escape execution, unlike the other war criminals, such as Hideki Tojo, the general of the Japanese Imperial Army who was directly responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Because the U.S. Occupation authorities needed to trade information about wartime government figures wanted by the GHQ (General Headquarters) to counter the growing leftist movements in Japan, the most vicious mob members were able to deeply root their organization in the structure of Japanese society. The Americans declared that all foreigners in Japan, whose native country was a Japanese colony before the end of the Pacific War would not be punished under the law, which was one of the reasons why the Korean community couldn’t be controlled by the Japanese police. The police thus made an unofficial agreement with the Japanese gangsters to keep the order. Whiting tells the story of how the most vicious of all Japanese worked hand in hand with their occupants.

The book retraces the life of Nicola Zappetti, an Italian-American who moved to Japan after the war as a U.S. Marine and later became the bridge that connected the American mafia and the Japanese yakuza. The story line follows the life of Nicola Zappetti, but incorporates the lives of various Japanese shady characters, such as Yoshio Kodama, who Whiting describes as “ A powerful wealthy ultranationalist and behind-the-scenes fixer (who was also the point of entry for America’s participation in this sphere.) Described by one historian as a master of channeling “unregistered” funds from big business and the underworld to politicians, […]

 

In 1958, Kodama went to work for the CIA, maintaining a professional relationship of considerable intensity that included helping to funnel agency money clandestinely to associates in the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party of Japan) and anti-communist groups. One of Kodama’s assignments was to cozy up to Indonesian President Sukarno and assess associates in a firm called Tonichi Trading Company were laying plans for business ventures in Djakarta, in part by supplying female companionship to the Indonesian president, a known womanizer, […]”

 

He expounds on how another historical figure, Hisayuki Machii, the boss of the Tosei-kai (now Toa-kai), which had 1500 mostly Korean members after the war, won a gang war against the pure-blooded Sumiyoshi-kai, a prewar gambling gang. “[…] Machii. The son of a Korean factory owner from Seoul and a Japanese mother, Machii had first made his name in the postwar black market running a band of young thugs. Nicknamed “Fanso” (Violent Bull) as a youth, he had won several barroom brawls versus larger American GIs, including one encounter with a U.S. Marine colonel, a karate black belt, whom Machii knocked out cold with one punch. He was famous for once having snapped a set of handcuffs in a fury over being arrested. […]”

Robert Whiting writes, “The Tosei-kai was symbolic of what had happened to the Tokyo organized crime scene. The old tekiya had fallen by the wayside as the street stalls gradually disappeared, and a new type of gangster had assumed control, drawn from the vast pool of jobless and homeless young men who filled the streets in the aftermath of the war.”

 

The book aims to trace the history of organized crime in Japan, and document the transition from the postwar Japanese gangsters to the “new breed” generation of gangsters, which inevitably mixed with the American culture, military, and politics, during the Occupation.

 

The book recollects many shady incidents and thus explains the moment when two or more cultures clash in an occupied territory. That’s when most improbable things happen. But they did happen, and that’s why the nonfiction genre fascinates us at time. Truth is often more interesting than fiction. True stories may not always be stranger than fiction but it sometimes they are much more fascinating than what never happened.

“Japan has the most honest used car salesmen in the world along with the most crooked politicians, and Zappetti’s story explores that conundrum,” The New York Times wrote in its review of Tokyo Underworld. Indeed, the Japanese are proud that their country appears to have one of the lowest crime rates in the world. At the same time, Japan has history of entertaining tacit interactions between some segments of its society and the underworld.

“When the first American-style “hit,” or shooting for hire, took place in Japan – the attack in 1958 on an infamous greenmailer (financial corporate takeover artist) named Hideki Yokoi as he sat in his downtown office – they, [The retired bosses of postwar outdoors markets] and the public at large, were overwhelmingly critical of the method employed. “Wearing American gangster clothes is one thing,” fumed one aging mobster in the Shukan Tokyo (Weekly Tokyo) magazine, in an article entitled “The Fire-Spitting Colt,” “but adopting the American custom of using professional hit men? How low can the Japanese gangster fall?” (The honorable way to settle a dispute, as everyone knew, was to grab a sword, purify it by spitting sake on it, and face the enemy man to man, not sneak up on him with a gun from the dingy back stairwell.)”

 

Whiting wrote, “The New Breed was there to stay and arcane distinctions such as tekiya and bakuto were fading away; the word ‘yakuza’ was being applied to all gangsters, and the term boryokudan, which literary means ‘violent group,’ was used for the gangs themselves.

Japan’s organized crime is still evolving. The gangs used to cooperate with the police in containing street crime and informing on each other. Some experts saw the new 1992 anti-gang laws as the beginning of a “mutually beneficial relationship” between the police and the yakuza, although their increasing involvement in legitimate businesses clearly became a serious concern for many Japanese. However, the law never officially made yakuza gangs illegal, and the smart mobsters, like mutating cockroaches, recycled their activities using dummy front companies to operate their vicious attempts to countermeasure the newly passed laws.

Currently, crime experts believe that the yakuza will continue to conduct their affairs in an even more covert manner. Japan’s economic growth was largely attributed to the power of the United States. “America will always be Japan’s oyabun, (father figure or godfather),” a retired yakuza boss recently commented to this reviewer.

Tokyo Underworld also recollects how the occupants helped the Japanese economy to become the world’s second largest in only a few decades. The rules and the laws, dictated by the Americans, made sure that the Japanese businesses would always win, as Zappetti learns towards the end of his years.

“According to the National Police Agency, […] the number of badge-carrying gangsters in the nation as a whole had swollen alarmingly. From a prewar total of several thousands, the total had risen to 56,000 by 1951 and then from there nearly quadrupled by the end of the decade. It was the largest concentration of organized crime members in history, several times the members of the Mafiosi in the United States, and was attributed in part to Japan’s precipitous economic growth, which had spawned thousands of new bars and nightclubs ripe for shaking down – as well as to the maturation of Japan’s baby boomers, which created new legions of juvenile delinquents. […]

Extortion, assault, and theft rates skyrocketed. Although Tokyo would later develop a reputation as one of the world’s safest cities, in that era, the burgeoning entertainment hubs were being described in the press as “hotbed of crime” and surrounding streets unsafe for anyone after midnight.”

Robert Whiting is one of the top American nonfiction writers on Japanese subcultures and history. Tokyo Underworld documents historical facts. Robert Whiting translated himself most of the Japanese news articles and he conducted nearly 200 interviews with various sources and began meeting Nicola Zappetti in the fall of 1989 until his death in 1992, including his friends, family, business associates and enemies. The book is great work of investigative non-fiction. While the book tends to be stuck in the true crime section, it is a wonderful sociological study of Japan, and may even be useful for the foreign businessmen. Tokyo Underworld explains deftly just how hard it was for a foreigner to start a business in Japan and keep it running.

While Tokyo Underworld rests in development limbo, Linson Entertainment and Silver Pictures are producing “The Outsider,” directed by Takashi Miike, starring actor Tom Hardy, who will play the role of an American expat in Japan who becomes a yakuza after WWII. The project is based on an original idea by John Linson, who will produce along with Art Linson through their Linson Entertainment banner according to Deadline. The story for the movie, although it is a fiction, seems similar to Nick Zapetti’s biography, as reported in Robert Whiting’s Tokyo Underworld. Zappetti was never a yakuza but perhaps his heart became tattooed over the year.

Robert Whiting, in his early career wrote about the Japanese society seen through baseball, the American sport adopted by the Japanese, sometimes called 野球 (yakyu). Many still say that the best way to understand Japan is to read his classic about Japanese baseball, You Gotta Have Wa. It’s clear that Mr. Whiting knows a lot about Japan and about baseball. Tokyo Underworld, as a work of non-fiction narrative is a home run with all bases loaded. Highly recommended.


[1]

Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan, by author Jake Adelstein was never published in Japan because it names a promiment Japanese entertainment firm as a yakuza front company and touches upon other taboos, like the murder of Juzo Itami, the movie director who directed Minbo no Onna (The Gentle Japanese Art of Extortion) .

After the release of the film in 1992, members of the Yamaguchi affiliated Goto-gumi, unhappy with the portrayal of the yakuza in the film, conducted an attack against Itami, slashing his face and beating him up in front of his house, six days after the movie release. In 1997, Itami was found dead after falling from a high building in Tokyo. The Japanese police officially reported that he committed suicide, however his death is alleged to have been murder under the guise of suicide, purposed to prevent him from making another yakuza movie illustrating the links between organized crime, Sokka Gakkai, and political parties in Japan.

Reconstructing 3/11: Sometimes The Yakuza Live Up To Their Ideals 

Last year, I was pleased to write a chapter for the book Reconstructing 3/11 which will be available to download for free for a limited time.
As a special treat, I’ve posted my chapter of the book in its entirety, until March 14th. Our tireless editor, known only as Our Man In Abiko, has been kind enough to write an introduction for this posting.
Reconstructing 3/11 is a thoughtful examination by an impressive list of noted and knowledgeable authors, if I may say so as editor, of the state of Japanese society one year after the devastating natural and man-made disasters of March 11th, 2011. To mark the second anniversary of those events, and to serve as a reminder that the disastrous effects of 311 still linger, the Abiko Free Press is making Reconstructing 3/11 available to a wider audience by providing readers with both eBook and paperback editions. Reconstructing 3/11” will be available as a free Amazon.com download for a limited time until March 14th. To download your free copy click on one of the following links for either Amazon.com, .co.jp, or .co.uk. The print book will be available to order from Amazon within a week.
Reconstructing 3/11: A collection of several insightful essays on Japan's response to the March 11th, 2011 earthquake and disaster.
Reconstructing 3/11: A collection of several insightful essays on Japan’s response to the March 11th, 2011 earthquake and disaster.
 
Sometimes bad people do good things; sometimes the yakuza live up to their image *

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

—  Yakuza saying.

 

It’s partly about living up to the slogans they profess for the yakuza doing the relief work. It’s also about getting a stake in the reconstruction of Japan. Construction is big business.

—  Suzuki Tomohiko, author of  Yakuza and The Nuclear Industry.

When you think of the first responders in a disaster-ridden country, you think of doctors, firemen, police officers — not usually the mafia, let alone the Japanese mafia, a.k.a “the yakuza.” There are 79,000 of them in the country, and when you take into consideration the scale of their organization  the thousands of front companies, affiliated industries, and associated members  they are almost a second army in Japan. As unlikely as it may seem, this army chose to be among Japan’s first responders.

I’ve been working as a reporter in Japan since 1993. I cut my teeth as a cub reporter covering the organized crime division of the Saitama Police Department and the yakuza. I’ve been doing it in one form or another ever since. I’ve always considered them an enemy of the people of Japan, a malevolent force. But it took 3/11 to actually get me to cooperate with them. On the day of the earthquake I was in New York, at the Japan Society Yakuza Film Festival lecturing on the yakuza as they are portrayed in the movies versus how they are in real life. In the movies, the yakuza are often portrayed as outlaw heroes  members of the community that help out in times of crisis and keep order when chaos reigns.

In my presentation, I argued that might have been true in the turbulent period right after the end of the Second World War but not now. Now the yakuza are Goldman Sachs with guns increasingly white collar criminals who follow no code and who serve no function in society. I would have to revise that presentation slightly if I gave it again now. Sometimes, people live up to their mythology.

Motive

Why would crime groups help the disaster victims rather than rob them or take advantage the chaos to loot and pillage the devastated areas? This is something that surprised many. What exactly did these groups do to help out and preserve order? While covering the earthquake for various media outlets and www.japansubculture.com, I spent weeks tracking the yakuza and the role they played in the post-quake recovery efforts and was surprised at what I found. Sometimes, the worst of times bring out the best of the worst and this was one of those times. But in order to understand why the yakuza would perform a useful role in preserving the peace and providing humanitarian relief, you have to understand the role the yakuza play in Japanese society.

First, the yakuza, officially called “anti-social forces” and “violent groups” by the authorities, are not a secret society in Japan. The Japanese government tacitly recognizes their existence. They are classified, designated, and regulated  everything short of outlawed. These designated crime groups themselves, of course, do not refer to themselves that way. They claim they are “ninkyo-dantai” i.e., “humanitarian groups,” following the ninkyodo humanitarian philosophy which dictates that those following the code should protect the weak and oppressed, provide help to the needy and sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

The third largest yakuza group in Japan, the Inagawa-kai (10,000 members), has their Tokyo offices across from the snazzy Ritz Carlton Tokyo in the high-yen Roppongi Midtown area. The second largest crime group, the Sumiyoshi-kai (12,000 members) under the name Hama Enterprises, has an office building in the ultra-expensive Ginza district. The Yamaguchi-gumi, the Wal-mart of organized crime (39,000 members), has an entire city block for their office compound in Kobe.

Yes  the yakuza have offices. In fact, if you want to know the addresses of the headquarters of the 22 major designated crime groups with a total membership of over 80,000 people, all you have to do is look on the National Police Agency (NPA) web site. Yakuza make their money from extortion, blackmail, construction, real estate, collection services, financial market manipulation, protection rackets, fraud and a labyrinth of front companies including labor dispatch services, database servers, and private detective agencies. Tokyo alone has over 800 front companies. The police know who they are and where they are. And so do most people in Japan.

If you want to know who are the yakuza elite, the bosses of the bosses, all you need to do is go to any major bookstore and buy a yakuza fanzine, of which there are six (three weekly, three monthly) or any of the many yakuza comic book biographies of bosses present and past. I have one comic about the only yakuza boss ever grabbed in an FBI sting operation. The comic is particularly amusing to me because I’m good friends with the FBI Special Agent who made the arrest. It’s a small world.

History

The origins of the yakuza are murky. The word “yakuza” itself (accent on the first syllable) comes from a losing hand in a traditional Japanese gambling game played with dice. The losing hand consisted of an 8 (ya), 9 (ku) and 3 (za) adding up to 20, which according to the rules of the time was the worst possible hand you could get. It’s a self-effacing reference to the origins of the groups, many of which were originally loose federations of gamblers. (In Western Japan, they are less humble, referring to themselves as Gokudo  the ultimate path). Some groups like the Aizukotetsukai, founded in Kyoto circa 1868, have been around for over a hundred years. In addition to the federations of gamblers who were known as yakuza and/or bakuto, there were groups of merchants called tekiya, who also were considered yakuza. The tekiya made their living as wandering merchants, selling their wares and food at the many festivals in Japan and sometimes selling stolen goods as well. However, the yakuza really came into power during the chaos after the end of World War II. In those years, joining the mob appealed particularly to disenfranchised returning soldiers: burakumin, the country’s “outcaste” class; orphans; and the many Korean-Japanese who had been brought into Japan as slave labor.

Today almost one-third of the yakuza population consists of Korean-Japanese. During the lawless period after Japan’s 1945 defeat, the Korean-Japanese, who had been oppressed by the Imperial Japanese government, made inroads into the underworld. US occupying forces designated them “third-party nationals,” treating them differently than the defeated Japanese. This gave them access to US military supplies and enabled them to run the black markets.

In some ways, the 20th-century rebirth of the yakuza in Japan was a response to the domination of the black markets by the Koreans, Chinese and other non-Japanese residents. The Koreans in particular had formed their own small gangs, which would rob and pillage from other Japanese and then sell the same goods the next day on the black market. By April of 1946, the occupying authorities (General Headquarters, or GHQ) decreed that all those residing in Japan must follow Japanese law. But before that, the Japanese police found their efforts to crack down on the yakuza hampered by GHQ’s decision to decentralize the police. In February of 1946, foreign nationals beat a senior police officer in the city of Kobe to death. In April of the same year, a police captain at the Suma Police station in Kobe was shot to death. The police reached out to Yamaguchi-gumi members to keep the peace and subsume some of their duties. In the summer of that year, a powerful politician from the newly formed Liberal Democratic Party and future senator, Ryoichi Tsukada, presided at the succession ceremony of the Yamaguchi-gumi where Kazuo Taoka became the third generation leader. For decades, relations between the police and the yakuza were friendly. Indeed in 1959, Mr. Taoka was made honorary police chief for a day at the Suijo Police Station out of respect for his efforts.

At the same time, Japanese gangs who were fighting over black market turf with the Koreans began reviving the old yakuza structure, and incorporated many Korean-Japanese into their ranks: rather than wage direct war, they began a successful policy of assimilation. In some cases, the police actually backed the Japanese yakuza groups in an effort to restore order and limit the power and breadth of the Korean gangs.

By the late 50s, the Yamaguchi-gumi had assimilated the most vicious of the Korean mob groups, the Yanagawa-gumi, into its ranks, gaining rapidly in both in power and prestige. The Yanagawa-gumi ran very organized and proficient rackets, controlling prices on food stuffs and even setting up their own talent agency and front company, Yanagawa Kogyo, to legitimize their operations. The Yamaguchi-gumi learned from their Korean allies as well, setting up front companies to run the Kobe ports and to control the entertainment industry and manage the top singers and pop-culture stars of the era (Kobe Geinosha, etc.) Meanwhile, in postwar Tokyo, the Kyokutokai, a yakuza federation of merchants and black market dealers, used their own Japanese-Korean members to recruit from the Korean side, eventually gaining partial control of the city. Over in western Japan, the Yamaguchi-gumi played both sides, promising both to restore order and suppress the violent Korean gangs. While the Yamaguchi-gumi was consolidating power in Tokyo with the aid of Korean-Japanese, the legendary Korean gangster, Machii Hisayuki, exploited GHQ’s fears of a communist takeover to build his own criminal organization; some of this is documented in Robert Whiting’s seminal book, Tokyo Underworld. In 1948, Machii created the Toseikai in Ginza, Japan’s largest entertainment district. The group took over the gambling dens, the bars, the cabaret clubs, and the sex trade. The Toseikai, like many other yakuza groups, began to grow at a rapid pace, elbowing into post-war reconstruction as well. (Even today, it’s estimated that three to five percent of all construction revenue goes into the pockets of the yakuza.)

What gave the yakuza another major infusion of capital and power was the ban on methamphetamines in the early 50s. Japan was one of the first countries to successfully manufacture amphetamines on a large scale, under the brand name Hiropon: “Hiro”, being the word for fatigue and “pon” being the sound of something hopping away. “Your fatigue will fly away with Hiropon.” It was a substance distributed widely to the Japanese army at the close of the war when food supplies were short. Hiropon was taken off the market but the demand did not diminish and the yakuza stepped in to fill the gap.

The yakuza reputation for keeping disputes between themselves and not harming citizens has protected them from the ire of the public and the attention of the police. They have been simultaneously considered a “necessary evil”, a “second police force” and a group of outlaws. But as the groups got bigger and their power became more than was tolerable, the police began to crack down. Yet, the organizations were still very much public entities, operating without fear and in the open.

The ambiguity surrounding the acceptance of the yakuza in Japanese society was supposed to have ended in 1992, when the government introduced real anti-mob legislation. The laws have been for the most part ineffective. The number of yakuza in Japan in 1993 was roughly 80,000 and last year, it was 78,000. It has been a flat line. New laws that went into effect on October 1, 2011, may change that. The news laws criminalize both paying off the yakuza and working with them in profitable ventures. If you pay protection money you are no longer “victim”, you are now an accomplice.

Ironically, in many ways, insufficient laws in the past have resulted in the yakuza moving from a traditional protection-money-based revenue model into a more corporate model, one which has seen them expand into areas they were not traditionally found, including the stock market. By 2008, the National Police Agency went so far as to say, “The yakuza inroads into the financial markets are so serious that they threaten the very economic foundation of this country.”

Code

Yet, despite all this, the yakuza remain a part of Japanese society. Part of the reason they don’t fade away is that many still remember when they played a vital role in “keeping the peace in Japan.” Many people feel they are a necessary evil but acceptable because at least they are organized and regulated. That perception is not entirely unfounded.

The reasons for yakuza tolerance are complex, but one is that while they are bands of criminals, they share an almost universal list of standards and practices that keeps them in check. All yakuza are expected to follow these, and failure to do so results in expulsion. In theory, if not in practice, yakuza are banned from: 1) theft (including looting) 2) robbery (taking things by force) 3) using or selling drugs 4) rape 5) anything else not in harmony with the “noble way”  ninkyodo. And even though it may not be written down, the prevailing rule of thumb for yakuza is “katagi ni meiwaku wo kakenai,” “Do not cause trouble to ordinary citizens.” In short, yakuza are banned from committing street crimes. (In response to the question, “Why aren’t blackmail and extortion banned?” The reply was, “if you have something to be blackmailed about, you deserve to be punished. That’s social justice.”)

On their own turf, yakuza are brutal enforcers at keeping the peace. This is in their self-interests as well. If people don’t feel safe coming to visit the areas where they have their sex-shops, illegal gambling parlors, strip-clubs, and hostess clubs  they lose money. It pays to keep the peace. By the night of March 11, in Tokyo, Fukushima, Miyagi, Chiba and other areas in Japan, the local yakuza groups already had yakuza soldiers patrolling the areas, keeping an eye out for looters, thieves and profiteers. In the sparsely populated towns in parts of Miyagi Prefecture, the yakuza were the most visible “police presence” of them all.The yakuza are people as well. Many of the yakuza had friends and relatives in the stricken areas. As reports of violence and sexual assault started to drift in from the shelters, the National Police Agency reportedly responded by sending thirty female police officers to the shelters. A drop in the ocean.

The Yamaguchi-gumi responded by sending out 960 members across the nation to keep order within the shelters and devastated areas, particularly Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima Prefectures. Internally they were dubbed “The Yamaguchi-gumi Peace-Keeping Forces.” Members were asked to display their tattoos and walk around the shelters, to make it very clear that they were yakuza, knowing this would have a deterrent effect on the common criminal and/or sexual miscreant. Until March 21, the Yamaguchi-gumi presence at the shelters was greater than the police presence. By the start of April, officers from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and elsewhere were being dispatched to the disaster areas. There is a certain irony in that the first role of the yakuza in the post-quake chaos was that of law enforcer. However, their relief efforts came immediately after.

Furious

The response of the Sumiyoshi-kai in Tokyo was fast and furious. They opened their offices to those stranded in Tokyo, as all major forms of transportation shut down. In a surprising gesture of civility, they even reached out to the foreign community, offering shelter to Chinese and Americans who were unable to make it home that day, providing futons to sleep on and food. I was surprised to have one yakuza member write to me directly and ask me to get the word out to other foreigners in the area.

In Saitama, the Sumiyoshi-kai immediately began piling trucks with supplies and foods and sent them to Ibaraki prefecture. Within a week, the Sumiyoshi-kai had mobilized 60 cars and trucks and over 100 drivers to carry supplies into the devastated areas. In heavily stricken Sendai, they had 100 of their toughest thugs patrol the streets and stay at the shelters keeping the peace.

The Matsuba-kai, which has a strong presence in the devastated areas including Fukushima, rounded up 100 trucks and 121 drivers to carry water, blankets and other essentials to the stricken areas.

The Inagawa-kai was enormously effective. Within one week, they had sent 100 trucks with over 280 tons of supplies to Hitachinaka City and other devastated areas in Japan. It helped that they have at least one trucking company affiliated with the organization. They went under the cover of night — all clad in long sleeve shirts as not to reveal their telltale tattoos. They dropped off the supplies directly at shelters and in front of city halls.

The response of the Kyokutokai was what you would expect from a historically tekiya group, traveling merchants and food vendors. They sent food supplies and went themselves to the areas and provided hot meals. By April 14, they had sent two tons of sugar, 15,000 bottles of water, 700 boxes of cooking oil, 80 portable generators, 600 light bulbs, 1,000 flashlights, 400 boxes of batteries, 250 boxes of miso for soup and seasoning, 30 tons of food supplies and 80 portable food stands. To do this they mobilized a total of 110 trucks, microbuses and cars. They travelled on roads where they existed, and made their own where they couldn’t find them and had their members carry the supplies into areas where vehicles could not reach. The members cooked meals at some shelters, left supplies at city halls, and then came back to the Kanto area.

Of course, the most efficient and fast-moving group in the relief effort was the Yamaguchi-gumi, who have a history of post disaster humanitarian work. After the great Kobe earthquake in 1995, the Yamaguchi-gumi (which has their fortress-like headquarters in Kobe) gathered supplies from all around the country and brought them into the devastated city, dispensing hot food from their offices and patrolling the streets to keep down looting. They were lauded for being faster and more efficient than the government in getting supplies to those who needed them. They’ve been capitalizing on the goodwill generated by those events for over a decade now.

During the Tohoku disaster, the Yamaguchi-gumi, under heavy police scrutiny, did most of their work via civilian allies, called kyoseisha (cooperative entities)in police lingo. The acting leader at the time, Tadashi Irie, of the Takumi-gumi faction, organized most of the support. The Yamaguchi-gumi Okuura-Gumi leader (based in Osaka) chartered several trucks and sent all 200 of his subordinates into disaster-stricken areas with supplies, allegedly even setting up temporary bathing facilities in Miyagi Prefecture and making sure victims got hot meals. The boss himself cooked up food and served it to the victims.

Intentions

A former Sumiyoshi-kai executive explained the efforts simply: “For a brief time, the usual societal divisions were meaningless. There weren’t yakuza and civilians or foreigners and Japanese. We were all just survivors. Just people. Now there is money to be made. Back then it was about saving lives and helping each other out. Ninety-five percent of all yakuza are human garbage. Maybe five percent uphold the rules. For a short time, we were the yakuza of legend. It’s one of the few times we can be better than we normally are.”

Even a senior police officer agrees, speaking under condition of anonymity. “I have to hand it to the yakuza. They have been on the ground from day one providing aid where others didn’t or couldn’t do it. Laws can be like a two-edged sword and sometimes they hamper relief efforts. Sometimes, outlaws are faster than the law. This is one of those times.”

I agree with him. On the day of the earthquake, I decided to return to Japan from New York as soon as possible but not without bringing supplies that were needed. I had contacts in the Inagawa-kai. I knew they were trucking supplies into the radioactive wasteland near the Fukushima Reactor  with no protective clothing, no Geiger counter, and no potassium iodide to stave off thyroid cancer  the most common radiation sickness for those exposed to a nuclear accident. I ordered what I could get off of Amazon and I asked my yakuza contacts what people needed in the shelters. I brought back three suitcases crammed full of water purification tablets, blankets, batteries, flashlights, warm socks, potassium iodide pills, a radiation meter and other necessities with me to Japan. On my way to Japan, United Airlines stopped me and was about to charge me an astronomical fee for going over my baggage weight limit. However, when I explained to the man at the counter why I was bringing so much luggage, he nodded and gave me a break. He told me, “My family survived a terrible earthquake in Chile years ago. I understand how bad things can get. Bundle the bags a little better — and go. Good luck.”

When I got to Tokyo, I handed the bags over to a yakuza foot-solider. Within 18 hours, almost everything I had given him was at a shelter near Iwaki City. When he came back from the run, he showed me a photo of them unloading the supplies.

I wanted to do my part, to volunteer. I asked to go on a run with him. He looked at me and said, “You’re scrawny and unhealthy looking. Your sentiment is appreciated and I know your intentions are good but you’d be a burden rather than help. We have to haul these supplies for hours over areas where there are no roads. We might have to haul you back and that would be a waste of resources.” And so I didn’t go.

Good intentions don’t only pave the road to hell; they can be obstacles to getting things carried down the road as well. It was better to stand aside and let the yakuza play the good guy for a change.

Investment

Other police officers see another side of the story. One retired detective in the organized crime control division of the TMPD explains, “The earthquake relief provided good cover for girikake or fund raising. The yakuza do this for funerals and other events. They ask all the lower members of the franchise to chip in funds and thus collect large chunks of cash. They’ve been doing it this time as well. It’s a great cover for collecting huge funds right from under our noses. Not all the money collected from the lower rungs of the pyramid makes it to the victims. Certainly, it gets skimmed a little or a lot along the way.”

Of course, since the yakuza are not registered non-profit organizations, it’s very hard to get a look at the books. Anecdotally, it seems like most of the money went to buy supplies for people who needed them and they were distributed.

Tomohiko Suzuki, author of  The Yakuza and The Nuclear Industry,and one of Japan’s foremost experts on the Japanese mafia, was also skeptical. “On the ground level, there were some real heroes. And in the Inagawa-kai, some top bosses emptied their own savings to help their people back home. And it’s true  many yakuza shunned publicity. They weren’t promoting their good deeds. But at the end of the day, the top echelon of many yakuza groups were calculating that the goodwill they generated then would serve them well in getting a piece of the recovery and reconstruction pie later. The heroism for many yakuza was a cold-blooded investment  not a pure altruistic act.”

Chairman of the Kyokutokai Matsuyama Shinichi once said about the rules of being a yakuza, “The most important thing is to help the weak. The second is to fulfill your duties, obligations and be true to your feelings. The last thing is not to betray anyone.”

They are good words. I know very few yakuza who have lived up to them, nor many civilians for that matter.

One of the Kyokutokai members who has made three trips to the earthquake areas, paid deference to those words, saying, “We can only do what we know how to do. We’re the guys cooking yakisoba at the festivals. There’s something tragic about taking the equipment and food stuffs we use at happy occasions like the Sanja festival, and setting up shop for those mourning the loss of their loved ones and their homes. Hardly a joyous occasion. I hardly know what to say. A hearty welcome seems out of place, but so does silence.”

There was a brief time after the earthquake when Japan welcomed the yakuza and they welcomed the victims with whatever aid they could provide. As time passes most of them (the yakuza) go back to doing what they really do to make a living: blackmailing, extorting, threatening and defrauding the general populace of their money and engaging in whatever crime they can get away with.

But in the midst of the dark days that followed the great earthquake, there was a time when the yakuza lived up to their claims to be humanitarian groups, and it was oddly inspiring. For a brief time, the yakuza, the people and the police all had a common enemy: natural disaster. And as the saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and for that short time  it seemed like we were all friends.

 

*Memo: A faction of the Inagawa-kai went on the record last year and discussed their reasons for humanitarian actions after the 3/11 disaster and what they did, which we wrote about here. While there are certainly yakuza who helped out for ulterior motives, yakuza are also human beings and some of them went to extraordinary efforts to do some good. Even bad guys sometimes behave like good guys.