The March 12 arrest of Pierre Taki (real name: Masanori Taki) for possession and usage of cocaine sent shock waves through the Japanese media. Now that April and the new Reiwa era has kicked in, the hew and cry over Taki’s fiasco has died down somewhat. And he is out on bail. And of course, he did a 30 second bow, after his release to show he was very very contrite. And yes, there is someone out there who actually counts the length of an apology bow. By the end of the Reina era, the average “bow of apology” is expected to stretch to 75 seconds.
The repercussions however, are far from over. Pierre Taki went from being the frontman of synthpop/techno band Denki Groove to one of the most visible actors in Japanese film and television. Taki was never a lead man but with his deadpan humor and weighty presence, he had carved out a John Malkovich-like position and as such, the man is not easily replaceable. At the time of his arrest Taki had been working on a number of TV dramas including NHK’s prestigious Sunday night series Idaten. NHK has announced that they have deleted all of Taki’s scenes including the ones already aired. Apparently, NHK is shooting everything again from scratch, tripling the workload for cast and crew members while other major networks scrambled to cancel Taki’s scenes and appearances. All of Taki’s product endorsements were pulled out. Sales of Sega’s video game JudgementJapan in which Taki appears as a key character, has been stopped.
JudgementJapan was a spin-off of Sega’s popular yakuza games series (龍が如く in Japan) and coincidentally, the series also had another actor retroactively removed from the a game after allegations of cocaine use were published. Even in a game about yakuza, it’s not acceptable for the actors playing the characters, who use drugs, to actually use drugs. In a show of moral consternation, Denki Groove’s music was subsequently yanked off the Net.
Adhering to the Japanese custom in such cases, Taki’s elderly father has appeared in the media to apologize for the wrongdoings of his 51-year old son. The rest of Taki’s family (his wife for instance) has not been seen.
According to news reports, Taki’s arrest cost the Japanese media over 3 billion yen in losses. That bill will be sent to Taki and it remains to be seen how he’ll deal with it.
In the meantime, Taki seems resigned to his fate. The prosecution has released part of his statement attesting to a coke habit going back 30 years. “When I was in my twenties, I was doing cocaine and marijuana whenever I went abroad. After that, the habit stuck with me,” Taki reportedly said. Rumor has it that Taki in the full-statement added “I’m not the only one,” which sounds ominous.
Speculations abound as to who’s next in-line to be busted for drug use. Japan has a reputation of being relatively drug-free, with the exception of amphetamines known as “kakuseizai (覚せい剤）” which has been around since the 1920s. Kakuseizai was and continues to be, a picker-upper used by many segments of the populace—especially yakuza and media celebrities. Interestingly enough, the drug is considered relatively harmless compared to the big baddies: cocaine and heroin. It’s also easy to lay hands on some of it, provided you have the cash and the right friends with tattoos.
Cliched as it sounds, most clubs in Roppongi have V.I.P. rooms where people like Taki can stroll in, sit down and start inhaling shabu—the other name for the drug—referring to the dry mouth and thirst that comes with usage, as well as the tendency of habitual use to suck the life out of the addict. Street prices are now fixed at 70,000 yen per 1 gram, which is a third of the price of cocaine. Five years ago, kakuseizai peaked at 90,000 yen to the gram but the word on the street is that the suppliers have come to outnumber the users.
Japan’s notoriously slow (or thorough, depending on how you look at it) narcotics investigators usually take 18 or so months to gather the evidence for a viable case, and another few months before actually making an arrest. A media analyst who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I know of a case where the narcotics team spent three years trying to nab the president of a major ‘talent’ agency. They made sure the evidence was air-tight, went in and made the arrest. After all that, the president went free on a suspended sentence. The next year, he was back in business.”
Indeed, kakuseizai can tarnish a public image but not irrevocably. Former baseball superstar Kazuhiro Kiyohara is a case in point. In 2016 he was arrested for using and possessing kakuseizai but after the hullabaloo died down, Kiyohara reinvented himself as a rehab guru. His heavily confessional self-help books continue to sell and he makes frequent appearances on comedy shows. He has turned his misfortune into a second fortune.
The aforementioned analyst explained: “If a celebrity is going to slip, he or she better make sure they’re big enough to withstand the fall. The bigger the name, the more lenient the sentence and the faster the comeback. Everyone in the entertainment industry understands this, which is partially why it takes so long for prosecutors to make an arrest. Everyone crowds around the golden goose, to protect and nurture. A lot of peoples’ livelihoods depend on the survival of that goose. The goose called Pierre Taki kept going for 30 years.”
So is getting caught using drugs a by-product of this super-aged society? It’s sure starting to sound like it. Mega -stars like Aska, (of the music duo Chage and Aska) was arrested for kakuseizai abuse twice, but in his sixties he’s back on stage, touring the archipelago as a one-man show.
Pierre Taki may not be so lucky. Compared to kakuseizai, cocaine constitutes a serious offense and it’s much more difficult to buy in Japan. Taki has never cultivated a squeaky clean image but the overall verdict is that it will take him some time to bounce back from this one. Other celebrities arrested for coke include Shintaro Katsu, an iconic actor from the Showa era whose booze and womanizing lifestyle was in perfect sync with his yakuza roles. In 1990, Katsu (then in his late 50s) was arrested in Hawaii for possession of cocaine which he hid in his underwear. He was promptly deported back to Japan and arrested in Narita Airport but he never admitted where he got the drug and seasoned his trial with bawdy jokes. Katsu’s career and health deteriorated after that but when he died 7 years later at the age of 65–11,000 fans turned up for his funeral.
“I know this is a bad thing to say, but many in the entertainment industry tend to view cocaine as a glamor drug,” said the journalist. “Being arrested for kakuseizai is pretty much run of the mill but a coke habit suggests money, connections and status.”
If this is true, we’ll surely be seeing Pierre Taki again. He may need the money, after all.
Welcome to our semi-annual pledge drive. Japan Subculture Research Center (@japankenkyu) was founded in 2007 by Jake Adelstein and many contributors to expose the hidden side of Japan – its underground economy, its transient and strange trends, its robust sex trade, wacky politics, corruption, social issues, many subcultures, yakuza, host clubs and hosts, Japanese cinema and all the other intriguing and seedy aspects that keep the country running. Balancing commentary, reporting and dark humor–we’re the kakekomitera (駆け込み寺) aka “last resort” of some news stories that no one else will touch. We’ve covered rebel graffiti artists, crusading lawyers, and some real heroes.
We would like this summer to support two interns so that we can post more original material and also revamp the layout. We’d like to add a current events section, more book reviews, more informative and provocative essays about Japan, and fund some investigative journalism. Ambitious yes, but we have lofty goals here at JSRC. Please read our manifesto: If you love Japan, make it better. Our mission statement.
Meanwhile, as part of this year’s pledge drive, we are giving away to the lucky two readers who donates before Thursday (drawing by lottery) free tickets to to see Shoplifters with English subtitles and a Q & A, by the director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Your contributions are greatly appreciated, however small or large.
If your motto in life is “one good deed a day” (一日一善）, here’s your chance to get those good karma points.
Rural depopulation is a serious problem in Japan, so much that for the past decade, media fiction has devoted an entire genre into telling its stories. Bankrupt shops with their shutters permanently closed, desolate mountain and sea landscapes, no one out on the streets but a handful of old people. These are both metaphors for, and the hard facts of, most Japanese rural areas. Regional governments have been desperate to bring in new residents and to this end, they’re offering stipends, free housing, even matchmaking parties – on the governments’ dime. Rumor has it that since the early nineties, rural towns have been recruiting parolees to become part of the local populace. This information cannot be verified. The people involved will never admit to such a program even existing. But it’s there, and “The Scythian Lamb” is a brilliant fable about what happens when this program kicks in (pun fully intended) on a sleepy little coastal town. A town where, “the people are kind and the seafood is delicious.”
With its slow burning violence and small town melodrama, “The Scythian Lamb” is mindful in many ways of “Fargo” (the TV series) but without the broad streak of snarkiness and splashy bloodletting. Most of all, the dystopian despair that make up much of “Fargo” (and like-minded others) is missing from “Scythian…”
This isn’t a spoiler but the ending is hopeful, even happy. The final scenes close on a rural town whose residents are marginally more joyous than they were last year and there is absolutely no mention of the violence that erupted briefly like fireworks, then disappeared into the night sky. However, the journey to the peaceful end is not easy.
Six ex-cons, all who had served time for murder and now on parole, are selected to live in a fictional seaside town called Uobuka (which means ‘fish deep’). One by one, they arrive – four men and two women between the ages of early 30s to mid-60s – and are given a welcome by the city hall worker Tsukisue (played with breezy finesse by Ryo Nishikido). They are allowed to live in the town, on the condition that they take jobs provided them by city hall, and that they stay for 10 years. In other words, they’ve exchanged a shorter prison sentence for another kind of penance. Already, one of them (Kazuki Kitamura), who represents Japan’s new breed of criminal, has started to complain that he will be “bored to death” here.
Tsukisue is still young, lithe and naive though his high school pal Sudo (Satoru Matsui) assures him that living out in the boonies ages everyone twice as fast. “In your case, it’s four times as fast,” Tsukisue jokes to the noticeably overweight Sudo. But Tsukisue may be envious of the fact that fat or not, at least his friend has a wife and daughter to go home to. Tsukisue on the other hand, looks like a guy who has been celibate for a long time, which is fast becoming the norm for many single Japanese men. But (and this is the thing about Tsukisue) the guy is NOT bitter. He’s gentle, kind and above all, conscientious. He does his job, and then goes home to take care of his dad who is recovering from a stroke. Not much of a life for a good-looking dude. But when he discovers that the newcomers he had chaperoned were each convicted for murder or manslaughter, Tsukisue’s equilibrium is shattered. Will they, you know, like, do it again? His supervisor intones to Tsukisue not to dwell on the past. “And don’t go telling people they’ve just gotten out of prison,” adds the supervisor, because this project could well have a bearing on “Japan’s future.”
Based on the award-winning manga by Tatsuhiko Yamagami and Mikio Igarashi, “The Scythian Lamb” is directed by Daihachi Yoshida. As one of Japan’s last old-school filmmakers, Yoshida has a solid reputation for churning out crime/suspense blockbusters like “Pale Moon” in 2014. “Scythian…” shows Yoshida in an unusually political mode, exploring the many woes of Japan’s rapidly shrinking, super aged population and the general feeling that ours is a no-hope, claustrophobic society. Which is probably true, but in “Scythian…,” the suggested silver bullet is violence. No one is excited about Uobuka being, in the words of Tsukisue, “a nice place with kind people and great seafood.” But when a dead body turns up on the pier, everyone seems to get a glint in their eye. A cloudy sky turns blue. An old man even gets laid.
All this is cause for celebration, considering that most of the Uobuka populace acts half-dead most of the time. Even Tsukisue’s high school crush Aya (Fumino Kimura), the supposed heroine of the story, hardly speaks and never smiles. Aya, Tsukisue and Sudo had once played in the same rock band and Tsukisue tries to rekindle their friendship by inviting them to practice again. Aya reluctantly agrees. Big surprise for Tsukisue when he learns that she has started dating one of the ex-cons: Miyakoshi (Ryuhei Matsuda) who comes off like a bullied victim but actually hoards menace like a grandmother with yarn. You know those skinny, quiet guys who may or may not be a serial killer in a Netflix series? That’s Miyakoshi, right down to his discount sneakers. (Editor’s note:And if you’re a student of true crime in Japan, he channels all the skinny sociopaths who have been responsible for some of Japan’s more horrendous mass murders in recent years–but of course, he’s not one. Not quite)
The others are as compelling if not as troublesome. Still, whenever one or the other is in the frame you sense a storm brewing: Min Tanaka as the ex-yakuza who did eighteen years for killing another boss and feels that it may be too late to start afresh. There is Kazuki Kitamura’s Sugiyama who really enjoys stirring things up, and seems like a refugee from the dismantled gang, Kanto Rengo, which won fame for beating their enemies to death with baseball bats. His confrontation with the ex-yakuza rings surprisingly true. And there’s Shingo Mizusawa as Fukumoto, an ex-barber who slashed his boss’s throat with a razor. The women are given less to do but Mikako Ichikawa and Yuka try to make the most of their roles. Yuka is in her usual hot-chick mode, but Ichikawa manages to steal some scenes as a woman who had routinely been beaten by her boyfriend until one night she cracked his skull as he slept, with a large bottle of sake. “I’m a scary woman,” she tells Tsukisue and it’s moments like these that Uobuka morphs from a nice place with great seafood, to somewhere real.
Opens February 3rd.
Editor’s note: In my opinion, one of the best Japanese films in recent years. The story is subtle, the acting restrained, the quiet violence is convincing. The movie also has a hypnotic, ethereal soundtrack that matches well with the buried mystical theme that pulls the film together. (Jake)
The Yamaguchi-gumi had posted a sign around October 20th, that they would be refraining from having the annual Halloween Party this year, due to “various circumstances”.
It was an oblique reference to the violent gang wars between factions of the group. There was an attempted assassination of the leader of the Ninkyo Yamaguchi-gumi, a splinter faction, in September. His bodyguard ended up taking the bullet. It seemed like a good call not have the event–no one wants kids caught in the crossfire.
The media reported the non-event, including this reporter. Tensions were low, the children who looked forward to the event, which was restarted last year after a one year hiatus, were unhappy.
Suddenly at around 4pm on October 31st (Japan time), gangsters opened the shutters of their headquarters and began distributing bags of candy to the neighborhood kids, as they have done for over a decade. A gangster dressed as a giant jack-o-lantern waved children inside the compound. The yard was garishly decorated with Halloween lights, blow-up pumpkins and ghosts, and a cotton candy machine according to those who attended.
The neighborhood children were delighted. Each garish bag was decorated with jack-o-lanterns and “Happy Halloween” in English. The bags had cookies, crackers, and chocolate filled koalas.“They did celebrate after all,” rejoiced one local woman. “Not only were the decorations great and the gift bags full of tasty stuff, there were two big lines for cotton candy. And the gangsters were super nice.”Some members were in costume distributing bags saying “Happy Halloween!” while others were in white jumpsuits and bullet-proof vests patrolling he area as the police looked on. “Security was top notch,” stated one mother who attended.
One father in the area of Indian descent wrote me, “The kids got one bag each, worth about 800 yen ($7) worth of stuff. My wife said it was a really fun event.” Many in the large Indian community in Kobe were convinced that they played a role in the tradition, recounting stories of visiting the headquarters in their youth. One woman remembers that eventually Japanese school children began following their lead on Halloween–making costumes out of black garbage bags and tagging along. This year, as a special bonus, the Cotton Candy was packaged in a Pretty Cure (Glitter Force) Anime bags. My daughter Beni would have been delighted–if she was still five years old.
No Masks Necessary
For the rest of the world, the Japanese mafia, even the well-organized Yamaguchi-gumi are frightening creatures. They don’t have to hide in Japan. They don’t wear masks but many of them wear sunglasses and are covered in ornate tattoos, often with violent images, and have a characteristic scowl. Some members cut off a finger in atonement for their own mistakes or on behalf of their friends to settle a dispute. A chopped off finger to atone for your mistakes is known as a shiniyubi (死に指) “a dead finger”. When a pinkie is sacrificed for another person, it’s the more honorable ikiyubi (生き指) or “living finger.” Many yakuza also have facial scars. This dates back to a time when instead of killing a rival, some thugs would just cut the person’s face and let them live. A small number of yakuza deliberately cut their own faces, to give the impression that they had survived a deadly confrontation.
In Japan, to discreetly discuss the yakuza, some people still use their index finger to pantomime cutting their face.
The yakuza derive their revenue from racketeering, gambling, fraud, insider trading, blackmail and other unsavory acts. Many members though, also run legitimate businesses. The Yamaguchi-gumi ostensibly forbids its members from engaging in theft, robbery, and drug dealing. They claim to be a humanitarian organization and are regulated under Japanese laws but not banned outright.
The police were less than delighted with today’s “trick.” An organized crime control detective from the Kansai area said, “We weren’t completely caught off guard but it was a risky move in light of the current gang war. I think their rivals (Kobe-Yamaguchi-gumi and the Ninkyo Yamaguchi-gumi) were snow-jobbed but now I get the ‘trick-or-treat’ thing’ now.” He went on to explain that the party was good PR for the organization. The false cancellation may have been an effort to stave off trouble and the press, he speculated.
Local press has also noted that many people in Japan are now bringing lawsuits against yakuza groups to force them to vacate their local offices. It appears that this year’s Halloween Party was the gang’s way of forestalling this, while gaining the goodwill of the community. Much of the media came late to the party, but the local newspaper, Kobe Shimbun, posted a slightly critical story around 7:30 pm. They also removed from their website an October 21st article stating that the Halloween party was going to be cancelled, “Probably due to the influence of the gang war.”
I hastily updated my own article—which was hard to do from the scene of the multiple murders at Zama City. One former Kabukicho talent scout was arrested that day for desecration of a corpse, after police found nine severed human heads and body parts in his apartment. They were looking for a missing woman–they probably found her. It was a grisly Halloween indeed. All things being equal, I wish I’d stuck to my original plans to go to Kobe.
In the end, the Yamaguchi-gumi tricked us all. But in some ways, it was the highlight of my dark Halloween.
The police were pissed and so were some of the media. The kids were just happy to get their candy. And it may be the only time in their little lives that they get to turn the tables on the yakuza and safely extort something from them. Trick or treat!?
Since 1956, Japan’s film industry has set aside a day to celebrate the birth of cinema in this country. December 1st, 2016, marks the 60th anniversary. The holiday is also known a 映画の日 (eiga no hi). The first showing of a film is generally considered to have happened in 1896 in Kobe, 19 years before Japan’s largest yakuza group, the Yamaguchi-gumi (still going strong) was founded in the same area.
Here are some links to articles our contributors have written in the past. Enjoy!
In honour of Japan’s Celebration of Cinema Day, December 1st, we’ve reposted some reviews and articles on classic films. Some good, some bad, some epic.This was originally posted on March 10th 2011. (Wow, who would have guessed what would happen a day later.) It has been reposted to commemorate the passing of yakuza movie icon, Ken Takakura, on November 10th 2014.
The film festival opened with a bang or rather the swoosh of a katana (刀) slashing through the air with the showing of Sydney Pollack’s overlooked 1975 classic gangster film, The Yakuza, which starred Toei Yakuza film regular Takakura Ken and film noire/hardboiled action star, Robert Mitchum. “Mitchum, in one of his best roles of the 1970s, is drawn to the Orient by an army buddy (Brian Keith), whose daughter has been kidnapped. But when he gets to Japan, Mitchum finds that her kidnappers are the shadowy Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia–an organization that is as vicious as it is tradition-bound. He must call on friends he made after World War II for favors and finds himself unintentionally trampling on issues of honor, even as he battles for his life and that of the girl he is seeking.” (from Amazon.com)
The script was written by Paul Schrader, better known for writing such classics as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. It is probably one of the most unique yakuza films ever made, in which an American and an ex-yakuza form an uneasy alliance. Takakura Ken would later go on to play the stiff, rule-bound but honorable organized crime control division detective in Ridley Scott’s Black Rain. In the genre, the only thing that comes close to having the same components is Kitano Takeshi’s Brother. (PS. If you can find a copy of the Japanese original version which is 40 minutes longer than the cut released in the west, watch it instead of the US version. It makes it a much better film.)
The tag-line for The Yakuza when released on DVD is an eloquent summary of the yakuza code. “A man never forgets. A man pays his debts.” While the movie is not as close to approaching the realism of 鬼火 (Onibi: The Fire Within) which has its US debut tomorrow (March 10th), it is an amazing film and the sword fighting scenes at the climax are breathtakingly done and some of the tensest action scenes you’ll ever see in any film.
After Paul Schrader did the introductions, I was lucky enough to have dinner with him, and Stephen E. Globus who made the event possible. During his prefatory remarks, and before and after dinner, Mr. Schrader shared the story of how he became interested in the yakuza and the background to the film and his other still-banned-in-Japan masterpiece, Mishima, which depicted the life of famous Japanese novelist and late-blooming right-wing idol Mishima Yukio. Mishima committed seppuku, or hara-kiri (ritual self-embowlment), at Japan’s Self-Defense base in Ichigaya as his final literary statement. According to Mr. Schrader, he intended to write a final poem with a brush-pen dipped in the blood flowing from his guts. Unfortunately, his subordinate botched the job of lobbing off Mishima’s head and other things left that final poem unwritten.
When I was a student at Sophia University in the 90’s, I taught English to one of the doctor’s who performed the autopsy of Mishima. He told me that his shoulders had three or four deep cuts where his disciple had clearly missed the target: Mishima’s neck. This evening while drinking Otokoyama (男山, Man-Mountain), my favorite sake, with the screenwriter, Mr. Globus and members of the Japan society, was the first time I ever knew that there was more botched in that final act than just the decapitation. In his closing remarks, Mr. Schrader also noted that originally Takakura Ken had been offered the role of Mishima but politely bowed out later saying obliquely and apologetically, “There are certain forces that do not want me to do this film and as part of that subculture, I must decline.”
Schrader’s original reason for being interested in the yakuza and film about them came from his brother, who was living in Japan, and wrote him of those amazing Toei studio yakuza films, and the splendor of Japanese life. Schrader expressed his fondness for the rigid rules and politeness of Japanese society, noting, “If I had grown up under those rules, I would have probably hated them. But as a foreigner, I benefit from them but yet am not expected to obey them.” His own daughter was born in Japan in the 80’s on a particularly auspicious day. He hopes someday to be invited to the Tokyo Film Festival but as of yet, since the making of the controversial Mishima and the refusal once of the film festival to show it, he hasn’t been invited to Japan as a speaker for any film festival. The reality of the yakuza (and their hold on Japan’s film industry) are not the only taboo subjects in Japan.
Tomorrow, March 10th, I will be lecturing on Yakuza In Popular Media & Real LIfe: Cracks and Chasms from 6:30 pm. This will be followed by the U.S. premiere of the fantastic Onibi: The Fire Within. It was an honor and a pleasure to meet Mr. Schrader who was funny, humble, and even accommodated my request for the obligatory commemorative photo.
The underworld has its own language, and its own idioms.
Yakuza are not the exception to the rule. For example, instead of saying “going to jail” (刑務所に行く: keimusho ni iku), they say “going to university” (大学に行く : daigaku ni iku). This phrase has a special meaning and is not used randomly. First, yakuza consider that jail is informative, a required kind of rite of passage to become a true gangster. Then, because prison is actually, for the yakuza, an educational place, in a scholastic sense. If they are rich enough (and it is often the case, or their oyabun’s position, given that one of his duties is to provide assistance to his subordinates), they can learn calligraphy, painting, but also the art of haiku, among other things. They get books from other clan members, but others are provided by the Government within the prison. One can find in these prison libraries masterpiece of literature, but more surprisingly, economic or even law books. In fact, the yakuza often get out jail with a better academic level than they had at the time of their incarceration. This “Prison University” is even more important to them than the majority of yakuza has never graduate, and many of them have even stopped attending school before the end of high school.
To talk about jail, yakuza also use terms such as “slammer” (豚箱 : butabako)–literally “pigbox” or “hard labor” (懲役に行く : chōeki ni iku); despite its few advantages (when you have the money to afford them), prison remains a detention center, not a holiday club.
Some of the less bright yakuza spend so much time in jail that they are mostly yakuza in name only. Amongst themselves, they are referred to a ”prison yakuza” (懲役ヤクザ: choeki yakuza).
Le monde criminel possède souvent son propre langage et ses propres expressions. Les yakuza ne font pas exception à la règle. Par exemple, plutôt que de dire « aller en prison » (刑務所に行く : keimusho ni iku), ils diront « aller à l’université » (大学に行く : daigaku ni iku). Cette expression a un sens bien particulier et n’est pas utilisée au hasard. D’abord parce que les yakuza considèrent que la prison est formatrice, une sorte de rite de passage obligatoire pour devenir un vrai gangster. Ensuite, parce que la prison est effectivement, pour les yakuza, un lieu de formation et d’éducation, au sens scolaire du terme. S’ils sont assez riches (et c’est souvent le cas, ou bien le cas de leur oyabun, dont l’un des devoirs est de prodiguer à ses subordonnés une assistance), ils peuvent apprendre la calligraphie, la peinture, mais aussi l’art des haiku, entre autre choses. Ils reçoivent des livres de la part d’autres membres du clan, mais d’autres sont mis à disposition par le gouvernement au sein même de la prison. On peut trouver dans ces bibliothèques carcérales des grands classiques de littératures, mais, plus surprenant, des livres d’économie ou même de droit. De fait, les yakuza ressortent souvent de prison avec un bien meilleur niveau scolaire que celui qu’ils avaient au moment de leur incarcération. Cette « université de la prison » est d’autant plus importante pour eux que la grande majorité des yakuza n’a jamais fait d’études supérieures, et que beaucoup d’entre eux ont même cessé de fréquenter l’école avant la fin du lycée.
Pour parler de la prison, les yakuza emploient également d’autres expressions, comme « la taule » (豚箱 : butabako), ou encore « aller au bagne » (懲役に行く : chōeki ni iku); malgré ses quelques avantages (quand on a l’argent pour se les offrir), la prison n’en reste pas moins un centre de détention, et pas un club de vacances.
One of the first things you’ll notice about the Japanese – men AND women – is the apparent lack of awareness regarding issues like gender and racial discrimination, worker exploitation, social injustice and other stuff that have western observers of our culture taking one look and scratching their heads. That stuff about a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly yelling out harassment remarks to a female politician while the Assembly was actually in session? I regret to have to tell you that such incidents are way too familiar to the average Japanese to sink in below sea level. It’s only when someone else (i.e., a westerner) is looking at us that we come to our senses and profess to be shocked. Otherwise, well, we’re too busy working and being exploited and having our Constitution rewritten to suit the hawkish inclinations of the current Prime Minister. But I digress.
Meet The New Zegen 女衒 (Sex merchants) Same As The Old Zegen
Shohei Sakakura, author of “AKB 48 and the Black Companies (AKB48と日本のブラック企業)” – is one of those rare Japanese with the mindset of a western intellectual. As editor-in-chief of Posse magazine, Sakakura first alerted the public to the presensce and prevalance, of black companies. Until then, most of us thought it was kind of normal in a Japanese way, to put in “service overtime (サービス残業)” hours, meaning we accepted the fact of working in the office until dawn without getting paid it. We also accepted getting laid off without notice, no maternity or paternity leaves, discrimination against women, sexual and moral harassment in the workplace, poor wages and did I mention no overtime pay?
To the Japanese, work proffers its own reward and justification and with news of the unraveling global economy we were grateful to be able to work at all. Of course the majority of the Japanese KNOW exploitation exists, and that this was one of things that was wrong with the country and the rest of the world. This is why we have so many “izakaya (pubs)” around – where else to drown our sorrows but in beer stains?
And now AKB 48, in case you didn’t know, is the brain child of Yasushi Akimoto, aka the King Midas of the Japanese entertainment industry. Everything he touches has turned to gold – unfortunately, the gold stays firmly tucked in his pocket without benefitting the girls he ruthlessly expolits. But there it is – the man certainly knows how to make a yen from peddling idoru fantasies to love-starved males with glasses and bad skin.
Who IS Akimoto anyway? Sakakura’s book doesn’t do much digging about the man – he just assumes that the Japanese know who Akimoto is (we do) and leaves it at that. Suffice to say, Yasushi Akimoto is what 50 years ago many older Japanese would describe as a “Zegen 女衒”or merchant who dealt exclusively in young women. A Zegen was the middleman who bought and sold girls (often with the express consent of the parents) to the sex trade and entertainment industry and too bad for the Japanese that no one bothered to distinguish between the two until the GHQ came along to tell us Nooooo, they were different. (Okay, we got that now.) The GHQ also did much to stomp out the Zegen operating in and around Tokyo but the middlemen simply went on doing what they did, and took on another name: “entertainment producer.” From sex shows and strip houses to brothels and the euphemistically called “bars,” the Zegen had their fingers in all the right pies (yuck), and kept the best for entertainment industry, which had direct pipeline to the yakuza.
Girls from the country, whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to school or arrange good marriages, came to Tokyo in droves and were snapped up by a Zegen producer or another. The lucky ones made it to the TV screen and when that no longer worked, were taken down a few notches to serve as bar hostesses or cabaret dancers, and eventually wound up in a brothel. It was the oldest story in the book, repeated ad nauseum.
Yasushi Akimoto was a Zegen with a vision – having never been popular in high school himself, he recognized the deep sexual frustration and vast need for sexual fantasies festering in the educated and dateless Japanese male. When he came out with “Onyanko Club” in the mid-1980s, people were blinded by the sheer genius of this man. Here he was, peddling quite ordinary high school girls on TV, who all got up on the studio stage to teasingly sing “oh please don’t take my school uniform off, no-no-no!” to an audience who could never hear such titillating pleas when they were 18 so was totally stoked to hear it now, from a gaggle of winking girls all beckoning SIMULTANEOUSLY.
Needless to say, the Onyanko went “viral” long before the Internet came along and deep down, we suspected that if Akimoto wasn’t around to appease the Otaku populace with these girls and their pleated skirts, the nation’s sex crime rate would soar drastically.
Akimoto subsequently married an Onyanko (and he was too smart to pick the prettiest of the lot, but went for a quiet, mediocre type) and settled down in his idol manufacturing kingdom. Then he unleashed AKB 48 to the Japanese public – which basically means 48 Girls in Akihabara. These girls were grass roots level – they had no connections, no prestige, and was willing to work till they dropped. Most telling of all, they were excessively and agressively, ordinary.
In his book Sakakura lays bare disturbing but familiar facts: Akimoto treats the girls like fast food workers – hiring and firing in bulk, with hourly wages to match. The ones in the coveted “center position” are the prettiest, and supposedly the best dancers with the best paychecks but the vast crowd of girls behind the stars — they’re mired in obscurity. And once the girls “graduate” (i.e., fired) from the group, they’re left with no skills or abilities and their detour into the sex trade is a lot swifter than the days of Onyanko.
Yasushi Akimoto is a Zegen through and through – he’s found a way to cash in on the criticisms and problems within the AKB, by having the girls sing songs (written by him of course) about revolution, sacrifice and worker exploitation. For Akimoto, even capitalist irony works in his favor. Karl Marx is puking in his grave.
Sakakura writes that though he’s not an AKB fan per se, he does sympathize with the plight of the girls and sees them as a micro reflection of the huge labor problems that continue to erode Japan’s supposedly peaceful and egalitarian society. And let’s not forget that the PM is a HUGE fan – but then Japan’s highest political leader seems to love it when young people are put in situations where they have to fight and bleed and claw their way to survival. To him, “that’s the true Japanese spirit.” Yeah, right.
In her support, Kazuo Kasaoka, the leader of the yakuza group, Matsurua-gumi (Kobe), submitted a statement to the court which details the time he spent employed by the head of Burning Production, doing his own dirty work for the firm, he says, and watching the sinister activities of others.
When there is a response from the individuals named in the statement and accused of criminal behavior, we will post it here. The statements made here are the opinions of Mr. Kasaoka and not the views of Japan Subculture Research Center.
A Daily Beast reporter (Jake Adelstein) obtained a copy of the statement and then interviewed Kasaoka to ask him why he would put his neck on the line to testify on the beauty queen’s behalf. One might speculate that Kasaoka is motivated by feelings of revenge because he feels he was ripped off by Suho in their past dealings, but he gives different reasons.
In a document, dated Nov. 13, Kasaoka begins by admitting that he is the leader of a right-wing group and the second-generation leader of the Matsura-gumi, with a criminal record.
“Based on my experience working for the CEO of Burning Productions, the harassment that Ms. Yoshimatsu has received is very similar to what I’ve seen and heard while working there,” the yakuza veteran wrote. “[For example], the threats Taniguchi [the alleged stalker] made to Yoshimatsu, ‘If you don’t work for us, we’ll make sure you can’t get a job in the entertainment industry,’ and the harassment that took place after she refused, such as stalking, the use of the media, bothering her family, applying pressure on sponsors [not to hire her] … I feel outrage that a group of so-called men would band together and bully a woman, and this is why I have come forward to make a statement.”
The rough English translation of the document is below, as reference—it has been augmented with material from a ninety minute interview. The original Japanese was also vague in some areas so we have clarified it to the best of our ability. For the full Japanese statement please click the following link. 笠岡和雄・松浦組長の証言
Statement of Facts
Tokyo District Court
Overview of Personnel
I am the Kazuo Kasaoka, the president of Dai-Nihon Shin-Seikai, and the second leader of Matsuura Gumi.
I have been in the world of Ninkyo-Doh since my early days, and I am not of the respectable “Katagi”(honest living) world. I have a history of arrests and a criminal record, however what I write here are all things that I have seen and heard with my own eyes and ears, it is all true, none of it is fictional. I plead the judge to read my statement without judgement.
Reason for Submission
I heard about the plaintiff Ms. Yoshimatsu and defendant Genichi Taniguchi and the sequence of events leading up to this litigation from the plaintiff ‘s attorney Mr. Norio Nishikawa at his office on October 16th.
I decided to submit my statement since the incident that triggered this litigation, in which Mr. Taniguchi requested and threatened Ms. Yoshimatsu that she will “not be able to work in the entertainment industry unless you sign with us” and the extreme measures he took after she declined the offer such as stalking and pressuring her, is something that overlaps in many ways with what I have experienced through my interactions with Ikuo Suoh, President of Burning Productions. I also feel a strong indignation towards their tactic, a group of grown men bullying one woman, which lead to myself agreeing to submit my statement.
Furthermore, I would like to add that I have not received any kind of reward or honorarium for submitting this statement.
My Personal Standpoint
For 10 years I served as Mr. Suoh’s Yojinbou(bodyguard) by request of Mr. Suoh via a certain person. During those years, I held an office on the 5th floor of a building Mr. Suoh owned and I had a unit in an apartment building in Kantoh as my residence. The direct renter was a monk of a temple who had agreed to sublet the place out to a yakuza like me by request of Mr. Suoh.
After this period, there were unforgivable actions of betrayal towards me taken by Mr. Suoh and since then, I have been condemning his many wrongdoings centered around facts that I saw and heard during my time as his bodyguard on the blog of “Shin Nihon Shinsei-Kai”, the patriotic group I organize.
It should be noted that the relationship between Mr. Suoh and Mr. Genichi Taniguchi is that of a boss and his henchman. This is a widely known fact to anyone in the entertainment industry. I will later elaborate on this but I can say that I have been in a situation that will clearly prove this fact.
Testimonies Related to Litigation
The fact that Mr. Suoh has been using yakuzas
The fact that Mr. Suoh and Mr. Genichi Taniguchi would use the yakuza and extreme right wing parties to intimidate and pressure talents, productions and TV networks if they saw them as insubordinate.
Regarding A, the fact that I was Mr. Suoh’s bodyguard is the most credible evidence. If Mr. Suoh says “I do not know of a man Kazuo Kasaoka, the second generation leader of Matsuura Gumi and have never requested assistance with any matters to him”, I will directly fight him in court, I do not mind, if anything I would wish to do so.
Regarding B, there is an entry on the blog of Dai Nihon Shinsei-kai I wrote, that depicts the scene of when Mr. Suoh ordered Mr. Genichi Taniguchi to “erase (Miki Mizuno an actress) from the industry”
“Erase Miki Mizuno” Mr. Suoh’s Orders to Mr. Genichi Taniguchi
(Quote from Dai Nihon Shinsei-kai Blog)
Suoh: “(Kasaoka) President, is there any way you could destroy this website? I must kill it now that these things are written up so shamelessly.”
Kasaoka(Note:Stater):”What do you mean please kill it, Boss? You can’t say those things in vain to people in our business, we’ll take it the wrong way, you know?”
President Suoh was quiet again.
Suoh:”Erase her from the entertainment industry, please make Miki Mizuno disappear.”
Suoh:”No, President. If Mizuno decided to become independent, Burning will lose face. I don’t care how much money it takes, please destroy her. Please. Erase her.”
Kasaoka:”Boss, you better not use words like kill or erase.”
I warned him.
After that, Kasaoka mediated the reconciliation between Suoh and the counterpart(Note:Miki Mizuno) but Kasaoka having being concerned, recorded the conversation.
The events that followed after the talk, with only Suoh left in the room, was also caught on tape.
Suoh:”Taniguchi(K-Dash), call the producers of all the networks right now, notify all of them that they are not to use Miki Mizuno under any circumstance! No project, show, paper, none. Tell them if they disobey, we will take away any talent belonging to the Burning Group from their networks, erase them! Tell them we’ll send in propaganda vehicles and the right wings!” (end of quote).
This is the content of the Dai Nihon Shinsei-kai blog entry, that recalls the scene when I as a bodyguard of Suoh, received direct orders from Suoh himself, to erase Miki Mizuno who was his ex-mistress and a former actress at Burning Productions.
I decided to mediate between the two parties, while calming Mr. Suoh down, who was excited and blurting out abnormal things such as “please kill her” “please erase her”. Superficially Mr. Suoh accepted my persuasion and reconciled on the condition that Miki Mizuno, his ex-mistress, would not expose his secrets to the world.
However, Mr. Suoh only pretended to reconcile and he notified producers at each network that “Miki Mizuno is not to be used” through his orders to Mr. Taniguchi.
This is a base betrayal that disgraces myself and all involved parties. He could not take actions himself to keep up his appearances towards me, so he made orders to Mr. Taniguchi. This means that Mr. Suoh and Mr. Taniguchi are acting as one and that the producers at each network cannot go against orders from Mr. Taniguchi such as “don’t use this or that talent” when they know it is coming directly from Mr. Suoh.
Next is the reason why Mr. Suoh was afraid of Miki Mizuno. The reason is that she knew secrets of Mr. Suoh that he was terrified of the world finding out. I will quote furthermore from the Dai Nihon Shinsei-kai blog about the outcome of Mr. Suoh ignoring the conditions of the reconciliation and ordering Mr. Taniguchi to notify the network producers “ not to use Miki Mizuno”. Once you have read this, you will understand why Mr. Suoh was so intent on banishing one actress from the entire industry and medias.
The Reason Ikuo Suoh Ordered the Banishment of Miki Mizuno
From Dai Nihon Shinsei-kai Blog
⚫︎Exposing drugged SEX! The misplaced rage and abomination of Suoh ordering the “banishment” of ex-mistress Miki Mizuno!
There was a revealing statement from ex-mistress that exposed Ikuo Suoh himself as a regular user of drugs. Actress Miki Mizuno, was formerly signed with Burning Productions.
She exposed Suoh and the malicious sex he would have using drugs that she experienced as his mistress on a website run by writer Manabu Miyazaki.
This was a remark she made during a round table talk between Miyazaki, Takagi and Mizuno. Suoh was enraged once he read the talk once it became an article. He came to President Kasaoka, who was in charge of solving any of his altercations at the time, begging him in his deranged state to “please erase Miki Mizuno from this industry, no, kill her!”
After all, a direct testimonial from Mizuno his ex-mistress was made public on the internet. Suoh’s panic is understandable but the request to “erase Mizuno” was rather unsettling. Moreover, Suoh having lost face, would become white as a sheet every time Miki Mizuno appeared on TV and would act in an unmanly and undignified manner such as taking his anger out on his entourage. Losing control over an exposition from an ex-mistress is unfit behavior for a man known as the “Don”(boss) of the entertainment world. Suoh himself should have accepted this as a lesson in life and kept stories between the sheets to himself but in deranged state of anger, his actions caused even more problems of more magnitude. Especially in the world of men, and the world of Ninkyo(way of the yakuza), it would never be acceptable for people to be betrayed and made such fools of by this double faced Suoh. I would like to make it clear that this is the extent of frivolousness that has been displayed time and again by this man.
⚫︎ The battle between Suoh, who betrayed all of his firm promises with President Kasaoka, and Nishiwaki Gumi who was enraged by his actions, declaring revenge! “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” was thus started!
There are many in the entertainment industry who hold grudges against Mr. Suoh for the way he ruthlessly climbed to the top of the industry. Kasaoka President was summoned to serve as his bodyguard by request of the Big Boss’ wife in Kantoh. He would try to see things in his favor. However, after Mr. Suoh went against every condition that was agreed upon when reconciling with Miki Mizuno, President Kasaoka had very little patience for the man. The sequence of events are as follows.
After the separation with Burning Productions, Miki Mizuno was side-lined from the industry for a while and laying low until she was taken under the wing of Nishiwaki Gumi in Kansai. Perhaps Mizuno was encouraged to make these expositions with the intense presence of those backing her up. Being on amicable terms with the Nishiwaki Gumi, President Kasaoka was chosen as the best mediator and after further discussion with Manabu Miyazaki who was the spokesperson, they concluded as follows. According to President Kasaoka, “Mizuno was side-lined from the industry once but was now independently back on her feet and it’s too late to erase her from the industry. However, her side of the deal was that going forward, she would never speak out about Suoh’s secrets including the fact that she was his mistress.” This was Mizuno’s proposal. After hearing these conditions Suoh accepted saying “he understood” and gave his word to President Kasaoka.
Nevertheless, Suoh’s words were makeshift lies. Unable to contain his wrath, Suoh called upon Taniguchi from K-Dash, a group company of Burning, to destroy Miki Mizuno by threatening producers at various TV networks.
“I won’t allow hiring Miki Mizuno on any of your shows!”.
This incident was naturally leaked by the producers who were tired of Suoh’s crude threats. The entertainment industry is a small world. One of the President members of Nishiwaki Gumi, Yamashita had always supported Miki Mizuno and he showed his disgust and rage towards Suoh breaking his word. Yamashita howled “This is not a joke. I will make Taniguchi regret! I will let him know that a man’s word is worth more than his life!”.
This threat took Suoh by surprise and scared him immensely. Suoh would not stand a chance against the Nishiwaki Gumi, widely known as the gang of alpha male warriors within the Yamaguchi Gumi, if they targeted him.
Hearing reverse orders such as “Destroy Suoh! Erase him from the industry!”, Suoh, with no Boss on his side left, came back to Suoh with his tearful apologies.
President Kasaoka, pitying Suoh who begged “They will kill me. Please stop them with your power”, brushed aside his doubts and warned Suoh once again.
“Look, never go after Miki Mizuno again. Let Taniguchi too”. He made sure Suoh understood and was completely under control.
“I understand. I will forgive Mizuno, I truly will this time “
President Kasaoka believed his words and notified Yamashita who was preparing an attack on Suoh. Yamashita stepped away since he could not go against the President’s mediation, and the conflict was resolved. However, after a while, attacks against Miki Mizuno to erase her from the industry was still very much alive, in forms of discreet threats to the TV networks.
President Kasaoka let out a deep sigh, after recalling the intense rage against Suoh’s repeated betrayals and how he came to sever their relationship.
“No matter how far we go, Suoh’s traitor mentality will not be cured. Nevertheless, this is the last warning”.
Ikuo Suoh, take in and reflect upon these words of the President.
Suoh is a pitiful man, indulging in drugged up sex with his mistress, becoming hysterical over an online expose article, running from the hands of Nishiwaki Gumi in fear of revenge like a coward, begging help from ones that he has already betrayed once, then repeating it all over again. His life will end in a lonesome tragedy! The amount of drugs(Cocaine, Heroine, Crack) that permeated the entertainment industry over the last 20 years is unfathomable. Ikuo Suoh has committed an unforgivable crime for polluting this industry with drugs.
One prominent example is that Suoh’s group initiated the induction of drugs at concert halls. I will warn repeatedly that Suoh must pay himself, for the sin of spreading drug abuse in the industry!
“Dai Nihon Shinsei-kai” Press Department
Neither Mr. Suoh or Mr. Taniguchi have the means to sue, protest or explain themselves to defend themselves against the condemnations and criticisms I have made public to the world on the internet.
They cannot do so since all these things are based on facts.
Mr. Genichi Taniguchi was able to carry out such actions toward Ms. Yoshimatsu as a result of the two of them using any means, including the yakuza, to make their way to the top of this small industry. They used the K-1 producer and promoter Mr. Noriyoshi Ishii to bring Ms. Yoshimatsu to Mr. Suoh’s office, introducing him as the man who “decides the rules of the industry”. They promised her support for going independent, in return requesting her to belong under the umbrella of Mr. Suoh and Mr. Taniguchi’s group, forcing her to see Mr. Taniguchi, which is simply put, a threat. A normal person would be intimidated by Mr. Ishii’s looks and physicality alone and be pressured to listen to his demands.
I was also used by them for a period of time.
It may come across as an excuse but the entertainment industry will never see the end to altercations with the local yakuza regarding profit. When I was requested to be the bodyguard, I initially thought that I would serve as the fixer for yakuza issues. In actuality, Suoh asked me to work for him after the shootings targeting him, which later turned out to be staged by nobody but Suoh himself. I did not for a second imagine that I would be asked to “destroy” or “kill” an actress when I first took the job.
“Join our group, otherwise we will side-line you from the industry”. This kind of statement would only come out of their mouths because they were full of themselves, and arrogant enough to think they were the ones to define the rules of this industry.
I strongly believe that the court should rule in favor of Ms. Yoshimatsu, so that they will no longer be able to put pressure on or prevent Ms. Yoshimatsu from enjoying a successful career in the entertainment industry. I believe this because from my own experience I can say, that as long as there are people like Mr. Taniguchi and Mr. Suoh allowed to stay in power in the industry and the media, things may temporarily seem to calm down but Ms. Yoshimatsu’s career in the Japanese entertainment industry will suffer from their obstruction in the future again.
Furthermore, I hope that there will be a severe ruling brought upon Mr. Genichi Taniguchi who has abused the power of Mr. Suoh “the Don of the industry”, manipulating many yakuzas including myself with no integrity whatsoever. This is because people like Mr. Suoh and Mr. Taniguchi are the ones that prevent the healthy growth of the Japanese entertainment industry and interfere with the truly talented young people pursuing their full potential.
I do not have much longer in this life, and I agreed to submit this statement as my final act of service to Japan, the country I love.
Bitcoin exchange Kraken announced on Wednesday that it had been chosen to support the investigation of Mt Gox’s collapse. The announcement was made at the second Mt Gox creditors’ meeting held in Tokyo District Court.
Kraken, is a San Francisco based bitcoin exchange known for its top share in Euro trading, that launched trading in Japanese yen in October. Payward Inc. is the corporation that operates it. Kraken was selected by the trustee in charge of the liquidation of Mt Gox, and approved by the Tokyo District Court to support the investigation of missing bitcoin and the distribution of remaining assets to the creditors.
Nine months after Mt Gox, once the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange based in Japan filed for bankruptcy in February of this year after losing half a billion US $ worth of bitcoins that belonged to about 127,000 creditors around the world, darkness still enshrouds the police investigation. There is also an independent investigation launched by a handful of security and law experts from the bitcoin community in Tokyo.
After the first hearing held in July, Mt Gox’s creditors started questioning the ability and motivation of Nobuaki Kobayashi, the trustee appointed by the Tokyo District Court to liquidate Mt Gox’s assets.
“Because less than 1% of the victims in this care are Japanese victims, the Japanese police and the trustee don’t seem to put all their efforts in finding out the truth, ” A creditor based in Tokyo explained his concerns.
Established in July 2011 in the State of Delaware, Payward (Kraken) was chosen because it “acts as the founding and principal member of DATA, a self-regulatory organization for bitcoin operators in the U.S., and JADA, in Japan,” Nobuaki Kobayashi explained in his report released on Wednesday. Payward accepted to support for Mt Gox’s bankruptcy distributions with no charge up to 500 hours in total of consulting service, after purchasing Mt Gox’s equipment formatted after deleting all the saved data and software.
“Mark Karpeles, the CEO of Mt Gox was in a bad position, having started first.” Jesse Powell, CEO of Kraken explained. “It’s very difficult to hire trustworthy, talented people who are capable of building a military grade security systems, and back then in 2010 or 2011, the market was so small, it didn’t really make sense to justify spending US$10 million in this infrastructure. So he had the misfortune to be the first and the last after what happened, although I consider there were probably things that he could have done better to prevent this from happening. We are not even sure of what really happened at this point.”
Despite numerous requests by creditors for transparency, the Japanese trustee said he was requested by the Metropolitan Police Department not to disclose the addresses managed by Mt Gox. After five months of frustration, some creditors finally see a light in the tunnel.
Skepticism about Kraken’s Ability to Solve The Problem
The arrival of Kraken seems to have put a bit of faith in the crowd of creditors who were afraid to leave their assets in the hand of a trustee who did not seem to understand bitcoin and who refused the help offered by the bitcoin community that put in place their own probe. “The more minds the better,” Jesse Powell the CEO of Kraken said, “but it would be up to the trustee to choose who enters the battle, so Kraken will be able to use the resources available.”
“It seems Kraken has been given a lot of responsibility, they now are dealing with finding the bitcoins, and giving the money back to creditors. I think as far as the bitcoin investigation and money returning goes, it’s now in good hands, ” a creditor said after the second creditors’ meeting that took place on Wednesday.
Some see Kraken as an opportunist. Others wonder if it will even take a look at the rumours of potential organized crime involvement in the collapse of Mt Gox.
“Probably Kraken is fairly trustworthy, their best effort may be more fair and cheaper than the trustee. It just seems grossly unprofessional of a bankruptcy trustee to just hand things over to another private company. It’s like if some hedge fund was given the task of sorting out the Bernie Madoff case. It’s just a way for Kobayashi to absolve himself of responsibility, ” A Mt Gox creditor told JSRC after the announcement of the involvement of Kraken in the investigation.
Rumors of organized crime involvement in Mt Gox collapse
The trustee in charge of Mt Gox’s liquidation, who never revealed the amount he is paying himself to do his job, said at a press conference held in Tokyo on Wednesday that he was indeed concerned by organized crime involvement in the business. “As the trustee of Mt Gox, I believe that it is important to discover ties to organized crime if there are any, and I am strongly thinking about doing so in the near future. However, when I was appointed by the Tokyo District Court to liquidate Mt Gox, it has not registered any additional clients and no trade was possible under my supervision after it filed for bankruptcy protection. I have been in charge of Mt Gox after its bankruptcy, so in that sense I believe there was no involvement of organized crime with Mt Gox. I do not know what happened before I stepped in. I am therefore not aware of any ties with organized crime, at this point.”
A former employee of Mt Gox said they repeatedly tried to report suspicious activities to authorities when they were still running, but never received a response of any kind.In Japan, politicians, banks, businessmen and the mob are traditionally linked. But all changed officially in October of 2011, when the Organized Crime exclusionary law went into effect. The new ordinances did not have exceptions for foreign companies and they make doing transactions with organized crime groups (the yakuza, extreme right wing etc) a criminal offense.
Japan is oddly perhaps the most bitcoin friendly country. The Japanese banking law doesn’t allow lenders to broker bitcoin transactions or set up accounts for customers to store the digital assets. At the same time, current rules reportedly don’t prevent brokerages and asset managers from managing clients’ bitcoins. Even Rakuten Super Logistics, an order logistics company owned by Japan-based e-commerce giant Rakuten, has begun accepting bitcoin payments for its shipping services.
In 2011, bitcoin was new to Japan and still is. Regulations are not yet set in place.
Tsutomu Okubo, a lawmaker from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and former vice finance minister, called on the government to rectify the lack of regulation in March 2014, after Mt Gox filed for bankruptcy after being allegedly hacked. Officials from the Finance Ministry, Financial Services Agency and Bank of Japan responded they’re not in a position to oversee bitcoin.
Japan is oddly perhaps the most bitcoin friendly country. The Japanese banking law doesn’t allow lenders to broker bitcoin transactions or set up accounts for customers to store the digital assets. At the same time, current rules reportedly don’t prevent brokerages and asset managers from managing clients’ bitcoins. Even Rakuten Super Logistics, an order logistics company owned by Japan-based e-commerce giant Rakuten, has begun accepting bitcoin payments for its shipping services.
Bitflyer can’t face legal compliance requirements such as what exist in the U.S. because they don’t deal foreign customers, and they are backed by politicians in favor of bitcoin, such as Mineyuki Fukuda, head of the Japanese government’s IT Strategy Committee and its leading bitcoin proponent.
“Japan is way ahead of other countries when it comes to cooperation between bitcoin operators and regulators, which you don’t see in the US, Europe or Singapore,” Yuzo Kano, an ex-Goldman Sachs trader and CEO of Bitflyer said.
Banking sources say Japan’s government is falling behind the curve as bitcoin grew rapidly over the past five years. “Banks and governments don’t welcome bitcoin, because it screws their power system,” bitcoin lovers say. But Japan is a bitcoin paradise. It may also be a paradise for unsavoury elements.
Financial frauds with yakuza involvement are not rare in Japan. In the 1990’s, the Japanese government budgeted funds to help failing mortgage firms to keep going. At the time, government officials said that part of those companies’ loans involved organized crime money.
“Of course there is no guarantee that the same won’t happen to us. My co-founder and I worked together for at least 13 years, so I have faith in him, we are very cautious of who has access to certain things, and this requires signatures and people to approve, for example a new code for example. I think we are pretty well protected. We are always prepared for the worse.” Powell told JSRC. “Kraken is founded initially from the USA’s most strict compliances, it is the same in Japan, we proceed with a strict back ground check, including attempts to identify organized crime activities and trading.” Ayako Miyaguchi, the head of Kraken’s operation in Japan told reporters.
“As far as I am concerned we have no organized crime money transactions at Kraken. We have a very strong compliance and customer policy. So we are following that very closely. We report suspicious transactions, and we have strict limits on the amounts that a client can transfer. I don’t think we are an easy exchange to launder money through.” Powell explained.
Japan is the one of few countries in the world, with Finland not to consider bitcoin a currency but a commodity. Despite concerns over the possible hack committed against or within the Japan based exchange that collapsed in February, Mt Gox and despite concerns over bitcoin used for possible money laundering. In the U.S., each state has a different regulation for businesses that deal with crypto currencies, while Russia and China said bitcoin is illegal under current law.
In late 2011, the Olympus 1.7 billion dollar accounting scandal and the heroic stance taken by its British CEO, Michael Woodford, hit Japan’s corporate world and triggered a great amount of interest in the media because it brought up possible yakuza links in the cover-up, despite the company’s denial. Ironically, several years ago, Fujitsu Ltd., a security company hired by Mt Gox’s trustee, fired its president for alleged ties to the yakuza. It was an allegation denied by the president who took court actions to clear his reputation. Mizuho Bank has been in trouble in recent years of failing to deal with millions of dollars of loans made to yakuza related entities.In other words, it isn’t rare that corporate or financial scandals give rise to speculations over yakuza participation.
“I think it’s a very sad indictment of corporate Japan that that’s the working assumption,” Peter Godwin, managing partner at law firm Herbert Smith in Tokyo, told Reuters, when asked why the corporate controversies often stir talk about yakuza.