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Criticism is caring.
If you don’t address social problems or recognise they exist, nothing changes. I love Japan and many Japanese people are hard-working, honest, and polite. That doesn’t mean the society doesn’t have problems, such as child poverty, gender inequality, discrimination against: the handicapped, women, foreigners, especially Korean Japanese—powerful organised crime, nuclear dangers, staggering injustice in the legal system, repression of the free press, sexual assault on women with impunity for many assailants, rampant labor exploitation, death by overwork, and political corruption. Ignoring the problems doesn’t make them better. If you are offended by that, rethink your love of Japan.
The Japanese government has stated: “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all human beings are born free and have the right to live with dignity. Many people in the world, however, are not able to enjoy their rights. The United Nations has thus engaged itself in activities to improve human rights situations. Japan strongly supports UN activities in the human rights field, believing that all human rights are universal”
Is it unfair to expect Japan to live up to its promises?
The argument that “It’s worse in XXX (China,North Korea, US) so it’s okay to have XXX (sexism/racism/fascism/wage slavery/death by overwork) in Japan” is silly. It’s like the accused in a murder trail arguing, “I should be declared innocent because I only killed one person in the robbery but my partner killed three.” Some things are never okay. Whataboutism is the last resort of the intellectually dishonest weasel. (Sorry kids).
I don’t think that the work we do is shouting to the wind. Every effort matters. Sometimes sarcasm is an effective tool. We try to be polite in our response to the comments but rudeness is sometimes met with rudeness. 親しき仲にも礼儀あり
Does any of our work make a difference? Yes.
Actually, in my time as a reporter, me being “Jake Adelstein”, on editing duty today–criticism of huge problems in Japan, via articles that I have written and written with others, resulted in better laws against human trafficking, comprehensive measures to deal with dioxin pollution, and the Japanese government recently admitting that there is a huge problem with exploitation of underage girls that needs to be dealt with.
I and many of the writers on this blog who live in Japan, love this country, and loving a country doesn’t mean remaining silent; it means speaking up about what is wrong, and correcting it. The effort doesn’t always work but sometimes it yields results. And people who can’t see any fault or social problems in their country or refuse to do anything about it or just as complicit in the rise “dark corporations,” greedy nationalists, death by overwork, exploitive enterprises, corrupt politicians, and the nuclear industrial complex that have done so much harm to the nation. For decades many warned of the dangers that TEPCO and its poorly managed nuclear power plants held. They were ignored. It doesn’t make them any less correct.
The battle to protect human rights, worker rights, equal rights, the environment, democracy, the public right to know, justice, gender equality and to fight poverty and end corruption are important struggles. All over the world. Japan is no exception.
I’m a Soto Zen Buddhist priest in training, which is a part of Japanese culture–surprise! I wouldn’t argue the metaphysics of Buddhism are true, but there are universal truths and there is a motto that I have as an editor and journalist and try to keep in my own personal life. Pardon the idealism but I believe this creed applies everywhere in the world.
So below is a modified version of our editorial policy, adapted from the Dhammapada (法句経）. Thank you for your consideration.
Jake Adelstein, Japan Subculture Research Center, editor in chief
Nobuo Gohara (郷原信郎元検事)
Note: We met with former prosecutor Nobuo Gohara, last week, to discuss the arrest and prosecution of Carlos Ghosn. Mr. Ghosn has been accused of financial crimes, and has now been detained 23 days and rearrested. With Gohara’s permission, we are publishing his translated observatiosn about the case, written prior to the re-arrest of Mr. Ghosn today (December 10th 2018). *Portions of this were previously published in Japanese on Yahoo! News.
The Arrest of President & CEO Saikawa is Inevitable if Mr. Ghosn is Re-arrested based on Fake Statement made in the Last 3 Years
The End of The Myth of The Special Prosecutors is one book that Mr. Gohara has written on Japan’s prosecutors going off the rails.
Today (December 10) was the last day of the extended detention of Mr. Carlos Ghosn, who was arrested by the Special Investigation Unit of the Tokyo District Court on November 19 and was removed from the Representative Directorship of Nissan 3 days thereafter at the extraordinary board meeting, as well as Mr. Greg Kelly.
The suspected offense of his violation of the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act turned out to be the fact that he did not describe the “agreement on payment of compensation after his retirement” in the securities report. However, given that the payment had not been determined and that it cannot be considered as a fake statement of an “important matter”, there are serious concerns about considering this non-description a crime.
There has been an increasing skepticism about the method of prosecutors’ investigation who suddenly arrested Mr. Ghosn at Haneda Airport inside his personal aircraft when he just returned to Japan. As I have pointed out in my article (“Ghosn Can Only Be Indicted if Prosecutors Follow Their Organizational Logic”), since the prosecutors have arrested him based on their unique decision, it is impossible for them “not to indict Mr. Ghosn”, as it would be self-denying and contrary to the “logic of the organization”. It had thus been fully anticipated that the prosecutors would indict Mr. Ghosn today.
However, the facts that have newly been revealed through the subsequent media reports are raising even more serious concerns with respect to his arrest based on the “agreement on payment of compensation after his retirement” (although various media organizations report that those facts constitute the ground of his indictment by the prosecutors).
Could this herald the possible “collapse” of the prosecutor’s case
There is Virtually No More Possibility that Mr. Ghosn will be Re-arrested with the Crime of Aggravated Breach of Trust or the like
First of all, it has been reported that the prosecutors intend to re-arrest Mr. Ghosn on the ground that he has “underdescribed his executive compensation of 4 billion yen for the last 3 years”. The facts that constituted the ground of his arrest and detention to date had been the fake statement around the “agreement on payment of compensation after his retirement” for the period of 5 years up to March 2015 term. The prosecutors, however, are intending to re-arrest him based on the same fake statement but for the last 3 years up to March 2018 term.
There had been a speculation that the fake statement in the securities report was merely a ”starting point” and that the Special Investigation Unit was contemplating to pursue some “substantive crime” such as aggravated breach of trust. However, had they been able to pursue the crime of aggravated breach of trust, they would have re-arrested him based on that. Given the overloaded investigation lineup of the Public Prosecutors Office, which has been accepting prosecutors dispatched from the District Public Prosecutor Offices, as the year end approaches when they need to send the dispatched prosecutors back to where they belong, they would want to avoid arresting him based on the new facts on and after December 10 unless extreme circumstances arise, because the period of detention of 20 days would then extend to the year end. This means that the only “charge” based on which the prosecutors intend to indict Mr. Ghosn is the fake statement of his executive compensation. On the basis that they will re-arrest him based on the same fake statement as the facts constituting his initial arrest and detention, it is highly probable that the investigation will end there.
This is a scenario which I have predicted, as I have repeatedly stated since right after the arrest. That is, based on the facts that have been reported, it is unlikely that Mr. Ghosn will be indicted for the aggravated breach of trust (“Ghosn Case: Yomiuri Beginning to Ditch Prosecutors while Asahi Cling to Them”). However, for those who firmly believe that the “justice always lies with prosecutors” and because of that believe “Mr. Ghosn, who was arrested by the prosecutors, is a villain”, it would be hard to accept that the investigation would end by only charging him with such a trivial crime as fake statement and not criminally pursuing any “substantive crime”.
Serious Issues Concerning Procedures of Detention
Of further significance is a “serious issue concerning the legality of detention” in relation to the re-arresting of Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly based on the “underdescription of Mr. Ghosn’s executive compensation of 4 billion yen for the last 3 years”.
A securities report is something which is prepared and submitted each business year. As such, there is supposed to be “one independent crime” for each business year, totaling to 8 crimes, if there are fake statements in all securities reports for the period of 8 years from March 2010 term to March 2018 term. However, the charge against Mr. Ghosn with respect to the “agreement on payment of compensation after his retirement” is different from a standard fake statement in the securities report.
An “MoU” was said to have been made between Mr. Ghosn and the Head of Secretary Office every year with respect to part of the executive compensation payable after his retirement under the pretense of some other payment, which had been kept secret to the Departments of General Affairs and Finance of Nissan and had been kept confidentially. The securities report for each year had been prepared and submitted without regard to the agreement made in such “MoU”. Since the acts of preparation of the “MoU” for 8 years had been repeated every year under the same intent and purpose, they constitute “one inclusive crime” provided that they do constitute a crime. They should effectively be interpreted as “one crime” as a whole. “Dividing” these acts into those conducted during the first 5 years and those during the last 3 years for the purpose of repeating the arrest and detention means arresting and detaining based on the same facts, which is a significant issue in terms of due process of detention.
On top of that, if the prosecutors intend to re-arrest them based on the acts in the last 3 years after completing their investigation and processing of the fake statement for the first 5 years, it would be that they had “reserved” the acts of the last 3 years for the re-arrest. This is an unjustifiable detention which deviates the common sense of prosecutors. Inevitably, Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly would file a quasi-complaint with respect to the detention or a special appeal with the Supreme Court, claiming that it is an unjustifiable detention in violation of due process under Article 31 of the Constitution.
It Would Be Difficult to Deny Criminal Liability of President Saikawa
“When The Thinking Processes Of The Organization Stop” discusses the implications of an infamous case in which a prosecutor forged evidence and dysfunctional organizations in general, which could apply to Nissan at present.
A more significant issue is that it has been reported by Asahi, Nikkei, and NHK that Hiroto Saikawa, President and CEO of Nissan, has also signed the “document agreeing on the post-retirement compensation”. It has been reported that Mr. Saikawa has signed a document titled “Employment Agreement”, which describes the amount of compensation for the agreement prohibiting Mr. Ghosn to enter into any consulting agreement or to assume office as an officer with any competing companies after his retirement. It has also been reported that, apart from the above, a document was prepared which specified the amount of compensation which should have been received by Mr. Ghosn each term and the amount which had actually been paid, as well as the balance thereof, and that it was signed by Mr. Ghosn the ex-Chairman and the executive employees as his close aides.
The prosecutors and media may be denying the criminal liability of Mr. Saikawa for his fake statement of the executive compensation based on the reason that, although he had been aware of the payment of compensation as consideration for the prohibition of Mr. Ghosn’s entrance into any consulting agreement or assumption of office with competing companies after his retirement, he had not recognized it as a payment of executive compensation under some other pretext, and because of this, he did not know that it should have been described in the securities report as “executive compensation”.
I wonder, however, how President Saikawa had recognized the consideration for the prohibition concerning the consulting agreement and non-competitive agreement. If he had signed the document based on his understanding that it was a legitimate and lawful payment, it would mean that the agreement has its basis and that Mr. Ghosn has an obligation to refrain from entering into any consulting agreement and competing in return for the payment. It would thus be considered a “legitimate contractual consideration” rather than a “deferred payment of executive compensation”.
Above all, why did Mr. Saikawa think it was necessary to enter into an agreement that prohibits Mr. Ghosn from entering into any consulting agreement or competing after his retirement when there was actually no specific sign of his retirement? We can never understand the reason unless the agreement is explained as an “alternative for reducing the executive compensation by half”. In the end, we cannot help but think that Mr. Saikawa had almost the same recognition as Mr. Ghosn and others with respect to the agreement.
The offense of the crime of fake statement in the securities report is constituted not by “making a fake statement” but by “submitting” the securities report with a fake statement on an important matter. The person who has an obligation to ensure accurate description and “submission” is the CEO in the case of Nissan, which is Mr. Saikawa from and after March 2017 term. If, as mentioned above, Mr. Saikawa had largely the same recognition with Mr. Ghosn with respect to the “post-retirement payment of compensation”, we have to say that it is Mr. Saikawa who would primarily be criminally liable for the last 2 years (apart from the severity of the ultimate sentence). That is, if the prosecutors are to pursue the indictment of the fake statement of the securities report for the last 3 years, it is inevitable to charge Mr. Saikawa as well.
Can Mr. Saikawa Withstand Criticism of being Involved in “Backdoor Agreement” with Prosecutors?
This is when the idea of plea bargain occurs to us—that is, whether or not there is a possibility that Mr. Saikawa has agreed to a plea bargain with the prosecutors by cooperating in the investigation on the “crimes of others” (i.e., of Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly), thereby being exempted from criminal punishment.
It is possible that there is a “backdoor agreement” between the prosecutors and President Saikawa “targeting” Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly. However, if such agreement exists, where it is agreed not to charge President Saikawa, what was it all about that he criticized Mr. Ghosn at the press conference immediately after his arrest, going so far as to say that he “felt resentment (toward Mr. Ghosn)”? There is likely to be severe criticisms against such agreement as well as against Mr. Saikawa domestically and internationally. Furthermore, if this is the case, it is likely that Mr. Saikawa falls under the “party with special interest” in relation to the extraordinary board meeting where he served as the chairman and determined the removal of Mr. Ghosn from his position of the Representative Director and Chairman. This may affect the force and effect of the vote (““Serious Concern” over Plea Bargain between Executives of Nissan and Prosecutors” – Are Directors Involved in Securities Report able to Participate in Voting relating to Removal of Ghosn?).
Given all of the above, if the prosecutors are to re-arrest Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly on the ground of a fake statement in the securities report for the last 3 years, there is no other choice than to arrest Mr. Saikawa and hold him criminally liable. However, this would virtually mean the collapse of the current management team of Nissan which executed a coup d’etat at the initiative of President Saikawa and upset the Ghosn Regime. The investigation of the prosecutors, which has been conducted in close cooperation with the management team of Nissan, is also at a risk of “collapsing”.
*Translation was provided by Mr. Gohara’s office, with some minor editing by JSRC staff for clarity based on the original Japanese text.
If you are unlucky enough to be indicted for a crime in Japan, you’ll find that the system actually works on the presumption that you are guilty until proven guilty. The conviction rate is 99%. If Franz Kafka was alive today, he’d find that Japan’s courts provided ample material for his pessimistic work. The recently released film The Trial (審判）based on Kafka’s famous work, and directed by John Williams, thus seems tremendously disturbing.
John Williams is that rare western filmmaker who has chosen to live and work in Tokyo, though he originally came to Japan in 1988 with the intention of saving enough money to go to film school in the US. “I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker since the age of 14,” he said, in the offices above the Eurospace Theater in Shibuya, where his latest work The Trial (Shinpan) is showing. It’s not everyone who keeps a promise made in their teens, but John Williams did just that, albeit in a place very far from his native England.
John Williams is from South Wales and back in the mid 1980s when he graduated from university, the British film industry wasn’t what you’d call thriving, in fact it was rather gomping. “Actually it was at a very low ebb,” laughed Williams. “Of course in the 90s, works like ‘Trainspotting’ changed the landscape but we couldn’t see that coming just yet. There were practically no film schools for young students and the average age at the National Film School – the only institution for aspiring filmmakers, was 27.” So John Williams decided, like many others before and after him, to study movie-making in the US, specifically at NYU film school. To that end, he needed to get some cash together and Japan seemed like the place to earn it.
Fast forward 30 years and with the completion of “The Trial,” Williams has 5 films under his belt. He also teaches film production/European films at Sophia University’s Foreign Languages Department. But he never did get to NYU since, just like in the Lennon song, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. By the time Williams got the funds together for New York, he was deep in the throes of life in Japan and travels in Asia. “I was in India when the acceptance letter came and didn’t even see it till I got back. And, well, going to the US seemed to me like a conventional, boring choice. Staying here seemed much more interesting.”
Listening to Williams say that in the Eurospace office, the moment felt like a movie scene all by itself. Eurospace is an iconic Shibuya theater, famed for showcasing indie gems from around the world. There was Wayne Wang’s “Smoke.” Francois Ozon’s “Criminal Lovers.” More recently, it put on “Frances Ha” when few Japanese were even aware of the now Academy award contender Greta Gerwig. And now Williams’ “The Trial” is being shown as a limited release, it will currently be running as the late show every night until the 20th. Given the story (based on the Kafka novel) and weird but intriguing vibe, “The Trial” and the Eurospace venue seem to be made for each other. (Please check with Eurospace website for movie times as they may change).
Eurospace – situated in Maruyamacho, and sandwiched between two love hotels. In fact, every square meter of land in the area is occupied by love hotels. Couples sheepishly stroll around, checking on room prices and curiously eyeing the movie theater. “The Trial” – a film about a young Japanese salariman suddenly condemned for an unnamed crime, and who has a weakness for women and sex.
Otherwise the movie is an invitation to match and compare. Williams does a superb job of superimposing Kafka’s most famous character Josef K., a 30-year old German banker in 1914, onto the life of Yosuke Kimura, a 30-year old banker in present day Tokyo. “It’s present day, but I deliberately made the time frame abstract, almost non-technological,” said Williams. Indeed, Kimura’s hand isn’t welded to his smartphone the way everyone’s is these days, and he almost never looks at a computer screen. Kimura’s main interest seems to be women, as he tries to hook up with every female who crosses his path. His success rate is dismal however, and there’s clearly no emotion or chemistry involved. “I thought about Japanese women a lot when making this movie,” said Williams. “They’re trapped in a society controlled by men. They get so much encouragement to please men and become good wives and mothers, and practically no support when it comes to voicing their opinions or carving out careers.”
Aptly, “The Trial” is wintry and bleak, steeped in various shades of black and gray. Kimura (played with studied excellence by Tsutomu Niwa) even lives in a monotone apartment, devoid of color, clutter or any human warmth. On the morning of his 30th birthday, Kimura wakes up to find two strange men in his bedroom, and they inform him that his “case” is coming up for trial. Kimura has no idea what they’re talking about but in a few days, he receives an envelope summoning him to court the following Sunday. It doesn’t say what time or where exactly and when Kimura finally arrives, the Judge (Ichiro Murata) informs him that he is one hour and 26 minutes late. Kimura is incensed by this, and tries to argue that he cannot be late for an event that doesn’t specify the time. While this is going on, a woman (Shizuko Kawakami) has loud sex with a man in a dark suit in a back room. When Kimura returns to court the next day, the woman crudely seduces him and Kimura is ready to fall for it, until they’re interrupted by the janitor (Ichi Omiya) who tells Kimura that the woman is his wife. Later, Kimura encounters a group of people who are all awaiting trial, and no one seems to have any answers, either to the nature of their crimes or the system that seems convinced of their guilt. Yes, I know – surreal, right?
On another level, “The Trial” shows up the very Kafka-esqueness of Japan’s judicial system – the long, grueling process of scrutiny between arrest and indictment, and how, once indictment kicks in, it’s impossible to overturn it＊. “For me, it was less about Japan’s judicial system than it was about dealing with the bureaucrats in Tokyo,” said Williams. “And what I’m seeing in Japan right now – the secrecy law, changes in the constitution, the rise of the nationalistic, quasi religious groups – I find all that very creepy. But at the same time, life goes on here. The Japanese don’t seem to paying much attention to this shadow creeping across the country. The metaphorical message of ‘The Trial’ works really well for what we’re seeing in Japan at this point.”
And how. Watching Kimura’s expression shift from incredulity and contempt to finally – defeated resignation, a kind of dread washes over me like a wave in a polluted ocean. The whole thing is maybe a little too close to home.
＊Editor’s note: One of the dark secrets of Japan’s criminal justice system is that the prosecution in Japan will punt (fail to prosecute) any case that is not a slam-dunk for fear of losing. Sexual assault cases have a particularly low prosecution rate and politicians or high-ranking bureaucrats are often allowed to walk free–including the 39 bureaucrats involved in forging, deleting and altering documents in a dubious land deal involving a right-wing school and the Prime Minister of Japan. The prosecutor who dropped the cases was recently promoted.
“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.
An abbreviated version of this article was originally published on the Committee to Protect Journalists blog.
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.
originally published in 2010.
It’s Not Easy Being a Yakuza Boss
originally published in The Atlantic Wire September 28th, 2012 (before the settlement on October 4th, 2012)
TOKYO ― These days the price of a standard civilian hit-job can run as high as $2 million. That’s not the price to get the job done―that’s the price if one of your underlings gets caught. The whole inflationary spiral started with one dumb yakuza stiffing McDonald’s on the price of a cheeseburger in Kyoto a few years ago.
The Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest organized crime group with 39,000 members and their notorious former underboss Tadamasa Goto (at left, from a 2005 video of a Yamaguchi-gumi celebration) are expected to reach a settlement this month with the family of a civilian killed in 2006. The surviving family members, represented by a group of 25 lawyers, filed the lawsuit last month, asking for ¥187 million in damages, or $2.4 million. (Tadamasa Goto was expelled from the Yamaguchi-gumi on October 14th, 2008).
A potential key witness to the murder was extradited from Thailand on Thursday and arrested on the plane back to Japan―on charges of driving without a license―by Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department detectives, who were waiting on the plane. The police also plan to question him about the killing and, of course, his lack of respect for Japan’s rules of the roads.
The arrest has made all parties involved with the murder anxious to sweep the case under the table. Goto, former head of the disbanded Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi, who has never faced any criminal charges for ordering the hit, is desperate to avoid being tried in civil court, and said to be willing to cut a deal. However, it’s the current “CEO” of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Shinobu Tsukasa shown at right, who has the most to lose. At the time of the murder, he was in jail on gun possession charges, had no knowledge of the plan, and did not approve it, is not very happy to be cleaning up the mess. He doesn’t want to pay for a crime he didn’t commit or condone. Naturally. The whole thing is bad for business and terrible PR. It really damages the Yamaguchi-gumi corporate brand. And if the lawsuit actually goes to court, it could be a very bad legal precedent for “Yakuza Inc.”
According to those involved with the case and police sources, in 2006 Kazuo Nozaki, a real estate agent, was in a legal dispute with a Goto-gumi front company over the property rights to a building worth ¥2 billion ($26,000,000) in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo. On March 5 of that year, three members of the Goto-gumi waited for Nozaki to walk down a street in Tokyo’s upscale Kita-Aoyama area, and then one allegedly stabbed him to death with a kitchen knife. Of the three assailants, only two have been caught; criminal charges of ordering the hit were never filed against Goto.
The first hearing in the civil suit is tentatively scheduled for this month but sources on both sides say a settlement for the full amount is already being proffered by the Yamaguchi-gumi. A Yamaguchi-gumi middle manager said, “We don’t want this case to go to court. It could set a bad precedent. If this lawsuit were Apple versus Samsung, we’d be Samsung.”
It is an unusual lawsuit. Police sources say it represents the first time Japanese yakuza bosses have been sued for crimes pre-dating the 2008 revisions to the Organized Crime Countermeasures Law (暴力団対策法) which made it possible to hold organized crime bosses responsible for the actions of their underlings in civil court, by essentially recognizing yakuza groups as corporations.
Former National Police Agency officer and lawyer, Akihiko Shiba, says that since it is very difficult to prove the criminal responsibility of the top yakuza bosses, lawsuits are one way of seeing justice is partially served. “The Organized Crime Countermeasure Laws are administrative laws, not criminal laws. The 2008 revisions made it clear that designated organized crimes groups function like a Japanese company, and therefore the people at the top have employer liability (使用者責任),” he explains. Since 2008, there have been at least three lawsuits against top yakuza bosses for damages by lower ranking members. All were settled out of court. “For the time being the use of civil lawsuits against top yakuza certainly has a deterrent effect on the management. The damages add up after a time,” Shiba says.
Others would agree.
These days, being a yakuza boss isn’t what it once was. In exchange for supreme status you get blamed for everything. In August of 2008, three months after the countermeasures laws went into effect, the Yamaguchi-gumi boss found himself dealing with one of his low-ranking underling’s unpaid McDonald’s tab. That’s because Japan’s approach to its major organized crime groups (there are 22) is to regulate rather than ban. They exist in the open with office buildings, business cards, and even company songs. The yakuza are Crime Incorporated. And in Japan, the CEO has to take responsibility for the screw-ups under his command. (To see how many people a boss has to worry about, see the org chart below.)
A 38-year-old Yamaguchi-gumi member had ordered burger combo at a drive-through in Kyoto. He picked up his order, but then claimed since his meal had gotten wet in the rain, he owed nothing, and drove off clutching his burger and fries. (It’s unclear whether it was a plain hamburger or a cheeseburger, accounts vary, but it was definitely not a happy meal.) Several days later, a bill arrived at the Yamaguchi-gumi headquarters in Kobe from a very angry McDonald’s manager. The organization paid.
The cheeseburger compensation was just the start of a series of legal headaches for the Yamaguchi-gumi and other yakuza groups. Over time, and with additional revisions to the laws, and broader interpretations by the courts, yakuza bosses now find “employer liability” increasingly burdensome. A boss can be held liable for any damages his cohorts inflict in the course of their business activities, including extortion.
There are a number of things about the lawsuit concerning Nozaki’s death that are different from anything preceding them. “If this case goes to court and the defendant loses, it could be a major setback for the yakuza,” says a retired police investigator formerly with the Tokyo Metro Police, who had over 20 years experience investigating organized crime. “It opens up a whole wave of possible lawsuits to crimes pre-dating the revisions. It may even be possible to sue in cases where the criminal statue of limitations is over. For the yakuza, at least the smart ones, this lawsuit is Pandora’s Box.”
Yakuza expert and the author of The Yakuza and The Nuclear Industry, Tomohiko Suzuki, concurs, “This lawsuit is big news in the underworld. It won’t stop the hits from happening but it will make people weigh the cost of killing an individual versus the money to be made.”
The Nozaki murder is still officially unsolved and who is ultimately responsible, criminally or civilly, has not been settled. The Goto-gumi member who police suspect of receiving the orders for the hit, Takashi Kondo, was assassinated in Thailand last year after an international arrest warrant had been issued. Dead men can’t be sued.
Tadamasa Goto, who is suspected but has never been charged with ordering the hits on Nozaki and Kondo, was kicked out of the Yamaguchi-gumi two years after the Nozaki murder on October 14, 2008, so his legal responsibility is unclear. Police officers call him “the father of Japan’s anti-organized crime legislation” because of his willingness to approve violent attacks on ordinary citizens generated so much anti-yakuza sentiment. He also jumped ahead of U.S. citizens in July of 2001 to receive a liver transplant at UCLA after making a deal with the FBI. Goto may no longer be part of the Yamaguchi-gumi, but he’s currently operating a new criminal gang under the moniker Goto Enterprises (後藤商事).
And the current Yamaguchi-gumi boss, Tsukasa, has never faced a criminal investigation for the murder because, as noted above, law enforcement sources believe (and underworld sources agree) Tsukasa never gave the order for the killing, never approved it, and was in solitary confinement when the job was done. He did finally approve the banishment of Goto, while he was still in jail, via his second in command.
A high-ranking member of the Yamaguchi-gumi, on background, feels that lawsuit this time is decidedly unfair. This member explains, “Mr. Tsukasa has never condoned the killing of a civilian. The Yamaguchi-gumi under Mr. Tsukasa forbids dealing in drugs, theft, robbery and violence against ordinary citizens―that’s not acceptable. Extortion and blackmail, that’s another issue. Anyway, one of the reasons the Yamaguchi-gumi finally kicked out Goto is because he continually violated even our lowest ethical standards. And now, six years after the fact, we have to clean up his mess again.”
Goto may pay his share of the damages but he is balking about paying the bill for his former godfather (Oyabun), Tsukasa. Goto has supposedly told his associates, “Who do you think put up the bail money for the old man in 2005? That was my ¥1 billion ($10 million) in cash! He kicked me out of the organization. And he still hasn’t paid me back. He can pay his damages out of what he owes me.” In the meantime, Goto is not strapped for cash. His defiant autobiography, Habakarinagara (Pardon Me But…), was a bestseller after it was published in 2010 and his new “business ventures” are reportedly highly successful.
Attempts to reach Goto for comment, including calls to his private cell-phone were unsuccessful. Sources close to Goto said he is hiding out in Cambodia until the lawsuit is settled.
While it’s certainly hard to feel any sympathy for Tsukasa, you can see why it’s a headache, at least, to keep homicidal sociopaths on the payroll. All you can do is fire them―if you can’t get them buried somewhere. And $2 million may seem like a drop in the bucket for a Japanese gang lord, but keep in mind with bail running around $10 to $15 million, it’s getting much harder to make a dishonest living these days.