The US Declares War On The Yakuza

On July 24th, President Barack Obama declared war on the yakuza (ヤクザ)aka The Japanese mafia, in an executive order which stated that “(the yakuza) are becoming increasingly sophisticated and dangerous to the United States; they are increasingly entrenched in the operations of foreign governments and the international financial system, thereby weakening democratic institutions, degrading the rule of law, and undermining economic markets.  These organizations facilitate and aggravate violent civil conflicts and increasingly facilitate the activities of other dangerous persons.  I therefore determine that significant transnational criminal organizations constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States, and hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.”

In Japan, the yakuza exist as semi-legal entities regulated but not outlawed. They are the subject of comics, games, movies and fanzines. Apparently, President Obama is not a fan.
The typical structure of a yakuza group. Artwork by @marikurisato

The yakuza were one of four international organized crime groups (in federal law enforcement terms “transnational criminal organizations”) singled out by the President in his order. The order is meant to give the United States new tools and methods to break the economic power of transnational organized crime and protect the financial markets. It will assist the US federal government’s efforts to disrupt, destroy and defeat the international organizations that pose a significant threat to U.S. national security, foreign policy or the economy.

As a result of the order, any property in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which the yakuza have an interest will be blocked, and U.S. citizens are prohibited from engaging in transactions with the yakuza, or their affiliated companies. The order also authorizes the U.S. Department of the Treasury, in consultation with the Departments of Justice and State, to identify for sanctions any individual or entity determined to have materially assisted, sponsored or provided financial, material or technological support for any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the executive order.

In the past, Citibank has been punished by the Japanese Financial Services Agency twice (2004 and 2009) for aiding and abetting money laundering by yakuza members; there was no punishment from the US side. In 2004-2006, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized close to a million dollars worth of assets in the United States owned by Kajiyama Susumu, the so-called emperor of loan sharks, and a Yamaguchi-gumi Goryokai (旧山口組五菱会・元山口組清水一家)member. UCLA from 2000-2003, received close to two million dollars in money from four individuals who were yakuza or associates of the yakuza, in exchange for liver transplants conducted at UCLA hospitals.

It remains to be seen how this executive order will effect yakuza operations within the United States or whether this will also effect US companies in Japan that do business with the yakuza or their “shell-corporations.”

On September 30th, 2009, Ando Takaharu, the head Japan’s National Police Agency declared war on Japan’s largest organized crime group, the Yamaguchi-gumi (40,000 members), and pushed for a dismantling of the main faction of the group, the Kodo-kai (山口組弘道会) (3,000-4,000 members). The nearly two year “war on the yakuza” in Japan has resulted in the arrest of the number one and number two most powerful members of the Kodo-kai and dealt a huge blow to that faction, if not the Yamaguchi-gumi itself.

Reddit Japan has posted this blog entry, if you feel like adding your own comments or insight.

The text of the actual executive order follows. The annex refers to the four international crime groups mentioned above of which the yakuza are included.

EXECUTIVE ORDER

BLOCKING PROPERTY OF TRANSNATIONAL CRIMINAL ORGANIZATIONS

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) (IEEPA), the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) (NEA), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code,

I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, find that the activities of significant transnational criminal organizations, such as those listed in the Annex to this order, have reached such scope and gravity that they threaten the stability of international political and economic systems.  Such organizations are becoming increasingly sophisticated and dangerous to the United States; they are increasingly entrenched in the operations of foreign governments and the international financial system, thereby weakening democratic institutions, degrading the rule of law, and undermining economic markets.  These organizations facilitate and aggravate violent civil conflicts and increasingly facilitate the activities of other dangerous persons.  I therefore determine that significant transnational criminal organizations constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States, and hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.

Continue reading The US Declares War On The Yakuza

Reimagining Japan: The Quest for a Future that Works

What is the future of Japan? Can the country get back on its feet? It’s a question that the world and the people of Japan are asking themselves. McKinsey & Company have edited a book that aims to answer this question.

Reimagining Japan is a collection of eighty essays that aim to shed light on how Japan can rebuild itself in the wake of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. The contributors come from a variety of backgrounds – from CEOs to journalists, to academics – also include a fair amount of both Japanese and foreign writers. Roughly half of the contributors come from the business sector, and 14 of the 80 come from McKinsey itself.

Though the topics explored range in subject, there are a few recurring themes that run through the collection. Outlined in the introduction, they include the need for openness (the unwillingness of young Japanese to venture outside of their country, and of companies to take their ideas global), diversity (Japan has a relatively homogenous population), innovation (Japan’s need to move away from labor-intensive industries) and leadership (strong company and government officials who can act boldly and expediently). Though sometimes the reemergence of these themes can be tiring, and even seems like a bit of a broken record, often the authors provide enough of their own unique insight to keep it interesting.

There are also a few authors who break hard with the general consensus. Just when you think you have certainly heard enough about the  “change-resistant” personality of the population, John Dower shakes it up with several historical examples that belie this characterization of the Japanese. Forced to reconcile these conflicting assessments, it’s a rewarding experience to recognize the truth in both and thus gain a deeper understanding of the problems facing Japan.

I noted this kind of mental progress several times through the reading of these articles; how is it that Japan ranks 4th in Innovation in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, yet one of the most consistent charges against the Japanese is that they fail to innovate? It’s actually hard to put the book down once you get into the discussion.

Chapter 3, Restructuring Japan Inc., was particularly interesting and well-edited, with each consecutive chapter offering a challenge to the one before. Macroeconomic policies, such as decisive quantitative easing vs. restructuring, were debated as each policy expert laid out his case. The article “Reforming Japan, Nordic Style”, I found particularly interesting; author Richard Katz points out the egalitarian ethic and homogenous, well-educated society that Japan has in common with the Nordic countries, and proposes that Japan should consider how these countries have been able to foster growth and improve efficiency through their policy of government provided employment security rather than individual job security.

Interestingly, the Japanese writers were the most critical of their own society, the quickest to bemoan the complacency and resistance to change. Yasuchika Hasegawa, president and CEO of Takeda pharmaceuticals said, “…until this country hits bottom, our people will never get serious about change”. Tadashi Yanai, chairman and CEO of Fast Retailing, which owns UNIQLO, had even harsher words: “Japans biggest problems are conservatism and cowardice”. Foreign contributers, on the other hand, it seemed couldn’t help but temper their criticisms of Japanese politics or economical policy with praise of all the things we foreigners have love affairs with the Japanese over.

After a few days of reading these essays back to back, dissecting Japan’s dysfunctions and prescribing elaborate solutions, I felt overwhelmed by the work ahead of my adopted country. Japan has been lagging not only economically, but also losing global influence, its once formidable share of the tech market, and having recently lost its status as the “linchpin” of American strategy in Asia to South Korea, even its political prominence.  Several authors, noting the shifting power structure in Asia that has accompanied the rise of China, and more than half of the authors inn “Redefining Japan’s Foreign Relations” chapter argues the need for a pan-Asian alliance–one which Japan must lead.

However, the aforementioned broken record comes in handy here: it does the powerful task of affirming the consensus among experts on Japanese culture. Our problems aren’t so varied, and at the end of the day we really aren’t in disagreement about them. In many cases, we aren’t even in disagreement about the corresponding solutions. And indeed, many solutions were offered, particularly by the writers who dealt with political and economic problems.

However, while many also mentioned social issues, (a great number encouraging the use of women in the work force), few offered any solutions to those problems. Here, the heavy reliance on business-sector contributors is seen. Sure, nearly half the population is underutilized, and that could be a great source of labor for a country that faces an aging population, but how does this happen when an increasing number of Japanese women say they would like to get married and stay at home?

And how do we deal with an aging population if women say they only want one child because doing all the work by themselves is too 大変 (taihen/difficult)? As Kaori Sasaki says in her contribution “Putting Families First”, “changing the law can only do so much; our value system needs to change, too”. I had lengthy discussions with my roommate, Shigeaki Baba, about the theories and policies here, and he said, they are missing the biggest problem- there are a lot of ways in which Japanese society sucks. For a country that prides itself on efficiency, the current family set-up seems disastrously inefficient; one member puts in enough work hours for two, and sacrifices time that could be spent with his children; and the other is deprived the individual necessity comes with a fulfilling career. Of course, this model works for some families, but I think that for many Japanese people, both men and women, this set-up greatly contributes to their unhappiness. Maybe people don’t want to get married, pursue careers, or have kids, because in Japanese society these are difficult things to manage even one at a time. I would have liked to have seen more authors elaborating on that.

Overall, this is a highly thought-provoking and inspiring collection of works and recommended reading for anyone interested in Japan. This certainly sparked great discussion among my friends and roommate. I think if you care about Japan, this is an important collection to read, and hopefully add too as well.

Jake’s comment:

The book would have benefitted by having an essay by Kathy Matsui, who at this year’s TokyoTedX, gave a scathing review of Japan’s sexist polices and demonstrates how incorporating women into the workplace could save Japan’s economy and help solve the declining birth-rate. Personally, I also felt that there should have been some focus on the endemic problems of organized crime in Japan’s politics and business. The culture of corruption, collusion, and corporate malfeasance is a huge stumbling block in re-imagining Japan. I hope that the book is read by more than just the foreign population and that some wise souls in the government of Japan pay attention. Unlikely, but one can hope.

The book is also available in Japan from Amazon as well. 
http://www.amazon.co.jp/REIMAGINING-JAPAN-Quest-Future-Works/dp/142154086X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1310403257&sr=8-1

US report: human trafficking inside government’s foreign trainee program

Polaris Project visits trainees in Fukui prefecture (Courtesy of Polaris Project Japan)

Just two months after Japan got burned in the US State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report, a new paper pins the country’s foreign trainee program as being almost as close as you can get to state-sanctioned labor trafficking.

According to the 2011 Trafficking in Persons report, the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program run by JITCO, provides no protection against “debt bondage, restrictions on movement, unpaid wages and overtime, fraud, and contracting workers out to different employers”. The report says that the majority of those who participate are from China, and in some cases pay fees of more than $1,400, and deposits of up to $4,000, to brokers in order to apply for the program. Minimum wage in China varies between US$100 and $200 per month.

The report cites a 2010 survey of Chinese trainees, saying that deposits are regularly seized by brokers if trainees report mistreatment or try to quit the program, and that some have reported having passports taken to prevent escape–the tell-tale signs of human trafficking that are often seen in sex trafficking cases.

Continue reading US report: human trafficking inside government’s foreign trainee program

Einstein, Insanity, Nuclear Meltdowns and Tokyo Electric Power Company

“Would there have been a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant even without the tidal wave?”

福島原発事故の記録:津波が来なくてもメルトダウンは起きた?

The July 11 edition of the 週間エコノミスト (The Weekly Economist, a respected Japanese publication but not The Economist) has a long interview with Mitsuhiko Tanaka (田中三彦氏) a former nuclear reactor manufacturing technician, who in a very well-illustrated and annotated article makes a strong case that the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)  had little to do with the tsunami and that the problem was that the plant did not withstand the earthquake. He asserts that multiple factors, including broken pipes and water circulation pumps, led to an LOCA, Loss of Coolant Accident. It is worth picking up and reading if you can read Japanese. He also makes a point that many overlook: the 9.0 earthquake epicenter was in Miyagi Prefecture, not Fukushima Prefecture. The magnitude of the earthquake at Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant was well under the threshold of what the the plant is supposed to be able to withstand.

Permit me, for a moment, to state my opinion on the nuclear fiasco that has taken place in Japan. It is my opinion and not that of my co-author or the JSRC.

Albert Einstein, the physicist who convinced the United States to begin developing an atomic bomb during the Second World War, once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Perhaps, this is true in normal human relations, but when it comes to nuclear power plants, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results.

When you keep running the same nuclear reactor for over forty years, ten years past the date it was supposed to be closed down—that’s insanity. Because any rational person would you tell you that the risk of a nuclear disaster taking place increases every year, with every unfixed problem, with every sloppy inspection, with the normal wear and tear on each part of a reactor that was never designed for an earthquake ridden Japan in the first place.

TEPCO has a history of falsifying data, corporate malfeasance, and labor violations that fill pages of a book. TEPCO has admitted to over 200 cases of falsifying data. They have had previous nuclear mishaps as a result of an earthquake, in 2007, which released nuclear radiation into the environment. The current chairman of the company, Tsunehisa Katsumata, was president of the firm at the time. He later resigned from the post to take responsibility and took his current position, where he has continued to be the de facto CEO. TEPCO has bullied and bribed the media for years not to criticize their activities; Katsumata admitted as much last month in a press conference. It has funded academics that tow the party line that nuclear energy is safe and efficient. According to the weekly magazine, Shukan Toyo Keizai, it may also have systematically circumvented political donation laws by having company executives and workers donate money to friendly politicians as individuals rather than as a corporation. It has allegedly paid money to organized crime to keep quiet about problems at the reactors. It has employed yakuza as workers.

The sane thing to do would be to stop letting this company keep doing the same thing over and over. It would be to dismantle the corporation, the failed system of government oversight that has allowed this monolithic entity to flout the law and ruin the lives of the Fukushima Prefecture citizens. But the sanest thing of all would be to consider the feasibility of continuing to operate antiquated nuclear power plants, who are only as strong as their pipes and probably can not stand another earthquake close to the scale that came this March. They should be re-checked and inspected diligently.

In a society where TEPCO, government agencies, the mass media, and certain politicians all put their interests before the public good, what is the sanest way to deal with this problem and still provide Japan with the energy it needs? That’s another question that the citizens of Japan and the world are waiting to be answered.

Continue reading Einstein, Insanity, Nuclear Meltdowns and Tokyo Electric Power Company

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO): Is it time to turn off the lights?

“Jump in a nuclear reactor and die!’

Those were the words directed at the chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) by one angry man at the tense stockholders meeting held today on June 28. It captured the sentiment of many people in Japan who are demanding the company take responsibility for the meltdown on March 11, at the nuclear power plant TEPCO managed and owns. The meeting inside did not run smoothly but meltdown was avoided. Outside the meeting, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Riot Squad held back the right- and left-wing demonstrators as well as a contingent of anti-nuclear protesters. Tsunehisa Katsumata, the chairman of the firm offered his apologies. He was re-elected as chairman the same day. He is a very good apologist. In 2003, after it had been widely reported that TEPCO had falsified safety data at dozens of reactors he also spoke for the company saying, “I wish to begin by expressing regret for the recent cases of misconduct at our company, which have eroded public confidence in the nuclear power industry.”

Recent events have not helped restore that public confidence….

東京電力・帝国の暗黒/TEPCO: The Dark Empire was first published in 2007. Few publications would advertise it and it only sold 4,000 copies. Recently reissued after the meltdown(s), it is eerily prescient.

For the rest of the story, please check out the The Atlantic Wire: what matters now. Note: Stephanie Nakajima co-authored the article.

9 Day Warning: On March 2nd, NISA disciplined TEPCO on lax equipment checks before meltdown

On March 2nd, approximately nine days before the TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Reactor One melted down, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) formally disciplined TEPCO for failure to conduct inspections on critical pieces of equipment at the Fukushima Number One and Number Two Reactor. NISA found that TEPCO had violated safety regulations and gave them the second lightest administrative punishment possible: 注意の行政処分-chui no gyoseishobun. In other words: orders to be more careful. NISA instructed TEPCO to investigate the fundamental reasons inspections were not conducted, to put in place preventive measures, and to issue them a full report on why inspections were not conducted and the current situation by June 2nd, 2011.

Not only were equipment inspections neglected at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, they were also neglected at the Kashiwazaki Kiriwa reactor in Niigata Prefecture. In 2007, at the same reactor, a strong earthquake resulted in a fire and leakage of radiation. According to Kyodo News and other sources, 375 pieces of equipment were not inspected at Kashiwazaki Kiriwa reactor. At the Fukushima Reactor 1, 33 pieces of equipment, and at the Fukushima Reactor 2, 21 pieces of equipment were not inspected. According to former TEPCO employees one of the pieces that should have been checked was part of the recirculation pump that is used to regulate the temperature of the reactor core of Fukushima Reactor one.

NISA was unable to comment on whether the full mandated report had been received from TEPCO as of  June 20th, 2011. When NISA replies, we will post it here. From the beginning of the crisis, TEPCO has insisted that the cause of the nuclear meltdown was the unprecedented tidal wave (tsunami) which knocked out the electric power systems to cool the reactor but there is increasing evidence which suggests that the cause of the meltdown was the earthquake itself and that it had begun before the tsunami arrived. As for the tsunami being “unforeseeable” (想定外) , this claim is also dubious. Even as early as 2007, TEPCO was allegedly warned that a large scale tsunami was possible and could cause a nuclear meltdown. (Watch here for further updates).

The official press release from NISA on the disciplinary actions towards TEPCO can be found here: http://www.meti.go.jp/press/20110302001/20110302001-1.pdf
TEPCO allegedly failed to check equipment connected to the reactor core recirculation pump. NISA admonished them.

Tokyo Prosecutor Special Investigation Unit Takes Lead on TEPCO case, as new evidence contradicts TEPCO claims.

As reported on April 4th here, Japanese law-enforcement continues their investigation into TEPCO, the managing entity of the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor for charges of professional negligence resulting in death or injury, but now the Tokyo Prosecutor Special Investigation Unit has begun their own independent investigation. Update: The investigations may extend to public officials as well.  In addition to this TEPCO is now under investigation by the Labor Standards Bureau for multiple violations of the labor laws.

The investigation is focussing on what TEPCO did after the Tsunami as well as before (in terms of criminal negligence). The two individuals most likely to be charged with criminal incompetence resulting in death and/or injury are the CEO at the time and the current chairman.  During the first 24 hours after the accident, the chairman and the president were both unaccounted for and/or unreachable considerably delaying countermeasures which could have prevented death, injury and the meltdown. There are also reports that putting sea water into the reactor were delayed as TEPCO executives used political connections to buy time to try and save the reactors, rather than focussing on saving lives and the environment around the reactor.

One thing that is now increasingly coming into question is TEPCO’s assertion that “this accident was beyond the scope of our imagination” (想定外). This only holds true if the cause of the reactor meltdown was due to the flooding of the emergency generators by the tsunami (tidal wave) which were supposed to power down the reactor. There is a great possibility that the earthquake itself immediately did so much damage to the containment vessel and parts of  reactor 1, that the tidal wave influence was negligible.  There are reports that for several years TEPCO was warned by the original manufacturers to replace the core of the reactor and failed to do so.

There is a distinct possibility that what happened was not  “beyond imagination” but was simply a case of what had been predicted happening just as predicted.  The Fukushima Nuclear Reactor accident is not a natural disaster; it’s a man-made disaster, created on several levels. How far the prosecution will go is an unknown. In light of recent arrests of prosecutors for forging evidence, and allegations that the prosecutor’s office in Fukushima trumped up charges against the former Governor of Fukushima, who was one of TEPCO’s most vocal opponents–national trust for the prosecutor’s office is at an all time low.

A source close to the Ministry of Justice, on conditions that his name not be used, said, “This is a chance for the prosecutor’s office to show that we are instruments of justice and not tools of whatever administration assumes power in Tokyo. We have a chance to regain public trust and we won’t squander it. All we have to do to prove criminal negligence resulting in death or injury is to show that the the parties involved had an understanding of a great danger which they did little to prevent. We don’t think that will be hard to prove on multiple levels.”

The May 25th edition of  SAPIO also touches on the current investigation, although, I think that they are a little off the mark, it’s worth a read.

UPDATE May 16th, 2011 4:30am (US Time)/ (May 16th 6:30 pm (Tokyo): Kyodo news put out a news story today which back ups what we wrote previously that  there is a great possibility that the earthquake itself immediately did so much damage to the containment vessel and parts of  reactor 1, that the tidal wave influence was negligible.” Kyodo asserts that two other reactors were severely damaged before the tidal wave.

This "bowing down in shame" (土下座)figurine bears a tremendous resemblance to the chairman of TEPCO. The figurine is labelled CEO. If it was a puppet, it would actually represent the relationship between the Chairman and the CEO perfectly.

Child pornography, government corruption color 2010 US Report On Human Rights in Japan

One that totally flew under our radar:

On April 11, the US State Department released their 2010 Human Rights Report for Japan, detailing human rights conditions on everything from the right to collective bargaining to institutionalized hazing. While Japan is hardly a major violator like, say, friendly neighbours China and North Korea, it is surprising (and in some cases, unfortunately, not so surprising) to see some of the areas where the country falls short of ideal.

As brought to our attention via Polaris Project:

“Child prostitution is illegal, with a penalty of imprisonment with labor for up to three years or a fine of up to one million yen ($12,150) for offenders, including the intermediary and the person involved in solicitation. However, the practice of enjo-kosai (compensated dating) and easy facilitation by means of online dating, social networking, and delivery health (call girl or escort service) sites made de facto domestic child-sex tourism a problem.

“The country continued to be an international hub for the production and trafficking of child pornography. The distribution of child pornography is illegal; the penalty is imprisonment with labor for not more than three years or a fine not exceeding three million yen ($36,460). … The law does not criminalize the simple possession of child pornography, which often depicts the brutal sexual abuse of small children. While this continues to hamper police efforts to effectively enforce existing child pornography laws and fully participate in international law enforcement in this area, child pornography investigations increased 40 percent in 2009 to 935 cases. New measures announced in July included instructing Internet service providers to voluntarily block Internet access to child pornography, increased cooperation with foreign law enforcement agencies, and boosting resources for investigations … But children’s advocates criticized the measure to block access, noting that it does not require Internet service and cellular data providers to block the images and, in fact, the law prohibits providers from censuring any user access.

“The new measures also do not address the unfettered availability of sexually explicit cartoons, comics, and video games. While the NPA maintained that no link has been established between these animated images and child victimization, other experts suggested the situation harms children by creating a culture that appears to accept sexual abuse of children.”

This one is hardly a revelation, as any long-time JSRC reader would know. Other highlights:

Continue reading Child pornography, government corruption color 2010 US Report On Human Rights in Japan

The jury is in: Japan’s new jury system is a farce.

This news story slipped under my large nose in the last few days of earth-shaking quake related news. On March 30th (2011) the Tokyo High Court overturned the not-guilty verdict of a 60 year-old office worker accused of smuggling in meth-amphetamines and other crimes. He was the first person to be found completely innocent under the new lay-jury system to have his not-guilty conviction overturned. He was found innocent in June of 2010. This time the prosecutor friendly court, which was not burdened with a jury, sentenced him to ten years of hard labor and a fine of six million yen.

In Japan, the lay-jury system, which pairs civilians with a judge or judges,  was supposed to put a check on prosecutorial abuse and judicial arrogance by involving ordinary citizens in the process so that a more reasonable and fair verdict could be given. (Japan has a 99% conviction rate for criminal cases*). Unfortunately, in Japan de facto double jeopardy exists and on the flimsiest of claims the prosecution can appeal a verdict, so in reality, you can be tried for the same crime twice, even three or four times. Considering the unlikely odds of ever being found innocent, this makes actually walking away free after being prosecuted about as probable as TEPCO getting the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor working again. While the first trial in major cases may be held in front of a lay-jury, the appeal is your standard one judge court or panel of judges court.

The Tokyo High Court ruled that the defendant’s claim to not knowing he was carrying drugs was not credible. However, one has to wonder how credible the prosecution is in Japan after one of their ace prosecutors was recently arrested and charged for forging evidence. Justice in Japan is a long way off. I suppose that in time of instability like these days, we should be happy that the Japanese criminal justice system still functions on the basic principle we’ve all come to know and love in Japan: presumed guilty until proven guilty.

*It should be noted that the conviction rate in Japan is only 99% because prosecutors will only take slam dunk cases. According to researchers like David Johnson, author of The Japanese Way of Justicemany cases brought to the prosecutors are never pursued or “suspended” in perpetuity.  Our legal philosopher and ace reporter, Stephanie Nakajima, will be doing a follow-up on this story in the near future.

UPDATED: The Supreme Court overturned the conviction and upheld the original not guilty-verdict in February of 2012 stating, “If a second trial is held on the basis that the facts were mistaken in the first trial, you have to take into account logical and experiential rules and prove concretely that there were irrational mistakes.” The Supreme Court upheld the original verdict of the lay jury and for the first time put a check on the prosecutor’s wanton use of appeals on every rare not-guilty verdict they encountered.

The Japanese Way Of Justice by David Johnson is still an amazing treatise on the power of the prosecution in Japan’s legal system.

The Coast Guard Agent Who Tried To Rescue Japan: A Humble Hero

Mr. Masaharu Isshiki (一色正春元海上保安官), the former Coast Guard official who released a classified videotape of the Chinese boat incident on Youtube last December, held a press conference at the FCCJ on February 14th. The tape provided clear evidence that the Chinese vessel acted as the aggressor in the situation. This is a revelation that embarrassed the Japanese government, as it potentially bolsters previous accusations that Japan acquiesced to China’s might for fear of economic repercussions.

Masaharu Isshiki, the former Coast Guard agent who blew the whistle on the Senkoku Incident. He has become a folk hero in Japan

Isshiki, who had been studying since he was 15 for the career he has just sacrificed, likened the role of the Coast Guard to a “national border guard”; the Guard is responsible for patrolling Japan’s vast territorial waters and executing rescue operations. Upon delivering a few ceremonial opening statements and a brief description of his duties while a Coast Guard official, he immediately breached the problem of Japan’s several territorial disputes with other nations, and in particular the most recently problematic claim over the Senkaku islands; “a certain nation has begun to take action in that area…some people can say this country has even started an invasion process”. While withholding clearly articulated reasons, he said that this threat essentially led him to release the video. When pressed further to defend his defiance of orders, he stated: “it became clear what I should do when I weighed that fact (that it was a government directive) against the fact that this is something that would benefit the Japanese people”.

Isshiki also expressed concern over the growing number of residents who, if Japan is apprehended by force, see themselves as willing to resort to the use of force as well. On this point he lingered, strongly affirming his “deep-seated belief” that if a party has territorial claims that “words and evidence” should be used to solve the issue; “as you know, the world has experienced great tragedies in the past and as a result (we) have put together different ways to resolve international conflicts without resorting to force”, he says, citing the International Court of Justice as an example.

Isshiki ended his speech with two requests for the foreign press. Firstly, that if a conflict arises between Japan and another nation that “not only are the reasons of the other country” covered by the media, but also “the thoughts of the Japanese population on the matter”. He points out that the humble and reserved nature of the Japanese people, often considered “a beautiful part of the national character”, has been misconstrued by the international community as an inability to assert their own rights and claims, which “has led to unfortunate interpretations of Japan in the past”.

He prefaced his second request by noting the increasing presence of international journalists in Japan’s media landscape; “many Japanese have started looking to the foreign media to find out about events in their own country”, citing as an example last year’s demonstrations, which many national media outlets chose not to cover.

He observes that the Japanese are awakening to the impartiality of certain news organizations, and becoming more aware of their many new source options. He presented this as a business opportunity for the foreign press, encouraging them to gain the respect of the people by providing consistently objective reporting.

After this, questions were taken, many too inane to be reported here. Isshiki-san was clearly more intelligent and witty than many of the reporters who spoke to him, cracking jokes and asking some reporters to break down the questions into ones that were possible to answer. It should be noted that Japanese governor Ishihara Shintaro, who attended with his entourage spoke publicly to him saying: “As a representative of the Japanese government, I’d like to express my greatest respect and appreciation for your actions. A person who acts on behalf of the Japanese people…should not be subject to persecution of the government.”

When a press member in her question referred to his actions as “heroic”, Isshiki made mention of it in his response, saying he didn’t think what he did merited the description; “I didn’t risk my life to do this. I like my life.  I don’t want to risk it so easily. Some years ago, most Japanese ago would consider this a normal response and I am slightly concerned that the Japanese people have begun to lose that sense of normality. What I desire more than anything is for Japan to become a country where this kind of action is considered the right thing do by any concerned citizen.”

Isshiki’s book, to which he directed pesky reporters several times during his speech, Why I Did This: The Confessions of Senkoku 38 (何かのためにの告白)is now on sale. It’s worth a read. The final three lines of his book are a moving call to social action.

It’s time to throw away the idea that “as long as I’m okay, that’s enough.” It’s okay for people to live only for themselves, but it’s also a good thing to live for some higher purpose.  If everyone who reads this book, comes away with a little sense of that, and lives that way, maybe things will change.