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.

Kyoto Prefecture to become the first to ban child pornography, while Japan's Ruling Party does nothing.

You read that right! Kyoto Prefecture announced plans to roll out a policy that will officially outlaw the possession and acquisition of child pornography, with plans to enact the regulations some time this year. Kyoto will be the first prefecture in the country to create and enforce such a regulation.

Possession of child pornography is currently legal under Japanese law, as long as there is no intent of sale or distribution. Child prostitution and pornography laws currently only outlaw the creation and distribution of pornography featuring those under 18 years of age.

Kyoto Prefecture’s new regulation will require owners to dispose of all media containing sexual depiction of youth under the age of 18, and the government is currently considering penal regulations if such requirements aren’t followed. Possession of pornography featuring children under the age of 13 constitutes child sexual abuse, and will become an automatically jailable offense. Anime, however, is not covered by the new law.

The proposed legislation was part of Kyoto governor Keiji Yamada’s manifesto during the April 2010 race for governor. The regulations were proposed in a report authored by an investigative commission of nine experts, including academics, experts in law and experts in child welfare.

The new law seems a bit fuzzy. One major problem with current legislation is the lack of specifics in what constitutes child pornography. While some content is very explicitly pornographic, Japan’s large junior idol industry exploits a grey area in the law by purporting to be art while washing their hands of any additional connotations images of scantily-clad children may have–and how those images may be used by other individuals. According to the Kyoto Shinbun, the report points out that the law would need to distinctly define what is covered under the law, for example just explicitly sexual acts, or things alluding to or involving genitalia.

The fact that anime is exempt from the law should be a point of debate as well, and is quite a large statement in the wake of Tokyo’s move to restrict the sale of anime, manga and games containing sexual images of those under 18. The simple “slap on the hand” given to first-time offenders is also questionable, and at this stage the proposed law is dubiously flimsy. It is however a step forward and much more than the Japanese national government is doing. Currently, there is not even a bill in committee to ban child pornography possession.

Additional observations from Jake:

In addition to being an editor for this website and a writer, I’m also a board director of the Polaris Project Japan, an organization which helps human trafficking victims, works to stop the sexual and labor exploitation of women, children, and foreigners, and has been lobbying the Japanese government to make possession of child pornography a crime for several years. I am also the police liaison for the organization, which means that when we have a good tip on a human trafficking organization or child pornographers, Shihoko Fujiwara, the director of Polaris Project Japan and I collect the data and information and bring it to the police. I spent over a decade covering the Japanese police force as a reporter and understand what they need to make a case. There are many detectives who are enthusiastic about cracking down on human trafficking and child pornography. One tip which we took to the police last year resulted in the arrest and indictment of a child pornographer and the dismantling of a pedophile network.

However, what was a major obstacle in the initial investigation is that the police felt that they could not get a warrant to search the home of the child pornographer if he only possessed it. They needed proof that he had been selling the materials to get a search warrant. One detective explained it very simply, “Possession is not a crime. Therefore, even if we suspect someone is involved in producing and distributing it but only know that they possess it, we can’t make a raid. We can’t seize the computer or materials that would help us track down the source of the child pornography or help us rescue the victims.  Even if possession was made a crime with no punishment other than a fine, it would immensely aid our investigations. We detest the stuff and the victimization of children as much as anyone does. Even more. However, our hands are tied behind our back. The FBI and other federal agencies pass on over a hundred tips to the National Police Agency each year about child pornography issues. Maybe one or two actually turn into prosecutable cases. Since Ando Takaharu became head of the National Police Agency, we’ve been getting more support on those investigations but they’re still very difficult.”

On February 15th, I went to  a hearing on child pornography in Japan, at the National Diet Lower House Member’s Building, as a board member of Polaris Project Japan.  Bradley Myles, the CEO of Polaris Project (Washington DC)  attended as did members of UNICEF and two senators from the Diet. We made a strong case for the criminalization of simple possession.Myles was very succinct, stating: “The actions of any country, including Japan, play an important role in the global effort (to eliminate child pornography) and when possession of these images is legal in Japan, it creates a gap and an impediment to the entire international effort to police the problem.” He advocated that Japan make possession a crime punishable by a fine and jail time.

Japan and Russia are the only remaining G-8 countries that defends the ownership of films of real children (not manga) being molested for personal enjoyment. I was hoping to ask some pointed questions after his speech, but  the Diet members skipped out halfway through the meeting and were not available for the Q & A that followed. Personally, it says a lot to me about how seriously the Japanese government takes this problem.

Perhaps, making an appearance at the beginning was the best that the senators could do.  However, when one of the Diet members made the remark, “It’s hard to find a balance between freedom of expression and criminalizing the possession of child pornography”, I felt like puking. Pardon me. Films of children being sodomized, gagged, tortured, raped and abused on film for the sadistic entertainment of others are not “freedoms of expressions” or “works of art”–they are evidence of a crime and a clear violation of decency. If you can stomach it, read the testimony of children who were used in child pornography to understand how deeply it hurts them, even years later while the films still circulate.  These films are also certainly a violations of Japan’s laws on personal privacy, if you want to get into the finer legal problems. As such, the only people who should have child pornography in their possession are the police. As long as the purchase and possession of child porn are not crimes, there will be a demand for them and there will be anti-social elements who make money off feeding that demand, some of them yakuza, some of them simply sociopathic entrepreneurs. Japan continues to be one of the largest producers and suppliers of child pornography in the world.

Hiroko Tabuchi, ace reporter of the New York Times, offered very insightful commentary as I was live tweeting the conference. By no means was she defending child pornography, she has written very balanced articles on the problem but she did point out, “The Government cites concerns people could be prosecuted for mistaken downloads, being sent files unknowingly etc.”  I would have to agree with that point. I can easily see how the law could be abused to frame people for a crime and its the kind of thing a smart yakuza would do to take down a nuisance–unilaterally send them  numerous pictures of child pornography and then immediately call the police and “inform” on the victim. Teenagers being arrested on child pornography charges for sending nude pictures of themselves to friends or their consensual partners is a clear example of law enforcement being poorly applied, and deeply flawed laws.

The law can be written requiring a burden of proof that the individual actively downloaded or bought the child pornography, repeatedly, with full knowledge of what they were buying. An exemption can be made for underage children who send naked pictures of themselves willingly to their friends or lovers.  I would also suggest possession be made a crime punishable by  a substantial fine or jail time rather than mandatory jail time. By giving the police and prosecution some leeway, it would encourage the possessor of the materials to cooperate with the investigation.  Even just making possession a simple crime punishable by a fine would be enough to let the police seize evidence in cases and capture the makers and distributors of the child pornography rather than just the end users.

If the Democratic Party of Japan has any decency they will at least put forth a bill to committee to ban possession of child pornography. There is not even a bill under debate at present–in effect, they are doing absolutely nothing. Judging by their failure to rid themselves of Ozawa Ichiro, their loyalties seem to be more about their own interests rather than the public good. Many of their financial supporters are people in the adult film and anime business producing neo-child pornography. The DPJ should be aware that Japan’s failure to act on the problem is an international embarassment. I guess that’s the best way to end these comments, with a little Japanese vocabulary lesson that I hope the Democratic Party of Japan would take to heart. “恥を知りなさい”(haji wo shirinasai). Be ashamed of yourselves.

Jake Adelstein, board director, Polaris Project Japan

Tokyo LGBT community and supporters protest Ishihara’s homophobic comments

By Mizue Watanabe★

Tokyo’s LGBT community and its supporters held a lecture event January 14 to address the homophobic statements made in early December by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara. The two-part event saw politicians, LGBT activists, and even an openly gay manga artist speak to an audience of over 350 people, the majority of which were Japanese.

The meeting was held in reaction to comments made by Ishihara December 3 during a statement regarding a bill to put more stringent regulations on anime and manga. He said that “Homosexuals have been appearing on television as if it were no big deal. Japan is becoming too unregulated.” When a journalist from the Mainichi Shimbun asked Ishihara for clarification on these comments on December 7, Ishihara elaborated: “I feel that [homosexuals] are missing something. Maybe it has something to do with their genes. I feel sorry for them as a minority.” Recalling his experience observing a gay pride parade in San Francisco, Ishihara added that, “I saw the pride parade, but I just felt sorry for them. There were male pairs and female pairs, but I felt that something was missing.”

Perhaps reflecting the peripherality of LGBT issues in mainstream consciousness, only the Mainichi, the Asahi Shimbun, and the Tokyo Shimbun reported these comments.

The Association to Protest Governor Ishihara’s Homophobic Comments hosted the lecture event as a protest against the governor’s discriminatory remarks as well as a show of solidarity among the LGBT community and its supporters. The first part of the event featured a panel discussion of LGBT activists and community advocates discussing their reactions to the governor’s comments. This was followed by informal statements by three municipal politicians, including Aya Kamikawa, an assemblyperson for Tokyo’s Setagaya ward and the first openly transgender politician to be elected in Japan. The second part of the event focused on some of the daily struggles of the LGBT community in Japan, and featured manga artist Taiji Utaguwa’s rendition of recent gay history as well as a “close talk” with two gay couples.

Although serious in nature, the event involved light-hearted moments as well, such as when the opening discussant unleashed two giant balloon balls reading Ishiharasumento-kin (“Ishiharassment” Germ) into the audience. “Please be careful everyone, they’re highly infectious!!” she yelled, to the audience’s delight. Many of the participants, however, spoke of their serious concern with the governor’s comments, noting their distress that these comments were being made from the governor of Japan’s largest and most cosmopolitan city. One activist compared Tokyo to Paris and Berlin, which both have openly gay mayors.

A common sentiment among participants was that Ishihara’s statements make light of the difficulties that many LGBT individuals struggle with in their day-to-day lives, including within the home, at school, and in the workplace.

Although a date has not yet been set, an event organizer announced that the protest against Governor Ishihara’s statements would continue with a public demonstration scheduled for March.

Ironically, Ishihara’s remarks came during Human Rights Awareness Week in Japan, held annually from December 4 to December 10. Activists have pointed out that although the Tokyo Metropolitan Government had listed “eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation” and “eliminating discrimination based on gender identity disorder” as two official goals, the comments by Tokyo’s highest elected official make a joke of this.

Since his election as governor of Tokyo in 2001, Governor Ishihara has become notorious in the domestic and international press for a string of disparaging comments, attacking women, the disabled, foreigners, and even – perhaps most bizarrely – the French language.

In May 2001, when addressing the issue of crimes committed by non-Japanese residents of Japan, Ishihara suggested that, “Foreigners have criminal DNA.” However, despite Ishihara’s tendency to couch his prejudicial views within “biological” terms, neither of these comments is known to have any scientific validity.

*For an amusing commentary on Ishihara’s commentary, check out this clip by transvestite celebrity, Matsuko. 「石原都知事は狂っている」(Governor Ishihara is crazy!)

Tranvestite Celebrity Matsuko on Ishihara's homophobic comments and attempts to censor manga, "He's crazy!"

★Watanabe Mizue is a sociologist researching human rights issues in Japan writing under a pseudonym. JSRC would like to thank her for contributing this article.

Yamaguchi-gumi members arrested in sumo scandal! But how far can the cops go?

We’re stil gathering details here, but three yakuza (Yamaguchi-gumi members) and a former sumo wrestler were arrested yesterday for extortion involving the baseball betting scandal. The Yamaguchi-gumi is Japan’s largest crime syndicate. The three are suspected of extorting millions of yen in hush money from a former sumo wrestler who brokered the illegal bets on baseball (and other events) within the sumo world. All three yakuza deny the charges. They are also suspected of involvement in attempted extortion as well.

If you’ll look back at earlier JSRC posts you’ll see that we were pretty much on target with this story. The question now is how far the investigation will be allowed to proceed.  It was revealed recently that on June 21st Senator Hiroshi Nakai, the head of Japan’s Public Safety Commission, which oversees the National Police Agency, had secret meetings with Japan Sumo Association Chairman Musashigawa. The meeting appears to have been aimed at squashing any detailed investigation and reigning in the NPA. The JSA later changed its leadership by installing former prosecutor Hiroyoshi Murayama as its acting chief in place of Musashigawa. However, its not clear how much that changed the situation.

In 2008, Murayama was still an acting director of Suruga Corporation, a Tokyo Stock Exchange listed construction and real estate company. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department investigated Suruga Corporation and announced that the firm had paid over $50 million to a yakuza front company (run by the Goto-gumi) to evict tenants from properties they wanted to develop, and arrested several yakuza on related charges. Suruga Corporation also had former sumo wrestler Asashoryu help them sell condominiums in Mongolia as part of their business plan and hosted parties where Asashoryu and other sumo wrestlers attended with yakuza members.  Murayama never discussed his oversight failures regarding Suruga Corporation, which was later de-listed from the Tokyo stock exchange. Underworld sources refer to Murayama as “山口組の御用のヤメ検”, or “an ex-prosecutor often used by the Yamaguchi-gumi for their business interests.”

It does appear, at least, that the Yamaguchi-gumi seems to have one of their people inside the Sumo Association to keep things quiet and has grudging or willing help from above in making sure the investigation doesn’t go too far.

The ex-sumo wrestler, Furuichi Mitsutomo, who was involved in much of the gambling scandal, has a close relative in an independent Tokyo yakuza group with strong ties to the Yamaguchi-gumi.  He was also re-arrested yesterday on extortion charges along with the the three Yamaguchi-gumi members.  Furuichi has already been arrested and prosecuted on different extortion charges relating to ex-sumo wrestler, Kotomitsuki.

The sumo wrestlers illegally betting on baseball story was first broken by the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho in late May.

An interesting issue: So far the bookie operations were allegedly  first run by a Yamaguchi-gumi Kodo-kai boss who passed away last year. However, the Yamaguchi-gumi members arrested for extortion reportedly come from different factions. No yakuza involved in the bookie operations have been arrested yet, nor is it clear who was running the baseball betting operation. One theory being promulgated is that the anti-Kodokai factions within the Yamaguchi-gumi shook down the sumo wrestlers hoping to make a quick buck and also that the whole thing would blow up in the face of the Kodokai. Inter-factional warfare within the Yamaguchi-gumi is always brewing, and as the 40,000-member Yamaguchi-gumi grows at such a cancerous pace that its out of control, factions within the group have begun stepping on each other’s toes. Decades ago, the organization even split apart, result in a vicious and prolonged gang war.