Category Archives: Photo Essays

In peaceful Nara, The violent Death of ex-Prime minister Abe leaves residents shocked and saddened

The people of Nara mourn the senseless death of Shinzo Abe

Many mourned the violent death of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan yesterday–whether they supported him or not, the people of Nara recognized that the loss of human life is always tragic. 

reporting by Himari Shimanz, Beni Adelstein. Cameron Seeley also contributed to this report.

 

Flowers, tea and beers, as is customary in Japanese culture, laid by the public mark the site where Shinzo Abe was fatally shot. Yesterday, we paid a visit to the site ourselves to see all those who made trips from near and far to commemorate Abe’s passing. The overwhelming feeling on the day was that of sadness, with flowers periodically being taken away to make room for the endless flow of offerings. Even for those unfamiliar with his political work, many were sad to hear the news of his passing.  One of the many who stopped to add to his growing memorial told us, “I’ve known Mr. Abe as the leader of Japan for most of my lifetime. Because of that, regardless of how his politics were, whether his politics were good or bad, it is really sad for someone who had taken on such responsibility and come this far to pass away. I know every person has their own opinions but I think that it comes down to an individual having passed away.”

  A young girl, fighting back tears, expressed a similar sentiment noting how such a tragic incident could come out of nowhere, and she felt it was her obligation to pay her respects.

In Nara, a prayer for the departed Shinzo Abe photo by Beni Adelstein

Many expressed shock at hearing the incident had taken place in Nara, a small Japanese city with significantly under 500,000 residents. One man from Osaka told us: “Nara is generally a safe place. Incidents don’t usually happen much in Nara. Places like Osaka, where we’re from, is where you see more incidents. We’ve never heard of any incident as big as this happening here in Nara.” Another local resident felt similarly; “I grew up in Nara and for anything like this to happen here is a shock to me.”   

It was a shock to everyone when the unthinkable occured.  

Man on motorcycle drives up to the scene of the crime to lay flowers down for the deceased
photo by Beni Adelstein

At 11:30 am July 8th, former Prime Minister Abe was shot from behind at a campaign rally outside the Yamato Saidai-ji Station in Nara. He went into cardiac arrest and showed no vital signs. After four and a half hours of medics trying to resuscitate him, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister, at age 67, was officially pronounced dead at 5:03 pm yesterday as the result of two gunshot wounds. The alleged attacker, 41 year old Tetsuya Yamagami, was arrested on site and was found with a handmade firearm.  In Japan, a country with some of the world’s strictest gun’s laws, gun violence is extremely rare, let alone political assasination attempts; the most recent one having occurred in  2007 when Nagasaki mayor Icho Ito was shot by a member of a yakuza group, the Yamaguchi gumi. This is actually not the first incident Abe has been the recipient of violence from the yakuza, and in 2000, the Kudo Kai perpetrated an attack by throwing firebombs at the former prime minister’s office . At this point, it is unclear whether or not Yamagami has affiliations with the yakuza but it is a possibility worth being looked into.

 Regardless of the motive, this incident is unexpected and quite perplexing. As one Japanese reporter puts it, “Guns are rarely the weapon of choice, let alone a handmade one. The use of guns is uncommon even among yakuza related incidents.”  Officers who raided the man’s residence later that day found more crude electrically fired weaponry, including explosives and what appear to be nine and five barreled shotguns. All nearby residents were evacuated. Yamgami has confessed to the assasination of Abe and is awaiting prosecution.

Not only has the shooter left us with many unsolved questions, but also the security team for Abe is an issue being raised. Abe’s security, one passerby noted there was less security presence on the day than when Abe had been the sitting Prime Minister. “Mr. Abe visited my hometown too. That time he had a lot more bodyguards surrounding him because he was still prime minister. But now that he’s stepped down, his security team has gotten much smaller.” Another Osaka native pointed out, little to no security presence is not uncommon for politicians in Japan, “If it had been a politician without as much fame, there wouldn’t have been much security at all. At most you might see supporters standing by a no-name politician. It was only because it was Mr. Abe that there was even the smallest presence of security guards and police.” 

While events unfolded on the day in only a matter of minutes, the significance of his death is likely to send ripples through the Japanese political system that will stand the test of time.  Shu Kanazawa spoke to us after leaving flowers on Abe’s memorial. He expressed  thanks to Abe for his work in politics and concern regarding the efficacy of his contemporaries policies. “As prime minister of Japan, you aren’t doing your job right if you don’t have your foreign policy together. Until now, the only prime ministers who were competent in foreign diplomacy were Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Abe. In that sense, I am really grateful for his work.” On the other hand, Abe’s control of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party as well as his deep ties to extremists right-wing groups have made him a controversial figure. He is also reviled by some for the role he played in largely limiting freedom of press rights in Japan. Views on “Abenomics” his fiscal policies aren’t singular either and he has been linked with questionable political and financial scandals.  Yet, at the end of this eventful day, people came together to commemorate and mourn the loss of a leader who made a substantial impact in Japan and on a global scale.  How Abe’s death might alter the climate of Japanese politics is not certain, however, the mourning and gift-giving are certain to continue for days, if not weeks.  

The once peaceful and ordinary square around Yamato Saidai-ji station now marks a historical event that has left the nation with disbelief, grief, and shock.

Nara, once the capital of Japan, is a city known for its greenery, rolling hills,  ancient Buddhist temples, friendly residents, slow-paced, languid, and peaceful life. It’s the last place one would expect Japan’s longest reigning Prime Minister to meet a violent end. The two shots fired that day will echo in the minds of the people there for many months or years to come. 

In the peaceful city of Nara, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, met a violent end. Whether they supported him or despised him, many of the residents mourned his loss.

神隠し(かみかくし)Gone with the Gods (an original Podcast) coming IN 2022

People have a habit of vanishing in Japan—even hundreds of years ago, it happened often enough that myths were created to explain these sudden disappearances. 神隠し (kamikakushi)–to be hidden by the gods. Even now, every year over 80,000 people are reported missing. And that may be the tip of the iceberg–because only family members can make those reports. If your girlfriend, high-school buddy, co-worker just evaporates one day–you can go to the police but unless you can prove foul play, they may not even open a file on the case.

There are so many types of missing people in Japan, that there are different words used to describe them. But unfortunately, defining a vanishing doesn’t make people rematerialize.

Even now, every year over 80,000 people are reported missing in Japan. And that may be the tip of the iceberg

If someone you knew and loved went missing one day – with no warning, no explanation, and no evidence – who would you turn to in order to find the truth?

If you were the one looking for that person, what would you do if you found out an entire infrastructure exists, designed for the express purpose of helping people — like your loved one — vanish into thin air?

Would you try to find someone who doesn’t want to be found? Would you judge the person for disappearing in the first place? Would you enroll in private eye school?

Who else has gone missing … and why?

神隠し/Gone With The Gods will be a multi-faceted deep dive into the phenomenon of Japan’s johatsu, or “evaporated people” — citizens who choose to just vanish from their lives–and those who do so without a choice. Some of the “evaporated” are escaping dire circumstances (debt, abuse, threats of violence), but others are ashamed of how their lives have turned out, or shackled by conformity. They want to start over. And in Japan, there’s a way. It’s a cultural phenomenon.

But it might also be the ultimate cover up. Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice, The Last Yakuza, and I Sold My Soul For Bitcoins joins forces with Shoko Plambeck, model, actress and former journalist lured back into the trade by the promise of solving some great mysteries of her homeland. And of course, sound engineer/journalist and aspiring private detective, Thisanka Siripala. Together they will take you on a midnight escape into the shadows of the rising sun. We consult experts, ex-yakuza, retired police officers, the employers of the missing, and talk to those who decided to vanish and those that helped them do it.

Paul Simon once sang, “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” but in Japan there are more than “50 Ways To Leave This World” and manuals that will show you the way. But they can also teach people how to make someone vanish and never be found. We’ll explain how that works as well.

This podcast will be brought to you Campside Media, “The New Yorker of True-Crime Podcasts” who produced critically praised works like Suspect, Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen

Is there someone in your life, in Japan, who has vanished without a trace or even with a trace, but can no longer be found? Share your story with us at Gone@campsidemedia.com

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Tokyo Private Eye (東京探偵) the sequel to Tokyo Vice coming in Spring of 2023, with Marchialy (France)

photo by Reylia Slaby

TOKYO PRIVATE EYE:

Investigation, Damnation, and Salvation In The Land Of The Setting Sun

Coming in Spring of 2023, published by Marchialy (France) 

The book opens on one of the most devastating days in Japan’s history, March 11, 2011, which left thousands dead and missing—and culminated in a triple nuclear meltdown. Our protagonist and narrator Jake Adelstein, seasoned American journalist turned private eye, who has brought back bags of supplies from the US to be taken to the disaster area by yakuza friends–discovers he’s having a meltdown of his own: liver cancer. 

Join Jake as he takes us back on a journey and recounts the events leading up to the disaster, the 2009 publication of his memoir TOKYO VICE: An American Reporter On The Police Beat in Japan, and how he became a corporate gumshoe. He picks up where he left off,  chronicling his other career, battling the yakuza and criminals as a due diligence investigator while battling his own worst enemy: himself.  Previously the only American journalist to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club, Jake covered extortion, murder, and human trafficking–fighting to make Japan recognize the problem. No longer a reporter but still trying to be a knight in dingy armor, he realizes that even a paladin has to earn a living. And instead of having 10 million readers now he’s writing reports that will only be read by three corporate executives.

This sequel to TOKYO VICE is written as a stand-alone volume and provides an in-depth history of the inner-workings of crime in Japan, and not just the gangsters. With each job assignment Jake learns more about industries rife with financial fraud, anti-social forces, corruption, and fraudulent bookkeeping–and how to spot a business that no client should engage with. 

The book is divided into three parts coinciding with the breakdown of Jake’s personal life in parallel with Japan’s meltdown and an in depth analysis of how the Yakuza operate: UNUSUAL EVENTS, MELTDOWN, and THE FALLOUT.

UNUSUAL EVENTS sets the stage for the state of Japan leading up to the meltdown. The yakuza, like many criminal organizations, were not born out of thin air. Their ranks have come from members of society who do not feel like they have a place.  Those marginalized by society such as the Korean-Japanese and burakumin, among others, were not given many opportunities by society, and were drawn into a life of crime.  

But it’s a high level of crime now. In fact, one day Japan’s equivalent of Classmates.com is taken over by a Yakuza front company. Information is king. 

Jake transitions into a career as a detective introducing a team of characters ranging from fight-til’-the-death former prosecutor Toshiro Igari to brave right-hand researcher and human trafficking victim advocate, Michiel Brandt. He makes new friends and enemies along the way–while dealing with the PTSD from the events that took place in Tokyo Vice by self-medicating with sleeping pills, booze, casual sex and clove cigarettes.

Learn how gangsters were gradually ousted from the financial markets by the due diligence of  dedicated investigators, rebel cops, and new laws.

Meanwhile, TOKYO VICE  is published but an old foe resurges — the ruthless yakuza Tadamasa Goto.  If Tokyo Vice was Jake’s attempt to ruin and get his nemesis ‘erased’– Goto outdoes him with the publication of his autobiography, Habakarinagara, loaded with veiled threats.  When Jake asks his mentor, Igari Toshiro, to help him take Goto to court, Igari bravely agrees but….. 

MELTDOWN lands us in a disrupted Japanese society. Jake learns he has liver cancer while Japan is in the midst of a nuclear meltdown. His “best friend forever” Michiel is diagnosed with leukemia for the fourth time while the corruption of the Japanese nuclear industry comes to light. 

Jake, hired to find out whether Tokyo Electric Power Company is responsible for the accident and what that would mean for investors, returns to his investigator roots with a renewed attitude to not give up and seeks out a new enemy to vanquish.

In chapters from the  FALLOUT like The Nine Digit Economy: How The Yakuza Turned Japan’s Stock Market Into Their Casino, he shows how and why the authorities felt that anti-social forces threatened the very foundations of Japan’s economy. 

Jake gets ahold of the most dangerous photo in Japan, showing the Vice President of Japan’s Olympic Committee with the head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest yakuza group, but can he break the story before his own knees get broken? And in the process of reporting on the Olympics discovers that the biggest gang of all in Japan may be a political party, founded by war criminals including former Prime Minister Abe’s grandfather, yakuza, ultra-nationalists and funded by the CIA.

What’s the difference between the Liberal Democratic Party politicians and the much-feared Yamaguchi-gumi thugs? It may only really be the badges they wear on their lapel. 

While the book can be an enriching companion and sequel to TOKYO VICE: An American Reporter On The Police Beat in Japan, TOKYO PRIVATE EYE: Investigation, Damnation, and Salvation In The Land Of The Setting Sun is a memoir that can stand alone recounting the years 2007 to 2014 through the eyes of an intrepid reporter and gumshoe with three decades spent covering the dark side of the sun. 

Not only is it a riveting memoir about the life junctions we all face, including grief and career changes, but it also provides a working knowledge of Japanese organized crime, political corruption, the process of corporate investigations and shows the collusion between mafia, state, and business that led to a nuclear disaster.  It also shows that Japan’s biggest problems are not necessarily the fading yakuza. 

TOKYO VICE has been adapted for television into an eight episode straight-to-series on HBO Max starring Ansel Elgort playing Jake Adelstein. The series also stars Ken Watanabe and is written and executive produced by Tony Award-winning playwright J. T. Rogers (Jake’s high school senpai)  with Endeavor Content serving as the studio. Michael Mann directed the pilot episode and served as executive producer. 

Jake Adelstein is one of few experts on Japanese organized crime and the underworld. A former special correspondent for the LA Times, he has written for the Times, the Washington Post, the Japan Times and Vice. His other two books, Le Dernier Des Yakuzas (2017) J’ai Vendu Mon âme En Bitcoins (2019) with Nathalie Stucky, have both been published by Marchialy in France, his “third home.” He currently writes for the Daily Beast, the Asia Times, Tempura in France, and ZAITEN.

Jake Adelstein has published three books with Marchialy in France. They’re not just his publishers, they’re family.

     *Press release cover photo by Reylia Slaby 

The Music of Cruelty

The theme of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics opening ceremony was supposed to be diversity and harmony; the composer in charge of the music, Keigo Oyamada, tortured and bullied special needs students when he was young–and bragged about it. He literally made them eat shit, forced them to masturbate in public, ridiculed them, beat them up, and egged on other bullies. He gleefully boasted about his misdeeds in magazine interviews that resurfaced a day after his role in the Olympics was announced. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee said he’s apologized, so okay, and the games must go on.

The casual attitude the Tokyo Olympics Committee shows towards what he did also shows how the ruling elite in Japan really feel about people with disabilities. They don’t care. If they did, they might have spent some of the millions of dollars wasted on building fancy Olympic stadiums to make public transport in the city more barrier free. But that’s another issue.

Perhaps, as there are with many crimes, there should be a statute of limitation on terrible things said in the past, but the problem isn’t just Oyamada’s words; it’s his actions. But in another way, maybe he really does represent the spirit of the modern Olympics: bullying, venal, ignoring the misery of others, and placing victory above all else. If winning is the only thing that matters, then hey, it’s okay to beat up the losers, right?

Here are some choice quotes from his interviews in the January 1994 issue of music magazine, Rockin’ On Japan,  and the March 1995 issue of subculture magazine, Quick Japan. He was in his mid-twenties at the time of the interviews.

原文「うん。もう人の道に反して。。全裸にしてグルグルにひもを巻いてオナニーさしてさ。ウンコを喰わしたりさ。喰わした上にバックドロップしたりさ

“Yeah, I did inhuman things. I’d strip (one guy) naked and roll him up in cords and make (him) masturbate. I made him eat shit and then performed a belly- to-back-drop wrestling move on him.”

(Rockin’ On Japan)

原文「マットレス巻きにして殺しちゃった事件*とかあったじゃないですか、そんなことやってたし、跳び箱の中に入れたり (学校の体育館倉庫で)

“Remember that case where kids rolled up another kid in a mattress and killed him? We did that sort of thing (to the special needs kid) and stuffed them in the vaulting horse…” (At a school gymnasium storage room)

*A boy died in Japan Jan. 13, 1993, after being rolled up in a mattress in the school gymnasium’s storeroom by bullies.

(Quick Japan)

Keeping Oyamada on as the composer for the Olympics Opening Ceremony makes a mockery of everything the Olympics is supposed to stand for. But then again, when the government of Japan and the IOC insist on holding the Olympics in the middle of a pandemic, ignoring all warnings of the public health risk, maybe he is the perfect composer. Who better to write an ode to the callous cruelty and winning-is-the-only-thing-that matters attitude of the IOC? And like the IOC, he probably stands to earn a lot of money from the Olympics that over 70% of the Japanese people don’t want.

—The Japan Subculture Research Editors

The Vaccination Game: The Self-Defense Forces Vaccination Center was run smoothly but no-appointment days are over

6:50 a.m. June 26th

The large-scale Self-Defense Forces vaccination center near Otemachi, Tokyo, doesn’t open for another 70 minutes, and there is already a line of people looping around the large, brown, 16 story building. It is not only the elderly waiting for their first dose. The majority of people in the last section of the line are adults, ranging from their twenties to fifties. Most people are sitting on the ground or a chair they brought from home.

The sun, unobstructed in the cloudless morning sky, shines directly onto the line. Its rays are hot enough to irritate the exposed back of the neck in under a minute. Men and women take shelter under umbrellas and wide-brimmed hats as they check their phones, read a book, or doze off to pass the time. Some have pulled out their feet from their shoes and rest them on compact picnic tarps. 

“The people in line, please confirm that this is your first vaccination dose. If this is your second dose, we cannot vaccinate you at this facility today.”

A security officer reminded the queue through a megaphone so muted it was barely audible. 

In the past 20 minutes, three more adults join the back of the line with over one hundred waiting ahead of them. There’s no telling when the person at the very front arrived. 

A sign posted in front of the vaccination facility asks entrants whether they are over 18 years old, have a form of identification and their vaccine ticket with them. 

People with 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. reservations rest on chairs they brought to or borrowed from the facility. The sun feels warmer than the 23 degrees Celsius temperature, and queue use hats and umbrellas to keep cool. 

Officers begin to collect the chairs they lent to the line and place them back into an outdoor collection bin beside an entrance to the building. Everyone stands up, and the line begins to move. 

“The facility will momentarily open at 7:30. Please move slowly down the line while maintaining a distance with the person in front of you,” a security guard called out. 

“Be sure to check your belongings, so you don’t leave anything behind,” another guard said. 

The line moves forward in 10-meter increments as the clinic begins processing the first groups of people.

Around the corner at the back of the building, businesses, including the Nippon Travel Agency, are vaccinating their employees. 

At 7:30, a Self-Defense Forces truck pulls up and parks by the end of the line. It is rare to see a military-grade vehicle around civilians in a nation with no army and a small self-defense force. 

Two SDF soldiers get off the truck and walk toward the back of the building, away from the line.

The line moves for the second time, progressing less than 10 meters before halting. At this pace, it could be another hour before the last group step through the facility’s doors. 

“I got here before 7 a.m. But my husband arrived at a later time to get vaccinated two weeks ago, and he was further ahead in the line,” a woman in front of me said. “I saw on television that there are people who line up in the middle of the night to receive their shot as early as possible.” 

From the 28th, the center will switch to administering the second dose of the vaccine, making it nearly impossible for those seeking their first dose to reserve a slot online. Furthermore, this facility, which can administer up to 10,000 doses a day, and its sibling in Osaka, capped at 5,000 doses a day, will no longer administer doses meant for a canceled reserved patient to those who came without an appointment. 

In the beginning, a Ministry of Defense executive said the department “does not want to turn away senior citizens who came and waited in line,” even if they didn’t have a reservation. As Japan lowered the vaccine qualifying age to 18 and up, the younger demographic began to form lines throughout the night, hoping for a lucky shot. According to a report by Asahi Shinbun, this increased the number of repurposed doses from 100 up to 300 per day. In response, to complaints about people lining up late at night, disturbing the peace of his usually empty office building island, the ministry announced it would cease this no-appointment immunization process from the 28th. However, it appears this policy is already in practice at the Otemachi facility, as multiple signs in English and Japanese reminded those in line that they would not receive a shot if they didn’t present proof of reservation.  

The last group in line for the 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. slot arrived at the first checkpoint stationed within multiple outdoor tents. Inside, an extensive volunteer force patiently guided people through bag inspection, temperature checks, documentation review, and relocation to the next checkpoint facility inside the building.

 A freshly vaccinated woman passes the main sign in front of the first checkpoint reminding entrants that they need their vaccination ticket, photo ID and pre-screening form to receive their shot. The display screen on the left says the staff is currently seeing people reserved for the 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. slot.

Inside the first outdoor checkpoint, entrants are greeted with a sign saying their temperature and baggage will be checked. The male volunteer in the blue shirt, center, positions people in front of a screen that records and prints their temperatures. As far I could tell, everyone who had lined up got their shots.

“Everyone was just really wonderful, and that is one point I wanted to emphasize,” British reporter Phoebe Amoroso, who was vaccinated at the Otemachi facility on the 25th, said. “You went through many different stages, rooms and checkpoints. Up an elevator, down the elevator, honestly. And I was never once confused or uncertain about where to go, and I felt really completely welcome.” 

Amoroso arrived at the clinic at 3:45 a.m. the day after the ministry announced it would cease vaccinating on-the-day arrivals without reservation from the 28th. She said personal accounts posted on facebook’s COVID-19 Japan discussion group of people arriving hours before their appointment and still settling at the back of the line prompted her to go as quickly as possible. Despite her concerns about the facility’s staff not permitting early arrivals from forming a line, she said everyone waiting for the vaccine was treated with excellent care by the two security guards on duty. 

“The man was like, ‘oh, thank you, everyone, for your patience. If you want to go to the toilet,’ and periodically he’d be like, ‘let me tell you where the toilets are again everybody. You need to go out to the road and turn left for the public toilets. Be sure to tell the person behind you that you are going to the loo so they’ll save the spot for you,’” she said.  

Two volunteers wait to direct people who have received their shots to the shuttle bus headed for Tokyo station. 

Two volunteers wearing vests labeled “Free shuttle bus staff” wait for the next vaccinated group to exit the facility.

A female volunteer gives directions to people who just got off at a bus stop near the clinic.

“The government’s whole setup is crazy. A million shots a day? They should have done that sooner. There’s a lot of inefficiencies, but that’s a whole different conversation. The people on the ground were so wonderful,” Amoroso said. 

According to Amoroso, a volunteer checking her paperwork told her that all staff had been vaccinated. 

If you want to make a reservation for a vaccine dose at the Otemachi clinic, click here. Note that from today, the facility is only accepting people applying for their second shot. 

THE BADGER AND THE STARS (a poem)

by Shoko Plambeck
The day my birth records were sent to a Shinto shrine
my father skinned a badger and hung its coat above my crib.
The tale of my birth supposedly unfolds like this:
The day I was born the stars were restless
and the earth was tossing a blizzard thick as cream
through the Nebraskan plains.
My father was on his way to work in his red Chevy
when he came across a dash of brown,
obscured by the snow like a fainting spell.
He shot it, thinking it was a soft furred marten,
but what he killed instead was a badger.
The badger of the plains. Symbol of earth, grounding
and consistency; finding her in such weather conditions
was like the moon waxing when it should wane.


Still, he put the creature in the back of his truck.
When he got to work, there was a call from my mother:
It’s two months early, but I’m going into labour.
My grandparents got the same call and flew in from Japan.
When my obaachan first saw me she announced,
This girl will be named Shoko, spirit in flight,
and years later when I moved from place to place,
hobby to hobby, man to man,
she’d lament naming me so irresponsibly.
In a shoebox, I went home.


The badger skin was nailed above my crib
and my birth records were sent to the monk at the family
Shinto shrine. The results came weeks later. My mother read
as I drank eagerly from her; she herself was a dark star
but at twenty-four she could not even imagine
what that would mean. Only years later
would she say that the badger had to be a mother
and the unimaginable must have happened
to make her split into the fatal snow.


My mother read: The child will need to seek grounding.
In the moment she was born the stars were restless
and they will reverberate through her blood forever.
Before she could read any further,
my grandmother snatched the fortune out of her hand
and read: bright as Sirius, inconstant as Mercury.

******

This poem was originally posted in Matador Review but was reposted with permission of the author.

Shoko Plambeck is a writer, traveler, and poet. She studied English literature at Temple University in Tokyo and the  University of Vermont. She currently lives in Japan but can’t wait to move back to the US to be with her cockatiel and poetry books again. 

Shady Record Company Leaves A Trail of Tears in Japan

EverythingSuperMario, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Special contribution from Stephanie Yanez aka @KawaiiStephanie on Twitter

😭 Records* is an agency that specifically targets singers outside of Japan who have a passion for anime with hopes of releasing music in Japan. Most of the music released are famous anime song covers. All artists must pay for their own recording and album cover photos.

Once you join 😭 many promises are made to you including performing at their festival, living in Japan, performing on TV in Japan, releasing songs in video games in Japan, etc.

I joined 😭Records when there were just a couple of artists working with the label. I was lied to on what companies the label worked with. So I believed the company to be legit. I was promised by the CEO Hiroaki Usotsuki** that if I record an anime cover album of 5 songs, I could perform at their festival in Japan. This was the main reason why I recorded with them. I’ve performed in Japan before booking my own gigs and thought this would be the same situation. I recorded the five songs and wanted to stop there before moving forward. But the CEO kept asking me to record more. They told me it would be better to have a full album to debut at the festival. I was hesitant but decided to move forward. At the end of my time with 😭 Records I had recorded 20 songs.

After I started recording, over 100 artists were signed to the label. It happened very fast!That’s when I knew I made a big mistake. He started saying that I had to now compete with all the other artists. I had to be a top 10 selling artist to perform at their festival, he said. The festival never happened again. Hiroaki only had the festival a couple times out in Japan and was using it to get people to record. 

Because 😭 Records signed so many artists they had to make this website where you sign in to see what songs you can record with them and how much money you were making. The system was never up to date on payment or songs. That very system that they created was recently hacked and a mass email from the hacker was sent warning people of Hiroaki. In that system breach all the banking information of the artists was leaked. I was lucky to have never given them that information. 

After the hack occurred many artists contacted each other about it and found out that most of the singers were not getting paid at all. Many artists at this point were with 😭 Records for over five years with no royalty payment.

Once the hack occurred it was also exposed that 😭 Records is not an official company in Japan. They were never registered as a company in Japan.

😭 Records is still accepting applications from foreigners online today. Even though they have never paid their past singers any royalties whatsoever. 

This info was also released that 😭 Records also has another company called H●● Agency. H●● Agency is an outsourcing company that brings people to Japan like teachers, construction workers, etc.

This info was exposed that these employees also were not getting paid the proper amount of money or not paid at all. But these employees actually came to Japan with promises of housing arrangements, visa, etc. But all found out very soon that they were stuck in Japan with no place to go. Many had to sleep in the park to figure out a way back home. They also sell the workers to their clients with an outsourcing system with the CEO of H●● taking most if not all of the money. 

Hiroaki owns multiple companies with many different names. He will probably get rid of H●● Agency due to everything getting exposed. But he can easily move on to his other companies he has and continues taking advantage of foreigners looking to find a home in Japan.

If you have been cheated or deceived by this company, you should consult with the labor union, Posse, which represents part-timers and foreign workers in Japan.

*Due to vague threats of legal actions and the failure of getting a response from the company in question, we have reluctantly not named the firm here. Within the arts community it is becoming infamous.

**This is not the CEO’s real name. See information above.

Spring Healing: An Art Exhibit–last day March 28th

Tokyo Art Studio Launches ‘Spring Healing’ Joint Art Exhibition

Featuring 14 Japan-Based Artists & Over 100 Pieces of Artwork

With Spring comes new beginnings! Tokyo Art Studios is thrilled to announce their inaugural exhibition, titled “Spring Healing”, which features over 100 artworks by 14 emerging and established artists based in Japan. The “Spring Healing” exhibition runs until March 28 2021.

The exhibition highlights artist experiences in Japan using varying aesthetics relating to their mediums, including oils, acrylic, watercolor, illustrations, silkscreen, and photography. The artists hail from Japan and around the world, but all call Japan home today. The themes of Japan’s nature, arts and society, are woven into all the pieces.

All artworks can be viewed online at a later date but come see them in person while you can. Some featured artists include:

Johnna Slaby

Johnna Slaby is an abstract artist born and raised in Japan, and currently works between Japan, the UK, and the US. Utilizing various materials from acrylics to coffee, she creates abstract pieces that are reminiscent of a late-afternoon coffee or the golden hour near a river. Through the experiences and stories that she comes across during her travels and life, she works them into pieces to create memories people can see. From her large canvas pieces to her intimate paper studies, she dissects both mundane and profound moments of life, continuing to ask, What does it mean to be alive?

Shinjiro Tanaka

Shinjiro Tanaka is an artist who expresses the infinite possibilities of simple lines by combining contradictory elements such as calmness and passion, past and future, and life and death. His works are not limited to canvas painting, but also include murals, apparel, three-dimensional objects, and digital art. Born in CA in 1985, he graduated from Keio University in 2008 and moved to NYC after working for Dentsu. He brings a variety of experiences to his art, including working as a music producer’s assistant and Performing with Nile Rodgers and CHIC, launching the apparel brand BSWK, and performing at Heisei Nakamura-za in New York. After returning to Japan, he held his first solo exhibition “FACE” in 2018; at the end of 2018, he performed live art on the streets of New York for 30 days, and the following year held his solo exhibition “NYC STREET ART PROJECT”. The same year, he won the ART BATTLE TOKYO competition and has been working unconventionally in Japan and abroad, exhibiting at a gallery in London and creating murals on the streets.

Keiko Takeda

Keiko Takeda’s practice allows her to express her favorite places and unknown corners of the world through colors and shapes. Each subject is made warmer with her brush as she believes that colors have feelings that embody our own emotions. Keiko has shown her work in many exhibitions, both solo and group shows.

Marie Ikura

Marie Ikura studied art, and more specifically painting, while at Tama Art University before becoming a professional artist whose signature style is based on live art. Often, Marie creates live paintings that share space, time, and music with the people present where her work is ever-evolving as the paint scatters, making sounds such as “voice of color”. In addition, she engages in participatory art like wearing art or consuming art. Her live work has taken her to regions in Europe and Southeast Asia.

About Tokyo Art Studio

A new Tokyo gallery which opened this March (2021) – Tokyo Art Studio strives to provide a platform for the global community of emerging artists based in Japan. Through exhibitions and programming, TAS encourages our community to creatively connect with one another through the power of art and dialogue. To learn more about Tokyo Art Studio

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The Studio is located at 3-17 -12 Minami Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Visits outside of exhibit times are by appointment only.

Email and questions or request for interviews to contact@TokyoArtStudioGallery.com.

Woman Under The Sand (short story)

by Kaori Shoji

Japan Subculture Research Center is proud to present the latest addition to a series of short stories, by our resident book reviewer and social commentator, Kaori Shoji, on the often tragically mismatched marriages of foreign men and Japanese women–The Amazing Japanese Wife. If you see echoes of someone you know or yourself in this story, be rest assured that you’re a cliche—but take solace in the fact that misery is universal. This new story is apocryphal in the sense that the protagonist is unmarried–but seeking to be married.

“Kimie felt as if her insides had dried out and her blood vessels were clogged with sand. Did the woman in the novel die in the end? Kimie couldn’t remember but neither could she recall when she had her last period.” 

One


In high school, Kimie read a novel about a woman who lived in a shack that was sinking into a sand pit. One day, sheer chance leads a man–an outsider–to wander into the woman’s shack. Initially, she’s kind and welcoming but she takes steps to ensure that the man can’t leave. Soon she sets him to work shoveling the ever-present sand out of her door, which she herself has been doing everyday for years. Otherwise, the sand will claim the shack completely and the woman will have no place to live. 


At the time, Kimie was sixteen and was reveling in the power of her sexuality. She didn’t need to trap a man in the sand to get him to do anything–most of them were putty in the hands of a girl in a school uniform. When she stood on the platform of the train station she could feel the particles in the air around her change and shift, as men craned their necks to get a better look at the back of her knees and her neck and her long, perfect hair. A man in a neat, expensive-looking suit once gazed at her intently and pressed a 10,000 yen bill in her hand. “This is so you can kiss me later,” he whispered, before striding rapidly away. 


For all that, the woman in the shack that was sinking into the sand, haunted Kimie. As she grew older it seemed she was turning into this woman, shoveling out sand alongside the man she had trapped. She knew exactly how this woman felt, and how earnestly she needed the man in her sand blown life. After she hit her forties, Kimie identified more with the man. She could picture him, desperately clawing at the sand, eyes darting wildly as he searched for a way to escape. 

Two


Kimie had turned 47, and was living with her mother in the same house she had lived in since childhood. 


Three weeks into the pandemic shut-down, Kimie felt her synapses fraying, and then unraveling. Her hair was falling out in chunks and her skin was clammy to the touch in some places, while in others it was dry and chilly. The soles of her feet had the texture of old, cracked rubber. She would get up in the morning, and too distracted to open the curtains, would immediately turn on the news, mentally preparing for the day’s dreary horrors as if they were a mere extension of her fitful nightmares. 


“Kimi-chan, Kimi-chan!” After half an hour of staring at the screen, the calls of her mother from the kitchen downstairs, would alert her to the fact that she had procrastinated long enough. It was time to face her mother at the table, over coffee and toast with synthetic butter and cheap jam. 

The sight of her mother, aged 77, instilled a sense of silent panic deep within Kimie’s soul. This is where I’m going, this is what I’ll look like. She knew such thoughts were vain and unworthy but she had decided long ago that it was okay to have them. Until five years ago when her father was still alive, Kimie could convince herself that she valued her parents because they brought her up and sacrificed much for this life of hers. In her youth, this life had seemed to be the most enticing item in the whole shop. She had pointed to it with her finger and it became hers, gift-wrapped and bow-tied. The bill had been sent round to her father, who paid without complaint. But now the sand was getting into the nooks and nannies and crevices of her pretty little life. 

On good days, Kimie would tick off her milestones in her mind, if only to remind herself that she was special, and her life was, if not completely wonderful then surely presentable. A semester in a high school in Missouri, courtesy of a school-sponsored home stay program. She had called her father collect to ask for 500 extra dollars to spend on a prom dress, subsequently torn in three places by her geeky, fumbling boyfriend as he frantically groped her in his parents’ car. A year in Pennsylvania during university because she had insisted to her father that she needed to improve her English in order to land a good job. Her father had wired 800 dollars into her account every month so she could eat well, go to parties and well, improve her English. (Which she did! She scored 900 on TOEIC!) A trip to Italy and France as a graduation present. At the time, all these things made enormous sense to her, and besides, her mother had encouraged her every step of the way.  “I want you to have the life that I could never have, Kimi-chan,” she intoned, the closest thing her mother ever came to a prayer. She would also say, “The world is so different from when I was young. I had no choices, no options, nothing but the life that was put in front of me.” This was her mother’s mantra, pulled out whenever she got into a fight with her husband or daughter, knowing it would make them feel guilty enough to shut up and back off. 

Kimie had allowed herself to buy into the myth that her mother, comfortably ensconced in their house in a Tokyo suburb purchased with a 30-year mortgage, had been abused and victimized by the Japanese social system. By embracing that myth Kimie took it upon herself–the brilliant girl who had studied in the US, could speak English and got a job in a bank–to be happy and successful. This would compensate for her mother’s apparently miserable and downtrodden existence. 
Kimie had believed she was doing the right thing, only to realize in middle age that she was trapped, a prisoner in the cell of her own bedroom. 

Three

Kimie’s younger brother had always rebelled against their parents and left home at the same time he chose a university in the northern tip of Japan–as far away from Tokyo as he could get without going abroad. Relatives had pitied her brother, he chose a national university with low tuition and turned down their father’s offer of a loan so he could rent an apartment. Instead, Kimie’s brother Youki spent four years in a cramped, filthy college dorm. Occasionally, he called to let his family know he was all right. After graduation, he stopped by to say he had found a job at a mid-sized electronics manufacturer. Youki had none of the privileges Kimie had taken for granted but he gained the kind of strength and freedom she couldn’t even fathom. Now, Kimie found it hard to wrap her mind around the fact that her brother had his own house, a family, even a dog–an elegant Dalmatian named Sabu whom she had seen only once. Youki had left and never came back. She had been the cosseted, dutiful daughter who stayed, and stayed and stayed at home. “At least I have you, Kimi-chan,” her mother liked to say. “As long as you’re still here, I have nothing to complain about, really.” 


Kimie felt as if her insides had dried out and her blood vessels were clogged with sand. Did the woman in the novel die in the end? Kimie couldn’t remember but neither could she recall when she had her last period. 


“Kimi-chan, are you working today?” Her mother, chewing toast, tossed the question in the air and Kimie nodded with a small grunt. There was a Zoom conference at 3PM for which she planned to turn the camera off. Until then she could pretend to do some paperwork, answer some emails, make a few calls. How long would that take? Maybe a couple of hours. Even with the Zoom conference slotted in, there were still ten or more waking hours that had to be whiled away somehow, secluded in her prison cell. Putting her dishes in the sink for her mother to wash, Kimie plodded to the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face. She saw no reason to change out of her pajamas, it wasn’t like she was going anywhere. 

Kimie didn’t like life under the pandemic. At times, the strain of being cooped up inside a small house with her mother felt intolerable. But she hated her pre-Covid life even more, with a ferociousness that had her contemplating suicide at least three nights a week. 

In late 2019 Kimie had an epiphany: instead of dying she would get married! Marriage would at least, enable her to leave her mother and the wretched house. In January, she signed up with a ‘konkatsu (marriage agency),’ dutifully paying the 300,000 yen registration fee and answering each and every match-up question. She understood from the hour-long meeting with the agency’s ‘counselor’ that these days, it was quite common for women in their 40s and 50s to look for partners, but the road to an actual wedding could take longer than expected. The 300,000 yen fee would cover her match-ups for up to one year. “What happens when a year goes by and I’m still single?,” Kimie had asked and the counselor, intimidating with her glowing skin and sleek hair, had chirped that most women found someone within 6 months. “Our advice is: try them out. Most of our clients haven’t dated in awhile and they’re all a bit rusty. We find that when the woman takes the lead, everything tends to fall in place. So don’t say no until you’ve tried them out!” 

After screening a half dozen applicants, Kimie settled on the 56 year old Yamanishi-san, whose portrait photo reminded her a little of her father when he was that age. Yamanishi-san’s texts were charming; he seemed to know how to strike just the right tone between elaborately polite and paternally friendly. They agreed to meet for lunch in a kaiseki restaurant (his choice) in the posh district of Ginza, where he had booked an alcove facing a Japanese garden. “I love gardens in the winter. They’re so calm and soothing,” he texted, and Kimie felt a little thrill of anticipation. It had been a long time since she had been courted, on any level, by a man. Maybe she really was about to get a ticket out of the sand shack–her private nickname for home. 


Exactly 24 hours before the appointed time, she had her roots done at an expensive salon in Aoyama. Two weeks prior to that, she had bought a dress at a department store, along with a fresh pair of panty hose and brown leather pumps. On the day, she scrutinized herself in the mirror and decided she didn’t look a day over thirty-nine. Saying nothing to her mother, Kimie went to the restaurant with as little anxiety as she could manage. If this worked out, she would break the news to her mother gently, and suggest moving to a house in the immediate vicinity so they could visit often. 

Yamanishi-san turned out to be a bit heavier than his photo, and with noticeably less hair but Kimie was willing to overlook these minor flaws. What was much more jarring, was the rift between his digital texts and his real life persona. Yamanishi-san didn’t even look at the garden but kept his gaze firmly on Kimie’s chest, as if he were a chef contemplating the char marks on a grilled steak. “You have a good body for a woman of your age,” he said. “Have you done much sports in school? I like a woman with good muscle tone.” Kimie smiled and said no, not really, she had been too busy studying English.

“Ah, yes! I read that in your resume. You’re not some idiotic female with zero skills, you’ve been out in the world and you can speak English! My mother would like that. She used to be a teacher in her day. She likes women with knowledge and work experience. She can’t stand dumb girls.” 

The conversation went on in this vein and Kimie could hardly bring herself to sample the meal, made up of exquisite morsels of food artistically displayed on polished lacquerware. All she wanted to do now was go home, and slip into bed with her phone. She stopped listening to Yamanishi-san altogether and thought about Spotify. She really should update her playlists. 


Suddenly, in the middle of wresting a thin piece of radish from a tiny portion of soup, Yamanishi-san fixed her with an intense stare and said, “Okay, I seriously have to ask you this question if we are going to take this relationship any further. What color is your that?” 

Kimie could feel her cheeks tingle, and then burn, and could only mimic the last word in his question. “That?” she blurted, like a fool, she thought. Yamanishi-san nodded vigorously and said, “Yes, your that. You know, I can almost tolerate black nipples though I would much prefer them to be a lighter color. But a woman’s, you know, that–should never be dark. If we are to have sex, I don’t think I can perform very well if your that is a dark color.” 

After a full ten seconds of silence in which Kimie sat there, her face turned desperately to the winter garden which struck her as being dull and ugly, Yamanishi san said in a gentler tone, “I’m sorry to have to ask you. But this is…not love, it’s not dating, don’t you see? This is an arrangement preceding marriage. I think that you are a smart, modern woman and maybe we could come to an understanding, the two of us. But neither of us is young, and there’s no time for beating around the bush. I have my priorities and I am being honest about them. Won’t you give me an answer?” 

“I don’t know. I don’t usually look.” With that, Kimie stood up, clutching her handbag, and walked clumsily to the reception area where she asked for her coat. As soon as she was out of the restaurant, she grabbed her phone and blocked Yamanishi-san’s number after deleting all his texts. 

Finis

Kimie’s thoughts often wandered back to that lunch, but the memories were not of Yamanishi-san. Indeed, within hours of that experience he had felt like a figment of her imagination, spawned as the result of the meeting with the chirping counselor and her stupid advice. 

What Kimie recalls is how, as soon as she had gotten home and climbed the staircase to her room, she stripped off her coat and dress and peeled off her pantyhose. She took a mirror from her make-up drawer and held it close to her vagina. For several seconds, she had to struggle to see, but when she got a good enough view, she let out a sigh of relief. Her ‘that’ wasn’t black. In fact, the color could even be described as being on the light side. “If we are to have sex,” she whispered to herself. Then she had put the mirror away, pulled up her panties and got into bed. She could hear her mother calling her name from the kitchen but she shut her eyes tight and willed herself not to hear. The sand was seeping into her room, gathering in mounds all around her bed, lulling her to sleep. She would shovel it out later. 

Note: Ms. Shoji should be credited for coining the word WAM (Western Anglo-Saxon Men) also (White American Men)–a more understandable term for the Charisma-man type of entitled self-important foreigners that once flooded these shores but now mostly live in Hong Kong, Beijing, or Singapore. Also, it should be noted that Ms. Shoji has always been an equal opportunity misanthrope, as evidenced in her book review entitled 21 Reasons Why Japanese Men Suck.

TOTAL RECALL: REMEMBERING JAPAN’S TEMPLE OF SPEED

An iconic photo taken by Joe Honda

In 1967, Japanese photographer Joe Honda became the first Asian to capture the international motorsport scene. 

More than 300,000 35 mm photographs and five decades later, Emiko Jozuka—Honda’s daughter—is reviving his legacy in an exhibition held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan between December 5, 2020, and January 8, 2021. The show will move to Hong Kong in February 2021, in Honda’s first international exhibition in Asia, outside of Japan. 

In partnership with award-winning Tokyo photography atelier Shashin Kosha, this exhibition brings to life memories of motorsport’s golden age through a series of historic and rare photographs from Joe Honda’s rediscovered archive. It offers an intimate glimpse into Japan’s emergence on the global automotive and motorsport scene. 

“The October 1966 international Fuji Speedway race was a landmark event that changed my father’s life, the art of motorsport photography and Japan as a nation. It was the first global race in Asia that defined Honda’s work and paved the way for Japan’s golden age of motoring,” says Emiko Jozuka, director of the Joe Honda Archive.

To the Japanese cognoscenti, the American Indianapolis 500 was a celebrated race, and hosting the first international Indy event in Japan heralded their country’s arrival as an industrial power. One photo in Honda’s series captures British driver Jim Clark flanked by curious Japanese onlookers as he prepares his IndyCar. In another, we see motorsport legend Jackie Stewart racing around the precarious bends of the Fuji Speedway.

Born in 1939, Joe Honda graduated from the Nihon University Department of Fine Arts and trained with famed photographer Yuji Hayata before going freelance. He began his five-decade-long career at the October 1966 Fuji Speedway race, where he crossed paths with British racing stars such as Jim Clark and Graham Hill, who had come to Japan for the first time. In 1967, Honda travelled to Europe to capture the Formula One season, and became the regional representative of the International Racing Press Association (IRPA). 

Over a prolific international career, Honda captured iconic 35 mm film shots of Formula One stars such as Bruce McLaren, Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill. He documented Formula 1, 2, 3, NASCAR, Indy races, 24 Hours of Le Mans, Paris-Dakar rallies, motocross and classic car races. His work was also exhibited in major art galleries such as the Nikon and Canon Salons in Tokyo and published extensively in works and publications related to the Formula One and the automotive industry.

“Honda’s archive spans 50 years and travels from the grit and glamour of motor racing’s golden years through its evolution into a technological arms race funded by big business. His photographs represent the developments, people and culture that shaped the motorsport industry. Preserving and showcasing them is crucial as they document a pivotal period in history, showing major shifts in the automotive and photographic industries through one artist’s perspective and evolving practice,” says Jozuka.

www.joehonda.com | https://www.facebook.com/joehondahisworks | https://www.shashinkosha.co.jp/english/about_us.html

Arrangements: Members of the public who wish to see the exhibition can get in touch with Emiko Jozuka, the director of the Joe Honda Archive, who is organizing a limited number of private tours.

For more information, interview or image requests, please contact:

Emiko Jozuka email: emiko.jozuka@gmail.com

Mobile: +85298562017   | WhatsApp: +85298562017  | LINE: emi337

Curator bio and additional comments

Emiko Jozuka, director of the Joe Honda Archive

Emiko Jozuka is a Japan-born multimedia journalist for CNN Digital Worldwide, who grew up in the UK. She has worked for WIRED and VICE Media Group in London and the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and freelanced in Turkey. She holds degrees from the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lettres et Sciences Humaines in Lyon, France. In 2017 Jozuka founded the Joe Honda Initiative to share Honda’s collection with the broadest possible audience, attain support to catalogue and establish a foundation that democratizes access to art, photography and motorsports.

Takuji Yanagisawa, president of Shashin KoshaIn 1990 Takuji Yanagisawa became the second company president of award-winning Tokyo-based photography atelier Shashin Kosha. Since its founding in 1950, Shashin Kosha has merged tradition with innovation to support and showcase the work of Japan’s most outstanding photographers. In 1976, Shashin Kosha became the only photo atelier to win a special award for achievements and contributions to photography from the Japan Photographers’