憚りながら懲りないし、懺悔しない邪悪な人間もいる。 Some people never repent.
Action Targets Yakuza’s Global Criminal Operations
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today designated Tadamasa Goto, an individual associated with the Japanese Yakuza criminal network, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13581, which targets significant transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and their supporters. Today’s action is part of the Treasury Department’s ongoing efforts to protect the U.S. financial system from the malign influence of TCOs and to expose persons who are supporting them or acting on their behalf.
“Tadamasa Goto possesses deep ties to the Yakuza and has been instrumental to its criminal operations around the world,” said OFAC Acting Director John E. Smith. “Today’s action denies Goto access to the U.S. financial system and demonstrates our resolve to aggressively combat transnational criminal organizations and their supporters.”
Tadamasa Goto began working in the Yakuza as a member of the Inagawa-kai. The Inagawa-kai is the third largest Yakuza group and was designated by OFAC pursuant to E.O. 13581 on January 23, 2013. Goto subsequently joined the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest and most prominent Yakuza group, which OFAC designated pursuant to E.O. 13581 on February 23, 2012. Goto served in several senior leadership positions within the Yamaguchi-gumi before becoming the head of the Goto-gumi, which was a powerful Yamaguchi-gumi faction. The Goto-gumi was responsible for setting up a network of front companies on behalf of the Yamaguchi-gumi.
Goto headed the Goto-gumi until October 2008, when he was expelled and forced into retirement from the Yamaguchi-gumi and relocated to Cambodia. Despite his retirement from mob life, Yakuza figure Tadamasa Goto reportedly still associates with numerous gang-tainted companies that he utilizes to facilitate his legitimate and illicit business activities. He continues to support the Yamaguchi-gumi and remnants of his semi-defunct Goto-gumi by laundering their funds between Japan and Cambodia. Additionally, Goto has reportedly established links with the notoriously violent Namikawa Mutsumi-kai group, formerly known as the Kyushu Seido-kai, which is recognized by Japan as a Yakuza group.
Tadamasa Goto, one of Japan‘s most notorious underworld bosses, is to enter the Buddhist priesthood less than a year after his volatile behaviour caused a rift in the country’s biggest crime syndicate.
As leader of a yakuza – or Japanese mafia – gang, Goto amassed a fortune from prostitution, protection rackets and white-collar crime, while cultivating a reputation for extreme violence.
Tomorrow, his life will take a decidedly austere turn when he begins training at a temple in Kanagawa prefecture south of Tokyo, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper said today, citing police sources.
The 66-year-old, whose eponymous gang belonged to the powerful Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate, was expelled from the yakuza fraternity last October after a furious row with his bosses over his conduct.
Known as Japan’s answer to John Gotti, the infamous mafia don, Goto reportedly upset his seniors amid media reports that he had invited several celebrities to join his lavish birthday celebrations last September.
Several months earlier he had attracted more unwanted publicity following revelations that he had offered information to the FBI in return for permission to enter the US for a life-saving liver transplant in 2001.
At an emergency meeting last October the Yamaguchi-gumi’s bosses – minus their leader, Shinobu Tsukasa, who is serving a six-year prison term for illegal arms possession – expelled Goto, splitting his gang into rival factions.
According to the Sankei, Goto will formally join the priesthood on 8 April – considered to be Buddha’s birthday in Japan – in a private ceremony.
The former gangster was quoted as describing the occasion as “solemn and meaningful, in which Buddha will make me his disciple and enable me to start a new life”.
In his deal with the FBI, Goto reportedly gave up vital information about yakuza front companies, as well as the names of senior crime figures and the mob’s links to North Korea.
Underworld experts have pointed out, however, that the bureau could have gleaned the same information from yakuza fanzines.
Goto’s transplant was performed at UCLA medical centre in Los Angeles In the spring of 2001 by the respected surgeon Dr Ronald W Busuttil, using the liver of a 16-year-old boy who had died in a traffic accident.
The grateful don, who was suffering from liver disease, later donated $100,000 (£68,000) to the hospital, his generosity commemorated in a plaque that reads: “In grateful recognition of the Goto Research Fund established through the generosity of Mr Tadamasa Goto.”
Jake Adelstein, a former crime reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, received death threats before he went public with the transplant story last spring, and has been living under police protection ever since.
When it was assigned to cultivate the Tokyo area in the late 1980s, the Goto-gumi stuck to what it knew best: drugs, human trafficking and extortion, before new anti-gang laws forced it to move in to more lucrative areas such as real estate and the stockmarket.
At the height of their powers, Goto’s henchmen were capable of unspeakable acts of violence, including bulldozing businesses that refused to pay protection money and administering beatings to victims in front of their families, reports said.
A 1999 leaked police file noted that “in order to achieve his goals, [Goto] uses any and all means necessary or possible. He also uses a carrot-and-stick approach to keep his soldiers in line. His group is capable of extremely violent and aggressive acts”.
I wrote a little about this several months ago. Actually, I was surprised to see someone catch it in the Japanese version of the blog, because it was a very subtle thing.
Anyway, there are several reasons that the police cite for Goto entering the priesthood. One of them is that he’s facing another trial on real estate fraud charges and would like to make a good impression on the judge. Another is that he plans to use the tax exempt status of a temple or Buddhist priest to launder yakuza money. However, on the underworld side there is a great deal of speculation that Goto is simply trying to stay alive. Everyone who was closely associated with him has now been driven out of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest criminal organization in Japan.
There are people worried that Goto will once again try to make a deal with US or Australian law enforcement/intelligence agencies to trade information for a new liver. He certainly seems to be trying. He knows too much; the attacks his group have made on civilians over the years have so alienated the general public and the police that in many ways he can be blamed for Japan’s gradually harsher anti-organized crime laws.
Of course, a lot of his former pals would also like to see him dead so they can steal his assets. He allegedly has close to a billion dollars saved away in stocks, property, and foreign bank accounts. If I was a hyena, I’d be wanting to strip his bones as well.
Joganji, the temple where he will be staying has a long history as a sanctuary for criminals. It’s a good choice for a safe haven.
Well, maybe he really does regret the way he’s lived his life. For a long-time gangster like Goto, getting kicked out of the Yamaguchi-gumi is like being dead, or becoming a zombie. Maybe he really does feel bad for all the misery his organization has caused via human trafficking, murder, extortion, and violence.
I kind of doubt it.
Buddhism is a wonderfully harsh religion at times. If he’s looking to escape from his enemies, the priest ploy might work. It won’t work for everything.
Neither in the sky, nor deep in the ocean, nor in a mountain-cave, nor anywhere, can a man be free from the evil he has done.
Neither in the sky, nor deep in the ocean, nor in a mountain-cave, nor anywhere, can a man be free from the power of death.
The response from readers to both the English article and the Japanese translation of the article was tremendous. We are not saying that if you’re an AKB48 fan that you’re a pedophile. We are using the band as a means of discussing the endemic and exploitive nature of the JK Business. Maybe if you really are fans of these girls, you should lean on the management to pay them better and ensure they have a decent life after their youth is misspent.
Two trolls in particular have jumped all over the article—the two trolls seem to be a team. I usually ignore them but since they seem intent on defaming my co-worker I’ll address them briefly.
I know you’re not supposed to feed the trolls, but sometimes I feel like stuffing their mouths with information until they choke on it. (Trolls: please confine your spiteful attacks to me in the future. Thank you)
In the journalist community we know them as Creepy Johnson and Creepec for their habit of harassing other journalists, especially women. Creepy Johnson began harassing me in 2011 after I failed to respond to his demand that I clear his name. (He had been denied entry into Japan). He writes to every publication I work for hassling my editors; he harasses and stalks anyone who he thinks might be my friend, especially if they’re female.
I gave him the benefit of the doubt, by not naming in him the first time I dealt with him, because it’s standard journalism policy in Japan to shield the names of the possibly mentally ill, but he outed himself anyway. I’m not giving these two the attention they crave by using their real names or twitter handles. If you want to find them, you can.
Creepy Johnson, the top half of the duo, is infamous for getting fired from Japan’s Public Broadcaster NHK, after threatening to sexually molest the children (boy and girl) of another reporter there. He left a recording on the answering machine—a not very brilliant move. Here’s an excerpt:
By all means, do go and tell your side of the story to them, motherfucker.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I heard that your daughter gives really good head… and so does your son.
Hey, I wanted to hear if your children are getting a good sleep because… when you get fired, and I get fired, you’re going to have to put your kids out of international school and into Japanese school and I’ll be waiting for them. (2007)
So Creepec, who apparently approves of his idol’s behavior sent me a list of questions demanding answers, for an “article” he’s writing. The letter is very much like one Creepy Johnson sent me years ago. I bring up the association between these two because I feel like it’s important to understand the motives of the trolls. And wow, these guys are persistent. The questions themselves are nasty and unpleasant and belittle the efforts of a friend and co-writer. This really makes me angry. But okay, here are my brief answers.
Q & A with a troll.
1). Did VICE fact check your work in any way?
*Journalism 101. If you ask a “yes/no” question, you will get a “yes/no” answer more often than not.
2. What was Angela Kubo’s contribution to this piece? Does she have any significant journalistic experience? Is she a 23 year old full-time employee of an accounting firm who you hired when she was working at a bar in Roppongi
Angela Kubo was an assistant editor at the Diplomat when I hired her to work for me and she was paid a good salary in a time when many interns work for free. She had graduated from college. She writes for The Japan Times and is a very talented young bilingual writer. This means she can read Japanese, something you don’t seem able to do. Her former boss Jeff Quigley certainly vouched for her work (see his full comments below) and also, as I do, finds your insinuations cheap and low. He is angry with your underhanded smears.
Unless you’re a rich kid, you have to work to pay your way through college. She did not work at “a bar in Roppongi.” She worked at an event space that serves food and drinks. I won’t name the restaurant because you’ll simply harass them. “Roppongi bar-girl”– you seem to be making some sly allusion that she was doing something shady. That’s mean-spirited. She is just starting her career but has been writing for two years. She writes ten times better than Creepy Johnson did at the peak of his self-destructive career.
For the article, she read books and numerous articles on AKB48, in Japanese, did research on the group in Japanese, proof-read for grammatical mistakes, and reached out for comments. Angela Kubo is also a Japanese-American woman who understands both cultures and went to high school in Japan. She is uniquely qualified to comment on the JK Business and how it generates problems for all women in Japan.
Where she works now is not something I feel would be acceptable to divulge to someone who I believe is a cyber stalker. Nice fishing attempt. Also: creepy question.
3. Do you feel it is fair to label the manager of AKB48 as having yakuza connections based on only rumor. Would you, for example, accuse Katy Perry’s manager of being tied to the mob if you heard such a story and were writing for an American publication?
I’m not a Katy Perry expert. It’s not based on rumour.
See a portion of the article on this page in Japanese. There are photos. There is HUMINT from the police force. I have a list of 800 former members of the Goto-gumi and spent months nagging at them until I found some that confirmed the photos and explained to me what they knew of the AKB48 management’s past relation to organized crime. I did the same with police sources. The management has never sued the magazine or other publications for making these allegations.There are several other sources related to this. If I have time, I may put a list of them here. They are not all on-line. Some of them only exist as books and printed materials. Yep.
I have written about AKB48’s unsavoury ties in 財界展望 in Japanese and haven’t been sued yet. What else would you like? A signed confession from the management?
4. I don’t see any evidence that you actually interviewed a girl from the sex trade or a cop. Why would you expect me to believe you? Jason Blair fabricated stories. How is this piece diffeemet from one of his that got him fired.
In journalism, we don’t reveal our sources, especially if they are police officers. Or if they are victims of certain crimes which still carry a social stigma, such as rape or sexual assault. This is why VICE blurred out the faces of the women they interviewed. It is not difficult to interview women who have been in the JK business. It’s done all the time. We do it at Lighthouse, a non-profit organization in Japan.
I don’t really get your Jason Blair question but let’s take your logic and ask you a question. Your friend threatens to sexually molest children and stalks women. Since you have never publicly disavowed him, why should I believe you are any different and not a sexually perverse, potentially harmful individual? What proof do you have that you are not?
Also, you misspelled “different”.
5. Many claim that you were mainly used for fluff pieces at the Yomiuri but you claim you were on the crime beat. What is your response.
Who is many? You and Creepy Johnson? I was at the Yomiuri Shimbun from 1993 to 2005. I was in the 警視庁記者クラブ for nearly two years. Go to G-Search and look for articles written under my name. Most reporters don’t get by-lines but I wrote several feature pieces where I was credited. I have contributed to books on crime in Japan written while I was at the newspaper.
Try doing some research. You may have to take time and money to do it and translate it but be my guest. I have a real job. I’m not going to do your work for you.
I have no idea what the hell you do for a living or why you have such a man-crush on me and why you seem to be a sexist creeper who is overly sensitive to being made fun of. 😛！
PS. “Japan has one of the worst levels of gender equality in the developed world, below that of Tajikistan and Indonesia, coming in 104th out of 142 assessed countries in 2014, according to a study released Tuesday by the World Economic Forum.” That’s from a Japan Times article. You can find the original study if you like. It’s very hard for women here to break into any profession. So when white self-entitled elitists like yourself ridicule young women here trying to make it as journalists because 1) they didn’t go to journalism school 2) they worked at an event space (that served drinks) to pay their college tuition and 3) imply they must be using their looks to get work—and ignore their efforts, the articles they have written, and their past experience just for the sake of trolling–you discourage other young women from entering our profession. And that’s unfortunate.
It’s condescending and sexist attitudes like yours that encourage women and girls to go into the JK Business in the first place, because they are made to believe that they will never be taken seriously or valued for their intellect and ability. Shame on you. 恥を知れ.
Jake’s note: I meet a lot of people and BG is a friend of a friend. So I took him to my usual haunts. One thing that you learn in life, is that there is a huge gap between how people see you and you see yourself. 灯台は元暗し. BG is an incredibly bright fellow and I hope he visits Japan again soon. The opinions expressed here as his own although most of them I found pretty true.
Trying to sum Jake Adelstein up as simply “a character,” as I attempted to do so with my colleagues, doesn’t do him a shred of justice. The Missouri-born journalist has been opening the kimono to expose everything from the complexities of the Yakuza to the expectedly bizarre Japanese porn industry for nearly 20 years now. In addition to being print published hundreds of times over, he is also a prolific online publisher for the likes of VICE and the Daily Beast and is one of the most active journalists on social media, clocking more than 50k tweets to his handle. However, despite his apparent digital fluency, he strikes me more of a throwback to a hard boiled, hard drinking detective meets justice above all gumshoe reporter.
I met Jake through a high school pal, a producer on the film adaptation of Jake’s personal memoir, TOKYO VICE. Apparently, Daniel Radcliffe is in negotiations to play Jake-san. I was intrigued a year ago when I saw the book on my pal’s shelf, and borrowed it but never got to reading it until I boarded a plane for Tokyo last week.
I read half, and listened to the rest on mp3. The stories were gripping and Jake’s commitment to his zig zag path was compelling, there was no question I had to meet dude.
The person that snuck up on me in the cinematic 25th floor Ritz lobby in Tokyo Midtown was not who I had expected. I’m a pretty good gauge of character when I meet somebody in person, but it just goes to show that a book on tape, a one-way monologue, reveals only a shred of insight.
I expected a soft-spoken ex-pat with a respectful low pro, which would make sense on an island that has a derogative term for foreigners (gaijin.) Or a writer who had chronicled his experience in TOKYO VICE as a nostalgic memoir, reflecting on the many brushes with death, unimaginable sex-capades, but who had thrown in the towel in exchange for some peace and quiet.
To the contrary, Jake is an anxiety ridden Tasmanian devil, both nervous and cocky. He surprised me as I contemplated my glass of Hibiki, instantly making me feel like a bourgeois pig.
“Here you go”
He presented me with a crumpled shopping bag containing a Foreign Reporter Press Club t-shirt, a gift of sorts and gesture that embodies his menschy Jewish roots with a far Eastern sensibility of hosting.
“You eat dinner?”
“No. Let’s do it.”
I threw the 40 bucks of whiskey back like I had just joined the Tokyo beat, gumshoes have not time to swirl. And then we were off, ears popping as the elevator free fell to the pristine Tokyo streets, the cleanliness now only a veneer after having read Jake’s book.
As we sped walked through the underground channels, I couldn’t help but feel like somebody may be following us, or maybe my imagination had grabbed a hold of TOKYO VICE and was running amuck. Regardless, Jake walks like a shoplifter who knows better than to run and call attention to his lift. I think this is his natural disposition, a neurotic energy, that if he were to cease moving may induce sempuku. A clumsy shark of sorts.
“I know this great Chinese place – it’s cheap and you can get a whole Peking Duck for next to nothing… you’ll like it and we can walk there.”
Cut to me just trying to keep up with his furious pace. He navigated us starting from the Ritz and through the underground walkways to our destination, the entire time, rifling from yakuza, the movie, and the Japanese porn industry. He led me into a magazine shop with no explanation, nearly bulldozing a few locals in the process. He operates with either reckless abandon only a person with little self awareness can in a country that takes politeness very seriously or with over-confidence, only afforded to those who’ve managed to penetrate the most protected institutions in Japan, never mind as a gaijin… Another dichotomy Jake embodies.
He grabs two magazines that look to may be porn, “these are really rare now. Here’s one for you and one for Adam [our mutual connection], I’ll explain what they are later.”
He never explains, but I know that they’re Yakuza fanzines from a reference in TOKYO VICE. Think People magazine for mafia fanboys.
We continue on our way. I consider jogging, two feet off the ground at once would be less strenuous. We arrive at a hidden restaurant up a flight in a non-descript building, only to walk in and find a bustling dining hall filled with locals and smoke.
We get a vat of sweet Chinese wine that tastes like shit. Jake insists he can only have a drink or two as he’s on deadline. We’re seated next to a gaggle of Japanese girls in their mid twenties. Our duck finally arrives, I’m drunk, and Jake offers the remaining bits to our neighbors. He has them cackling, he’s a naturally charming guy – though questionable whether he’d have the same mojo stateside. At this point, probably so. His triumphs in Japan, cracking a notoriously isolationist society has earned him stripes of confidence he can take anywhere, that much is obvious.
His phone rings and he takes the call at the table, leaving me to kibitz in broken Japanglish with the girls.
He barks into the phone in a familiar tone that tells me he has a lady at home expecting him not to be home too late. I can’t make out the conversation, as I’m struggling to not completely embarrass myself with my poor Japanese.
“I’ll do the translation tonight, don’t worry. [pause] Yes! I’m with a friend of the producer of the film right now. We’re eating. I’ll be home in an hour and do it, I promise.” The call is actually work related, however, all work for Jake is personal.
It seems that Jake’s always on deadline in an obsessive sort of way.
Jake shows me his phone, sharing a photo he claims is worth a billion dollars. It’s a yet to be released shot of a crime family boss with the president of Japan University, who’s also the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee. The implications for corruption are obvious. “I’m publishing a story on this. The reporter who originally had this was beaten severely.” It was my idea that we meet and get dinner in the first place so I naturally offered to treat when we first corresponded. When the waitress brings a to go bag with dishes never intended to be eaten during dinner I can only laugh to myself… journalism never has, and maybe never will pay, but I’m more than happy to subsidize the honest work of a damn good investigative journalist.
Jake clearly feeds off the danger. Sure enough the piece was published days later. I get a strange feeling, not that I’m a clairvoyant, but just sometime tells me that Jake is pushing his luck. He insists that he knows what he’s doing. But that’s what I’m afraid of.
It was my idea that we meet and get dinner in the first place so I naturally offered to treat when we first corresponded. When the waitress brings a to go bag with dishes never intended to be eaten during dinner I can only laugh to myself… journalism never has, and maybe never will pay, but I’m more than happy to subsidize the honest work of a damn good investigative journalist.
TOKYO VICE the movie is scheduled to start production in 2015 – but it’s a small miracle getting a feature film made in today’s market. I’m a fan of Daniel Radcliffe, so nothing against him, but I’ll be shocked if he can do justice to the real Jake-san.
It was one of those nightmare commutes. A crowded train finally pulled up to a rush-hour platform, dense with people who’d already been delayed, who were already running late, and were spending this purgatorial time pushed up against piles of equally inconvenienced fellow commuters. The doors opened and more people crushed in, but the train didn’t move. After a few agonizing minutes, his stoicism no match for the commuters around him, a JSRC writer gave up on riding this train and decided to document it instead. From the platform, he lifted his camera, bracing for glares from the trapped commuters. Indeed, snapping pictures of people in this state would be a good way to get a face full of one-fingered salutes from the poor saps stuck on the train. He got fingers in his shot – but not the ones he expected: Even under such duress, a bunch of strangers saw a camera pointed at them, and they flashed the peace sign.
This was an extreme situation, but not totally surprising. The spontaneous V-sign is as natural to many Japanese people as it is puzzling to visitors. Children seem to start do it as soon as they can control their hands – as evidenced by photos of crying toddlers who find the wherewithal through their tears to raise two little fingers. Kids are the most reliable peace-signers. While many (though certainly not all) adults outgrow the practice, get a bunch of school kids together and you’re guaranteed at least as many peace signs as there are uniforms.
A version of the Asahi Shimbun printed for kids, the Asahi Shogakusei Shimbun, went straight to the source and asked elementary school students why they did it. Three of the girls said they did it without thinking. “It’s like my hand just moves into that position by itself,” one fourth grader said. A sixth-grade girl interviewed said, “If I don’t do something with my hands, it’s like I’m just standing there.”
The legions of kids I used to teach, at least the girls, said they made the sign “kawaiku miseru tame”–to look cute. What about the other gestures the V-sign has morphed into and been accompanied by in snapshots – the double peace sign and the L near the mouth and the twisty sort-of-sideways thumbs up? “To look cute.” Okay, then. One of the kids’ mothers surveyed said “I do it less as I get older.” But people certainly don’t stop completely. Photos from Japanese girls’ nights out give US gangs a run for their money in number of hand signals raised, and, some men agree that it makes them look cuter. Entrepreneur and Japanese pop-culture purveyor Danny Choo wrote on his site, “I especially like it when the cute girls do a horizontal version of the V-sign next to their eye – kawaii [cute]!”
Winston Churchill wasn’t trying to look cute when he made the V for military victory during World War II. In occupied Europe, the V was a symbol of defiance against the occupying forces, and it was chalked on walls flashed as the now-famous hand signal as a show of resistance. It was even played by BBC radio in the form of the letter’s Morse code version, dot-dot-dot-dash, followed and echoed by the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth. Two decades later in America, the V-sign became the counter-culture’s well-known anti-war gesture.
How the gesture got so big in Japan remains a bit unclear. It has been variously attributed to post-war GIs in Japan, peaceniks Yoko Ono and John Lennon, an American figure skater, a camera commercial, and 1969 Woodstock festival footage. Jun Inoue, the lead singer in the Beatles-esque group The Spiders is said to have added the V-sign spontaneously during the filming of a Konica TV commercial in 1972. He may have been influenced by seeing American or British youth making the gesture on his previous trips abroad.
Another theory is that it was American figure skater and anti-war activist Janet Lynn who won over the hearts, minds and fingers of the photographed masses. In the 1972 Sapporo Olympics, she became beloved in Japan both for her artistic performance and for staying upbeat even after she fell on the ice. The theory goes that her frequent showing of the peace sign in subsequent print and TV media coverage in Japan won imitators.
It may not be possible to know which of these was the defining moment that set the template for the innumerable photos that would follow. The most likely answer is that there was no single moment when the official V-sign memo went around Japan. Whichever person or combination of images sparked it, the gesture, now far removed from its original meanings, entered the collective unconscious and there it has stayed. It gives people a way to stand out in photos or to increase group identity by all doing the same thing, suggests anthropologist Masaichi Nomura, quoted in the AsaSho.
It could happen like this. Consider an infant, waving its fingers and accidentally finding the V shape. The parents get excited, grab a camera. One says to the other, “He’s making the peace sign!” and they coo and clap and snap away. “Camera plus hand like this equals attention,” goes some series of synaptic connections in the infant brain. And thus, perhaps, a new generation of V-signers is born.
Tokyo Vice: An American On The Police Beat In Japan, my first book, hit the bookstores five years ago today on October 15th, 2009. Today is also the day I’m turning in the second draft of my second book, which will be released next year. The book’s title may have changed, the book will still be a narrative about the last 70 years of Japanese history told through the lives of yakuza and the cops that sometimes befriended them and sometimes brought them to justice.
The first book wasn’t just about yakuza, although it is often remembered primarily for those things. It’s also a book about serial killers, ATM robberies, the police in Japan, learning to be a reporter, the value of investigative journalism, hubris, and a compendium of everything I ever learned worth knowing. Five years is a long time. I’m older and not much wiser. Some things have changed. Japan’s much better at dealing with human trafficking issues and the grey zone which allowed the underworld to easily prey on foreign women brought to Japan is much narrower. However, the stream of vice, lies and corruption that flows beneath the shadows of the rising sun is still there. Some things never change.
If I seem skeptical of the Japanese government, the nuclear industry or TEPCO in particular, it’s only because I’ve had more than 20 years as a reporter in Japan and have watched these entities mislead the press and the public, twist statistics to suit their ends, and blatantly, unashamedly lie.
“We have Fukushima completely under control.” Can you guess who made that statement and when? Special prize to the person who gets it right.
This chapter never made the final cut of Tokyo Vice because it’s not about crime or the underworld. It is about the battle to tell the truth when it is inconvenient for the powers that be to have it known. It could probably use some more editing but for those who feel like the Japanese government isn’t telling you the whole truth about the actual environmental damage coming from the Fukushima meltdown–which is still going on–because if they stop pumping in water, nuclear fission will start again, this should help make you even a little more paranoid. Enjoy.
It has a happy ending of sorts. Sometimes, truth wins out. Rare but it happens.
In 1997, I was assigned to cover Saitama prefectural politics.
I didn’t know a damn thing about local politics or local government or local anything in Japan. In many ways, this was akin to getting assigned to cover high school baseball. I had no interest in it. I had a one-track mind: crime, cops, yakuza, and arrests. I supposed I was being pushed to broaden my horizons, so I immediately went out and bought a manga on regional government. It was for high school students.
Before long I found angles to make my new beat interesting. I wrote about prefectural employees creating a slush fund; organized crime taking out fake loans from Saitama’s Small Business Support Office; yakuza siphoning off funds from banks right under the nose of the government; government officials accepting bribes from criminals; you get the picture. But to keep my quota of articles up, I realized that I had no choice but to do what I was assigned. That’s when I began to focus on environmental problems. Saitama had a few.
In early 1997, a group of concerned citizens held a press conference at the Saitama Prefectural Government Press Club where they presented evidence that the incidence of infant deaths and birth defects in and around Tokorozawa (which was home to the Seibu Lions baseball team) was significantly higher than in the rest of the prefecture. Industrial waste-management companies had created a giant waste-processing zone here, and most of the furnaces and incinerators were low-grade, burning at low temperatures and slowly, resulting not only in serious air pollution but also in the release of dangerous levels of dioxin into the ground, plants, and water. Data from soil samples from the entire prefecture seemed to make a connection between pollution and the morbidity and mortality.
Citizen groups often came to the club to publicize one thing or another. Most of the time, if they called in advance, someone from the Yomiuri would go hear them out. I went to this one. But while the material, if true, was scandalous, the response among the senior political reporters was at best tepid. Maybe if the group had prepared prettier pie charts, they would have been taken more seriously. As it was, one senior Saitama Shinbun reporter’s words summed up the general reaction: “another bunch of nuts.”
I wasn’t so sure, however. So I picked up a Ministry of Health and Welfare-approved panel report on dioxin and its effects nationwide. It wasn’t easy reading—not in Japanese and probably wouldn’t have been in English. But basically the report concluded that dioxin was an endocrine disruptor and that it could cause, among other problems, infant mortality and birth defects.
Seemed to me these concerned citizens weren’t so nutty after all. I called my senior editor. “I’ll tell you straight up,” I said, “I don’t think any of the other reporters are going to write this up. But I looked through the ministry report and I think it lends some credibility to their claims.”
The editor feigned shock, then asked, “Why do you have a copy of that report?”
“Because I don’t know anything about environmental pollution, and it seemed like a good place to start.”
“A reporter who studies his subject matter—I’m amazed. Well, fax me the pertinent pages of the report. And write the article.”
I wrote the article and sent it in thinking it would be buried in the local edition. But as I was sneaking out for a bowl of tonkotsu (pig bone) ramen, I was called back to the office: The article had made the national edition.
It was the start of what has been referred to as “dioxin hysteria” in Japan. My article, admittedly sensational, essentially stated that “dioxin equals dead babies,” and that got the public’s attention. Further tests of the air and soil revealed that dioxin levels around Tokorozawa three to seven times the normal levels.
Pressed by a suddenly alarmed citizenry, Saitama Prefecture decided to conduct a study of dioxin in breast milk in order to determine levels of contamination in both mothers and infants. Mothers selected for the study were to have lived in four designated areas of the prefecture for a minimum of five years.
The study was to be carried out partially in collaboration with the Ministry. Tanuki Taro, (Mr. Badger-Dog) who would administer the study, was himself a Ministry bureaucrat on loan to the Saitama prefectural government to serve as the head of the Health Promotion Division. A committee of hand-picked civilians was chosen to oversee the project and investigative methods. Tanuki (Mr. Badger Dog) and I took an instinctive dislike to either. He considered me an annoying barbarian environmental radical and I considered him an insincere, clueless overstuffed bureaucrat with a supercilious smile and an attitude problem.
In late March 1998, the Asahi Shinbun scooped the results of the study: The average amount of dioxin found in breast milk was roughly seven times the safe levels dictated by the Ministry Of Health and Welfare, but no substantial difference was found among the areas and nothing to indicate that Tokorozawa, the land of incinerators, was especially dangerous.
I knew the reporter who’d made the scoop. He was my rival, and so his scoop was a crushing blow. But beyond my thwarted ambition, the results of the survey didn’t make any sense to me. How could it be that the people closest to the waste dumps weren’t getting more exposure to the deadly dioxin? The figures seemed very low any way I looked at it.
At the press conference Badger-Dog handed out a summary of the findings but no raw data. Nor was there any data on a per-city basis—simply median figures for north, south, east, and west Saitama. Badger-Dog seemed rather arrogant making his presentation. It was by no means a pat on the back for Saitama’s environmental standards, but the worst of what he said was this: “The dioxin problem is obviously more complex than we imagined, but it appears there is no direct correlation between living near a industrial waste-disposal site and high levels of dioxin in mother’s milk. More study is called for.”
Something wasn’t computing. Something smelled funny—and I mean that in a metaphorical sense, not in the literal sense of the foul stench that used to permeate waste disposal valley in Tokorozawa. I needed to take a look at the raw data myself. But when I asked, the prefectural government refused. First, they cited, “privacy concerns,” then the fact that the data wasn’t in readable form.
If at first they block your path, as the saying goes, then you just have to trudge through the mud. I got the list of people on the civilian committee, and I started writing them letters, calling them up, visiting their offices. At last I was able to catch one committee member in his office; adopting my finest ass-kissing posture, I begged for five minutes of his time. How could he refuse?
“Sensei [oh esteemed great man],” I began, “I’ve been working on this story a long time. I believe that you worked very hard reviewing the materials given to you by Saitama Prefecture, but doesn’t it seem the least bit odd that people with greater exposure to dioxin wouldn’t have higher concentrations of it in their bodies?”
He nodded. “Ah yes, I understand what you are saying. But those were the results we got.”
“Yes, I know, that is what the Ministry of Health has said. My questions may be completely uncalled for, but if I could see the raw data, then I would know for sure and my doubts could be put to rest. I know that you spent a lot of time on this study, and I’m certain that you would like to know it was done right.”
There were some Buddhist icons displayed in this committee member’s office, and somehow I felt compelled to mention the convenient fact that I had lived in a Zen temple when I attended in college; this seemed to impress him. Our conversation then veered into matters of faith, karma, and the lack of ethical development in today’s youth.
“You and I are both coming from the same place,” I said. “We want to make our world a better place. We want to see truth triumph over falsehood. We want people to be healthy, not sick. We want the air to be clean, not dirty. Let’s do our part.”
That closed the deal. I walked out of his office with a sheaf of papers.
I took the data home and I pored over it for hours. I looked at the original plan for the Saitama breast milk survey—the one that they had announced and given to the media. I checked it against my recently obtained copy of the Ministry of Health’s announced plans for a nationwide breast milk study. The Ministry had announced their own study that would be separate from the Saitama study. I wanted to see if the methodology was the same.
And then I began to see a pattern.
I called up the Ministry of Health and Welfare and asked for the person in charge of the nationwide dioxin survey. A very friendly bureaucrat picked up the phone. I explained I was writing an article on steps taken by the Saitama government to assess dioxin risk, but I had a few questions about the nationwide survey that could be helpful in putting things in perspective. She seemed pleased to be of assistance.
“It says in your press release that you require all the women in the survey to have lived in the area for five years. Why five years?”
“Well,” she said, “actually, ideally, they should have lived in the survey area for ten years. Five years is the bare minimum, but the longer the better.”
“Because it takes years for dioxin to accumulate in the body. It’s often stored in fat.”
“So five years would be the bare minimum number of years for it to show up in a survey?”
“In order to have a statistically relevant data sample, yes.”
“Well, what about four years, or two years, or just a few months?”
“No, that would be relatively meaningless. And that might even skew the rest of the data.”
“I see. Let me ask this another way: A residential time requirement of five years is necessary to get an accurate picture of dioxin contamination in humans in the survey areas.”
“Yes, that’s an important criterion.”
This was exactly what I needed. I went on, seeking fuller confirmation: “When Saitama did their dioxin study, it seems they included in their Tokorozawa sample several people who had only lived there for two years or less. What would this mean?”
“It would mean . . . it would be problematic. The data of these people is not relevant. They should probably be excluded from the sample.”
Whether by intention or by sheer laziness, the Saitama government had included a large number of short-time residents in their survey of the Tokorozawa area. This was in contravention to the original terms of the study submitted to the public and to the civilian oversight committee, which was that all participants in the survey were required to have lived in the area for a minimum of five years. If short-timers were removed from the survey, leaving only a sample of long-time residents, the dioxin contamination levels for the Tokorozawa area were shown to be alarmingly high.
That was “the tell.” Now I knew exactly the cards the Saitama government was playing. It had been a good bluff and if I wasn’t such a tenacious player, I would have folded. But now I knew that I had a better hand.
I took the raw data and my notes, and I sat down with the one editor I count on for support. Kurita, literally Acorn-Field, was a former shakaibu writer who’d been exiled to Saitama after working himself to the point of exhaustion (not an uncommon phenomenon) in Tokyo, but he had plenty of life in him. He talked with me for an hour, showing me how to put the story together and what hurdles I needed to clear, and then he convinced the national news editor to publish it.
On March 28, 1998, my 29th birthday it ran in the national edition under the rather blunt headline:
SAITAMA PREFECTURE SKEWS DATA IN MOTHER’S MILK DIOXIN STUDY
While claiming to have examined residents of over five years, 40% fail to meet the standard.
Did Saitama deliberately try to make the contamination levels appear low?
For what was a fairly academic piece, the article had serious impact. All the major newspapers and the television stations followed up on it. I felt pretty vindicated.
And then the Saitama government complained. So did the Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare, which called the Yomiuri head office to complain that the “ministry’s researcher was asked leading questions.” The bureau chief told me the Yomiuri would not print a retraction but that it would have to print a letter from Saitama Prefecture in which they denied “deliberately skewing” the data.
I was furious. (Ten years later I still have that letter, and ten years later my face still burns when I read it.)
I was pouting in the depths of my humiliation when Kurita pulled me aside. “I used to cover the Ministry in my shakaibu days. I know what a bunch of lying weasels those guys are. Here’s my question, Adelstein,” he said, hand on my shoulder, “Do you have any more ammunition?”
“Yes,” I answered, suddenly perking up. “The data on a city-by-city basis. If you follow the original criteria, Tokorozawa looks like dioxin central.”
“Write it up. Keep writing until they beg for mercy. I have your back.”
And so I did. I was able to chart how Saitama had deliberately changed the criteria for taking samples after the survey had started. I wrote another article about how they had done this without revealing the fact to the civilian oversight committee. I wrote another article about how the civilian oversight committee was launching a formal protest.
By the end of the month, the lieutenant governor of the prefecture apologized publicly for problems with the study. And then, a few days later, it was Badger-Dog, the self-serving bureaucrat’s turn to apologize for not having informed the committee before changing the protocol of the study.
Kurita was enjoying the whole thing immensely. Maybe even more than I was.
I next heard from Badger-Dog himself, who asked me to come see him in his office. I went, not meekly but expecting the worst. What I got was the opposite: He offered me a seat, and then he bowed before me so low that his forehead touched his desk.
“Jake, are you done yet?”
“Am I done?”
“You were right. The whole thing was poorly handled. We should have released all the data from the beginning. We should have notified the public and the oversight committee that we had altered the rules for taking samples. You are completely correct.”
“Tanuki-san, I’ll back off. [I was out of ammunition anyway.] All I want is to know how you are going to address the problems from this survey.”
“I don’t know, but once we decide, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Really? In a timely fashion?”
“Timely fashion? You mean before other reporters are told?”
“Yes, before you speak to anyone else.”
And that was how it ended. Since 1998, most prefectures in Japan have introduced high-grade incinerators that put out very little dioxin. I can’t claim any credit for that, although I would like to. Everyone wants to feel like they made a difference. And it’s good to have a scoop while you do.
On the 8th and 15th of this month, in Japan and in parts of Asia, they celebrate Nirvana Day. It commemorates the death of the Buddha and his liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth; pain and suffering. In Japan, the Buddha or a Buddha is often referred to as hotoke (仏). Over time, the word itself has almost become a synonym for the deceased or the spirits of the dead. Buddha originally meant “one who is awake.” In Japan, to distinguish between the use of hotoke as a reference to the departed and someone who is enlightened (achieved 悟り/satori), the word ikibotoke (生き仏) or “living buddha” is sometimes used. I’ve should mention I have never ever heard anyone use that in reference to myself. They do say it about the Dalai Lama.
Nirvana Day is celebrated in different ways and on different days both inside and outside of Japan, depending on the Buddhist sect and sometimes even the individual temple. For some, it’s a time to remember the recently departed (仏様・hotokesama) and to reflect on mortality. In some countries and at some temples, it’s a celebration of life and people gather together for small parties. In Buddhist metaphysics, it’s very hard to be born as a human–it’s chance that we don’t often get and simply to be alive as a human being and not a hungry ghost or demon or vermin is considered a cause for rejoicing. (I’m guessing that if you’re born as a rat it’s hard to store up enough good karma points to come back as a human. I’m not sure about monkeys or Henry Kissinger.)
This piece was originally written with TOKYO VICE in mind but I took it out of the final draft. Last year, the Buddhist/Meditation/Culture Magazine Shambhala Sunasked me if I was interested in submitting a piece and I pulled this out, rewrote it, checked my notes and sent it to them. Almost a year went by and before publication, I revised it once more. 2010 was a long hard year for me. I lost two good friends. One killed himself or was killed by his own people. He was a yakuza so that’s part of the trade, I suppose. The other was my lawyer and mentor, Igari Toshiro, who I strongly suspect was murdered and the job set up to look like a suicide. 仏 (hotoke) literally “a buddha” is a word that the police use a lot. Homicide detectives are fond of the word. 「ホシを捕まえないと、仏が浮かばれない/hoshi o tsukamaenai to, hotoke ga ukabarenai」. Loosely translated, “If we don’t catch the killer, the spirt of the dead will never rest.” It comes from a folk belief that those wrongfully killed are reluctant to leave the world until justice is done and roam the earth as hungry ghosts.In the case of Igari-san, I doubt that the people responsible will ever be brought to justice, at least in this life. Well, maybe there is karma in the universe and it’ll catch up with them in the next. I’d like to believe that but I’m not one for blind faith.
Despite writing about death, crime, betrayal, human depravity, and dealing with the aftermath a great deal, I’m not a morbid person; most of the time I’m pretty cheerful. However, I think that remembering our mortality is an important part of enjoying life.
My father is now close to 73. He’s been a county coroner for over two decades and yet he’s one of the happiest people I know. I asked him if the job ever gets him down and he says, “Of course, it does. But at the end of the day, sometimes, it makes me realize how lucky I am not to be the guy on the morgue table. Life is a precious thing and easily lost. When you know that, you treasure every moment and you really live. It gives you a greater perspective on things and what really matters and what doesn’t. Almost very suicide that comes in is a tragedy and so is every homicide. Almost any life lost is a tragedy. Because death is the one mistake you cannot undo. ”
Thanks to the Shambahla Sun for publishing the article and for giving me permission to post it on the blog. The names of the deceased in the article have been slightly changed out of respect for any relatives or friends that they might have had. Click on the picture or the link below to read the full article.
The Fifth Tokyo Prosecutorial Board announced a decision yesterday that three former executives of the Tokyo Electric Power (東京電力）company, including former Chariman Tsunehisa Katsumata (勝俣恒久元会長) should be prosecuted for criminal negligence resulting in death and injury for the triple nuclear meltdown in March of 2011. They also scolded the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office (TPO)for letting them off the hook. The Prosecutorial Review Board oversees the decisions of the prosecutors to try or not try a case. The TPO now has to consider the decision and decide whether to reopen the investigation or attempt to close the case again.
The accident at Fukushima Nuclear Power plant resulted in over a 100,000 people being displaced and possibly a surge in thyroid cancer in children living in the area. TEPCO workers also drowned to death on site after being sent to check on equipment in the basement despite a looming tidal wave. The manager of the Fukushima plant died of throat cancer this year. TEPCO claims it had no connection to the radiation exposure he received while working at the facilities.
However, if the Tokyo Prosecutorial Board again rules that prosecution of the TEPCO executives is warranted then a team of lawyers will be chosen to play the role of the prosecutors and the accused will be charged. An independent government investigatory board, National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, concluded in 2012 that the nuclear accident could have been prevented and that TEPCO management was criminally negligent.
Last year TEPCO made 4 billion dollars in profits, much of it due to the Abe administration’s decision to bear huge amounts of the costs of the Fukushima nuclear disaster clean-up.
The Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office is well aware of how unpopular their decisions to let the TEPCO executives go scot free would be. The news that there would be no prosecution was leaked on the day it was also announced that Japan would hold the 2020 Olympics.
Prior to the 2020 Olympics, Abe also assured that the nuclear clean-up at Fukushima was “under control”. The next day media reports about radioactive water seeping ing into the ground soil and contaminating the ocean made him look very foolish and dishonest. Perhaps that was the inspiration for the Special Secrets Act which his administration rammed into law on a night in December last year, which will cripple press freedom and allow almost all nuclear issues to be labelled “top secret”—criminalising reporting on them. (We can be sure the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office will leap to do those cases.)
A special prize to whoever figures out the day the TPO are most likely to bury the news that they are going to ignore the Tokyo Prosecutorial Board and do nothing. We could be wrong. We’d like to hope we are.
Put on those dancing shoes!…in a few months. Maybe.
The National Police Agency of Japan is at long last (and after much public pressure) considering revising Japan’s archaic adult entertainment laws to allow dancing past midnight! Yes, Japan may finally be going footloose. From today, July 25th, they are accepting public comments. You can mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org or better yet, FAX them at 03-3581-5936. For more details please see the National Police Agency home page. The current draft of the revised bill is here (警察庁の改正案はここです。最低と言わないがよくはない）. Frankly, it seems pretty sucky.
The National Police Agency wants to know what you think about these issues:
Should people be allowed to dance all night? Should dance clubs and discos be allowed to go all night? How should they be regulated? (クラブの深夜営業は許可すべきか。規制すべきか）
Should dance clubs be removed from the province of the adult entertainment laws? （クラブなどのダンス社交の場所は風営法の対象外とすべきなのか）
If we allow dance lessons to be conducted anywhere, will it corrupt the morals of Japan? (ダンス教室の無許可営業は日本の風紀を乱すのか）
What is the danger that dance clubs turn into places singles go to meet other singles and possibly hook up? (If you don’t even consider that a danger or a problem, let them know) (クラブは出会い系の場所となる危険性（？）はどう思うのか）
What if dance clubs are used to facilitate prostitution? (ダンスクラブは売春の温床となるのでは？）
There are probably more silly questions that the NPA is coming up with but these seem to be the issues they are most concerned about. Because as we all know, late night dancing could lead to sex, which could lead to people having more children, which could be a serious problem in this overpopulated country. Oh. Wait. Actually, Japan is having a population crisis because people aren’t getting married and having children. That also requires sex. So maybe late night dance clubs could be good for Japan?
Well, if men and women meet in clubs and start dating each other or have consensual sex without paying a third party, how will this affect Japan’s legal sex industry? Think of the economic blow this could do to blow-job parlours and sexual massage parlours, not to mention hostess and host clubs!
The National Police Agency plans to submit a revised bill, perhaps the current draft, to the National Diet this Autumn. On the 15th of this month, they will set up a panel of experts (who will probably be virulently opposed to dancing, social conservatives, and mostly men) and interview dance club operators. They will hold hearing sessions to create a revised law, which hopefully will allow Japan’s nightlife to come back from the dead.
A Brief History Of The War On Dance
You may be wondering why the Japanese police have been raiding dance clubs and criminalizing “rhythmical movement to music” and other lascivious acts in recent years. Allow me to explain. I’ve covered some of this ground before in other articles, so please forgive me while I repeat myself.
If you’re thinking about dancing the night away to some great trance music, or even old-fashioned rock, you may have a tough time finding a venue in Japan these days. In fact, you may end up waltzing away hours inside a police station, pissing into a cup after being rounded up in a raid. It’s not just Tokyo, in Kansai as well, “The War on Dance” has been raging on for the last few years.
On September 2nd (2012), at 3:40 am, members of the Kanto Rengo gang burst into the VIP room in Roppongi’s Club Flower and clubbed a man to death in front of 300 people. Since then, the police have been making regular raids on the nightclubs, discos, and live houses that make night life in this city vibrant and fun. The intensity of the raids have gone up, but in fact, they are simply a continuation of what began in Osaka in 2012.
Ostensibly, the clubs are being raided for violating Japan’s archaic Adult Entertainment Laws which forbid dancing after midnight. The police are simply enforcing the laws. That’s the official party line.
But anyone who has lived in Japan for several years knows that wasn’t always the case. The laws existed on the book, gathering dust, but were rarely enforced
So why now is there a “War on Dance?” Is it a part of the “War on Drugs”?
Who do we blame? Do we blame the police? Do we blame the Kanto Rengo for killing a man after dancing hours, thus reminding everyone that the Adult Entertainment Laws (AEL) were being ignored?
The answer is complicated.
Let’s start with the obvious answer: it really is against the law to dance after midnight in most venues in Japan. This is well explained in the book Odotte wa Ikenai Kuni, Nihon (Japan: The Land Where You Can’t Dance) .
The Adult Entertainment Laws originally were revised after WWII to clamp down on the infamous “Dance Halls” which were thinly disguised venues of prostitution. Several decades later “Dance Halls” have been replaced by clubs, discos, and bars with dance floors; they are not proxy brothels. The places people dance have changed, as have the customers; the laws have not.
I don’t think there is anyone who would argue that dancing itself is dangerous or unhealthy. Dance is part of the educational curriculum in Japan. Some forms of dance are considered cultural treasures. So why would dancing at a club after midnight miraculously transform what is a healthy form of entertainment into a threat to the public welfare? Do dancers transform into rampaging werewolves as the clock strikes midnight?
There is no logical answer.
One unofficial answer from the police is this: “It’s much easier to raid a dance club on violations of the AEL than it is to get a warrant for a drug search. Dance clubs are hotbeds of drug activity.”
Maybe, that’s partially true. At some dance parties, there will be people using ecstasy (MDMA). There will also be people getting so drunk that they get alcohol poisoning. There will also be people just dancing. Should the rest of us be banned from the dance floor because of a few reckless people?
The hardline enforcement of forgotten laws may make the police look good. It is a nuisance for everyone else. It hurts the business of legitimate clubs. It discourages people from staying out late, making nightlife boring. If there’s no place to dance after midnight, than many people will go home. It’s bad for tourism as well. “Tokyo: The City That Always Sleeps Before Midnight”—try attracting people to Japan with that slogan. Ultimately, it hurts the economy and encourages corruption.Clubs relying on late-night traffic will go out of business. Clubs that want to stay in business will pay bribes and protection money to avoid the raids.
That brings us to another reason for the “War On Dance”. It stems a bit from the Organized Crime Exclusionary Ordinances that went nationwide on October 1st, 2011. In the old days, the clubs paid off the local yakuza. In return, they often got advance notice when a token raid was coming. The yaks provided muscle when customers got out of line and kept local street crime down. No muggings, purse snatching, or theft allowed. The smart clubs avoided getting shut down, kept pushers off the premises, and people felt safe going to them.
The police knew the clubs were operating way past legal hours, but looked the other way. The enforcement was so sparse that late-night dancing existed in a comfortable grey zone.
But when doing business with the yakuza became a crime in itself, the clubs stopped paying them. The non-designated organized crime groups, like Kanto Rengo, cut in on the dance. They became the unofficial security guards. They soon found the clubs lucrative venues to peddle drugs and in some of the high end clubs, prostitutes as well.
Dance Hall days were here again.
The Flower killing made it clear that the “new yakuza” were now running the nightlife. The investigative journalist Atsushi Mizoguchi coined a term for these outlaws: hangure. It comes from the Japanese word for “half” and Gurentai. After the war, Gurentai were the undisciplined youth gangs who preyed on the general population, engaging in theft, robbery, and violent crimes. The “half” in the term is also an acknowledgement that these new groups are “half” yakuza as well. Many of them are backed by yakuza or ex-yakuza that can no longer operate in the open, and have no code of honor to burden them.
A few weeks after the Club Flower murder, the National Police Agency reportedly issued a directive to all police departments to strictly enforce the Adult Entertainment Laws. The directive was meant hurt the hangure and deflect criticism of lax enforcement. And the cops have been doing their jobs.
The Japanese police are no longer comfortable with grey zones; everything has to be black and white. Grey is the enemy. The dance clubs closings are the casualties of a badly run war. Coincidentally, Hangure, can also be read as “half-grey.” It’s the color of “illegal.”
Not everyone is taking this haphazard enforcement lying down. The Let’s Dance Committee, headed by a lawyer and run by a group of volunteers is lobbying for changes in the law that will protect Japan’s “dance culture.” They have already collected over 150,000 signatures for a petition to the government. A recent court decision in Osaka may have also made the police here reverse course in the unpopular dance club crackdown.
On April 25 2014, the Osaka District Court acquitted Masatoshi Kanemitsu, the owner of a nightclub called NOON, of charges of “corrupting sexual morals” and violating adult entertainment laws in what Kanemitsu’s lawyer, Kenichi Nishikawa, called Japan’s first trial challenging its archaic “no dance” laws. “It was a victory for common sense and freedom to dance,” Nishikawa said. “It is historic and significant, and while not finding the current laws unconstitutional, the courts ruled both that the police were too broadly interpreting the laws and that dance in and of itself is not a corruptor of public morals. Nor does it make people throw off their clothes.” For the rest of that story see The Japanese All Go Footloose To Protest The Nightlife Crackdownin The Daily Beast.
If you want to join the tango, check out www.letsdance.jp. And of course, write the National Police Agency. In the meantime, until someone brings the laws up to date, the War on Dance will keep on moving to the music of the National Police Agency marching band. For a limited time, you may have a say in the tune that we hear in the future. So speak now or learn to love “Dancing By Myself.”
You may remember this this year, Japan’s largest organized crime group, the Yamaguchi-gumi, launched its own website in Japan. But as I wrote in the article on April 1st for VICE News, if you were hoping to see guys covered in tattoos, epic gun battles, bloody sword fights, and fingers being chopped off — as one might— it wasn’t so exciting. And it was in Japanese only. There were other minor problems with the initial effort.
For starters, the site looks like it was created in the late 1990s. Still, the criminal syndicate is hoping it’ll serve as a recruitment tool as the membership of yakuza organizations shrink and public support for them falls. And the branding reflects this; the site at first appears to be for an organization known as the Banish Drugs and Purify The Nation League — or Drug Expulsion of Land Purification Alliance, as Google translates it. The “purify the nation” thing is potentially unsettling, but it still doesn’t sound like a criminal organization.
But it was founded by one. The then-leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi founded it in 1963 as a group “dedicated to the eradication of amphetamine abuse.” Sources familiar with the syndicate told VICE News that the site was launched under the Banish Drugs… monicker to, one, remind Yamaguchi-gumi members to behave themselves, and two, to convince people that the Yamaguchi-gumi is not “an anti-social force,” as they’re called by police, and are instead a “humanitarian organization.”
Maybe the detective was right, because while the Yamaguchi-gumi may not have substantially expanded their operations, they are certainly trying to expand their appeal internationally. Recently, they debuted their own English version of the website, NINKYOUDOU (任侠道). Ninkyodo is the supposed to be the philosophy of the yakuza, an ethical code and way of life which places importance on helping the weak and self-sacrifice. The old-school yakuza, while still being essentially criminals, but mostly professional gamblers or street merchants–also maintained a code of honor which forbid theft, robbery, sexual assault, fraud and dealing in drugs. (Of course, racketeering, extortion, and other money-making ventures were not off-limits. Even a noble semi-samurai has to earn a living, right.)
The website contains footage of the yakuza distributing supplies to victims of natural disasters and a history of the yakuza written in slightly awkward English. The main point of the website seems to be to hammer in this simple point–all yakuza are not bad. And in perhaps one of the most surprising pieces of rhetoric I’ve ever seen put out by the yakuza—they also suggest that the yakuza may be one of the last things to prevent Japan from descending into a fascist police state, where no one is free.
“”Yakuza is bad” “Everyone else who is associated with this practice is wrong” This thought is not only oppressive but also dangerous. If people presumably believe this type of discrimination is allowed under the name of equality and human rights, it is possible that pre-World War II way of thinking can get out of control in today’s society. Prime Minister Abe’s recent comments suggest that Japan is leaning towards nationalism. Therefore, we are facing the reality that our citizens’ equality is on jeopardy. Moreover, we need to realize that this nation is heading towards to fascism.”
“The number of vicious crimes has increased in this country; people generally are devastated. No one notices if an elderly from his or her neighborhood has passed because there is no communication, not even greetings exchanged any more. No one is interested or cares enough about what is going on around them except about his or herself. Unfortunately, this sensation has become normal in today’s generation.”
These are strange times indeed when the voice of reason, press freedom, humanitarianism and anti-discrimination are being spoken by tattooed gangsters. Well, sometimes even the bad guys say good things. And in English as well. Maybe they’re taking a hint from Rakuten? In any event, if you’re interested in Japan’s tattooed outlaws, it’s worth a read.