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Yakuza and Livers and The History Of Organ Transplants in Japan


Oct 4, 2009

If you don’t already know, between 200o-2004, several of Japan’s crime bosses, including the notorious Goto Tadamasa, received liver transplants at UCLA.  Goto Tadamasa, one of Japan’s most brutal dons in his day, made a deal with the FBI to get a visa into the United States for the operation.  The FBI did not help him set up his transplant but only gave him safe passage. The FBI wanted Goto’s information on yakuza (Japanese mafia) activities in the United States and probably information on yakuza dealings with North Korea and North Korea funding sources. I would never fault the FBI for making the deal. HUMINT requires some unsavory deals at times. I do have opinions about UCLA’s decision to give liver transplants to the Gang of Four, but that’s something else.

A physician friend sent me a link to this posting, which is written by a retired attorney who herself has a transplanted heart. She read the excerpt from TOKYO VICE in this month’s MAXIM (October edition) and did a follow-up piece on the story. Personally, I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know half as much as she does about the history of organ transplants in Japan.  What I do know is that I find it appalling that four of Japan’s thuggish elite should somehow jump to the front of the line at UCLA and receive liver transplants while other Americans died, primarily because  1) most of them were in bad physical shape besides their liver problems alone and would normally be poor candidates for transplants  2) have a history of making people miserable for their own profit and 3) are felons from another country.  However, I have long lost any objectivity about the incident.  Her article is below:

Japan's strict laws regulation organ transplants and the difficulty of getting organ donations, forces many Japanese overseas.
Japan's strict laws regulating organ transplants and the difficulty of getting organ donations, forces many Japanese overseas. Including yakuza.

Liver Transplants and Japanese Organized Crime

A strange connection, don’t you think? But trust me, there’s a story here. And isn’t there always? I mean, I can make a story out of a button and a piece of dental floss. LOL. So I was flipping through Teacher Man’s new Maxim magazine on Friday. Just thinking, also, Maxim is turning into one of those magazines I have to hide from my six-year-old son. He was just a little too interested in the girls with the thongs. It’s not porn, of course, but it’s just a smidge above the plain brown wrapper. But who am I to judge, right? In any event, I came across a story about Jake Adelstein and the Japanese Mafia. I did not know that the members of Yakuza (the Japanese Mafia) have an exceptionally high need for American liver transplants. This is because:

  1. They routinely heavily tattoo themselves (we’re not talking about butterflies, hearts, and “I Left my Heart in San Francisco” here people. One guy pictured in the magazine was fully painted with tattoos) and thus run the risk of catching hep (I’m just going to use that abbreviation for hepatitis and expect you to know what I’m talking about. My friends sometimes accuse me of speaking in code);

  2. If you heavily tattoo yourself, your sweat glands are impaired, and you can’t sweat out the toxins from the alcohol and other toxins you imbibe, which leads to

  3. They drink heavily and really, who in organized crime doesn’t? Yes, I’ve glimpsed the Sopranos while channel surfing;
  4. Japan has an extremely low level of organ donation, making organ donation a rare occurrence.

With regard to Japan’s history of organ transplantation, the first Japanese heart transplantation occurred in 1968. The public promptly accused the doctor of murder although the prosecuting authorities did not follow through with a prosecution. Japan barred organ donations until 1997. Period. Barred. None. Nada. Even from adults who were brain dead! In July 19, 2009 (that’s this year), Japan agreed to allow organ donation for brain dead children .

Until 1997, Japan barred organ donations from even adults who were brain dead. A law enacted that year lifted the ban but continued to prohibit children from donating, citing their inability to make such a mature decision. It also only authorized organs to be taken from patients who specifically gave their consent — contributing to a severe shortage in the country. The law passed . . . will give relatives the authority to consent to donations in cases where the patient’s own intentions were unclear, according to the document, which was posted on the legislature’s Web site. It will take effect in the summer of 2010, a parliamentary official said on condition of anonymity, citing policy.

Mari Yamaguchi, Japan Lifts Child Organ Donation Ban, Associated Press, July 19. 2009.

There is a discussion of the evolving law of Japan
here. So, if you need a transplant and you live in Japan, either you sought an international transplant, or you die. Apparently, this journalist, Adelstein, reported on a high level member of the Yakuza who received a liver transplant at UCLA.
for the rest of the story, please click here.

12 thoughts on “Yakuza and Livers and The History Of Organ Transplants in Japan”
  1. Mr. Adelstein, lives in Japan.
    He should know better than to make a Japanese man loose face, especially a High ranking yakuza.He signed his own death certificate. Good luck, and leave Japan,is my advice.

    1. Why is what he did any of your business? Exposing this crook and his buying of a liver is a good thing, something he should be admired for, not threatened with death for.

  2. Hi Jake,
    Who is the yakuza guy Lara Logan was interviewing in 60 Minutes? Just give me a hint, Please!
    He did much more than any past PR campaigns were able to achieve to improve “scary and ruthless” image of the Japanese! You are not telling me that this whole thing is secretly funded by Dentsu, are you?

      1. Hello Jake.
        You one time said that there was one ink in particular that was high in carcinogens.
        What one was it?

  3. Hello Mr Adelstein,

    I have just finished reading two of your books (Tokyo vice and The last yakuza), to say the least, they were very informative, inspiring and thought-provoking. Thank you.

    A little detail: I searched for more information regarding the effect of tattoos on sweat glands. A recent study concludes that “skin tattoos do not appear to alter the rate or [Na+] of exercise-induced sweating. The influence of skin tattoos on localised sweat responses may have previously been over-estimated.”
    Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1440244019303524

    1. Thank you for writing in. I’m glad you got a lot out of the book. I think that while the study is probably a good one, the traditional tattoos down with an awl (手彫り) are remarkably different from the tattoos currently made today with an electric needle. Thus a valid study would include Japanese individuals who had been tattooed in the traditional way, with an awl, and sumi.

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