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Japan Subculture Research Center

A guide to the Japanese underworld, Japanese pop-culture, yakuza and everything dark under the sun.

A Maudlin Merry X-mas From Jake, Sarah and Everyone At Japan Subculture Research Center


Dec 24, 2009

I wish I could be a little more cheerful around this time of year. I can remember a time when the Christmas season didn’t depress me much but it seems like decades ago.  Maybe if I was in Japan where Christmas is more festively celebrated by buying tubs of Kentucky Fried Chicken and young couples flock to love hotels to consummate their undying love for each in Hello Kitty! themed love hotel suites or in illuminated Jacuzzi baths or round beds shaking to festive tunes channelled through the “body sonic” (speakers embedded in the mattress frame.)

Well, for me it’s the time of year when I began preparing to send out 年賀状  (nengajo=New Year’s Greeting Cards).  It’s an important thing to do in Japan and one  nengajou has the power to keep almost dead relationships alive for yet another year. To receive one and not reply is a terrible social mistake and it’s always important to send one along with a hand-written note if humanly possible. In many ways, your nengajo is considered a barometer of who you are and where you are in your life. They are not to be taken lightly although they weigh next to nothing at all.

And even though I’ve automated the process somewhat, I still find that I spend a lot of time pulling up New Year’s Cards (nengajo) from years past to make sure I have the correct addresses and am not forgetting any one.  Each year that process becomes a little more painful.  There are New Year’s cards from Sekiguchi Chiaki, my mentor, a great cop and and a great friend.  Hamaya-chan, my co-worker and teacher. Shibata–a retired yakuza who is probably burning in hell somewhere but hopefully up for reincarnation someday. There was some good in the man. And there is Helena.  Every year part of me hopes that this year, this year, I’ll get a Christmas card from her telling me she’s fine–that she started a whole new life–that I was played for a fool.  I wouldn’t mind being wrong about that one. I wouldn’t mind finding out I was the class-clown and not the class comedian.

I suppose I have other Pavlovian reasons for associating New Year’s with death. As the lone gaijin at the Yomiuri, I almost always got stuck on the New Year shift, and that meant tallying up the number of people who choked to death on sweet rice cakes (mochi)–which always included old people and sometimes children.  I think I did it for ten years straight and you know what–it’s not fun to talk to the families about the deaths of their loved ones on what should be a joyous occasion. I didn’t have to do it too many times but once is enough.  Talk about feeling like a jackal and a heel. Of course, there are a lot of suicides as well–even if you don’t write them up, you’re supposed to call and see if there is a heart-warming, really sad story behind the suicide.

I know, I know–you’re thinking, “God, this guy is depressing.” Well, I’m not moping around the house all day thinking about these things but they do cross my mind more than I would like.  In some ways, maybe it’s good to reflect on the past before starting a new year–a good chance to learn from previous mistakes and repeat them less often the next. 反省しない猿は進化しないよ。(A monkey incapable of reflection, doesn’t evolve.”–Charles Darwin. *Actually, he never said that but he might have).

I wonder how much of who we are is not just what we have done and what we remember but also what we have lost.   I should be experiencing merriment at the holidays but what I feel most is regret and I suppose something akin to sadness. Regret that I wasn’t a better a friend to those who are no longer here and regret that I wasn’t a better husband and a better father, although as a father, I have my moments. :).  And I regret that if I had done things differently that there is a chance that some of the people no longer with us would be here celebrating the New Year’s festivities with me this year as well.

I could spare myself the pain or momentary melancholy by removing the New Year’s cards of those who will no longer be sending or receiving but I do not. Because it seems like it should be my duty to remember them, wherever they are, whether I believe in an after-life or not. Merriment not tainted a little by sadness seems like a cheap and tawdry thing. i don’t want a Prozac to make the whole world shiny and to make our battered, worn-out Christmas tree all shiny and new.  It’s a charming tree because it’s falling apart.

In the midst of all this, in mourning the vanished, I do try to remember to cherish the ones that remain. I know that’s important. I do find, these days, that gift-giving does seem to bring me more joy than getting anything, which I suppose is a good thing. I used to joke that the only time giving is better than receiving is when you’re talking about the death penalty or sexually transmitted diseases. Well, it’s still sort of a funny joke but I think I was probably wrong on that one. Anyway, I thought I’d leave you, our loyal and steadfast and long-suffering readers with an uplifting sentiment and/or benediction for the Christmas holidays.  I came across part of in “FOR THE BENEFIT OF ALL BEINGS”, which is a commentary on the texts of Shantideva, a Buddhist philosopher, by His Holiness–the 14th Dalai Lama.

I had a talk with Tenzin Gyasato (the Dalai Lama’s real name) on a United Airlines plane in 2008 that was extremely helpful. It wasn’t exactly a coincidence but it was significant to me in a synchronistic way. And it came at a time when I really needed some good advice. But that’s another story.

By the way, the word maudlin, comes from old readings of the name of Mary Magdalene, the prostitute who reformed herself and was forgiven by Jesus Christ for her sins. The word originally meant “tearful sentiment” but now has become closer to meaning “insincere emotionalism.”  Mary Magdalene is a little more than a prostitute in some Christian lore (and thriller novels) and  plays an unusual role in Gnostic Christianity, the mystical and peaceful branch of Christianity that was stamped out by the Catholic Church when they took power. But I digress. I don’t think maudlin in it’s original sense is such a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s nice to get teary-eyed but not in a “I’m-frigging-crazy” Glen Beck way.

Yes, it’s probably a heresy to post a Buddhist benediction on a Christmas, but then again December 25th, really started out as a pagan holiday to celebrate the birth and magnificence of Mithra the Sun God–so I figure that in the secular–“let’s be nice to each other, shall we”–Christmas spirit–that this works just as well. Thanks for joining us this year. Thanks to Sarah for turning the blog into something worth reading on a regular basis and thanks to all the other contributors named and unnamed. Best wishes to us all.


May those who go in dread

have no more fear.

May captives be unchained and now set free

And may the weak now receive their strength

May beings help each other in kindness

May the lonely no longer be alone

May travelers upon the road

Find happiness no matter where they go

And may they gain, without the need of toil,

The goals on which they set their hearts

-benediction attributed to Shantideva, Buddhist scholar, from the Bodhicharyavatara etc.

Heaven and Earth are closer than they appear to be. The distance is no greater than one simple act of courage or kindness.
Heaven and Earth are closer than they appear to be.
18 thoughts on “A Maudlin Merry X-mas From Jake, Sarah and Everyone At Japan Subculture Research Center”
  1. Jake,

    Thanks for the thoughts and the words. You are not depressing but you still get to me.

    All of the kind words you said plus more; back to you.

    Aloha, Larry

  2. The difference between someone I admire and someone I detest, can often be found in whether they admit their unhappiness as well as their joy, or if they only advertise their successes.

    In balance is most often Truth.

    “When arrow-points met head on , what has this to do with truth?”

    You are a good one.
    *I bow deep*

  3. I never once received a nengajo or rated a birthday salutation. Not even a thought. What am I chopped liver? Goto Hep C chopped liver?

    In all fairness, I’m eternally grateful my birthday wish coming true.

    Seriously thank you Jake & have a good 2010.

    “It’s not what you do but what you get done.”

  4. Hi Jake,

    Just wanted to wish you a wonderful New Year!!! Can’t stop thinking about your book. It was a true eye opener. You are a brave man and after all that you have done and been through I wish you all the best!! Thank you so much. 🙂

    1. Stephanie-san,
      Happy new year to you as well. I’m not sure I’m brave but I hope I am. At least that would give me some good qualities. As it is, I’m a lousy husband and my Dad rating is barely staying in “fair to good” range. Well, I’m thinking hard about some New Year’s resolutions. Thank you for writing in.

  5. Jake,
    Happy new year! I first read this post xmas eve over fish and chips at the one pub serving food. Due to many reasons, I always end up away from my wife over the holidays.
    I have to say thank you for the post. Perspective is always essential but always fleeting.

    Its funny. I had just made the decision to blow off my seasonal greeting cards bc I’m too busy.
    I will do them now mostly due to your reminder of how essential they are and how they force us to consider everyone who has affected our lives.

    A reliable sign of a good person is one who over emphasizes their faults and ignores their strengths.
    We can all stand to be better, but we can’t ignore the best parts of who we are.

    Thank you!
    Keep at your goals, be the person you want to be, and all the best in 2010.

    1. SDB-san,
      Glad the post came in handy. Actually, I should thank you–your post reminded me that I really need to buckle down and prepare my New Year’s cards.
      I think it’s a good thing to do. I think we all need to look back at the end of the year, reflect on what we did wrong, and what we did right, and apply that as we move forward into a new year.
      And a new decade.

      Best wishes for 2010.

  6. Jake- I think it is safe to say you had a successful 2009. As always, I have much to say, but will leave it for another time.
    Thank you for your dedicated work.

    Happy New Year.

  7. Jake,

    I hope 2010 has come off to a good start for you and your family.

    Rather late, but I just finished reading your book. You have done such good work out there, despite all of the reservations you might feel about the past years. I’ve read Whiting’s book, Tokyo Underworld, before I went and did a year of high school in Japan 3 years ago. Your book contributes a significant amount of new insight on the Yakuza and I think will at least help make people who study Japan more aware of many of the unsavory aspects that lurk behind the shiny facade of contemporary Japan.

    Keep up the good work Jake. I know that when I return to Japan this coming summer for college, my eyes will see things in a different way because of your hard work!

  8. The Jew Adelstein takes a break from exposing Japanese corruption and crime (as if the Jews weren’t the biggest gangsters on the planet) to write the following “Xmas” message:

    “Mary Magdalene is a little more than a prostitute in some Christian lore (and thriller novels) and plays an unusual role in Gnostic Christianity, the mystical and peaceful branch of Christianity that was stamped out by the Catholic Church when they took power.

    “Yes, it’s probably a heresy to post a Buddhist benediction on a Christmas, but then again December 25th, really started out as a pagan holiday to celebrate the birth and magnificence of Mithra the Sun God…”

    Thanks for providing a perfect example of why the Christ-Killing Jews and their Satanic Talmud are so rightly despised in all places at all times.

    1. Brian Akira-san,
      Actually, I’m a Buddhist by choice and raised in the Jewish religion, which I still have a fondness for. So you’ll need to let me know if Jews are a race or a religion. I’ve never really figured it out myself.

      You know, the Dhammapadha has this nice saying that “Hatred Never Ceases By Hatred. It Ceases By Love Alone.” I believe that Christianity has some similar sentiments as well—you seem to be choosing the worst ones.
      As a journalist, I think I should point out a substantial fallacy in your claims–the Jews didn’t kill Jesus. The Romans did. Mark was the earliest of all the gospels and considered the most historically accurate and it is clear that the Romans killed Jesus. When Christianity became the official religion of Rome, it became very inconvenient to blame the Romans and so the Jews were blamed–also because they didn’t adopt Christianity either.
      I think what you really want to be saying is, ” I wish you would provide a perfect example of why the Christ-killing Romans and their Satanic Pasta are so rightly despised in all places at all times.”
      Also, if you get a chance, please tell me where in the bible that it says Jesus was born on December 25th. I can’t seem to find it. Maybe there’s a secret translation?
      By the way, if there is a brotherhood of Jewish gangsters I could sign up with, please send me their contact information.
      I could use the extra protection.

      I notice that you have a Japanese name “Akira” so I hope you don’t feel that I’m a Japan basher or that I don’t respect a lot about Japanese culture. I do. One of things I really respect about Japan is religious tolerance. Very nice.

      By the way, I’ll throw another Buddhist sentiment at you. “Only the man with no wounds on his hand can dip them in poison.” I like that one. If you’re going to spew poison at people, be sure that you don’t poison yourself.
      Thank you for writing in, though. I’m sure what you really wanted to do was save my eternal soul and as Christian, I’m sure you’ll forgive me for my sharply worded reply.
      I’m putting your site here so that you further expound on your views, explain why Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, and perhaps call for a massive prayer for my salvation–and so that in all fairness, our readers–few in number, perhaps—can learn more about the Jewish conspiracy and hopefully tell me where to sign up. I feel left out.

      PS. Do you suppose that my slightly pointed right ear is really just a vestigial horn? I always figured it had to be something more.


  9. Jake,

    I guess, it is to your Buddhist credit that you allow the garbage that the racist wackos post on your site stay on. However, I would take them down. Here is why:

    Although censorship is normally a bad idea (as an ex-Soviet journalist I was censored enough and know how bad that is), bullies of any kind (school-yard, sexual, religious, racial etc.) feel emboldened by us – targets like you and by-standers like me – when we either offer them another cheek or are simply keep silent. After all, the bullies feel approval of their perversion in our meekness and silence.

    I share the ACLU idea that hate speech need to be confronted with more speech, however, if we do so our lives will be spent talking back to obviously mentally ill people, cancelling our ability to do the good things we can accomplish for all (including the wackos.)

    Hence, my sincere advise – take down the bullying posts above. No one is better off if they stay there.

    On a more cheerful note, try to have the best year ever. I hope your book will become a blockbuster international bestseller that it deserves to be and a movie version of it will come out soon.

    Best, Andrei

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