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.

Life With Zero Electricity: Naoto Matsumura in Fukushima, “it’s Possible”

Tokyo – September 11/ 2012 was the one year and six months anniversary of the big Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster, followed by the Fukushima nuclear accident.

The nuclear disaster has displaced more than 100,000 people. The nuclear disaster also made huge amounts unusable land in northern Japan for decades to come. Critics in Japan and overseas have largely questioned, whether TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) has sufficiently considered the tsunami and earthquake risks.


Tomioka town, Fukushima prefecture (2011) Photo: Naoto Matsumura

For more than eight months, the 20 km zone around the Fukushima power plant was a forbidden zone where evacuation was an obligation for everyone, except one man. Since the nuclear accident, Naoto Matsumura refuses to leave his farm. At the age of 53, this farmer is physically in a good shape. In the city of Tomioka, in the Prefecture of Fukushima where he currently lives, there is still no water and no electricity. People who can identify themselves as being residents of the evacuated area and members of their families can get inside with a special pass. Reporters have requested these passes by pretending they were “married” or somehow “family related” to the residents who originally lived in the evacuated zone in order to get inside and report how it is. Therefore, Mr. Naoto Matsumura is not the only man going inside the forbidden zone, however he is still living there in his original home with the animals which he took under his responsibility. The police patrols and the border guards do not seem to be very picky on checking the faces and the identities of the people going inside and outside, like foreign reporters, because of the necessary masks and whole body white suits.

Naoto Matsumura has spent two hot summers without electricity at all, and he said it is a matter of accustoms to survive without electricity. “I feel like being Robinson Crusoe in his deserted island,” he said over the telephone today.

Mr. Matsumura usually never gives a phone call from his own initiative, but yesterday night, the phone rang at 9PM. He said that he felt a bit lonely, and that when the evening comes, everything gets dark so he has nothing else to do but to lay in his futon and drink some sake to wait until the night passes. “Time goes by slowly in those moment. I have no electricity, no tap water, no television, nothing else but sake to entertain my evening. But how strange it is, I am not envious of watching TV at all.”

Currently, Naoto Matsumura is taking care of three dogs, Taro and Ishimatsu, and a third little orphan he found near the awful cow skeletons, now so sadly famous. Just three weeks ago, Mr. Matsumura was paying a visit to some remote areas of Tomioka town, and he said “the poor dog probably got a skin or fur infection. He was lying there in the middle of the dead cows, he looked sad and depressed. His fur had gone off, and it looked skinny. When I approached him, he didn’t react aggressively, on the contrary, he looked happy to find a man, alive. So he followed me into my pick up truck and I took him home and fed him.” Mr. Matsumura called the dog “Kiseki”, the word for “Miracle.”

"Cows Tomb" in Tomioka town, Fukushima prefecture (2011) Photo: Naoto Matsumura

Poor little Kiseki, aka Miracle, will probably never be adopted by anyone in Japan, like some other Fukushima dogs had been recently. He looks too ugly, nobody would want it in the living room or even in one’s garden. He can only live in the Fukushima no-go zone, counting on the gentle voice and love of Mr. Matsumura, and his two companions, Taro and Ishimatsu, which accepted him pretty well, since they all share the same fate.

Other than the team of four, who often stay together, there are additional 30 or so cats, which are much more independent and learned to live pretty much in the wilderness, but which still count on the hands of Mr. Matsumura to be fed occasionally.

There are two ostriches, two females. One of them got a big egg recently, but it was technically not fertilized and so will never be the next eggs.

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

Seventy Five Cows and a Pony

Mr. Matsumura also has a little pony, called Yama, like the mountain. As for the famous cows, there are now 60 males and females and happily 15 healthy calves.

“Today, I had a visit from a reporter of Friday Magazine, so I had some human encounter, but those guys leave when it becomes dark, so it isn’t fun.” Mr. Matsumura never complains, but he admitted that the summer had been tough, the water from the well dried up. No air conditioning, no television, no water. “I still eat exclusively precooked food, cup noodles, instant curry and so on. I go to my attributed evacuation home only 2 or 3 times in a month.”

Naoto Matsumura said he dares not ask for help to anyone, since doing anything inside the no-go-zone can affect one’s health, due to the high radiation rate. However, his NGO partners from “Ganbaru Fukushima” had left him aside lately, and he is dealing with the feeding all by himself. He said sometimes he receives donation pet food from Japanese nationals who support him and encourages him. He has stayed in good contact with “Gattsu Fukushima” and its leader Endo-san, but his own NGO “Ganbaru Fukushima” had had only one active member until recently, and it’s himself. Time passes by slowly indeed. But the Fukushima nuclear accident has caused the forced evacuation of more than 100,000 people in Fukushima. Many will never step their foot back in their home land again. The left behind are the animals. “We cannot do anything about them, this is a no-go zone,” the authorities had said. But Mr. Matsumura continues to feed those animals left behind. And he will continue to operate inside the town until someday action will be finally taken by authorities and the Japanese people to rebuilt this region of Fukushima, with decontamination of the soil, and reconstruction of the houses.

Tomioka town (2011) photo: Naoto Matsumura

Note from the writer: the featured image on this post is a photo of Naoto Matsumura taken by photo journalist Munesuke Yamamoto, in 2012.

“Kibou no Bokujo” is an NGO similar to “Ganbaru Fukushima”.

Protecting Sources & Risking Lives: The Ethical Dilemmas of Japanese Journalism

“1. Write the truth by any means possible.  2. Protect your sources. 3. If you can’t write the story, without protecting your sources, find new or different sources– or drop the story. There’s always another news story, people only have one life. That’s Japanese Journalism Ethics 101”senior national news editor, 1999 

Recently, Japan’s largest newspaper, the Yomiuri Shinbun, forced a national news reporter to resign after he mistakenly sent an email which revealed the identity of his police contact. The police officer had been an informant on links between the Fukuoka Police and the yakuza. The detective who was outed  later tried to kill himself. Here are the details:

At the Fukuoka bureau of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in July, a reporter resigned after leaking confidential information related to an assistant inspector who had been arrested for accepting bribes from organized crime members.

Shukan Bunshun (Aug. 30) reveals that a police superintendent who served as the reporter’s source attempted suicide the following month.

On July 20, reporter Masahiro Goto, 33, disclosed the identities of his sources after he mistakenly sent an email containing his reporting to multiple news organizations while he was attempting to contact his editorial colleagues.” –from Tokyo Reporter

The reporter made a careless mistake.  The cost was great for himself and for the courageous officer that was speaking to him. You might ask yourself, but why would the whistle-blowing cop try to commit suicide?

All-seeing, All-Knowing, Ever Compassionate. Not the Patron Saint of Journalists But One of My Favorite Bodhisattva

The answer isn’t as simple as fearing reprisals from his fellow policemen or great shame; the answer is because he may possibly face criminal charges for talking to the reporter. Because in Japan, if you are a public servant, and this includes police officers, leaking information to the press can be prosecuted as a crime. It’s a violation of the Civil Servants Act (国家公務員法100条また109条). The law states that a public servant may not release secrets gained during the course of his work, and he/she can be sentenced to up to a year in jail and or a 500,000 yen fine if they violate the law. (国家公務員に対し、「職務上知ることのできた秘…  守秘義務に背いた者には、1年以下の懲役または50万円以下の罰金が科されます) What is considered “secret” is pretty much whatever the government wants to consider “secret”. The Japanese courts and prosecution have some latitude in disputing the classification.

If a public official talks to reporters or releases information without permission they can be lose their jobs and be prosecuted for violations of the civil servants laws.  In other words, if I named my all my sources, I could cost them their jobs and get them thrown into jail. I’m not willing to do that. Source confidentiality is an even more sensitive issue when involving articles about the yakuza. Revealing a source could cost them their job, their finger, or maybe even their life.

Even whistleblowers are subject to possible prosecution. Here is one example. Fortunately it did not end in actual criminal prosecution but this is one of the few cases reported in English.

 Senkaku video leak probed as a crime/Kan offers apology as prosecutors open investigation (11/09/2010) 

In the case above a Coast Guard officer who leaked footage of a Chinese “fishing vessel” attacking or ramming into a Japanese Coast  boat, was under a criminal investigation for a violation of the laws mentioned above. The officer released the footage out of good conscience, because he felt the Japanese public wasn’t getting the true story of what happened because the Japanese government was kowtowing to China. He even reportedly sent a copy of the video to CNN on a memory stick, but CNN didn’t examine the data or choose to ignore it.

For releasing the video, the Coast Guard officer was put under criminal investigation. It was only because of massive public support and sympathy that the case was dropped. Technically, it’s illegal to share any secrets or information that a public servant has access to in the course of this work. This law applies to police officers and all government employees. Violators of the law, those who have talked to the press on the record, or off the record, and then been exposed—have been fired, prosecuted or both.

Thus in Japan, many news reports read, “The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department said…” “Sources close to the investigation revealed…”  The number of cases where a police officer makes a comment on the record, in his own name ,are extremely rare. Essentially, in less an individual receives approval at the highest levels,  to make a comment on the record is risky. Comments made on background can be career destroyers if the source is found out, and may also subject them to criminal charges.

Even when a source is willing to go on the record, as in the case of a whistleblower, an experienced reporter knows that they may be subjecting their source to vicious reprisals. This is not unique to Japan. This happened to my own father, who refused to keep quiet about what appear to have been a nurse who was a serial killer at the Veteran’s hospital where he worked.  It was a shock to me that the world worked like this but sometimes good deeds really are punished.  I’d like to see that courage and the pursuit for justice are rewarded and that the people with a conscience in the world don’t suffer. Of course, I know that’s idealistic.

Whenever possible, I try to name sources and put as much factual data into a story as I can but I’m always aware that the costs for the source are almost always greater than my own. It’s not a crime to name a public official as your source; the person named may become a criminal under Japanese law. That doesn’t seem like justice to me nor does it seem like ethical journalism.

Journalists aren’t saints and I’ve known a number of them who’ve betrayed their sources for “a really big story.” Sometimes they’ve claimed that the public right to know outweighs the safety and welfare of the individual. I’ve known other journalists who bitterly complain when scooped and demand from the officials to know who leaked information to their rival reporter. Usually the journalists that do these things are border-line sociopaths. I don’t know what the US standard is on this but in Japan, if you’re any kind of a responsible journalist you don’t burn your sources nor do you ask others to do the same.

I’ve been writing about the Japanese underworld since 1993. I’m very well aware of what can happen to someone who writes the wrong thing or someone who has their cover blown. Sometimes they get hurt, sometimes they get fired, sometimes they suffer punitive damages, sometimes they go to jail,  sometimes they “commit suicide”, and sometimes they just vanish.

That’s another high cost of being an investigative journalist in Japan–if the bad guys don’t like the message, they attack the messenger. If they can’t attack the messenger, they attack the people he loves. In January of 2006, the son of an investigative reporter, Atsushi Mizoguchi, was stabbed by members of the yakuza. The court found two of the yakuza involved guilty and sentenced them to hard labor for assault, noting, ” (they) attempted to violate the right to free speech and expression through the cowardly means of attacking a family member. It had a major impact on society.” Mr. Mizoguchi had written articles critical of their boss. Mr. Mizoguchi himself was literally stabbed in the back in 1990 after writing a book about the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group,  that was not well received. The assailants were never caught.

If you’re going to write about crime or corporate malfeasance in Japan, you always have to consider the risks to your sources, your friends, and yourself. And then you do the best you can. You try to do as much good as you can and as little harm as possible. As I get older, I often seem to find that when I weigh the value of writing a “scoop” versus the damage that it might do to an innocent person, and the relevance to public welfare, that I often drop the story. As my mentor said many years ago, there are many, many stories; people only have one life.

I don’t know why other people continue to be investigative journalists in Japan. It’s an increasingly difficult and painful occupation. You stand to lose much personally and gain little.  The case of Minoru Tanaka is a sad reminder of how the court hammer is increasingly used to bludgeon journalists into silence. Write the truth, and be sued into oblivion. That’s the reality independent journalists here are facing.

Why do I continue? I do it because I love the work and because I like Japan. This is my home. And I continue to be an investigative journalist because I believe that the role of journalism–at its best–is to uncover the truth that people should know, to see that justice is done when the authorities fail to carry it out, to protect the weak from the strong, and by doing this, make our society a better place to live.


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

Minoru Tanaka, journalist

An article which appeared last year in the December 16 issue of “Kinyobi” weekly written by Minoru Tanaka, resulted in a punitive lawsuit against him.  The article called the head of a group of nuclear industry related companies, Shiro Shirakawa, a “fixer.”

In Japan a “fixer” is said to be “a behind-the-scenes person who gets paid for mediating with anti-social forces or covering up scandals, or arranging profitable business deals with dubious methods.” It has a generally negative connotation.

According to Mr. Tanaka and other sources, this year, Mr. Shirakawa sued Tanaka for libel. He sued Tanaka only, not the publisher. Shirakawa demanded Tanaka 50M yen in damages and 7.5M yen of attorney fees as well as placing apology ads in morning editions of three major papers: “Asahi Shimbun”, “Mainichi Shimbun”, and “Yomiuri Shimbun.” The total amount demanded was 67M yen including the payment for the ads.

Mr. Shirakawa has been referred to as “a fixer” in many publications and Mr. Tanaka and Reporters Without Borders believe that the lawsuit is a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) and threatens press freedom in Japan.  See RSF press release.

The next proceeding is scheduled on September 3 starting at 10:45 am in the Tokyo District Court room No. 615.

The article written by Minoru Tanaka asserts the following:

Mr. Shirakawa has connections with key figures of nuclear businesses, such as Hiroshi Arakawa, the former chairman of TEPCO. Mr. Shirakawa himself operates multiple nuclear-related corporations that offer security service for nuclear plants, leasing, and construction business. In the past he was reported to be suspected of asking gangsters to stop publication of materials, as well as diverting to politicians part of huge profits gained by land transactions. Furthermore, Nishimatsu Construction “gave a loan” to New Tech which is deeply connected to Mr. Shirakawa, using Mr. Shirakawa’s home and land as collateral. A year and a half later, the loan had been cleared.

After the loan was seemingly repaid, according to the registration certificate, the company New Tech received a loan of 700M yen from Shinginko Tokyo bank last October with the same collateral and paid back shortly.

Mr. Shirakawa, according to the article,  is connected to Diet Member Kamei Shizuka,  as well as a  former high-ranking police officer, and his network of connections has allowed him to become a huge profiteer in the nuclear industry using dubious methods.

RSF (Reporters Sans Frontières) or RWB (Reporters Without Borders) reaffirmed its support for Minoru Tanaka and condemned the judicial harassment against him. “It is clear from the exorbitant amount of damages demanded by the plaintiff that the lawsuit’s aim is to silence Minoru Tanaka by crushing him morally and financially.” RSF’s statement says.

The History of Shukan Kinyoubi/週刊金曜日 Weekly

The Shukan Kinyoubi began publication in 1993. It has taken the stance of criticizing the powers that be and taking on the authorities.  It is left of center. Therefore long before the Fukushima accident, the publishers have taken a firm stance against the nuclear industry and the so-called “nuclear village.” The nuclear village aka The nuclear mafia refers to the intertwined nuclear industrial complex made up of power companies, politicians, bureaucrats, gangsters and fixers.

Its publisher, Mr. Hajime Kitamura, spoke at the press conference last Friday. Among the 29 staff members of the publication, half of them are involved in editing, and most of the content of the publication are provided by outside contributors who write for the magazine. “We expected Shirakawa to sue the magazine for writing a story about him.” However, to the surprise of the publisher, he just sued the writer, Mr. Tanaka, and not the magazine.

“This is completely unforgivable” Kitamura said, “because when an individual writer is sued, they have to hire a lawyer, pay the lawyer fees themselves, and since they have to prepare for a trial and the legal proceedings, they lose the precious time they could spend doing their job. This is clearly a vicious law suit, and a SLAPP case, if the magazine was sued, of course we have our own lawyers that we could use.”

Shukan Kinyoubi (週刊金曜日) has been sued three previous times, once by the consumer finance company Takefuji, and won the case. In Japan’s civil code, it is possible to sue an individual journalist. Hiro Ugaya, was the first case of a journalist sued individually, not for the article he wrote, but for the comments he gave in a article on a company called Oricon, about 3 years ago. There is no union of journalists or newspapers in Japan, and there is no insurance to protect the reporters neither, unlike in Germany, for example. In Germany, it is not possible to sue a reporter for the content of his/her article, because somebody in the newspaper is already designated to be responsible judicially.

"This lawsuit is not about one article, it’s about a much broader thing, it’s about the state of journalism and the way journalism is conducted in Japan." Hajime Kitamura, publisher of the Shukan Kinyoubi

“If this kind of thing continues to spread, individual writers will all refrain from writing anything being problematic. And it will be a huge minus for magazines like our own, which take on the authorities and the powers leading this country.”

Hajime Kitamura, publisher of Shukan Kinyoubi  (Friday Weekly)

After 3.11, some of the magazines have been very critical of the nuclear industry. They ran stories in which they called the people of the industry “war criminals,” and they haven’t been sued, because the Japanese mainstream media, up to now, has been criticizing the surface of the nuclear invested interests, but Tanaka’s article is more in depth, and gets behind the scene, and seemingly names the people who have made profits from their unsavory ties to the nuclear-industrial complex.

Mr. Hajime Kitamura, the publisher of Shukan Kinyoubi, used to write in the national news department of the Mainichi Newspaper. He said that the major newspapers in Japan now tend to avoid problematic topics. “If there are some risks of being sued in court, then they won’t touch the story. I’m not saying that the reporters on the ground level are bad, but the reality is that the people in upper management are basically telling the reporters not to write anything that can get the newspaper sued, and that stops and frustrates the young reporters from writing about certain topics.”

According to Minoru Tanaka, currently, Nihon Television is the most pro-nuclear broadcaster and Fuji TV is also doing similar pro nuclear broadcasting. Shirakawa’s older brother used to be a Fuji TV board member, he stated.

Japanese politicians’ ties with the nuclear industry

Minoru Tanaka said that Mr. Yoshito Sengoku, the number two in the (JDP) Japan Democratic party’s political strategy, went to Fukui prefecture and gathered together all the DPJ politicians. He told them that they needed to support the restart of the Oi nuclear reactors, and at a press conference, he said that “stopping Japan’s nuclear generators would be an act of suicide.” Mr. Sengoku used to be a member of Japan’s Socialist party but he became close to Japan’s nuclear industry.

Minoru Tanaka said that there is an entire nuclear tribe of politicians feeding off the nuclear industry, it is not just limited to the LDP, also includes the Koumeito, (also known as the Clean Government Party, a political league, which is supported by the religion group, Sokagakkai), and the DPJ as well.

The state of Japanese journalism

“Up until the 1980’s, I felt that the reporters on the ground level were really making efforts to get controversial stories into print. Rather than becoming weak in dealing with the political powers, I think they became weak in dealing with the public powers and the authorities. And part of the reason for this is that reporting became more a business model than about communicating facts,” says Mr. Kitamura.

He also said that, until the 1980’s, if journalists were writing about a big advertiser like TEPCO, and people at the top said “don’t complicate things,” there was opposition to that kind of interference in reporting, but this resistance has continued to weaken. He added, “When middle management loses its nerves, there is a sort of self-restraint imposed within the newspapers not to handle articles that criticize corporations.” However, it depends on which media, which television etc. He said that he still believes that the Mainichi and Chunichi/Tokyo Newspaper are doing solid investigative journalism.

TEPCO has an advertising budget of about twenty-three or four billion yen ($230 to 240 million) a year. A lot of that was to keep the media under control. For example, the rubble problem was featured in a two pages color advertisement in the Asahi shinbun. That probably cost forty to fifty million yen, according to Mr. Hajime Kitamura. “Usually the newspapers should refuse that kind of advertisement from a company, but they become tempted and attracted by the advertising money.”

The “Yoshiwara Bento”  and the honey traps for the journalists

According to Mr. Kitamura, TEPCO entertained clients at Soapland, the sexual service parlors in Japan. The term of “Yoshiwara Bento” (Yoshiwara being the Edo period’s red light district and Bento, being the word for “lunch box”) is a crude term to explain the practice that certain Japanese businessmen have to take their clients to a fancy club, for dinner and drinks and then take them to Soapland.  The power companies and allegedly even The Nuclear Safety Agency and other associations involved in the nuclear industry have a long a history of wining and dining people in the media to make sure that the myth of nuclear safety is properly communicated to the public.

According to Hajime Kitamura, there are two ways they deal with the media: once a month, the association of electric power providers gives a press conference with the general press. They use “honey traps” or get the reporters involved with other scandals to make sure that they stay under control. The other thing they do is to use DENTSU, Japan’s largest advertising agency,  to indirectly threaten the publishers by saying “if you want TEPCO’s advertising, can’t you do something about this article?”

The mainstream media does not support individual victims of SLAPP

“I do not think that this is a lawsuit about the facts, because almost the entire content is based on public publically available information. The attack made by Shirakawa is on the term ‘fixer.’ It is a very vague attack. I believe that Shirakawa has launched this lawsuit to make me suffer as much economic damages as he can,” Minoru Tanaka stated at the conference.

There are a growing number of people supporting Tanaka today, because it is not only his problem, but the problem of freedom of press in Japan. Many reporters think that there should be some kind of laws put in place to limit or suppress these kinds of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). Right now, large corporations and religious groups are able to make these frivolous lawsuits at will with no constraints. He added that one of the reasons that the support for him is not widening at a rapid pace is because of the existence of the press club or the Japanese Kisha Kurabu system. “The major media outlets that are part of the press club system do not welcome freelance or individual writers because they want to monopolize information for themselves. They are not very supportive of individual journalists,” Minoru Tanaka elaborated.

*The editors at Japansubculture Research Center in an effort to avoid giant lawsuits would like to reiterate that the statements and opinions in this article are those of third parties and do not represent the opinions or assertions of this slightly meek and poorly funded project. 

Japan’s Human Trafficking Problems Not Resolved: US State Department

The US State Department released their annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report today  (June 19th 2012) and once again Japan was ranked as a 2nd tier nation. It barely escaped being placed on the watch-list for a 2nd time, according to some sources. Human trafficking in Japan not only includes sexual slavery, a government sponsored intern system for foreign workers has also received heavy criticism as virtual slavery, unchecked and almost condoned by the Japanese government. Human trafficking provides a significant source of revenue for organized crime and yakuza involvement in the business remains strong. Ironically, as it becomes more difficult to bring in foreign laborers for the sex industry, increasingly young Japanese girls are being targeted and exploited by the traffickers, some as young as 13 years. Yet, only about 80% of the Japanese population is aware that domestic trafficking is a reality in Japan.

The Polaris Project Japan and the Solidarity Network With Migrants Japan held a seminar at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club on the same day and summarized the findings of the report as follows:


1. Lack  of comprehensive  anti-trafficking lawsand lack of any visible efforts to establish one

2. Japan is making  only slight progress in protecting women and children from forced prostitutionthere seems to be little effort aimed at forced labormale victimsetc.

There were 619 cases of child prostitution45 cases of trafficking adults last year.

3. Lack of protection system and shelters for trafficking victims

In the past 18 yearsnot one person subjected  to forced labor as a foreign trainee has been identified as a victim.

4. Lack of efforts to prevent child sex tourism ín Southeast Asla by Japanese nationals; the narrow prohibitions in place have failed to produce visible results

The portion of the TIP report relating to Japan is below. 

(Note: I am an unpaid  board member of the Polaris Project Japan and therefore lack some objectivity on this problem–and I also  think human trafficking and labor exploitation really suck, further clouding my judgement.)

JAPAN (Tier 2)

Japan is a destination, source, and transit country for men and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking, and for children subjected to sex trafficking. Male and female migrant workers from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Asian countries are sometimes subject to conditions of forced labor. Some women and children from East Asia, Southeast Asia, South America, and, in previous years, Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central America who travel to Japan for employment or fraudulent marriage are forced into prostitution. During the reporting period, Japanese nationals, particularly teenage girls and foreign-born children of Japanese citizens who acquired nationality, were also subjected to sex trafficking. In addition, traffickers continued to use fraudulent marriages between foreign women and Japanese men to facilitate the entry of these women into Japan for forced prostitution. Japanese organized crime syndicates (the Yakuza) are responsible for some trafficking in Japan, both directly and indirectly. Traffickers strictly control the movements of victims, using debt bondage, threats of violence or deportation, blackmail, and other coercive psychological methods to control victims. Victims of forced prostitution sometimes face debts upon commencement of their contracts and most are required to pay employers additional fees for living expenses, medical care, and other necessities, leaving them predisposed to debt bondage. “Fines” for misbehavior are added to victims’ original debt, and the process that brothel operators use to calculate these debts was not transparent. Japan is also a transit country for persons in trafficking situations traveling from East Asia to North America. Japanese men continue to be a significant source of demand for child sex tourism in Southeast Asia, and, to a lesser extent, Mongolia.

The Government of Japan has not officially recognized the existence of forced labor within the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program, a government-run program designed to foster basic industrial skills and techniques and to provide opportunities to acquire practical skills and techniques. However, the government made a number of efforts to address labor abuses in the program. Media and NGOs continued to report on abuses in the program, though to a lesser extent than in previous years, and abuses included debt bondage, restrictions on movement, unpaid wages and overtime, fraud, and contracting workers out to different employers – elements which may signal trafficking situations. The majority of technical interns are Chinese nationals, some of whom pay fees of up to the equivalent of $1,400 to Chinese labor brokers or deposits of up to the equivalent of $4,000 prior to their departure from China; these fees sometimes require aspiring workers to take out loans or to place liens on their property, potentially leading to situations of debt bondage. Although banned since 2010, these fees, deposits, and “punishment” contracts continue to be prevalent for Chinese participants in the program. Reports of trainees having their passports and other travel documents taken from them and their movements controlled to prevent escape or communication declined, a trend that labor activists credited to increased government scrutiny of these practices.

The Government of Japan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the Japanese government did not develop or enact anti-trafficking legislation that would fill key gaps in facilitating anti-trafficking prosecutions, and the government did not arrest, prosecute, or convict a single forced labor perpetrator in 2011. Increased enforcement of labor laws in the foreign trainee program, however, led to a decline in reported abuses in the program according to non-governmental sources. During the year, the government published a manual for law enforcement and social service providers on protecting trafficking victims and continued to mandate anti-trafficking training to law enforcement officials. While the government identified 45 adult female sex trafficking victims and 619 minor victims of child prostitution, it identified no male victims for either forced labor or forced prostitution. Protective services for trafficking victims remained limited, with no shelters purposed exclusively for trafficking victims in Japan. While the government made efforts to raise awareness to prevent trafficking, sources reported that some of the outreach campaigns the government undertook were ineffective and did not reach target audiences.

Recommendations for Japan: Draft and enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law prohibiting all forms of trafficking and prescribing sufficiently stringent penalties that are commensurate with other serious crimes; significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute forced labor cases, and punish offenders with jail time; increase the enforcement of bans on deposits, punishment agreements, withholding of passports, and other practices that contribute to forced labor in the foreign trainee program; continue to proactively investigate and, where warranted, punish government complicity in trafficking or trafficking-related offenses; further expand and implement formal victim identification procedures to guide officials in the identification of forced labor; continue to ensure victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being in a human trafficking situation; establish protection policies for all victims of trafficking, including male victims and victims of forced labor; ensure that protection services, including medical and legal services, are fully accessible to victims of trafficking regardless of income; and aggressively investigate, prosecute, and punish Japanese nationals who engage in child sex tourism.


The Japanese government continued to make progress in prosecutions and convictions of forced prostitution of women and children; however, the government did not make significant progress combating labor trafficking or trafficking of male victims during the reporting period. Japan’s 2005 amendment to its criminal code, which prohibits the buying and selling of persons, provides a narrow definition of trafficking that is not in line with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, and it is not clear if the existing legal framework criminalizes all severe forms of trafficking in persons. These laws prescribe punishments ranging from one to 10 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and generally commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes. In 2011, the government reported 25 investigations for offenses related to sex trafficking that resulted in 20 convictions, 18 of which carried prison sentences that ranged from 18 months to four years’ imprisonment. The government also reported 842 investigations related to child prostitution and reported 470 convictions on charges of child prostitution, 74 of which carried prison sentences that ranged from less than a year to three years. Despite indications of forced labor in the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program, the government reported one forced labor investigation, and no labor trafficking arrests, prosecutions, or convictions during the reporting period. The National Police Agency (NPA), Ministry of Justice, Bureau of Immigration, and the Public Prosecutor’s office continued to train law enforcement officers on trafficking investigation and prosecution techniques. During the reporting period, all new police officers, all senior officials from prefectural police departments, and all immigration officers received training on trafficking investigation and identification techniques. Further, 63 prosecutors received specialized training on conducting trafficking prosecutions.

Most allegations of abuse or forced labor involving workers in the Trainee and Technical Internship Program were settled out of court or through administrative or civil hearings, resulting in penalties which would not be sufficiently stringent for cases involving trafficking offenses, such as forced labor. NGOs and labor activists report that the increased inspections of trainee program worksites as well as labor standards seminars provided to employers participating in the program have been successful in decreasing the incidence of abuse and forced labor in the program. The resolution of a civil compensation case documented in the 2011 TIP Report involving a 31-year-old Chinese trainee who died due to overwork had not been resolved by the end of the reporting period.

In addition, while the government took some steps to prevent government complicity in trafficking offenses, including prostitution, corruption remains a serious concern in the large entertainment industry in Japan. The government did not report investigations, prosecutions, convictions, or jail sentences against any official for trafficking-related complicity during the reporting period. The government actively investigated a February 2012 case in which a retired police chief was arrested in Japan for soliciting child prostitution.


The Government of Japan demonstrated modest efforts to protect victims of human trafficking over the last year. The government increased identification of sex trafficking victims in 2011, identifying 45 adult female victims, compared to the 43 victims identified during 2010. One of these victims had originally entered Japan as a participant in the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program. The government has not identified a forced labor victim in Japan in 18 years, despite substantial evidence of abuses against workers in the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program. Japanese authorities produced and distributed to officials a manual entitled, “How to Treat Human Trafficking Cases: Measures Regarding the Identification of Victims.” The manual’s focus, however, appears to be primarily on identifying the immigration status of foreign migrants and their methods of entering Japan, rather than identifying indicators of non-consensual exploitation of vulnerable populations. However, this manual led to the identification of trafficking victims in four prefectures that had never before identified victims. The government reported no specific protection policy or specialized services for victims of forced labor. Japan has no dedicated shelters for trafficking victims or clear sheltering resources for male victims. The government continued to provide general (not specific to human trafficking) funding for Japan’s 43 Women’s Consulting Center shelters (WCCs), which largely care for Japanese domestic violence victims but also served 37 foreign trafficking victims during the reporting period. Due to limitations on these shelters’ space, language, and counseling capabilities, WCCs sometimes referred victims to government subsidized NGO shelters. Victims in WCC shelters are technically able to leave the facility at will; however, security concerns are often asserted as the basis for requiring that facility personnel accompany the victims on outings. The government covers medical expenses in full for foreign and domestic victims while they shelter in government-run facilities; however, according to several organizations and government officials, referral to medical and psychological services for trafficking victims was inconsistent, and some victims were not referred to or offered these services in 2011. The government recognized and worked to correct these disparities, briefing victims prior to their arrival at the shelters, providing flyers at the shelters, and training WCC staff on available services.

According to NGOs, many victims refused to seek government assistance, due both to a fear of government authorities instilled in them by their traffickers, and, in some instances, fear of arrest and punishment for unlawful acts victims committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Some victims were also reluctant to seek government assistance due to the overall lack of protective services available to identified trafficking victims. Some trafficking victims were successfully identified by law enforcement subsequent to arrest or detention. The government-funded Legal Support Center provided pro bono legal services to destitute victims of crime, including trafficking victims, though it was unclear how many trafficking victims, if any, received government-funded legal services during the reporting period. The Japanese government identified 619 victims of child prostitution in the reporting period and the government juvenile protection agency provided protection services to these victims. Furthermore, while authorities reportedly encouraged victims’ participation in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, victims were not allowed to work while participating in the investigative and prosecutorial process. While long-term residency visas are available to persons identified as trafficking victims who fear returning to their home country, only one person has sought or received this benefit in the past. No trafficking victims were granted long-term residency visas during the reporting period.


The Japanese government made limited efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. The National Police Agency (NPA) and the Immigration Bureau updated and expanded multilingual emergency contact information for potential victims of trafficking. While the government distributed handbills with multilingual emergency contact information for potential victims of trafficking at local immigration offices and to governments of source countries, NGOs reported that many of these publicity efforts had little impact and failed to engage their intended audiences. The Immigration Bureau continued to conduct an online campaign to raise awareness of trafficking and used flyers to encourage local immigration offices to be alert for indications of trafficking.

For years, Japan has served as a source of demand for child sex tourism. Japanese men have traveled to and engaged in the commercial sexual exploitation of children in other Asian countries – particularly Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines, and, to a lesser extent, Mongolia. During the reporting period, one person was convicted under a Japanese law that allows nationals to be tried in Japanese courts for engaging in sex with minors or producing child pornography overseas. Japan is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, the only G-8 country that remains a non-party.

Yakuza Go On The Record About 3/11 Relief Efforts In July Fanzine (実話時代)

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”—Yakuza saying.

It’s partly about living up to the slogans they profess for the yakuza doing the relief work–about helping the weak and fighting the powers that be. That’s the so-called humanitarian way (任侠道)they espouse. It’s also about getting a stake in the reconstruction of Japan. Construction is big business.” –Suzuki Tomohiko, author of Yakuza and The Nuclear Industry, investigative journalist, former yakuza fan magazine editor.

When you think of the first responders in a disaster-ridden country, you think of doctors, firemen, police officers—not usually the mafia, let alone the Japanese mafia aka the yakuza.

There are 79,000 of them in the country, and when you take into consideration their thousands of front companies, affiliated industries, and associated members—they are almost a second army in Japan, and as unlikely as it may seem—they were among Japan’s first responders. I’ve written the best account I could in Reconstructing 3/11 but as time goes by even more details emerge.

Yakuza fanzine JITSUWA JIDAI describes the post disaster relief efforts of one group in detail this month.

When I first wrote about the yakuza and their relief efforts in the Daily Beast after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that devastated Japan on March 11th last year–it was greeted with some skepticism. Admittedly, it wasn’t an easy subject to write about. Public opinion had turned against the yakuza, with good reason, and many of the tattooed gentlemen involved in the work were afraid that media coverage would force the police to crackdown on their relief efforts. There was also a legitimate concern, amongst the yakuza I spoke with, that works done in good faith would be seen as 売名行為 (baimei-koi)  or”self-advertisement.”

In this month’s yakuza fanzine, 実話時代 7月号, (Jitsuwa Jidai July 2012 edition), one yakuza group based in Tohoku (東北)aka northern Japan, the Inagawa-kai Koryu Ikka (稲川会紘龍一家)finally goes on the record about their efforts to help out in the crisis. Although there has been some reporting on relief work in the past, other than my own reporting, most of it has been very vague and lacking in details.  Jitsuwa Jidai has done an excellent job in detailing the efforts of one local yakuza group in helping their community deal with the aftermath of 3/11. Of course, the nature of the magazine is that they lavish tremendous praise on the group without recognizing that the yakuza are in general a parasite on Japanese society, involved in loan-sharking, financial fraud, extortion and other anti-social activities.

The article focusses on the damage, both from radiation and the earthquake in Koriyama, where the Inagawa-kai Koryu Ikka is headquartered. There is a detailed description of how the Inagawa-kai head office working with the local office collected diapers, chopsticks, cup noodles, flashlights and other daily essentials for the disaster victims–and how they carried the supplies to local city halls and shelters, by truckloads, under the cover of the night. I was unable to independently verify all of the article. Some it rings true–about the city distributing cup noodles but forgetting to distribute chopsticks. Cans of powdered milk but no milk bottles.

The article also points out that not only the Inagawa-kai but many other yakuza groups quietly did their best to help the displaced victims anonymously.  The piece closes with a yakuza boss explaining the reasons behind the group activities post 3/11:

“The Inagawa family motto is one word 我慢 (gaman/endurance).  This is a time when that motto is very important–in the face of a rain of falling spears or radioactive fall-out. We did our best to protect the people in our local turf. We looked out for the victims and the refugees, without fanfare, as best we could.”

I’d never argue that a few decent acts justify the existence of an organized crime group but we also have to admit that sometimes “bad people” may do good things, and in the face of disaster as a common enemy, there is a short time that we all are friends.


Note: Reconstructing 3/11: Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown-how Japan’s future depends on its understanding of the 2011 triple disaster is available as a free download today, June 11th. The book is written by several worthy authors but proceeds are not earmarked for charity. I’m giving my cut away and other individuals are doing the same. Just so there’s no confusion. All profits from the predecessor to this work Quakebook went to The Red Cross.

Reconstructing 3/11 is an excellent book on Japan's triple disaster and its meaning for Japan's future as well as lessons learned. Reconstructing 3/11: Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown – how Japan’s future depends on its understanding of the 2011 triple disaster eBook: Jake Adelstein, Michael Cucek, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Philip Brasor, Our Man in Abiko, Sandra Barron, Dan Ryan: Kindle Store