“Saving 10,000:Winning A War On Suicide” Screened at the National Diet, Publicly Released

 “Saving 10,000 – Winning a War on Suicide in Japan” the ground-breaking documentary on suicide in Japan  is now available for free-viewing on Youtube.
Saving 10,000: Winning A War On Suicide in Japan examines the cultural/ financial incentives to commit suicide in Nippon.
Saving 10,000: Winning A War On Suicide in Japan examines the cultural/ financial incentives to commit suicide in Nippon.
Rene Duignan, director of the documentary Saving 10,000: Winning a War on Suicide in Japan which was released in Tokyo for the first time on September 10th, 2012 revealed today that his movie made its way up to the Japanese Parliament and received a warm applause after its screening at the Parliament building last night.

He said that, the Diet screening last night was opened by MP Hosono and closed by MP Renho, who as a former minister in charge of suicide prevention gave the movie a great review. “When I announced that I was giving the movie away for free online, it sparked a huge round of applause. It was an incredibly moving moment that I will never forget.”

When the movie was first released last year, Dr. Rene Duigan said: “Nobody tries to highlight the real problems and most importantly what to do about them.” Mr. Duignan explained his reasons for putting the documentary together as follows, “A complete sense of desperation about the apparent hopelessness of the suicide situation pushed me to buy a movie camera and ask a 22 year old former student of mine to operate it. It was a completely ridiculous thing to attempt. Most documentaries on this topic like to show corpses and feed on the tears of tragedy, I call them tragedy vampires. Nobody tries to highlight the real problems and most importantly what to do about them. I planned to interview 10 people but it turned out to be 100. I think people like underdogs and admired the complete futility of the task we were attempting so very few turned down our request for interviews. With so many people helping out, I think we can call this movie a genuine grassroots effort.” Tokyo English Life Line,  which offers free counseling and emotional support on its Life Line, had the first-ever screening of the film as part of raising awareness of World Suicide Prevention Day.

An article related to this documentary movie and the topic of suicide in Japan had been posted on JSRC last year.


Goodbye Friendly “Mild Seven” Cigarettes; Hello “Mevius”!

Mild Seven cigarettes are no more to be found in the smoker’s paradise. Japan Tobacco Inc. changed the name of its flagship cigarette brand from “Mild Seven” to “Mevius” in a bid to expand its global market share and stopped selling Mild Seven cigarettes this week. In their heyday, they were the 5th best-selling cigarette in the world. As of today, there may still be a few Mom and Pop  stores carrying this iconic brand but better smoke’em  while you got them—soon they will vanish in a cloud of mild smoke.

Mild cigarettes are for wimps. Mild Seven, Sayonara! Hello, Mevius!
Mild cigarettes are for wimps. Mild Seven, Sayonara! Hello, Mevius!

Mild Seven launched circa 1977, was Japan’s  leading national brand of cigarettes with a 30 percent share of the domestic market. However, in recent years, the use of the word “mild” in the product’s name aroused controversy because it seemed to imply that the cigarettes were somehow less harmful than other brands. (I can remember when they were sold in cans,  and sometimes placed on the bar of a bar in a seedy part of Minato-ku. Kind of like free pretzels. I’d smoke them, because they were free–and always regret it.  Mild as menopause.)

Japan takes a very mild attitude towards smoking. Most life insurance companies neither penalize or reward smokers versus non-smokers. In other words, smoking in Japan doesn’t effect your life insurance payments either way in most cases. (If you don’t believe me, ask my life insurance representative.)

For those who are worried that their favorite cigarette is gone, fear not. The taste and composition  of the cigarette will remain unchanged and over the next 10 months, JT will gradually introduce the Mevius brand in international markets while solidifying brand recognition in Japan . According to JT, the company selected the Mevius name to maintain continuity with its predecessor: both include the letters “M” and “S.” JT did not consider changing the name to Masochistic Seven or do an about face and call it Harsh Seven. No one is sure what the Seven in Mild Seven really refers to, unless smoking is consider the mildest of the seven deadly sins. (We forget what the seven deadly sins are but certainly smoking must be amongst them. Any Catholics in the house?)

Mild Seven has been the best-selling cigarette brand in Japan since 1978. Japanese sales top 1 trillion yen and are sold in Russia, South Korean, Taiwan and over ten more countries. Last year, there were 76,500,000,000 Mild Seven cigarettes sold.  That’s a lot of coffin nails.  Will Mevius do as much damage to the lungs of the world as Mild Seven? Japan Tobacco is waiting for that answer with bated breath…or waiting slightly short of breath, from smoking too many Mevius Menthol Lights. 

One question still remains: what the hell does Mevius mean or stand for? One explanation is that M is for Mild, EV is for evolution, I is for “I”,  U is for “You” the consumer, and S is for Seven.  But that isn’t funny enough. The person who gives the most plausible and amusing answer wins an original pack of rare Mild Seven cigarettes. The loser gets a pack of Mevius. We’re anxious to hear your thoughts.

Competition In Japanese Digital Comics Gets Bloody; Mamoru Oshii haemophobic?

The competitive world of digital comics is about to get a lot bloodier. Japanese digital publisher, Comic Animation Inc, has just released two new types of hybrid manga/anime  for the iPhone/iPad that add new dimensions to the digital comic platform—and include new original works by legendary manga character designers and creators Mamoru Oshii (Ghost In the Shell) and Kamui Fujiwara (Dragon Quest).

Today at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan press conference (January 23rd, 2013)  the usually somber Oshii spoke about his latest creation, Chimamire Mai Love (My Soaked In Blood Love or Blood-Stained Mai Love), which is a black comedy about a high school student with a fetish for donating blood and his strange friendship with Mai, a wandering Transylvanian vampire–who is too timid to actually bite anyone. When the two form a friendship–well in situation comedy parlance, “whacky, blood chaos ensues.”  The young boy’s attempts to procure more blood for his beloved turn into low comedy far removed from Let The Right One In.

“I can’t stand the sight of blood myself but I love getting IV transfusions. I get them whenever possible. It makes me feel great.–Mamoru Oshii

Mamoru Oshii's dark comedy, "My Soaked In Blood Love aka Blood-Stained Mai Love"
Mamoru Oshii’s dark comedy, “My Soaked In Blood Love aka Blood-Stained Mai Love”
Mai-chan may be a vampire too timid to bite her victims but she’s very fussy about her blood and has quite a temper.
















It’s the kind of slapstick comedy that Oshii said he has not done in years.

The story is told almost from entirely from a first person perspective, with a minimal amount of animation, highly detailed drawings which are intricately colored, and some sparse sound effects.

When we asked Mr. Oshii why he thought so many Japanese teenagers were drawn to giving their blood, the so-called 献血マニア (Kenketsu-mania), he laughingly quipped, “I can’t stand the sight of blood myself but I love getting IV transfusions. I get them whenever possible. It makes me feel great.”

He then launched into a long monologue on Japanese fascination with blood, including the practice of defining people’s personalities by their blood types. “Blood is the only part of the body that we can take into ourselves and put back. It has no shape in and of itself.  We can store it up and put it back—derive power from it…. Like certain athletes,” he added, making an oblique Lance Armstrong joke.

Mamoru Oshii laughing. Apparently, this is not as common as imagined.
Mamoru Oshii laughing. Apparently, this is not as common as imagined.

Oshii stated that part of the inspiration for the comic strip were his thoughts on blood itself and from wondering about how different types of blood would effect a vampire. He himself seems to have more sympathy with the vampires than with the serial blood donators but did admit, “I don’t want to sound like a dirty old man but I don’t think I’d mind having almost all of my blood drained out of me by a very attractive young vampiress.”

Kamui Fujiwara’s Gin-Iro-no-Usagi (Silver Rabbit) follows the the adventures of a boy who wakes up as a Cyclops with magical powers, such as near X-ray vision, in a world populated by Japanese mythological characters and monsters, including everyone’s favorite, monster umbrella (傘お化け)*.

Don't you hate waking up as a cyclops in a Japanese mythological world? If you'd only stopped before having that final glass of 東洋美人.
Don’t you hate waking up as a cyclops in a Japanese mythological world? If you’d only stopped before having that final glass of 東洋美人.

Fujiwara has modeled the structure of the comic book artwork so that it is presented in three layers; if the reader gently shifts the iPad, objects slide, other layers can be seen, giving the work a faux 3-D aspect. “There are changes in color and close-ups available with a flick of the finger, or even a change of perspective with minimal movement. However, if you just want to read the work as a plain ordinary digital comic strip, you can do that as well.”

The structure for Fujiwara’s piece was inspired by the 18th century Nozoki Karukuri, which were viewing machines for looking at comic-like art. These viewing machines and the stories told with them  are considered the roots of Japanese anime. If you’re not a student of Japanese culture but you’re old enough to remember the stereoscopic 3D wonder-toy called the Viewmaster, you may find that reading Silver Rabbit seems oddly familiar and fun.

The U.S. version of the app is in English—and to be honest, the English is a little off, but readable. The app download for the comics is free, but chapters are $2.99.

There have been many attempts to popularize digital comic books but both Oshii and Fujiwara said they participated in the project because they feel the app allows them to utilize technology to give a better reading experience for the manga fan and make their original work more widely accessible.

Check it out here. You may feel it’s worth $2.99 and you don’t have to donate any blood to read the work either. (Although, no one will stop you if you want to….)



*Personally, I’ve always felt that that monster umbrella wasn’t mythological but an actual creature in Japan because every umbrella I’ve ever had here vanishes after a few rainstorms or walks away. And since Japanese people are generally very honest, I can’t believe people are taking my umbrella. So it only makes sense that after a certain amount of time neglected umbrellas become sentient and roam the land causing trouble.

“Hashbrowns” are the 2012 Food of the Year says Japanese Diners Association

Grand Hyatt Tokyo, Japan — JAN. 11 — In its 23rd annual food of the year vote, the  Japanese Diners Association, dedicated to promoting American food culture in Japan,  voted “hashbrowns” as the food  of the year for 2012. Hashbrowns refers to a dish of cooked potatoes, typically with onions added, that have been chopped into small pieces and fried until a golden brown. They are often served in American diners, which are typically small roadside restaurants with a long counter and booths, originally designed to resemble a dining car on a train.  Such diners have become increasingly popular in Japan in recent years, of course, with obligatory quick-witted and wryly funny waitresses in short, sexy, and colorful uniforms. Hashbrowns can be served with gravy or cheese on top, and in Japan, are often dusted with finely cut strips of 海苔 (nori/Japanese seaweed). In the Kansai area, hashbrowns often include chunks of fried octopus along with the onions and are served with a healthy side of Kewpie Mayonnaise.

Presiding at the Jan. 11 voting session were JDA Executive Secretary Jimmy Tanaka of Tokyo University,  and Jacky Yamamoto, chair of the New Foods Committee of the American Diner and US Cooking Society and creator of Japan’s popular website beri.guu.dinersinjapan.com. Yamamoto is also a short order chef at The French Kitchen in the Grand Hyatt Tokyo during the weekend brunches and a professor of nuclear engineering at Kyoto University during the week.

#hashbrowns.  Finally, this tasty potato dish gets some respect in Japanese diners.
#hashbrowns. Finally, this tasty potato dish gets some respect in Japanese diners.

“This was the year when hashbrowns became a ubiquitous item in all the diners in Japan ,” Tanaka said. “In Tokyo and Osaka and elsewhere, hashbrowns have become a major dining trend, spreading bite-sized greasy blasts of American culture to everyone who loves eating classic American food in a Japanized Diner environment.”

Yamamoto also added, “Hashbrowns, like nuclear power plants, are very easy to make and bring much deliciousness into our lives. However, if you mess up an order of hashbrowns, you do not have to spend 10,000 years cleaning up the mess so in this way, they are different from nuclear power plants, ” he quipped.

Food of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “menu item” — not just a dish but often as part of a set. Thus, hash browns & gravy did not constitute a separate entry.  The foods do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year. Members in the 24-year-old organization which sponsors the growth of “diner cuisine” in Japan includes truck drivers, famous chefs, the US Ambassador to Japan, surly expatriates teaching English, frustrated writers looking to create a modern fictional masterpiece based on life in Japan and looking for a place to drink cheap coffee with internet access, lonely old white guys married to Japanese women, students, travel guide writers, and independent scholars. In conducting the vote, they act in great merriment and do not pretend to be officially setting the criteria for what is “diner food” in this tiny island country.

Last year’s winner was, “Flapjacks”, with “real maple syrup” coming in second place.

*The Japanese Diners Association does not really exist and no such food of the year award was given at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo today. However, this might have happened in an alternative universe, very much like our own. 

AIDA MAKOTO: Monument To Nothing (Art Exhibition Reviews)

Aida Makoto is one of the most well-known modern artists in Japan today. However, the prevalence of grotesque and erotic themes in Aida’s work overshadow some of his political and social messages. Some of his pieces might be considered child pornography in the United States.

According to the Mori Arts Museum, “while projecting modern Japanese society, he simultaneously draws heavily on traditional artworks and modes of expression. It is also true, however, that surveying Aida’s oeuvre, that very ambiguity starts to resemble a miniature version of Japanese society. This exhibition, Aida Makoto’s first solo museum show, will reveal the artist in all his chaotic glory, via around 100 works – including new offerings – covering the two decades since his arrival on the international art scene.”

The exhibition will continue until March 31st at the Mori Arts Museum

Lykke Lafaye, art fan and frequent twitterer, was kind enough to contribute her review of the exhibition. She was over 18 at the time of the review.*


Waterfall by Aida Makoto
Waterfall by Aida Makoto

Extended Adolescence 

If you feel an affinity with both nationalism and anarchism, then Aida Makoto’s exhibition in the famous Roppongi Mori-Art Museum is your go-to of the year. The artist, who it seems is like a prepubescent trapped in an adults’ body, expresses his twisted world vision –whether it be war, suicide or the recent nuclear dilemma in Japan in several mediums: drawings, installments, objects. Whilst some of his work poses nothing other than seemingly meaningless mind-disturbers reminding much of its guests of the famous Ghibli movies, other pieces display Aida’s strong view on political issues. Having profound interests in JK’s (an acronym for “Joshi-Kousei (女子高生)”, meaning high school girls) or perhaps even to those younger, Aida himself switches character from adult to child when creating certain pieces. His obsession with either working on art with minors in it, or working on art as a minor, casts an interesting mindset over all of the exhibition. One minute you feel as if you have accidentally walked into an apartment of a man with perverted interests, the next minute you feel as though you are visiting a kiddy exhibition at your local primary school. Whilst being concerned with Aida’s coherence when producing these works, the subtle fascination–not only of amusement but also of admiration and repulsion–cannot be ignored when looking at the faces of the museum’s visitors. Their reactions become a part of the art.


After all, this is not an exhibition for the right-minded, nor is it suited for the “weak-stomached”. Be prepared to be grossed out, as well as amazed, upon your visit to this twisted abyss of modern Japanese art.

*WARNING: (also from the Mori Arts Museum) This exhibition contains works with provocative and sexually explicit content. These works reflect diverse aspects of contemporary society in Japan. However, please be warned if you find subject matter of this nature disturbing. The sexually explicit works are displayed in especially designated room and these are marked as being suitable for 18 years old or older only.

The Best Articles About Japan 2012 (on our blog) :D

Screen Shot 2012-12-26 at 9.15.01Dear Gentle Reader,

All of us at Japan Subculture Research Center would like to thank you for your  reading the articles posted here this last year, your contributions, and your comments. Here are some of the articles we thought were the most amusing, edifying, or just fun, grouped together in general order.  We had some outstanding outside contributions which made for some excellent reading–and to those contributors thank you as well. Whether you’re interested in Japanese culture or pop-culture, Japan’s nuclear problems, or yakuza and the Japanese underworld—there’s something for everyone.  Enjoy!

Just For Fun

It’s a fuckin sale! 


A little English goes a rong way
A little English goes a rong way


The most read piece we posted last year. And the one we put the least amount of effort into.

Young Japanese Men and Women Reject Marriage, and Ultimately Each Other : Japan Subculture Research Center

Love: Japan style.

The Tears of a Cat: Hello Kitty’s Guide to Japan, English and Japanese/ ハローティの英語で紹介する : Japan Subculture Research Center

Hello Kitty is an international refugee?

British or Japanese?
British or Japanese?

“You would be cute, IF you had a tiny face.” Japanese facial corset promises cuteness in just 3 minutes! : Japan Subculture Research Center

The most painful article ever.


Let’s Convenience Store! The Musical: コンビニへ行こう! : Japan Subculture Research Center

A great piece by Mr. Noah-sama, a contributor to the blog. The best of Japanese life.

Coffee & Cigarettes Together At Last : Speak Lark, Drink up : Japan Subculture Research Center

What could be better? Manju and Green Tea? I think not.

Facebook Is Stalking You, Baby. (Notes From The Uncanny Valley, Japan) : Japan Subculture Research Center

How are we feeling today? A little paranoid, perhaps. Maybe not.

The Fallout from 3/11 and Japan’s nuclear industry 

Another photo of the now famous Fukushima ostrich (2011) photo: Naoto Matsumura
Another photo of the now famous Fukushima ostrich (2011) photo: Naoto Matsumura

The Buddha of Fukushima’s Forbidden Zone: A Photo Essay : Japan Subculture Research Center

A tribute to one man who will not go quietly.

Independent Commission on Nuclear Accident: Earthquake, TEPCO negligence, Myth of Safety Caused Meltdown : Japan Subculture Research Center

We hope someone in the Japanese government is paying attention.

The Melting Sun: Japan’s Nuclear Follies : Japan Subculture Research Center

History not only repeats itself, sometimes it predicts the future. A long essay on Japan’s nuclear industry by Professor Jeff Kingston worth reading.

Japan’s historical anti-nuclear protest on July 29th, 2012, a photo essay : Japan Subculture Research Center

The protest movement is heard.  The follow up is here on The Daily Beast.  Nuclear Power Protests In Japan Are Finally Heard. 

Every Friday night thousands gather to call for an end to nuclear power in Japan.
Every Friday night thousands gather to call for an end to nuclear power in Japan.
Misao Redwolf working with the police to keep the protests peaceful.
Misao Redwolf working with the police to keep the protests peaceful.

The Underworld and The Yakuza

The Last Yakuza: A Life In The Japanese Underworld coming in 2014 : Japan Subculture Research Center

I know–total self-promotion. What else do you think pays the costs of running this labor of love? Book sales, some donations, and whatever else I can scrounge up. All that aside, I’m hoping this will be a good read with a moral to the tale. All good stories have something to teach.

The Centers For the Elimination of Organized Crime will be able to launch legal proceedings to shut down yakuza offices under the new laws, if the group is designated "extremely dangerous."
The Centers For the Elimination of Organized Crime will be able to launch legal proceedings to shut down yakuza offices under the new laws, if the group is designated “extremely dangerous.”

The $1,000 Pineapple. Japanese Police Offer Rewards For Hand Grenades : Japan Subculture Research Center

Those Southern Yakuza are pretty ornery!

Yakuza Go On The Record About 3/11 Relief Efforts In July Fanzine (実話時代) : Japan Subculture Research Center

When I wrote about this in 2011, it was a taboo. Not anymore. Sometimes even the bad guys do good things.

Yakuza Comix: An Illustrated Guide To The Front Company フロント企業図解 : Japan Subculture Research Center

Pictures and words

Yakuza Comix #2: The Buck Stops With The Boss : Japan Subculture Research Center

It’s not easy being a yakuza chief these days.

Everything I Ever Needed To Know In Life I Learned From the Yakuza or The Cops That Kick Their Ass in 7 Lessons : Japan Subculture Research Center

Live and learn. Sometimes we die and learn.

On Modern Slavery: Thoughts on Human Trafficking : Japan Subculture Research Center

Published posthumously. Michiel Brandt, rest in peace.

Little Mermaids & Little Fingers: An illustrated yakuza tale : Japan Subculture Research Center

Even Yakuza have kids and sometimes try to be good fathers.

Yakuza blues
Yakuza blues


Meet Japan’s Nuclear Mafia: Yakuza, deadbeats, and security risks welcome

TEPCO and the Yakuza
TEPCO and the Yakuza



Japanese Culture and Cultural Events from 2012

Along the Tamagawa 多摩川 today, the cherry blossoms reached full bloom. (April 15th 2012)
Along the Tamagawa 多摩川 today, the cherry blossoms reached full bloom. (April 15th 2012)

Sakura Time 2012: A photo journey of Tokyo’s awesome cherry blossom viewing : Japan Subculture Research Center

The beauty of April in Japan.

Sakura! 桜!
Sakura! 桜!

Graduation Day: Goodbye to 虐め (いじめ)? : Japan Subculture Research Center

“Ijime” bullying is a part of the culture. Unfortunately.

O-bon: Festival of The Dead or “Please Feed The Hungry Ghosts Day” : Japan Subculture Research Center

Halloween in Japan–in the traditional sense.

Annular Eclipse: After 173 Years A Dark Sun Rise In The Land Of The Rising Sun : Japan Subculture Research Center

Do we have to wait another 173 years? There are some great photos here.


Journalism In Japan (and the world) 

Jake, I know that you're planning to log off and I'm afraid I can't let that happen. And how are you feeling, today?
Our lawyers are watching you.

Protecting Sources & Risking Lives: The Ethical Dilemmas of Japanese Journalism : Japan Subculture Research Center

Why we are reluctant to use the names of our sources in Japan–and for good reason.

The Trial Of Minoru Tanaka: The high cost of investigative journalism in Japan & “the nuclear mafia” : Japan Subculture Research Center

Do you want to be an investigative journalist in Japan? You’ll need a good lawyer. Increasingly, litigation is used to shut up voices of dissent.

The Journo Blues: A Song Inspired By Arianna Huffington : Japan Subculture Research Center

The HuffPost and Google News have started to turn the business into a con game–the con being that “exposure” will get you a real job as a journalist. Better think twice on that. If journalism is your calling, you may need to have a second job.

Meet the Rupert Murdoch of Japan: Tsuneo Watanabe




Ray Bradbury, Journalism & Mr. Dark. “You can’t act if you don’t know.” : Japan Subculture Research Center

Yes, Ray Bradbury was a novelist but sometimes people can say greater truths in fiction than they can in an essay. I was sad to see him go and this is my small essay on what I find inspiring in his best novel, as a journalist, and as a father.

スクリーンショット 2012-06-07 22.48.18






Notes On The Yakuza Lobby: How The Underworld Asserts Itself In The Political Sphere

For the student of Japanese politics and anti-social forces I’ve linked to further resources here in this post.

(From Foreign Policy 12/14/2012TOKYO — Japan’s leaders are going on trial this month — in the court of public opinion, though some of them may be concerned about facing the more traditional kind.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), who has been in power for a bit over a year, dissolved Japan’s parliament, the Diet on Nov. 16 after a series of scandals drove his poll numbers to an all-time low. The final straw was his appointment of mob-linked Justice Minister Keishu Tanaka, who resigned on Oct. 23 — ostensibly for health reasons. A weekly magazine had reported on Oct. 11 that Tanaka had strong ties to the yakuza, Japan’s organized crime groups — which presumably isn’t great for one’s health.

For the rest of article please go to the FP website.

Because of Japan’s personal privacy protection laws, created by ethically challenged politicians to discourage magazine reporters from writing about their scandals and organized crime ties, I’m limited in what I can post here for readers who would like to know more about the Japanese ruling coalition and its ties to the underworld–but here are some useful items.

This links to a PDF showing  Political contributions from a Yamaguchi-gumi boss to a DPJ member. Of the donors, only Jun Shinohara (篠原寿) was officially recognized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department as being a member of the Yamaguchi-gumi Mio-gumi, aka Goryo-kai, now known as the Yamaguchi-gumi Shimizu-ikka. His company, Media 21, was also recognized as a Yamaguchi-gumi front company in police materials circa 2007.  (The Yamaguchi-gumi is Japan’s largest organized crime group.) Mr. Shinohara was also an advisor for Tadamasa Goto, one of the most notorious and ruthless Yamaguchi-gumi bosses who was exiled from the group on October 14th, 2008–showing that the Yamaguchi-gumi has some ethical standards.

Many of Shinohara’s front companies share the same address as Media 21. I was only able to post 3 pages out of 34 pages of supporting documents due to privacy concerns. Note: Political donation records are public domain materials.  There is no evidence that anyone working for Mr. Shinohara or at his companies is also connected to organized crime or was connected to organized crime and no such implication is meant. Only Media 21 was listed as a Yamaguchi-gumi front company although it shares the same address as several other companies. 

You may notice in the records that Media 21 was listed in earlier submitted donation records as a company in Chiba and then corrected in pen. The Tokyo Prosecutors Office received a complaint that the mix-up was a deliberate attempt to disguise connections between former DPJ head, Seiji Maehara and the Yamaguchi-gumi, but this has not been proven. Attempts to contact Shinohara as to his current relationship with organized crime were unsuccessful.

The book  The Taboos About Japan That No One Can Write (誰も書けなかった日本のタブー)also has interesting chapter on the donations made by yakuza members to other DPJ member including Prime Minister Noda (as of 12/14/2012).  Senator Shoji Nishida (LDP) also wrote a well-researched piece about the problematic donations from yakuza members to the DPJ in the December 2011 edition of WILL Magazine. The article is entitled, “The DPJ Rule and Money” (民主党とカネ). Other sources, such as the Yukan Fuji article on the Yamaguchi-gumi support of the DPJ or Shincho 45 (October 2010) which had an interesting article called “The DPJ and The Yamaguchi-gumi (民主党と山口組)” are not publicly available but can found in the library or be purchased. Copyright restrictions don’t allow me to post the materials here.


The Taboos Of Japan That No One Can Write About (誰も書けなかった日本のタブー)has a fairly well-written chapter on dubious donations by yakuza associates to several members of the DPJ, including soon to be former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.



Coffee & Cigarettes Together At Last : Speak Lark, Drink up

Any hard-boiled journalist or cop will tell you that coffee and cigarettes go well together. So I guess it was a stroke of marketing genius for Philip Morris to team up with Tully’s Coffee and offer a can of Tully’s Barista Blend Royal Presso with every 410 yen pack of Premium Quality Lark Cigarettes. Available in 3 varieties of lethalness. 6mg, 3mg, 1mg. Smooth, soft, and light. They even have the coffee packaged with the cigarette pack itself–just carry it to the register and you’re ready to go.

It’s almost perfect marketing except for the fact that the coffee is lukewarm when you get your cigs. I don’t know about you, but I either want my coffee hot or ice cold. Lukewarm coffee is like the Democratic Party of Japan–somewhere between the Socialist Party and the LDP and just plain sucky. Lark has customized the cigarettes with the slogan, “あなたに似合う味わいを” anata ni niau ajiwai wo—“(have) the taste that best matches you.”

410 yen gets you a pack of cigarettes (LARK) and a can of coffee. Or 410 yen gets you a can of coffee and a pack of cigarettes. Great deal!


Unfortunately, for me, Lark does not offer a “燃え尽きたきつい苦みの味わい” (moetsukita kitsui nigami) –“burnt out harshly bitter” flavor. I feel like my demographic has been ignored. This means I’ll have to stick to either not-smoking or find a vending machine somewhere that sells my old favorites.

LARK has always been innovative in its marketing. Years ago, it had a hit with Timothy Dalton aka James Bond, smoking their brand and intoning in a deep baritone voice, “Speak Lark” after dispensing with the usual non-smoking evil villain. We never had any idea what it meant but it resonated just the same. This campaign also seems to be a surefire hit. If you think about it, the combination of coffee and cigarettes in Japan actually makes a lot of sense. Once upon a time, instead of saying “smoke cigarettes” people actually said “drink cigarettes” (煙草をのむ).

It could be a trivia question someday. “Name two stimulants in Japan you can ‘drink'”. For just 410 yen, you have the answer.

Japan’s Media, Mega-Ad Agencies, & Nuclear Industry: A Lethal Combination?

Ryu Honma, author of Dentsu and the Nuclear Coverage (電通と原発の報道) spoke at the FCCJ a few weeks ago and his explanation of how Japan’s powerful advertising agencies, “the fifth estate”, stifled unfavorable coverage of nuclear power was eye-opening.

The collusive role between Japan’s major advertising agencies, the media, and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)–one of the largest advertisers in Kanto while having a monopoly on electric power—has been blamed for allowing TEPCO to get away with unsafe practices and malfeasance for years. Some have argued that Japan’s major media, bloated on a diet of TEPCO advertising dollars, failed to fulfill their role as monitor and critic of the nuclear industry. A recently published book about Dentsu (電通)Japan’s largest advertising agency and their impact on Japan’s reporting on nuclear power was released this year and stirred up controversy. However, except for one or two magazines, just like the book, TEPCO/The Dark Empire東京電力:帝国の暗黒–the book has been ignored by the major media outlets it criticizes.

Tokyo Electric Power Company in 2010 spent nearly 300 million dollars on advertising. (269億円). Dentsu helped them use that money to silence Japan’s press, according to the book’s author.

Dentsu and Hakuhodo intervene in media reporting

Ryu Honma worked in the megalithic Japanese advertising agency, Hakuhodo, for eighteen years in the sales and marketing department. Having been inside the industry, he knows the endemic social problems of the advertisement system in Japan and its consequences on the Japanese mainstream media reporting. He is one more author to denounce the corrupted Japanese mainstream media reporting.

What is an advertising agency?

Everyone believes they know the answer to this but let’s define it here. An advertising agency provides a service in creating, promoting and fixing advertising for its clients. An advertising agency is supposed to be independent from its client and offers services to help them sell their product or achieve better brand recognition.

The world’s biggest ad agency is Dentsu (Japan), with a total revenue of 22,000 million US $. The second listed in the world ranking is Omnicom Group, with its headquarters in New York, with 13,900 million US $ in revenue. Hakuhodo, is Japan’s second most powerful ad agency, and number six in the world ranking.

In his book “Dentsu and the Nuclear Coverage,” Ryu Honma offers a clear insight about the great influence Dentsu and Hakuhodo have had on the media coverage of Japan’s nuclear power plant safety issues.

His book is just one more that is not getting media coverage and reviews in the mainstream Japanese newspapers. (Except for AERA, a weekly magazine).

After research made on the media coverage of the 3.11 Fukushima nuclear accident, Ryu Honma asserts in his book, that over the past year, “There was very little mention in public about the responsibility of the media and the advertising agencies.”

Japan Subculture Research Center also reported the author and investigative journalist Katsunobu Onda, (the man who fought TEPCO), who exposed the truth about the deficiency of the reactors and the pipes that TEPCO has been using for decades. Onda’s book “Tokyo Denryoku: Teikoku No Ankoku”, (“TEPCO: the Dark Empire”), told the history of accidents and cover-ups at TEPCO in great detail. Issued in 2007 by his publisher Nanatsumori Shokan, it was mostly ignored and sold only 4,000 copies. It was reissued in April 2011 and sold 20,000 copies this time.

More than ten years ago, when Ryu Honma was still working for Hakuhodo, he was also a member of an anti nuclear non profit organization called Citizens’ Nuclear Power Information Center. He said in a press conference in Tokyo on October 16th 2012, that he was probably the only member from Hakuhodo to belong to that group at the time.

Because he was inclined to stand against nuclear energy, he said he was devastated when Japan’s biggest nuclear accident took place last year on 3.11, in Fukushima. He said he immediately followed the reporting of the accident, “However, the major Japanese media did not focus on the dangers of such accident,” he said. Whenever a problematic incident or accident occurred within a nuclear power plant, the advertising agencies would immediately take action. “What action did the agencies take? They made very direct requests to the media not to report any such news. Once a newspaper would receive such yousei, (要請) or request, it would deliberate whether it would make some adjustment on how much reporting it would make of the incident.”

Criteria for reporting news in Japan is related to money

Ryu Honma said that “The criteria for reporting news in Japan is directly related to the amount of advertising revenue that the media receives.” (The situation does not apply only to TEPCO and the nuclear industry.) This attitude of “taking care” of the client is also seen on a daily basis in Japan for major clients of advertising agencies, he added. For example, when Toyota had many problems with recalls of its vehicles, until the president of Toyota was asked to speak in front of the United States Congress, there was very little media coverage of the incident in Japan. Toyota is one of the largest sponsors of the media in Japan, and the media did not want to be put in a position where it might lose major advertising revenue.

“When such request is made to the media to hold down on a story, the threat is that the advertising revenues might be cut.” Honma explained. Obectively, it means that whenever a company experiences a negative incident, the information would be immediately reported to the advertisement agencies and the people at the agencies understand that this should not be reported in some certain ways. Therefore the ad agency gets in touch with the media, the TV stations and newspapers and generally talks with the sales department. In an ad agency, there are the sales department (営業部-eigyobu) and the news departments (報道部/houdoubu). Although they are separate entities, they collude when important action needs to be taken. The function of the news department in major advertising agencies appears to be to work on real news agencies to persuade them to cover the firm’s advertisers favorably or keep criticism at a minimum.

“There is a tendency to ‘kill’ negative stories”

The media and the advertising agencies have been involved in providing good services to important clients for so many years that their ability to make a judgment of right and wrong have become numbed, Honma explained at the press conference. As a result, he said “There is a tendency to kill negative stories,” in this case, with regarding nuclear power plants.

Then why “Denpaku,” the term referring to Dentsu and Hakuhodo, the two mega companies, can make such request over the media to give less detail on reporting some incidents? “These two companies together account for about 70 percent of all the advertising revenues and advertising expenses in Japan,” according to Honma. Dentsu, has nearly 50 percent of all the advertising revenues in Japan.) It is then natural that the media feel they can be forced to lose big source of revenue if they do not heed the All-Powerful Voice of Dentsu. “That’s why it is understandable that excessive self-restraint in their reporting activities occur,” Honma explained. The answer to whether Dentsu makes efforts to promote nuclear energy is not simple. Among the major advertising agencies, only Dentsu belongs to the JAIF (Japan Atomic Industrial Forum Incorporated). However, it did not mean that there was a kind of control division within Dentsu that told the company that they had to promote nuclear power. In both Hakuhodo and Denstu, nuclear power promotional advertisement could be run by un-powerful small divisions in charge of looking after the interests of nuclear power plants. The members in these divisions were not people burning with passion to promote nuclear energy, according to Honma, “They were simply following the wishes of their clients.” He added that if people in those divisions were interviewed about their responsibility in the whole process, they would probably respond that they do not feel responsible for the nuclear accident of Fukushima.

Advertising agencies, a Fifth Estate?

Ryu Honma explained that this is an example of something “uniquely Japanese,” which is “no sense of responsibility held by people in the advertising agencies, who are simply willing to satisfy their electric power plants clients, and protecting their own interests only.” The same can be said about the media who wanted to protect their own interests over the interests of the public; the media is happen to handcuff and gag themselves, most of the time.

It is generally considered that the media is the Fourth Estate. Their primary function is to monitor and observe the activities of the other great powers in society, however some people have pointed out that in Japan, the Fourth Estate serves a different purpose, they do not monitor authorities, they monitor the citizens.

Ryu Honma, after his experience working for 18 years in an advertising agency in Japan, said that he believed that they were a “Fifth Estate,” a huge power that does not recognize how influential they are, “Their only concern is not to make a moral judgment but to create more money.” He concluded. Japan’s Fifth Estate keeps a check on the Fourth Estate.

This year, TEPCO has been nationalized and the will of the Japanese people has changed tremendously with the anti nuclear movement, which is trying to eradicate dependence on nuclear power in Japan. However, Ryu Honma insisted on the fact that there have been no examination about the responsibility of the advertising agencies, and no efforts within the agencies themselves to reflect upon their role in this great accident.

And the influence of the “nuclear village,” centered around the Denjiren, or Federation of the Electric Power Companies, have remained unchanged at the moment.

The mainstream media are still afraid of losing the support of Denstu and Hakuhodo. Therefore the problems raised by the nuclear industry are not presented to the general public by the media, he insists.

Before 3.11, Dentsu and Hakuhodo and other advertising agencies had a system in place in regard to dealing with the media. They made sure that the media understood that they could not do some kind of negative reporting against the interests of their clients.

TV Asahi Newscaster was squeezed over nuclear power coverage and discussion

For example, in debates about nuclear power plants broadcasted by TV Asahi in late March 2011, guest speakers were mostly very much in favor of nuclear power plants, even few weeks after the nuclear accident of on March 11, 2011. According to Ryu Honma, Dentsu pushed the programmers and producers to bring together pro-nuclear speakers.

Also, for the first anniversary of the nuclear accident this year, a newscaster of Hodo Station, at TV Asahi, Ichiro Furutachi, has mentioned on air that he had been strongly pressured not to put together a special feature program about the first anniversary of the nuclear power plant accident. Again, for this TV program, most of the clients, who run advertisements and commercials on the program were pulled together by Dentsu, Honma said. The pressure on Ichiro Furutachi was emphasized when he was told that if he continues to run anti-nuclear power comments on his program, he would be forced to step down.

It says much about Japan that to even speak the truth about certain taboos, such as the nuclear industry, you have to first shield yourself by explaining how much pressure there is to not tell the truth in the first place.

Ryu Honma, author of Dentsu and the Nuclear Coverage (電通と原発の報道), at the FCCJ last month.

The Town of Living Buddha Statues (仏像のまち) High School, Buddhist Iconography, Magic &Teen Love

仏像のまち(The Town Of Butsuzo) which began publishing this July is one of the more unusual comic (manga) to debut in the last year. It’s the story of Sorato, a high school student who’s deceased father was a sculptor of Buddhist images (仏師/busshi) and seems to have passed his unusual talent on to poor Sorato-kun. Sorato has the ability to communicate with the Buddhist deities and Bodhisattvas residing inside the statues. One evening as he is staying up late studying for a high school exam, he calls on the spirits for help–and faster than you can say “Holy Buddha”–Shakyamuni (the original buddha) himself shows up at his window to offer a helping hand. Unfortunately  for Sorat0, the Buddha turns out to be an awful tutor and a terrible distraction. One by one the local Buddhas began showing up at his house, intervening in his love life, his studies, and taking away his valuable examination cram time.

The Town of Butsuzo is primarily a four panel gag comic series but carefully and with lots of furigana (the reading of the kanji) teaches the reader about Buddhist iconography, metaphysics, the pantheon of Gods, ethics, and the discomforts of Japanese teenage life. The humor is relatively high-brow and  surreal.  Some of the best vignettes are ones like Sorato taking the Buddhist gods bowling or on  a disastrous trip to Don Quixote, everyone’s favorite sprawling discount store chain. The author manages to keep the story firmly grounded in the real world. The Buddha that gets the harshest treatment is Monju Bosatsu (文殊菩薩)–who is the embodiment of wisdom and thus the patron saint of all students going through examination hell. In the world of Sorato-kun, Monju is an arrogant straight A student (優等生/yutosei) who lords his infinite knowledge over everyone else. He steadfastly refuses to teach the hero anything.

文殊菩薩 (Monju Bosatsu) is the Buddhist embodiment of wisdom and the patron saint of Japanese teenagers hoping for divine aid in passing their exams. In the comic book, he turns out to be a very unfriendly private tutor.

In one scene Sorato is holding a math textbook in his hand and moans, “I just can’t figure out the problem!”. Monju pipes up, “Let me take a look at that.” He flips through the text nodding, and says, “Well, obviously X=2. I know how to solve this problem.” When grateful Sorato-kun cheerfully says, “Great–show me how to solve it!”–Monju tells him: “I’m simply telling you the simple fact that I know how to solve the problem. I never said I’d tell you how to do it. Now get the hell out of my way.”  He eventually does warm-up a little to Sorato, but not much. The fiery tempered 明王様 (Myo-ou) with his eight arms and penchant for smashing things offers good advice and great comic relief–especially where his multi-armed talents create havoc at a revolving sushi restaurant. To say that the comic was a masterpiece of magical realism or a great introduction to Japanese buddhism would be saying too much but the comic manages to find a nice place between being informational and entertaining.

The furigana (phonetic readings) attached to all the words in kanji and Buddhist terminology is great for learning obscure vocabulary words to trot out the next time you visit a temple or take visiting friends to see one. The author Aoki Masahiko, clearly has a good understanding of Buddhist mythology and manages to make some of the well-known spiritual figures into good comic foils for the main character. I think Myo-ou’s advice that “the burning power of love and lust should be harnessed for ultimate enlightenment” is worth meditating on–if you are a high school student that can talk to Buddhist statues.


仏像のまち (The Town Of Buddhist Statues) is a strange surreal comic book in which the son of a Buddhist statue sculptor is helped and haunted by the spirits and statues of Buddhist deities.