Monday, February 8, 2016

Our Team

We often receive emails asking who we are.  Are there faces behind the postings?  Yes, there are and here we are.  So to start off 2016 we introduce ourselves to yourselves.

Chief Editor Charles Jefferson (CJ)

Asst. Editor Reginald Iolanthe Perrin

Sports, Tony Webster

Politics, David Harris Jones

Health, Doc Geoff Morrissey

Wine, Tom Patterson

Food, Chef Kenny McBlane

Global Issues, Maj. James Anderson, Ret.

Business, Seamus Finnegan

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Abe's Yakuza Ties

PM Shinzo Abe center, Yakuza head Icchu Nagamoto right

 The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been accused of having ties to the Yamaguchi-gumi. Hakubun Shimomura, the minister of education, was the subject of intense scrutiny (link in Japanese) in February and March 2015 for receiving political donations from a Yamaguchi-gumi front company and political support from a Yamaguchi-gumi Kodo-kai associate. He returned the donations.

Abe was photographed with a reputed financial consigliere of the group in 2008. He denied any close relations to the man in the photo, which shows the two posing with U.S. politician Mike Huckabee.

The conflict appears to stem from divided loyalty to the current leader of the organization, Kenichi Shinoda, also known as Tsukasa Shinobu. The 73-year-old is affiliated with the Kodo-kai faction and took over the Yamaguchi-gumi in 2005.

He replaced Yoshinori Watanabe, who represented the Yamaken-gumi, the second-most powerful faction in the group. The Yamaguchi-gumi is a pyramidlike organization with 72 directly affiliated gang leaders who head their own crime groups. There has long been inter-factional conflict.

The Yamaken-gumi has been resentful of Tsukasa’s reign, feeling that power was not equally divided and that actions taken by the upper management have resulted in increased police crackdowns.

It was not immediately apparent why the split happened now, but there is speculation that it had to do with Tsukasa’s plans to retire this year. His successor was also expected to be from the Kodo-kai faction. 

Police sources say that earlier this month, the Yamaken-gumi united with several other major factions in the Kansai region and split from the organization. Rumors of the breakup began circulating early this month. 

The breakaway faction is reportedly planning to establish its own organization with a new name, said police sources, and on Friday the breakaway groups boycotted the meeting at the Kobe headquarters and many of their top bosses were permanently expelled from the organization.

Jake Adelstein

Yakuza and The Tokyo Olympics

Hidetoshi Tanaka the Vice-chairman of 2020 Olympics seated with Yakuza head

 Hidetoshi Tanaka (left), the chief director of Japan University and the vice chairman of Japan's Olympic Committee. Sitting next to Tanaka is Shinobu Tsukasa, the head of Japan's largest yakuza [organized crime] syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are predicted to cost at least $5 billion. That means there's a lot of money to be made in construction. 

According to police and other sources, a reporter for Keiten Shimbun attempted to seek clarification from Japan University and Tanaka about when the photo was taken and what Tanaka's current relationship, if any, is to the Yamaguchi-gumi. On the night of September 30, as the reporter was walking back to the newspaper office, he was assaulted by two men with metal baseball bats who struck him repeatedly in one place on his body. A police source said they will not specify the location of the injury "because it's something only the assailant would know, and we wish to weed out possible false confessions."

The day after the assault, almost every major media organization in Japan received threatening phone calls from people telling them not to publish the photo. One magazine editor, who spoke to VICE News on the condition of anonymity, said the threat was, "'We attacked Keiten Shimbun. If you get uppity and publish that photo of those two, you'll meet the same fate.'"

More than a month later, the photo remained unpublished. (VICE News is the first outlet to publish the photo.) However, Keiten Shimbun did publish another photo of Tanaka toward the end of October. In that photo (below), from sometime in 2004, Tanaka is pictured with another senior member of the Yamaguchi-gumi named Iwao Yamamoto, who was once close to Tsukasa. Yamamoto shot himself in front of the grave of his predecessor in December 2010.

Tanaka with Iwao Yamamoto, Yakuza head

 "Whether or not he (Tanaka) still has associations with Yamaguchi-gumi members is something under review," said an official at the National Police Agency. "Under the Tokyo Organized Crime Control Exclusionary Ordinances, such ties would be illegal."

Tanaka has a history of shady associations. A photo of him (below) was taken at a party commemorating the promotion of gang boss Hareaki Fukuda to chairman of the Sumiyoshi-kai crime group - a rival of the Yamaguchi-gumi - in September 1998 at the New Otani hotel in Tokyo. Tanaka allegedly went to the party to congratulate Fukuda. (Sumiyoshi-kai sources say that sometime around 2003, Tanaka began to associate more closely with the Yamaguchi-gumi.)

Jake Adelstein

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Shrinking Japanese Population

At dinner with five British friends, a spark suddenly sizzles through the conversation. Ears prick as the discussion begins. The topic? Sex in Japan.

We wade our way through fact and theory, offering in turn Chinese whispers about the contents of vending machines, the vessels from which businessmen can eat their sushi, and the fake nipples you can insert under your T-shirt to give the appearance of a constant erection. It is an exciting world, this one, so different to our own, where a brief glimpse of underwear seems to entertain the masses for hours.

Two years later, I find myself living here.

And it is in many ways everything I had giggled, exaggerated and hinted at with friends when the words were too shocking to utter.

There are entire shops dedicated to the selling of condoms, regular DVD shops which only retail the one variety of DVD, and seemingly innocent home depots which display plastic phalluses so big I could dress one up in 4-year-old’s clothing and push it around in a pram for a few weeks before anyone would be any the wiser. Only the other day I pulled up alongside a car while waiting at the traffic lights and glanced over, only to discover a guy watching full frontal penetration on his dashboard DVD screen. It was 11am.

Yet this is where I begin to get confused. In such an apparent and blatantly sexual society, why is nobody breeding?

The story of Japan’s declining birthrate is not a new one. Measures are underway to ensure that the country does not evolve into a giant nursing home. But in spite of the fact that the government is offering monetary incentives to young married couples, and that businesses are enforcing compulsory holidays, the percentage of children being born into the new generation is not increasing rapidly enough. With just an average of 1.39 children born per Japanese female, it’s time to take a look at the root causes of why such a randy bunch of Asians can’t get down and do it.

Tokyo exemplifies the coexistence of innovation and tradition. Outside the boundaries of the capital, however, it’s the time honored values which hold a much stronger visible presence. The family home is the most perceptible manifestation of these continuing traditions, with practices arguably proceeding beyond their relevancy date. Here, family members of every generation coexist under one roof, often in the same room. The youngest generation are expected to secure partners in order to maintain this strong family unit and support the elders through their retirement years. Now, more than ever, with the proportion of people above the retirement age reaching astonishing heights, there is an ever pressing need for this.

The pressure to get married is a predominant conversation topic for females as young as 14. The idea of women as “Christmas cakes”—an item which begins to decline after its use-by date of the 25th—still pervades, and the desperation to get married before this “spoiling age” is visibly apparent in Japanese social circles. In the past, young people were subjected to “omiai” (arranged marriage interviews, which to this day are not uncommon). Nowadays, especially in the bigger cities, parties where women pay to attend in order to find a suitably rich and respectable husband, have taken its place.

This pressure and stigma about remaining single pushes people into marriages they are not necessarily happy with. I spoke to one Japanese woman who commented: “I didn’t really like him at first,” with reference to the first few years of her marriage. Instead of looking for a person with whom they’d be entirely satisfied to spend the rest of their lives, people are just glad to be taken off the proverbial shelf. I asked some 24-year-old Japanese males what they consider to be most important when dating the opposite sex. The response came back: “She has to be nice.” Nice? Nice is the word they refuse to let you use after Key Stage 1 primary school education because it’s absolute bollocks. Everyone is “nice”—but using it as the basis for marriage?

Nice is not a spark, and there lays a crucial fault in the Japanese mating system. People are so keen to get coupled up that a spark does not seem to need to exist here. A body just needs to exist, and exhibit some kind of sign that it is “nice,” and then that body is deemed acceptable for marriage. When intelligence, a sense of humor, and similar interests fail to hold any importance, it is no wonder that people are not having sex. Nice isn’t sexy.

But then, what does it really matter, when after the initial 3 or 4 shopping trips made on the designated “couples” day, a few occasions of holding hands, and the subsequent marriage, the relationship will quickly dissolve into the occasional Sunday spent together when the man returns from work. Such is the fate of many matrimonial unions. The working lives of salarymen and OLs at Japanese companies is a phenomenon which has to be seen to be believed. It is not unusual for Japanese workers to leave the office at around 11 p.m. on a weeknight. Holidays, for most, are not even on the agenda. A large proportion of the adults I have come into contact with in Japan have yet to acquire passports. There is simply no need.

With so much time spent at work, there is very little left for play. Here is where the numerous variations of bars offering pleasure for money come into effect. The niche for a quick fix in this work-heavy country is a thriving market. In the same way that the convenience store allows one to pick up a quick bite for dinner with limited expenditure of time, money or effort, the sex industry provides a means for men to enjoy the company of women without having to fork out on the wining and dining required by a future potential spouse. It’s a case of satisfaction in half the time, for half the price.

Just as we see the way sex is cordoned off in the architecture of the cities—Shinjuku’s red-light district Kabukicho a prime example of this—the subject is discernibly curtailed in conversation. Around a table of Japanese citizens of mixed gender, sex does not exist. It is rarely mentioned, and certainly never with reference to oneself. This sense of secrecy extends even to the love hotels, where you cover your license plate, pay through a machine, and leave through a back door onto a quiet street. When sex is required to be kept a secret, it is regarded with connotations of negativity. And when something is viewed negatively, it tends to be considered taboo.

This notion of privacy is part of the persona of humility revered in Japanese society. While this modest and timid character trait flourishes in the business arena, however, it is the ultimate hindrance on the dating scene. For the Japanese, the approach of a stranger is an act of almost biblical transgression. Where big, open rooms in Western bars and pubs are designed with communication in mind, Japanese izakayas are sectioned off into private rooms. Even the “ping pong” buttons with which to hail the bar staff make interaction outside of your own known circle almost unthinkable.

You might think that such a reserved group of people would flock to the online services available, but wherever else in the world this style of dating is flourishing, in Japan it is still restricted to a few sites.  It seems that in this hush-hush society of shy males and females, if you don’t meet the love of your life at school or university, there’s a strong chance it might never happen.

So what is the solution? Put all the 30-somethings in a ring and tell them they can only come out if they’ve fornicated without the use of contraception? Or accept that being single isn’t “wrong,” and that neither is sex. We’ve just witnessed a national pop star shave her head for spending a night at a male friend’s home. Rather than focusing on these old, samurai-age techniques, Japan needs to modernize. Not only its dating style, but also its perception of men and women as these separate, shy entities, so that perversions can at least be shared, rather than expressed through a fanaticism for big-breasted cartoons in magazines. Mentally and physically, the Japanese need to let the rest of the world in.

Louis Chen