憚りながら懲りないし、懺悔しない邪悪な人間もいる。 Some people never repent.
Action Targets Yakuza’s Global Criminal Operations
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today designated Tadamasa Goto, an individual associated with the Japanese Yakuza criminal network, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13581, which targets significant transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and their supporters. Today’s action is part of the Treasury Department’s ongoing efforts to protect the U.S. financial system from the malign influence of TCOs and to expose persons who are supporting them or acting on their behalf.
“Tadamasa Goto possesses deep ties to the Yakuza and has been instrumental to its criminal operations around the world,” said OFAC Acting Director John E. Smith. “Today’s action denies Goto access to the U.S. financial system and demonstrates our resolve to aggressively combat transnational criminal organizations and their supporters.”
Tadamasa Goto began working in the Yakuza as a member of the Inagawa-kai. The Inagawa-kai is the third largest Yakuza group and was designated by OFAC pursuant to E.O. 13581 on January 23, 2013. Goto subsequently joined the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest and most prominent Yakuza group, which OFAC designated pursuant to E.O. 13581 on February 23, 2012. Goto served in several senior leadership positions within the Yamaguchi-gumi before becoming the head of the Goto-gumi, which was a powerful Yamaguchi-gumi faction. The Goto-gumi was responsible for setting up a network of front companies on behalf of the Yamaguchi-gumi.
Goto headed the Goto-gumi until October 2008, when he was expelled and forced into retirement from the Yamaguchi-gumi and relocated to Cambodia. Despite his retirement from mob life, Yakuza figure Tadamasa Goto reportedly still associates with numerous gang-tainted companies that he utilizes to facilitate his legitimate and illicit business activities. He continues to support the Yamaguchi-gumi and remnants of his semi-defunct Goto-gumi by laundering their funds between Japan and Cambodia. Additionally, Goto has reportedly established links with the notoriously violent Namikawa Mutsumi-kai group, formerly known as the Kyushu Seido-kai, which is recognized by Japan as a Yakuza group.
Tadamasa Goto, one of Japan‘s most notorious underworld bosses, is to enter the Buddhist priesthood less than a year after his volatile behaviour caused a rift in the country’s biggest crime syndicate.
As leader of a yakuza – or Japanese mafia – gang, Goto amassed a fortune from prostitution, protection rackets and white-collar crime, while cultivating a reputation for extreme violence.
Tomorrow, his life will take a decidedly austere turn when he begins training at a temple in Kanagawa prefecture south of Tokyo, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper said today, citing police sources.
The 66-year-old, whose eponymous gang belonged to the powerful Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate, was expelled from the yakuza fraternity last October after a furious row with his bosses over his conduct.
Known as Japan’s answer to John Gotti, the infamous mafia don, Goto reportedly upset his seniors amid media reports that he had invited several celebrities to join his lavish birthday celebrations last September.
Several months earlier he had attracted more unwanted publicity following revelations that he had offered information to the FBI in return for permission to enter the US for a life-saving liver transplant in 2001.
At an emergency meeting last October the Yamaguchi-gumi’s bosses – minus their leader, Shinobu Tsukasa, who is serving a six-year prison term for illegal arms possession – expelled Goto, splitting his gang into rival factions.
According to the Sankei, Goto will formally join the priesthood on 8 April – considered to be Buddha’s birthday in Japan – in a private ceremony.
The former gangster was quoted as describing the occasion as “solemn and meaningful, in which Buddha will make me his disciple and enable me to start a new life”.
In his deal with the FBI, Goto reportedly gave up vital information about yakuza front companies, as well as the names of senior crime figures and the mob’s links to North Korea.
Underworld experts have pointed out, however, that the bureau could have gleaned the same information from yakuza fanzines.
Goto’s transplant was performed at UCLA medical centre in Los Angeles In the spring of 2001 by the respected surgeon Dr Ronald W Busuttil, using the liver of a 16-year-old boy who had died in a traffic accident.
The grateful don, who was suffering from liver disease, later donated $100,000 (£68,000) to the hospital, his generosity commemorated in a plaque that reads: “In grateful recognition of the Goto Research Fund established through the generosity of Mr Tadamasa Goto.”
Jake Adelstein, a former crime reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, received death threats before he went public with the transplant story last spring, and has been living under police protection ever since.
When it was assigned to cultivate the Tokyo area in the late 1980s, the Goto-gumi stuck to what it knew best: drugs, human trafficking and extortion, before new anti-gang laws forced it to move in to more lucrative areas such as real estate and the stockmarket.
At the height of their powers, Goto’s henchmen were capable of unspeakable acts of violence, including bulldozing businesses that refused to pay protection money and administering beatings to victims in front of their families, reports said.
A 1999 leaked police file noted that “in order to achieve his goals, [Goto] uses any and all means necessary or possible. He also uses a carrot-and-stick approach to keep his soldiers in line. His group is capable of extremely violent and aggressive acts”.
I wrote a little about this several months ago. Actually, I was surprised to see someone catch it in the Japanese version of the blog, because it was a very subtle thing.
Anyway, there are several reasons that the police cite for Goto entering the priesthood. One of them is that he’s facing another trial on real estate fraud charges and would like to make a good impression on the judge. Another is that he plans to use the tax exempt status of a temple or Buddhist priest to launder yakuza money. However, on the underworld side there is a great deal of speculation that Goto is simply trying to stay alive. Everyone who was closely associated with him has now been driven out of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest criminal organization in Japan.
There are people worried that Goto will once again try to make a deal with US or Australian law enforcement/intelligence agencies to trade information for a new liver. He certainly seems to be trying. He knows too much; the attacks his group have made on civilians over the years have so alienated the general public and the police that in many ways he can be blamed for Japan’s gradually harsher anti-organized crime laws.
Of course, a lot of his former pals would also like to see him dead so they can steal his assets. He allegedly has close to a billion dollars saved away in stocks, property, and foreign bank accounts. If I was a hyena, I’d be wanting to strip his bones as well.
Joganji, the temple where he will be staying has a long history as a sanctuary for criminals. It’s a good choice for a safe haven.
Well, maybe he really does regret the way he’s lived his life. For a long-time gangster like Goto, getting kicked out of the Yamaguchi-gumi is like being dead, or becoming a zombie. Maybe he really does feel bad for all the misery his organization has caused via human trafficking, murder, extortion, and violence.
I kind of doubt it.
Buddhism is a wonderfully harsh religion at times. If he’s looking to escape from his enemies, the priest ploy might work. It won’t work for everything.
Neither in the sky, nor deep in the ocean, nor in a mountain-cave, nor anywhere, can a man be free from the evil he has done.
Neither in the sky, nor deep in the ocean, nor in a mountain-cave, nor anywhere, can a man be free from the power of death.
The response from readers to both the English article and the Japanese translation of the article was tremendous. We are not saying that if you’re an AKB48 fan that you’re a pedophile. We are using the band as a means of discussing the endemic and exploitive nature of the JK Business. Maybe if you really are fans of these girls, you should lean on the management to pay them better and ensure they have a decent life after their youth is misspent.
Two trolls in particular have jumped all over the article—the two trolls seem to be a team. I usually ignore them but since they seem intent on defaming my co-worker I’ll address them briefly.
I know you’re not supposed to feed the trolls, but sometimes I feel like stuffing their mouths with information until they choke on it. (Trolls: please confine your spiteful attacks to me in the future. Thank you)
In the journalist community we know them as Creepy Johnson and Creepec for their habit of harassing other journalists, especially women. Creepy Johnson began harassing me in 2011 after I failed to respond to his demand that I clear his name. (He had been denied entry into Japan). He writes to every publication I work for hassling my editors; he harasses and stalks anyone who he thinks might be my friend, especially if they’re female.
I gave him the benefit of the doubt, by not naming in him the first time I dealt with him, because it’s standard journalism policy in Japan to shield the names of the possibly mentally ill, but he outed himself anyway. I’m not giving these two the attention they crave by using their real names or twitter handles. If you want to find them, you can.
Creepy Johnson, the top half of the duo, is infamous for getting fired from Japan’s Public Broadcaster NHK, after threatening to sexually molest the children (boy and girl) of another reporter there. He left a recording on the answering machine—a not very brilliant move. Here’s an excerpt:
By all means, do go and tell your side of the story to them, motherfucker.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I heard that your daughter gives really good head… and so does your son.
Hey, I wanted to hear if your children are getting a good sleep because… when you get fired, and I get fired, you’re going to have to put your kids out of international school and into Japanese school and I’ll be waiting for them. (2007)
So Creepec, who apparently approves of his idol’s behavior sent me a list of questions demanding answers, for an “article” he’s writing. The letter is very much like one Creepy Johnson sent me years ago. I bring up the association between these two because I feel like it’s important to understand the motives of the trolls. And wow, these guys are persistent. The questions themselves are nasty and unpleasant and belittle the efforts of a friend and co-writer. This really makes me angry. But okay, here are my brief answers.
Q & A with a troll.
1). Did VICE fact check your work in any way?
*Journalism 101. If you ask a “yes/no” question, you will get a “yes/no” answer more often than not.
2. What was Angela Kubo’s contribution to this piece? Does she have any significant journalistic experience? Is she a 23 year old full-time employee of an accounting firm who you hired when she was working at a bar in Roppongi
Angela Kubo was an assistant editor at the Diplomat when I hired her to work for me and she was paid a good salary in a time when many interns work for free. She had graduated from college. She writes for The Japan Times and is a very talented young bilingual writer. This means she can read Japanese, something you don’t seem able to do. Her former boss Jeff Quigley certainly vouched for her work (see his full comments below) and also, as I do, finds your insinuations cheap and low. He is angry with your underhanded smears.
Unless you’re a rich kid, you have to work to pay your way through college. She did not work at “a bar in Roppongi.” She worked at an event space that serves food and drinks. I won’t name the restaurant because you’ll simply harass them. “Roppongi bar-girl”– you seem to be making some sly allusion that she was doing something shady. That’s mean-spirited. She is just starting her career but has been writing for two years. She writes ten times better than Creepy Johnson did at the peak of his self-destructive career.
For the article, she read books and numerous articles on AKB48, in Japanese, did research on the group in Japanese, proof-read for grammatical mistakes, and reached out for comments. Angela Kubo is also a Japanese-American woman who understands both cultures and went to high school in Japan. She is uniquely qualified to comment on the JK Business and how it generates problems for all women in Japan.
Where she works now is not something I feel would be acceptable to divulge to someone who I believe is a cyber stalker. Nice fishing attempt. Also: creepy question.
3. Do you feel it is fair to label the manager of AKB48 as having yakuza connections based on only rumor. Would you, for example, accuse Katy Perry’s manager of being tied to the mob if you heard such a story and were writing for an American publication?
I’m not a Katy Perry expert. It’s not based on rumour.
See a portion of the article on this page in Japanese. There are photos. There is HUMINT from the police force. I have a list of 800 former members of the Goto-gumi and spent months nagging at them until I found some that confirmed the photos and explained to me what they knew of the AKB48 management’s past relation to organized crime. I did the same with police sources. The management has never sued the magazine or other publications for making these allegations.There are several other sources related to this. If I have time, I may put a list of them here. They are not all on-line. Some of them only exist as books and printed materials. Yep.
I have written about AKB48’s unsavoury ties in 財界展望 in Japanese and haven’t been sued yet. What else would you like? A signed confession from the management?
4. I don’t see any evidence that you actually interviewed a girl from the sex trade or a cop. Why would you expect me to believe you? Jason Blair fabricated stories. How is this piece diffeemet from one of his that got him fired.
In journalism, we don’t reveal our sources, especially if they are police officers. Or if they are victims of certain crimes which still carry a social stigma, such as rape or sexual assault. This is why VICE blurred out the faces of the women they interviewed. It is not difficult to interview women who have been in the JK business. It’s done all the time. We do it at Lighthouse, a non-profit organization in Japan.
I don’t really get your Jason Blair question but let’s take your logic and ask you a question. Your friend threatens to sexually molest children and stalks women. Since you have never publicly disavowed him, why should I believe you are any different and not a sexually perverse, potentially harmful individual? What proof do you have that you are not?
Also, you misspelled “different”.
5. Many claim that you were mainly used for fluff pieces at the Yomiuri but you claim you were on the crime beat. What is your response.
Who is many? You and Creepy Johnson? I was at the Yomiuri Shimbun from 1993 to 2005. I was in the 警視庁記者クラブ for nearly two years. Go to G-Search and look for articles written under my name. Most reporters don’t get by-lines but I wrote several feature pieces where I was credited. I have contributed to books on crime in Japan written while I was at the newspaper.
Try doing some research. You may have to take time and money to do it and translate it but be my guest. I have a real job. I’m not going to do your work for you.
I have no idea what the hell you do for a living or why you have such a man-crush on me and why you seem to be a sexist creeper who is overly sensitive to being made fun of. 😛！
PS. “Japan has one of the worst levels of gender equality in the developed world, below that of Tajikistan and Indonesia, coming in 104th out of 142 assessed countries in 2014, according to a study released Tuesday by the World Economic Forum.” That’s from a Japan Times article. You can find the original study if you like. It’s very hard for women here to break into any profession. So when white self-entitled elitists like yourself ridicule young women here trying to make it as journalists because 1) they didn’t go to journalism school 2) they worked at an event space (that served drinks) to pay their college tuition and 3) imply they must be using their looks to get work—and ignore their efforts, the articles they have written, and their past experience just for the sake of trolling–you discourage other young women from entering our profession. And that’s unfortunate.
It’s condescending and sexist attitudes like yours that encourage women and girls to go into the JK Business in the first place, because they are made to believe that they will never be taken seriously or valued for their intellect and ability. Shame on you. 恥を知れ.
Terrorism works because of fear and intimidation. One of their greatest enemies is sarcasm and ridicule. The Islamic State is holding two Japanese citizens for ransom and is most likely to execute them at 2:50 pm today (Friday) Japan time.
Japan has no standing army and very little means of retaliating other than expressing “strong indignation.” However, the Japanese public has responded with a twitter campaign mocking the Islamic State and their poor photoshopping skills. While there is a blame the victim meme to the various collage photos being posted on social media, much of it is devoted to making fun of the Islamic State and their snide spokesman.
Japanese rap has a bad rap. It doesn’t rhyme, not really, it’s almost impossible to follow if you don’t understand Japanese, and most of it is crap. Most of the “gangster rappers” in Japan are about as tough as Vanilla Ice and about as talented. The bravado is show, the source material puerile and the lyrics inane. Some people would argue that this applies to most rap or hip-hop in the world. Could be. I’m not a music critic.
However, in the niche world of Japanese rap, one man stands out. Yamazin, who’s first group, Loop Junktion did some of the most creative mixing and rap music in Japan’s pop history, is in a class by himself. He isn’t pretending to be a tough guy; he is a tough guy. Yamazin is a former yakuza associate, a gang member, a pothead, a feminist and a hustler. And he makes great music. Political, funny, offensive and he samples everything from samba to blues to Pink Floyd to gamelan. (How do I know Yamazin is a former yakuza associate? I know the yakuza boss that beat the crap out of him years ago, immortalised in the song Downtown Boogie. Not to mention spotting him at a yakuza boss funeral, paying his respects. Beat Takeshi also paid his respects at the same funeral—by sending flowers.)
His newest album, Collected Short Stories, isn’t a party album—it’s a small collection of narrative songs and musings. It isn’t rap but the closest thing I’ve heard to a “spoken word rap album” ever. What happens if you strip rap down it’s bare essentials, remove the sampling, the riffs, the clutter and make it minimalist music? Here’s one answer.
Yamazin is now a father, soon to be father to a second child and parenting has mellowed him a bit. If you’re expecting music to dance to you will be disappointed. It’s a collection of spoken word poetry with instrumental backing, a minimal amount of sampling and his ruminations on being a father, a husband, trying to survive in the Japanese rat race. 10 vocals tracks and 10 instrumental tracks. Jazz, blues, acoustic guitar, folk–there is no genre that dominates the album. Which makes the 10 instrumental tracks a joy on their own.
In songs, like “Money Train” he capture the ennui of the salaryman’s morning commute to work while wondering if he’ll still have a job at the end of the year. ROCK STOCK SOUL ATTACK is a lament to the impossibility of making a living as a musician in the iTunes world. 生命の調べ is his recounting of building a family. CHASU is an ode to complete burn-out with a Dylan like guitar riff.
The lyrics on all the songs are punchy, the instrumentation clear, the vocal delivery choppy, and it works.
Yamazin has a great voice, like the Henry Rollins of Rap; it’s not a musical instrument but more like a blunt instrument—deep, rough, and hoarse (男らしい!). The album might not sell as well as previous efforts but if you’d like to hear something entirely new and also brush up on your Japanese language listening skills, give it a spin.
Because of course, it’s also on a CD!
If you’re looking for some more of Yamazin’s traditional work, try Downtown Boogie. The yakuza boss who ran him out of town appears in the video, clad in a wrestler mask. Surreal but real. Time heals all wounds and mellows even the toughest rapper.
“In life, we only encounter the injustices we were meant to correct.”
Igari Toshiro, ex-prosecutor, leading lawyer in the anti-organized crime movement in Japan. 1949-2010.
Igari Toshiro, was my lawyer, my mentor, and my friend. In the sixteen years I’ve been covering organized crime in Japan, I’ve never met anyone more courageous or inspiring–or anyone who actually looked as much like a pit-bull in human form. Igari-san was a legend in the law enforcement world, the author of several books on dealing with organized crime and preventing their incursion into the business world. He was the father of the “organized crime exclusion clause”, a simple but brilliant idea that is now embedded into most contracts in Japan and requires the signer to pledge that he is not a member of an organized crime group. It’s already been used to arrest one high-ranking yakuza boss, and is the basis for the legislation being adapted prefecture-by-prefecture that will make it a crime to pay off gangs or provide them with capital. He was rather disliked in the underworld.
The last time I spoke face-to-face with Igari was on August 8 2010. It was a Sunday; he had come back from Brazil and went directly from Narita Airport to his office to meet me. I asked him if he would cooperate in a documentary I was working on as consultant and a reporter for ●●● television, owned by NewsCorp, on the yakuza.
I also had a problem.
It’s rather simple: In 2008, I angered a yakuza boss named Goto Tadamasa, who was head of a 1,000-member strong faction of the country’s largest gang, the Yamaguchi-gumi. In an article published in the Washington Post, I wrote how he had sold out his own group to the FBI in order to get a visa for the United States so he could receive a liver transplant at UCLA. The article along with a subsequent book I helped write for Takarajima Publishing resulted in him being kicked out of the Yamaguchi-gumi on October 14, 2008. Takarijma, without bothering to warn me, published his biography this May. It’s a great book–except for a bit of subtle language that amounts to a yakuza-style fatwa on my life.
I asked Igari to help me deal with the fallout from the book. After much discussion, he and his two colleagues came up with a plan. His parting words were: “It’ll be a long battle. It’ll take money and courage, and you’ll have to come up with those on your own. But we’ll fight.”
On August 28th, his body was found in his vacation home in Manila, wrists slashed. Time of death unknown. It’s been ruled a suicide. Personally, I believe he was killed. I probably will never be able to prove it.
Igari had been working on his final book, Gekitotsu (Collision). It’s an amazing work that pulls no punches, using the real names of the yakuza and the politicians and individuals connected to them. He wrote, “Wherever it was possible, I made it a point to use the real names here. I’m aware that poses a huge risk for myself. I took that risk because I wanted to honestly write about my battles with the injustices hidden in our society and the results of those struggles. It’s proper to write the name of those you’ve fought.”
Igari has been probably more influential than any individual in the anti-organized crime movement in Japan. As discussed above, he was the lawyer who first came up with the idea of the “organized crime member exclusionary clause” (暴力団排除条項). It was inspired by problems the Westin Hotel had when Goto-gumi and his posse stayed there and refused to leave, pointing out, “there’s nothing that says yakuza can’t stay at a hotel.” Igari realized that legally that could be accomplished since the Japanese government does designate organized crime groups and members officially. All it would take was adding a clause to any contract in which the individual signing has to clarify whether or not they are a yakuza, and if they are, the establishment reserves the right to unilaterally nullify the contract. It’s now part of almost any standard contract in Japan, even Sports Clubs. It has been used effectively by the police. A yakuza boss opening a bank account this year was later arrested for fraud because he lied about his yakuza affiliation on the contractual agreement with the bank. The organized crime exclusionary ordinances （暴力団排除条例）which are sweeping the country, prefecture by prefecture, were also his brain child. This year I met up with a high-ranking member of the National Police Agency, who had a copy of Igari’s book on his desk, and said, “In the war on organized crime, Igari-sensei was the equivalent of a five star general. He will be sorely missed.” The current head of the National Centre For The Elimination of Boryokudan was also very vocally supportive of Igari, adding, “the organized crime exclusionary ordinances would have never made into legislation if it hadn’t been for the man.” (There are now more than ten local governments in Japan with these ordinances on the book, which differ from prefecture to prefecture, but generally ban pay-offs to the yakuza or providing them with capital. Violators can be fined or jailed. Corporations that do business with yakuza will be publicly named. The ordinances have the potential of being a huge body blow to all organized crime groups, depriving them of protection money and capital. By punishing the individual or firm that capitulates to organized crime, it may have the same efficacy the change in the Commerce Laws had in eliminating racketeers-総会屋.)
Before leaving for Manila on vacation, he told his editor, “I’m nosing around in dangerous places. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. Let me sign the publishing contract now.”
In September, my best source in the Yamaguchi-gumi told me point blank: “Igari-san was murdered by the yakuza. It wasn’t Goto’s direct order. He was exposing yakuza ties to Sumo and professional baseball. It angered people. You should be careful too. The yakuza don’t warn people anymore, they just act.”
It’s a dangerous thing to expose the worst of the yakuza for what they are. Itami Juzo, directed the first realistic film about the yakuza, Minbo, in 1992. Goto-gumi members attacked him for doing it, slashing his face open. He would later tell the New York Times in an interview, “They cut very slowly, they took their time. They could have killed me if they wanted to.” Eventually they did. On December 20, 1997, after a weekly magazine wrote about his extra-marital affair, he allegedly killed himself. A former member of the Goto-gumi told me in 2008, “We set it up to stage his murder as a suicide. We dragged him up to the rooftop and put a gun in his face. We gave him a choice: jump and you might live or stay and we’ll blow your face off. He jumped. He didn’t live.”
In 2005, yakuza fan magazine writer Suzuki T wrote an article that poked fun at a yakuza group. They broke into his office and beat him to a pulp. In 2006, Yamaguchi-gumi thugs stabbed the son of non-fiction writer Mizoguchi Atsushi, because their boss was unhappy with one of his articles. Two members were arrested. Their boss was not. On April 17, 2007, the mayor of Nagasaki was gunned down after refusing local yakuza involvement in public works projects.
I try to be very careful when writing about the yakuza, and mindful of my sources, some of whom are members. I hate to admit it, but there are still those in the organizations that do follow a code of honor.
I understand the unwritten rules in Japan. Yakuza fan magazines are sold here in the open: three weeklies, three monthlies. They do interviews with current yakuza bosses, but the questions are limited and there is an implicit understanding that even after the interview is done, the boss reserves the right to edit or scrap it. As one veteran detective explained to me, “if you violate that rule, there will be harassment and often retaliation.”
I probably didn’t communicate that fact well enough to the ●●● television production crew that came to Japan. Through the sources I introduced they interviewed three current yakuza members, but didn’t alert me that they ran into trouble. The best I could do was warn the local National Geographic offices about it and talk to the head office in Washington DC. They were very responsive and hopefully nothing will come of it. But if it does, it will be my sources and the local Japanese staff who take the hit. I’m not an easy target because I’m under police protection. The staff are not.
The yakuza don’t have much pull in the US. They harass whoever will give them leverage. It’s why I don’t move my family back to Japan and why leaving Japan is not an option for me. I have to take care of my sources. It’s my responsibility.
I went to Igari’s offices in September to pay my respects; there was no funeral. There was a little shrine for him in his office, but everything was pretty much as he’d left it. On his desk, was an article about the Sumo Association and match rigging, heavily noted. His secretary told me, “Igari-san was really happy to take your case. He laughingly bragged to everyone, ‘I’m representing a reporter for National Geographic–that makes me an international lawyer!’ ” I could visualize him saying that with his deep, rolling laugh.
Grief is a funny thing. Seeing his empty desk, for the first time I got a little misty-eyed. Not too much, because there were people around, you know. It wasn’t very manly, but I didn’t cry.
You may wonder why I keep doing a job that is increasingly dangerous. I wonder myself. Partly, it’s because Japan is my home. I’ve lived here for more than twenty years. I’d like it to be a better place. In the old days, we’d call that civic duty.
I once asked Igari-san over wine, “Have you ever been threatened? Do you ever fear for your life?” He didn’t answer my question directly.
“I became a prosecutor because I wanted to see justice done in this world. When I quit and became a lawyer, I didn’t go to work for the yakuza like many ex-prosecutors do. I continued to fight them. Not all yakuza are bad guys, but 95 percent of them are leeches on society: they exploit the weak, they prey on the innocent, they cause great suffering. If you capitulate, if you run away, you’ll be chased for the rest of your life. And if you’re being chased, eventually what is chasing you will catch up. Step back and you’re dead already. You can only stand your ground and pursue. Because that’s not only the right thing to do, that’s the only thing to do.”
And so I stay. Igari-san wasn’t an investigative journalist and he wasn’t a saint. But he fought for justice and for truth, and as an investigative journalist, I’ve always believed that’s what our job entailed. Forgive me if that sounds naive. I believe that, if no one stands up to the anti-social forces in the world, then we all lose.Igari-san wasn’t an investigative journalist and he wasn’t a saint. But he fought for justice and for truth, and as an investigative journalist, I’ve always believed that’s what our job entailed. Forgive me if that sounds naive. I believe that, if no one stands up to the anti-social forces in the world, then we all lose.
When I called Igari’s editor, he knew who I was. He told me, “Igari said you’re the most trustworthy, crazy, and courageous journalist he knew.” It’s the first time I’ve ever been praised by the dead, and more than I deserve. But it made me feel an obligation to live up to those words. Sometimes, the only way to honor the dead is to fight for what they died for. It’s the only way I know how to mourn.
Memo: Autopsies are only done for 4% of the suicides in Japan. In the last two years several cases ruled to be suicides later turned out to be murder. Check out this excellent investigative article translated from the Yomiuri Shinbun. I would imagine staging a murder as suicide in the Phillipines is even easier than doing it in Japan.
Morikazu Tanaka, an ex-prosecutor turned mouthpiece for the mob (yakuza) and other shady characters, passed away Saturday at the age of 71.
Tanaka personified the image of former prosecutors in japan as being shady lawyers who would work for the highest bidder, often the criminals and/or criminal organization they once tried to put in jail. The term やめ検 (yame-ken) is the derisive slang used to refer to those who have gone over to the dark side. Not all ex-prosecutors go to work for anti-social forces or the yakuza–some continue to fight against them, sometimes tragically, as in the case of Toshiro Igari.
Tanaka as a prosecutor, he was involved in investigations including political cases with the special investigation squads of the Tokyo and Osaka district public prosecutors offices.
Tanaka went into private practice in 1988, Tanaka took part in the so-called Itoman case, one of the largest postwar economic crime cases. Tanaka worked with Kyo Eichu, a Yamaguchi-gumi consigliere who was well connected across the political sphere. Even current members of Japan’s Olympic Committee have associated with Kyo Eichu.
Tanaka was also known for his best-selling autobiography “Hanten: Yami-shakai no Shugoshin to Yobarete” (Reversed: To be called the guardian god of the underworld).
Tokyo Vice: An American On The Police Beat In Japan, my first book, hit the bookstores five years ago today on October 15th, 2009. Today is also the day I’m turning in the second draft of my second book, which will be released next year. The book’s title may have changed, the book will still be a narrative about the last 70 years of Japanese history told through the lives of yakuza and the cops that sometimes befriended them and sometimes brought them to justice.
The first book wasn’t just about yakuza, although it is often remembered primarily for those things. It’s also a book about serial killers, ATM robberies, the police in Japan, learning to be a reporter, the value of investigative journalism, hubris, and a compendium of everything I ever learned worth knowing. Five years is a long time. I’m older and not much wiser. Some things have changed. Japan’s much better at dealing with human trafficking issues and the grey zone which allowed the underworld to easily prey on foreign women brought to Japan is much narrower. However, the stream of vice, lies and corruption that flows beneath the shadows of the rising sun is still there. Some things never change.
If I seem skeptical of the Japanese government, the nuclear industry or TEPCO in particular, it’s only because I’ve had more than 20 years as a reporter in Japan and have watched these entities mislead the press and the public, twist statistics to suit their ends, and blatantly, unashamedly lie.
“We have Fukushima completely under control.” Can you guess who made that statement and when? Special prize to the person who gets it right.
This chapter never made the final cut of Tokyo Vice because it’s not about crime or the underworld. It is about the battle to tell the truth when it is inconvenient for the powers that be to have it known. It could probably use some more editing but for those who feel like the Japanese government isn’t telling you the whole truth about the actual environmental damage coming from the Fukushima meltdown–which is still going on–because if they stop pumping in water, nuclear fission will start again, this should help make you even a little more paranoid. Enjoy.
It has a happy ending of sorts. Sometimes, truth wins out. Rare but it happens.
In 1997, I was assigned to cover Saitama prefectural politics.
I didn’t know a damn thing about local politics or local government or local anything in Japan. In many ways, this was akin to getting assigned to cover high school baseball. I had no interest in it. I had a one-track mind: crime, cops, yakuza, and arrests. I supposed I was being pushed to broaden my horizons, so I immediately went out and bought a manga on regional government. It was for high school students.
Before long I found angles to make my new beat interesting. I wrote about prefectural employees creating a slush fund; organized crime taking out fake loans from Saitama’s Small Business Support Office; yakuza siphoning off funds from banks right under the nose of the government; government officials accepting bribes from criminals; you get the picture. But to keep my quota of articles up, I realized that I had no choice but to do what I was assigned. That’s when I began to focus on environmental problems. Saitama had a few.
In early 1997, a group of concerned citizens held a press conference at the Saitama Prefectural Government Press Club where they presented evidence that the incidence of infant deaths and birth defects in and around Tokorozawa (which was home to the Seibu Lions baseball team) was significantly higher than in the rest of the prefecture. Industrial waste-management companies had created a giant waste-processing zone here, and most of the furnaces and incinerators were low-grade, burning at low temperatures and slowly, resulting not only in serious air pollution but also in the release of dangerous levels of dioxin into the ground, plants, and water. Data from soil samples from the entire prefecture seemed to make a connection between pollution and the morbidity and mortality.
Citizen groups often came to the club to publicize one thing or another. Most of the time, if they called in advance, someone from the Yomiuri would go hear them out. I went to this one. But while the material, if true, was scandalous, the response among the senior political reporters was at best tepid. Maybe if the group had prepared prettier pie charts, they would have been taken more seriously. As it was, one senior Saitama Shinbun reporter’s words summed up the general reaction: “another bunch of nuts.”
I wasn’t so sure, however. So I picked up a Ministry of Health and Welfare-approved panel report on dioxin and its effects nationwide. It wasn’t easy reading—not in Japanese and probably wouldn’t have been in English. But basically the report concluded that dioxin was an endocrine disruptor and that it could cause, among other problems, infant mortality and birth defects.
Seemed to me these concerned citizens weren’t so nutty after all. I called my senior editor. “I’ll tell you straight up,” I said, “I don’t think any of the other reporters are going to write this up. But I looked through the ministry report and I think it lends some credibility to their claims.”
The editor feigned shock, then asked, “Why do you have a copy of that report?”
“Because I don’t know anything about environmental pollution, and it seemed like a good place to start.”
“A reporter who studies his subject matter—I’m amazed. Well, fax me the pertinent pages of the report. And write the article.”
I wrote the article and sent it in thinking it would be buried in the local edition. But as I was sneaking out for a bowl of tonkotsu (pig bone) ramen, I was called back to the office: The article had made the national edition.
It was the start of what has been referred to as “dioxin hysteria” in Japan. My article, admittedly sensational, essentially stated that “dioxin equals dead babies,” and that got the public’s attention. Further tests of the air and soil revealed that dioxin levels around Tokorozawa three to seven times the normal levels.
Pressed by a suddenly alarmed citizenry, Saitama Prefecture decided to conduct a study of dioxin in breast milk in order to determine levels of contamination in both mothers and infants. Mothers selected for the study were to have lived in four designated areas of the prefecture for a minimum of five years.
The study was to be carried out partially in collaboration with the Ministry. Tanuki Taro, (Mr. Badger-Dog) who would administer the study, was himself a Ministry bureaucrat on loan to the Saitama prefectural government to serve as the head of the Health Promotion Division. A committee of hand-picked civilians was chosen to oversee the project and investigative methods. Tanuki (Mr. Badger Dog) and I took an instinctive dislike to either. He considered me an annoying barbarian environmental radical and I considered him an insincere, clueless overstuffed bureaucrat with a supercilious smile and an attitude problem.
In late March 1998, the Asahi Shinbun scooped the results of the study: The average amount of dioxin found in breast milk was roughly seven times the safe levels dictated by the Ministry Of Health and Welfare, but no substantial difference was found among the areas and nothing to indicate that Tokorozawa, the land of incinerators, was especially dangerous.
I knew the reporter who’d made the scoop. He was my rival, and so his scoop was a crushing blow. But beyond my thwarted ambition, the results of the survey didn’t make any sense to me. How could it be that the people closest to the waste dumps weren’t getting more exposure to the deadly dioxin? The figures seemed very low any way I looked at it.
At the press conference Badger-Dog handed out a summary of the findings but no raw data. Nor was there any data on a per-city basis—simply median figures for north, south, east, and west Saitama. Badger-Dog seemed rather arrogant making his presentation. It was by no means a pat on the back for Saitama’s environmental standards, but the worst of what he said was this: “The dioxin problem is obviously more complex than we imagined, but it appears there is no direct correlation between living near a industrial waste-disposal site and high levels of dioxin in mother’s milk. More study is called for.”
Something wasn’t computing. Something smelled funny—and I mean that in a metaphorical sense, not in the literal sense of the foul stench that used to permeate waste disposal valley in Tokorozawa. I needed to take a look at the raw data myself. But when I asked, the prefectural government refused. First, they cited, “privacy concerns,” then the fact that the data wasn’t in readable form.
If at first they block your path, as the saying goes, then you just have to trudge through the mud. I got the list of people on the civilian committee, and I started writing them letters, calling them up, visiting their offices. At last I was able to catch one committee member in his office; adopting my finest ass-kissing posture, I begged for five minutes of his time. How could he refuse?
“Sensei [oh esteemed great man],” I began, “I’ve been working on this story a long time. I believe that you worked very hard reviewing the materials given to you by Saitama Prefecture, but doesn’t it seem the least bit odd that people with greater exposure to dioxin wouldn’t have higher concentrations of it in their bodies?”
He nodded. “Ah yes, I understand what you are saying. But those were the results we got.”
“Yes, I know, that is what the Ministry of Health has said. My questions may be completely uncalled for, but if I could see the raw data, then I would know for sure and my doubts could be put to rest. I know that you spent a lot of time on this study, and I’m certain that you would like to know it was done right.”
There were some Buddhist icons displayed in this committee member’s office, and somehow I felt compelled to mention the convenient fact that I had lived in a Zen temple when I attended in college; this seemed to impress him. Our conversation then veered into matters of faith, karma, and the lack of ethical development in today’s youth.
“You and I are both coming from the same place,” I said. “We want to make our world a better place. We want to see truth triumph over falsehood. We want people to be healthy, not sick. We want the air to be clean, not dirty. Let’s do our part.”
That closed the deal. I walked out of his office with a sheaf of papers.
I took the data home and I pored over it for hours. I looked at the original plan for the Saitama breast milk survey—the one that they had announced and given to the media. I checked it against my recently obtained copy of the Ministry of Health’s announced plans for a nationwide breast milk study. The Ministry had announced their own study that would be separate from the Saitama study. I wanted to see if the methodology was the same.
And then I began to see a pattern.
I called up the Ministry of Health and Welfare and asked for the person in charge of the nationwide dioxin survey. A very friendly bureaucrat picked up the phone. I explained I was writing an article on steps taken by the Saitama government to assess dioxin risk, but I had a few questions about the nationwide survey that could be helpful in putting things in perspective. She seemed pleased to be of assistance.
“It says in your press release that you require all the women in the survey to have lived in the area for five years. Why five years?”
“Well,” she said, “actually, ideally, they should have lived in the survey area for ten years. Five years is the bare minimum, but the longer the better.”
“Because it takes years for dioxin to accumulate in the body. It’s often stored in fat.”
“So five years would be the bare minimum number of years for it to show up in a survey?”
“In order to have a statistically relevant data sample, yes.”
“Well, what about four years, or two years, or just a few months?”
“No, that would be relatively meaningless. And that might even skew the rest of the data.”
“I see. Let me ask this another way: A residential time requirement of five years is necessary to get an accurate picture of dioxin contamination in humans in the survey areas.”
“Yes, that’s an important criterion.”
This was exactly what I needed. I went on, seeking fuller confirmation: “When Saitama did their dioxin study, it seems they included in their Tokorozawa sample several people who had only lived there for two years or less. What would this mean?”
“It would mean . . . it would be problematic. The data of these people is not relevant. They should probably be excluded from the sample.”
Whether by intention or by sheer laziness, the Saitama government had included a large number of short-time residents in their survey of the Tokorozawa area. This was in contravention to the original terms of the study submitted to the public and to the civilian oversight committee, which was that all participants in the survey were required to have lived in the area for a minimum of five years. If short-timers were removed from the survey, leaving only a sample of long-time residents, the dioxin contamination levels for the Tokorozawa area were shown to be alarmingly high.
That was “the tell.” Now I knew exactly the cards the Saitama government was playing. It had been a good bluff and if I wasn’t such a tenacious player, I would have folded. But now I knew that I had a better hand.
I took the raw data and my notes, and I sat down with the one editor I count on for support. Kurita, literally Acorn-Field, was a former shakaibu writer who’d been exiled to Saitama after working himself to the point of exhaustion (not an uncommon phenomenon) in Tokyo, but he had plenty of life in him. He talked with me for an hour, showing me how to put the story together and what hurdles I needed to clear, and then he convinced the national news editor to publish it.
On March 28, 1998, my 29th birthday it ran in the national edition under the rather blunt headline:
SAITAMA PREFECTURE SKEWS DATA IN MOTHER’S MILK DIOXIN STUDY
While claiming to have examined residents of over five years, 40% fail to meet the standard.
Did Saitama deliberately try to make the contamination levels appear low?
For what was a fairly academic piece, the article had serious impact. All the major newspapers and the television stations followed up on it. I felt pretty vindicated.
And then the Saitama government complained. So did the Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare, which called the Yomiuri head office to complain that the “ministry’s researcher was asked leading questions.” The bureau chief told me the Yomiuri would not print a retraction but that it would have to print a letter from Saitama Prefecture in which they denied “deliberately skewing” the data.
I was furious. (Ten years later I still have that letter, and ten years later my face still burns when I read it.)
I was pouting in the depths of my humiliation when Kurita pulled me aside. “I used to cover the Ministry in my shakaibu days. I know what a bunch of lying weasels those guys are. Here’s my question, Adelstein,” he said, hand on my shoulder, “Do you have any more ammunition?”
“Yes,” I answered, suddenly perking up. “The data on a city-by-city basis. If you follow the original criteria, Tokorozawa looks like dioxin central.”
“Write it up. Keep writing until they beg for mercy. I have your back.”
And so I did. I was able to chart how Saitama had deliberately changed the criteria for taking samples after the survey had started. I wrote another article about how they had done this without revealing the fact to the civilian oversight committee. I wrote another article about how the civilian oversight committee was launching a formal protest.
By the end of the month, the lieutenant governor of the prefecture apologized publicly for problems with the study. And then, a few days later, it was Badger-Dog, the self-serving bureaucrat’s turn to apologize for not having informed the committee before changing the protocol of the study.
Kurita was enjoying the whole thing immensely. Maybe even more than I was.
I next heard from Badger-Dog himself, who asked me to come see him in his office. I went, not meekly but expecting the worst. What I got was the opposite: He offered me a seat, and then he bowed before me so low that his forehead touched his desk.
“Jake, are you done yet?”
“Am I done?”
“You were right. The whole thing was poorly handled. We should have released all the data from the beginning. We should have notified the public and the oversight committee that we had altered the rules for taking samples. You are completely correct.”
“Tanuki-san, I’ll back off. [I was out of ammunition anyway.] All I want is to know how you are going to address the problems from this survey.”
“I don’t know, but once we decide, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Really? In a timely fashion?”
“Timely fashion? You mean before other reporters are told?”
“Yes, before you speak to anyone else.”
And that was how it ended. Since 1998, most prefectures in Japan have introduced high-grade incinerators that put out very little dioxin. I can’t claim any credit for that, although I would like to. Everyone wants to feel like they made a difference. And it’s good to have a scoop while you do.
Weekly Magazine Shukan Bunshun first reported Eriko Yamatani’s ties to members of the Zaitokukai last month. When a reporter with the magazine questioned Yamatani about her ties to the Zaitokukai, Yamatani responded, “What is Zaitokukai? How do you write the characters for it?” When shown a group picture she took with former members of Zaitokukai, which included Shigeo Masuki, who claims that he has known Yamatani for more then a decade, Yamatani stated that she did not know the people in the picture.
The Zaitokukai has close ties with Nihon Seinensha, a right-wing group that is closely connected to the Sumiyoshi-kai. According to police sources, leaders of the Zaitokukai have in the past openly associated with members of Japan’s major crime families and continue to do so. Moreover, some of the former Zaitokukai members pictured with Yamatani, including Masuki, have a crime record. This is problematic, because Yamatani is the minister in charge of the police force in Japan.
At a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on September 25th, Yamatani stated, “In regard to my exchange with the weekly magazines, that is not true,” a lie that Shukan Bunshun intends to reveal in tomorrow’s issue, which the Japan Subculture Research Center has obtained an exclusive copy of before it hits stands tomorrow morning.
Bunshun, which decided to question Yamatani again about why she said that the weekly magazine’s report was false at FCCJ, reported that Yamatani said that the part of the report that was false is Masuki’s claim that they have known each other for over 20 years.
That argument, Bunshun points out, falls short because at the FCCJ, Yamatani had also stated (and Jake Adelstein and I have attended the press conference and can confirm that she said this), “I did not say that I did not know (Zaitokukai).”
Bunshun challenges Yamatani to show proof that this statement is true. They have proof of their own: the audio recording of their interview with her when they first questioned her about her knowledge of Zaitokukai. Bunshun will upload this to their website at 5 A.M. Japan time and have a Japanese proverb to pass on to her:
“Yamatani, he who lies will steal. (山谷国家公安委員長、嘘つきは泥棒の始まりですよ。)”
Mr. Takahiko Inoue, buddhist priest and yakuza boss passed away in February last year. In order for those who can’t read English but knew him or would like to know about him, I’ve written his obituary in Japanese below (日本語の弔い記事は一番下にあります）. I hope that those who read it will be able to understand that even amongst the yakuza, there are some good people–in their own way.
Takahiko Inoue, yakuza boss and Buddhist priest, died Feb. 10 at age 65. The police determined that he fell from the seventh story of the building where his office was located. When the ambulance arrived, Inoue told the crew: “I’m fine. Just take me to the hospital. I’ll walk to the car myself.” Those were his last words. There was no protracted investigation.
Those who knew him, in the underworld and in normal society, referred to Inoue as “Hotoke” or “The Buddha.” “Hotoke” is also police slang for “the dead.” One of his friends sadly joked after his death, “Well, he finally became a real Buddha, after all.”
It’s not uncommon for a disgraced yakuza boss to seek refuge by becoming a priest after banishment; but it’s usually just an exchange of Armani suits for robes and tax-exempt status. Sometimes, the robes double as a sort of bulletproof vest, because even in Japan, it’s bad PR to kill a priest. However, bosses who are practicing Buddhist priests? Rare.
Inoue was a rare breed. The yakuza, for all their talk of being humanitarian groups, are generally vile parasites on Japanese society. The modern yakuza make their money from extortion, racketeering, bid-rigging and fraud. Inoue was different; a holdover from an older generation. At the time of his death, he was the leader of a 150-man group in Shinjuku, and one of the top yakuza in the Inagawa-kai, Japan’s third-largest organized crime group.
Inoue was born in the city of Kumamoto in 1947. In his 20s, he came to Kanto, worked on the docks and eventually joined the Yokosuka Ikka, a once-powerful faction of the Inagawa-kai that was originally an independent federation of gamblers. He served for many years as the personal bodyguard of Susumu Ishii, the head of Yokusuka Ikka. Mr. Ishii eventually became the second-generation leader of the Inagawa-kai. Because of his financial savvy, he was known as the father of the economic yakuza.
Inoue was hot-tempered in his youth and went to jail for attempted extortion and other crimes. His nickname used to be “Oni no Inoue”— the Demon Inoue. During his time in prison, he became familiar with Buddhism and eventually became a Buddhist priest, yet remained a yakuza boss as well. Inoue justified his decision this way: “It’s easy to give up on the delinquents of the world, but if I give up on them who will make them better people? Who will teach them discipline?” He wrote the story of his life and what he believed in “Going To Shura: The Life and Times of a Yakuza,” published in 1996.
He reconciled the two realms as follows. Buddhism has its rules. The Inoue-gumi had its rules, taken from the Inagawa-kai Yokosuka-Ikka. Inoue worked to uphold them both. In some places, they actually overlap. The Inoue-gumi rules forbid: 1) using or selling drugs, 2) theft, 3) robbery, 4) sexual misconduct, 5) anything else that would be shameful under ninkyodo, the humanitarian way.
To become a Buddhist priest like Inoue, you have to follow 10 grave precepts. Do not: kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct, lie, drink or cloud the mind, criticize others, praise oneself and slander others, be greedy, give way to anger or disparage the noble path.
Hotoke was not very good about avoiding alcohol, but who is in Japan? He was a gambler as well — but an honest one. When it came to running the organization, he was an absolutely strict enforcer of the prohibition on drugs. Several years ago, when he found one of his own members dealing in methamphetamines, he banished him from the organization immediately. His group gave up collecting debts and loan-sharking years ago. They stopped collecting protection money even when it was offered. One local bar owner and former patron said, “Inoue never asked for more than we gave, and he was there when we needed him. Better and cheaper than SECOM.”
A former police chief who knew Inoue personally said on background: “I can’t openly praise the yakuza, but he didn’t cause trouble; he wasn’t involved in fraud, drugs or extortion. He kept his crew in line and he helped keep the peace. He was an asset to Kabuki-cho, an area where any sort of morality is in short supply. He had standards.”
I can’t say Inoue and I were close friends. We exchanged books on Buddhism and good wine. He was a wine aficionado; he sent me imo-shochu — potato hooch — from his hometown. (It gave me the worst hangover of my life.) He was always the teacher and I was the student. I didn’t have much to teach him.
I felt I knew him before we’d even met. In the early ’90s, my mentor, Detective Chiaki Sekiguchi of the Saitama Police Department, recommended Inoue’s autobiography to me as “a good introduction to the yakuza, how they used to be, why they are tolerated, and how they will never be again.” By the time I actually spoke to Inoue, Sekiguchi was a hotoke himself. Cancer.
Inoue was one of the first generations of yakuza to move from outlaw to law-abiding businessman. He was a smart investor, running restaurants, allegedly owning over 10 buildings, taking in legitimate revenue to keep his organization together. He followed the advice of his former boss. Mr. Ishii once told him, “Be a yakuza that pays taxes.” He paid taxes; he was generous with his wealth. He made charitable donations quietly and without great fanfare.
Inoue understood that the yakuza world was changing for the worse and that he was out of date. In his autobiography he wrote, “Yakuza unable to collect traditional revenue are turning to drugs; they’ll do anything to make money, even rob each other.” He wanted to return the yakuza world to its ideals but realized that all he could do was “make sure my group follows the rules and make them understand that we are all judged and eventually pay for what we do. The universe has its karma police.”
I wish that were true. Sometimes, it seems like the karma police are on strike in this realm.
There’s a saying in Japanese: “Jigoku ni Hotoke (To meet the Buddha in hell).” It refers to the good fortune of finding an ally in the worst of circumstances. Considering how I’ve lived my life so far, I hope it applies to the metaphysical world. I hope The Buddha comes to visit me on the other side. I’ll need some help in making my jailbreak.
Japan plans to restart its troubled nuclear fuel reprocessing facility, Rokkasho (六ヶ所再処理工場) in October of this year, but is that a good idea? Experts say Japan should simply shutter its nuclear reprocessing plants & avoid making more dangerous plutonium. Why doesn’t this happen? We decided to see if we could explain. Here is our short primer on the nuclear fuel cycle follies of the land of the rising sun.
Why do most nuclear power dependent countries including Japan want to reprocess spent nuclear fuel?
This is a very good question. If you have no idea what reprocessing nuclear fuel is all about, please hold on. We’ll get to that. Let’s talk a little bit about nuclear plants in general.
Meanwhile, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan is rushing to restart its nuclear reactors (despite widespread opposition) and plans to reopen the dysfunctional Rokkasho Nuclear Reprocessing Facility in October. Japan’s plans to have a self-perpetuating nuclear fuel cycle have been a colossal & expensive failure—and the Rokkasho facility (as well as many other nuclear facilities) pose a serious threat to the safety of those living near them and possibly the rest of the world. Japan’s nuclear security is poor at best and the workers are not screened making them a potential target for terrorists.
Mr. Frank von Hippel, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University, and Mr. Klaus Janberg, former CEO of a German nuclear service company and nuclear advisor, told reporters in Tokyo last month that storage of spent nuclear fuel should be an alternative to the reopening of the Rokkasho Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Plant operational this year. Mr. Hippel is the former Assistant Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He advised the Clinton White House on aspects of the joint U.S.-Russian non-proliferation programs.
As mentioned above, Japan’s nuclear reprocessing plant is planned to finally start running by this October, after more than 20 years of disastrous attempts to make it work. In July of this year, the two nuclear experts proposed to the Japanese government, including the Foreign Ministry and METI (Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry) officials that it would be advisable to install dry cask spent fuel storage units at nuclear power plants sites and elsewhere to prevent the Rokkasho reprocessing plant from generating plutonium that would further increase Japan’s excess stock. They said their proposal could help implement possible alternatives to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s commitment made at this year’s March Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague not to possess plutonium reserves without specified purposes. Abe pledged to minimize stocks of separated plutonium by matching supply and demand.
The two experts spoke at the FCCJ on July 1st about Nuclear Security and Reprocessing: Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Option & an Alternative to the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. We have summarized the Q & A below, adding exposition where we felt it was needed.
Why do most nuclear power dependent countries including Japan want to reprocess spent nuclear fuel?
The Rokkasho plutonium plant was built to end Japan’s dependence on imported uranium, oil, gas and coal. Most countries started civilian reprocessing to acquire plutonium breeder reactors, like the Monju breeder reactor, in Japan. It turned out that such reactors are much more expensive and much less reliable than water-cooling reactors. Currently, the argument in Japan is that spent fuel pools are filling up and it is necessary to have a place where to send the spent fuel. Rokkasho is the only place.
“TEPCO and KEPCO (Kansai Electric Power Company) built and completed in Mutsu city, in Aomori Prefecture, a spent fuel storage facility, which would be much enough for storing the spent fuel but Aomori, which also hosts the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is reluctant to use the storage facility unless the reprocessing plans begins,” says Frank von Hippel, He explained it was a political problem rather than a technological problem.
Several countries like the UK an the US have also tried to operate plutonium “breeder” programs but abandoned them after several accidents occurred and because they have come to the conclusion that it was not economically feasible. They are now struggling with what to do with the tons of leftover plutonium.
Japan is the last state without nuclear weapons to still reprocess spent nuclear fuel.
Japanese officials also know how costly it is to continue the project that started almost thirty years ago. But why do they insist continuing the process?
“Keep the zombie alive”
Why does Japan cling to its spent nuclear fuel reprocessing program despite all the economic and technical problems?
Japan cannot stop its nuclear fuel cycle plans because the Japanese government has an agreement with Aomori Prefecture, where the Rokkasho plant (located in Rokkasho village) was built. If they can’t reprocess the spent fuel stored there, Aomori Prefecture will remove it immediately. According to high Japanese government officials, the agreement is equivalent to an international treaty, therefore it cannot be turned over. Besides, Japan has nowhere else to move away the fuel. And which country in the world outside of Japan could ever take it? Right now, all the spent nuclear fuel (使用済み核燃料) stored at Japan’s nuclear facilities, on the assumption that it can be reprocessed, is counted as an asset by the power companies.
If Japan abandons its nuclear fuel cycle plans, the “asset” would become a huge liability and every single electric power company would become insolvent. In other words, as long as the pipe-dream of nuclear fuel reprocessing is government policy, the nuclear waste itself— is an asset; it has value. But if the stored fuel is found to have no value, than the fuel and the costs of storing it–all of this become a liability. If this were to happen, TEPCO, (Tokyo Electric Power Company) is already a de facto insolvent entity. The so-called nuclear village insists that this would be disastrous for the Japanese economy.
The current administration wants to make sure Rokkasho is ready to go and restart reactors to keep TEPCO alive. If TEPCO has another fiscal period where they are in the red, banks will stop lending them money. Restarting the reactors is one way to keep the TEPCO zombie alive.
Now, you may counter by saying, “Hey didn’t TEPCO make 4 billion dollars last year?” Yes, well part of that was a gift from the Abe government which agreed to pick up 47 billion yen (That’s $458,134,380) worth of cleanup costs for the water leaking out of Fukushima—because TEPCO was doing such a lousy job. Okay, well, 3.5 billion is still a great profit. And TEPCO will stay in the black—just as long as nuclear waste is considered an asset.
Some current and former U.S. officials said they expect Japanese officials will abandon their plutonium fuel program once they realize how much it will cost. But it isn’t happening.
The US has been building a MOX plant for its excess weapon plutonium, it was supposed to be operating in 2007 but experts are now saying it can start by 2020. But it has become so expensive that the Obama Administration is talking about abandoning the project and trying to find another cheaper way to the plutonium disposal management.
But for Japan, which is supposed to be a country of honor and promises kept, it is very unlikely. Reportedly, Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda in 1977 called the program’s promise of energy independence a “life and death” issue, and that attitude persists at the highest level of the Japanese government.
“It is in the Japanese mentality to never go back after they made an agreement,” a prominent anti-nuclear activist and attorney told JSRC when discussing the agreements in place that keep Aomori’s Rokkasho plant alive.
How safe is the Rokkasho plant from terrorism? The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) is formerly responsible for ensuring that plutonium does not get removed from the Rokkasho plant by a third party, how accurate is the system installed there since it is going to start operating this October?
The measures and accuracies for the IAEA checks that plutonium won’t leak from the plant is of about 1%. If operating at full capacity, it would separate about 8 thousand kg of plutonium per year. Therefore 1% accuracy is about 80kg. The IAEA considers 8kg is enough to make a nuclear weapon. In other words, if the 1% not accounted for was actually stolen, it would be enough material to produce the equivalent of 10 nuclear weapons in a year. The IAEA recognizes that that’s not good enough, and added a system they called “surveillance and containment,” to monitor all the doors to ensure the plutonium could not be stolen.
“I don’t know about Rokkasho. The problem is that there is no way to check within the accuracy measurement that everything is still there. Reprocessing is recognized as a serious problem for safeguards and for these reasons, even though the IAEA spends globally 20% of its safeguard budget on Rokkasho and Tokaimura, it is recognized as being a hugely costly operation,” Frank von Hippel explained.
The US spends about a billion us dollars a year for the security of nuclear materials. Even so, the US still has some problems. Last year, an 82 year-old nun reportedly penetrated the security system and went to the central part of a nuclear facility. There is no perfect security. “The only perfect security is to not have the nuclear material in the first place.” Von Hippel said. “If you aren’t making nuclear weapons, I’d argue that nobody needs to have the nuclear material that could be used to build them.” (Of course, some would argue that Japan wants plutonium precisely for those reasons.)
Final disposal of the spent nuclear fuel: at which stage is the nuclear material less harmful?
The fuel is the most dangerous when it’s in the reactor, becomes less dangerous when it goes into a pool, even less dangerous when it goes into a cask, and least dangerous when the cask is buried deep underground. The two countries that understood that it isn’t in their best interests to keep the spent fuel on the surface of the earth forever are Sweden and Finland. The issue in Japan may be the suitability of the geological situation of the country. Those casks that contains spent fuel elements under helium that keeps the fuel intact—they can keep the fuel for about 38 or 39 years.
Why do the power companies not want to abandon nuclear power?
Nihon Gennen, the company which owns the Rokkasho plant, is currently bearing a huge debt for the construction of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, and the electric power companies are guaranteeing/insuring this debt. The current law states that the money to pay back the debt with the fund raised by the consumers can’t be used if the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is not running. The moment you say that you stop the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, Nihon Gennen will go bankrupt. And the debt will be a loss for the electric power companies. The major electric power companies will register a collective loss of about 2 trillion yen and those companies can’t endure this.
Instead of thinking about all these impossible things, Japan believes it will be easier to start running the reprocessing plant. If the reprocessing plant becomes operational, there will be an additional amount of plutonium that will be produced, and that plutonium will be useless without the Monju plant running. In which case the plutonium will have to be burnt with (plutonium thermal use) MOX fuel. And therefore they can’t stop the MOX plant either.
As long as Rokkasho and Monju keep running, the power companies make money—if they are put out of commission, the power companies fail. All the politicians, scholars, ex-bureaucrats, investors and their cronies who are riding the nuclear gravy train will be left out in the cold and suffer losses as well. The so-called costs of nuclear energy do not take into account compensations for disaster, nor the costs of storing nuclear waste for centuries. The cost is only cheap for the power companies—the taxpayers pick up the rest of the bill. The storage facilities for nuclear waste in Japan are nearly full and no one wants to take them.
Kei Shimada, a japanese photographer and director of the documentary movie “Rokkasho Mirai” (2013) told JSRC that at the time under the DPJ, right after the Fukushima nuclear accident, when the cabinet proposed the zeroing out of nuclear power stations in all Japan, the head of Rokkasho village and the city hall members opposed the phasing out of nuclear energy and they repeatedly went to Tokyo to demand the continuation of the nuclear energy policy.
“As for the villagers, there are so many of them who work at the Rokkasho plant, that in case a zero nuclear energy policy in Japan is decided, and in case the Rokkasho plant has to close, they will all lose their jobs. That’s the kind of reaction I heard from the villagers of Rokkasho when the government was walking towards a no nuke policy. Therefore, I think that after the LDP started ruling the country, the people around Rokkasho were happy about the movement to restart the nuclear power plants. But it doesn’t mean that the anxiety has disappeared. I think the people are anxious, but they are also torn between the fact that they will loose their jobs and therefore their living.”
The Rokkasho reprocessing plant is designed to extract metal from spent reactor fuel. If it starts running this time, it will separate more plutonium, despite the fact that Japan already has about 45 tons of it stockpiled in Europe and domestically–enough for more than 5,000 nuclear bombs. The US and the IAEA has continually raised concerns that the lax security at Japan’s nuclear power plants—which do not even run background checks on the workers–and tolerate yakuza (gangsters) working on site–could make them a target for terrorists. However, when we examine the history of mismanagement and incompetence of the utility companies running the plants, it seems the greatest credible nuclear threat of them all is yet another accident.
Several JSRC members contributed to this post.
Frank von Hippel is Professor of Public and International Affairs, emeritus and co-chair International Panel on Fissile Materials. He served as Assistant Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (1994-5). Nuclear consultant Klaus Janberg managed the development and production of the casks at GNS that provide interim storage for spent fuel in Germany and a number of other countries.