Government outlaws yakuza & possession of child porn

Wow! From Jake Adelstein:

The National Police Agency announced today an immediate ban on designated organized crime groups and their activities in conjunction with the establishment of Japan’s version of the RICO act, the criminal conspiracy laws/kyobozai(共謀罪). The Criminal Conspiracy Laws were passed in an extraordinary session of the Diet, where the newly ruling Democratic Party of Japan showed amazing and surprising leadership after a series of incidents in which organized crime groups targeted regular civilians in neo-terrorist acts.

Quite revolutionary.

The latest in the battle against Japanese whaling

In case you haven’t been following the battle of oceanic activist group Sea Shepherds vs. the Japanese whalers, this video from World News Australia shows the latest. Apparently, a Sea Shepherd guy snuck onto a Japanese whaler with a bill for a destroyed ship; the Japanese government took him into custody.

By the way, here’s a snippet from a Sea Shepherds’ press release:

Captain Peter Bethune is no longer just a man who set a world record in boating and had the courage to defend the whales. He will now be the very symbol of the citizens of New Zealand and Australia and their love for the great whales.

The last time a Kiwi was taken prisoner to Japan was in their great war of imperialism went they attempted to enslave both Australia and New Zealand. They have now returned to plunder Australian and New Zealand waters and once again they are arrogantly flaunting the law and taking prisoners.


Beef bowl price wars signal deflation

The New York Times has an interesting article that points to the price of beef bowls (gyudon) as a sign of deflation. Sukiya, Yoshinoya, and Matsuya have all been slashing prices, it says, and that’s not a good thing:

The battle has also come to epitomize a destructive pattern repeated across Japan’s economy. By cutting prices hastily and aggressively to attract consumers, critics say, restaurants decimate profits, squeeze workers’ pay and drive the weak out of business — a deflationary cycle that threatens the nation’s economy.

Eating a beef bowl for lunch or a late-night snack in Japan is the equivalent of going to Burger King, but much tastier, in my opinion.


24-year old woman may have broadcast her suicide attempt on the Internet reports that a 24-year old woman who goes by the screenname _mextli attempted suicide today by jumping off the balcony of her fourth floor apartment — all in plain view of her live videostream. The attempt was supposedly broadcast on Stickam Japan, although _mextli’s profile appears to have been removed. The incident, though, was widely discussed on 2channel.

In the past, people have used livecasts to fake suicide attempts for attention — not just in Japan. No news yet as to whether _mextli’s rumored suicide attempt was real or not.

Video of Friday’s bus terminal bear attack

People taking a break at a bus terminal not too far from Tokyo were stunned on Friday by a sudden bear attack that left 4 people seriously injured. The black bear was preparing for hibernation and out looking for food. He was shot dead after he ran into the terminal building. Here’s a low-res video of him taken by a tourist of the bear mauling one of his victims.

Taiji dolphins freed due to pressure from The Cove

I just got this information from the Oceanic Preservation Society, the organization behind the documentary The Cove about the dolphin killings in Taiji:

Fishermen in Taiji, Japan will be releasing captured dolphins this week in response to international outcry following the award-winning film “The Cove.” Some of the dolphins captured during the annual round up will be sold to aquariums, and while the rest are typically slaughtered in secret, the fishermen will be releasing them because of recent criticism.

…An anonymous Taiji fisheries official said that it’s not clear whether the town will stop killing dolphins permanently. Taiji residents see the dolphin hunt as a tradition that is no different than killing other animals for food. However, the dolphins that are killed and sold as food, often as mislabeled whale meat, contain toxic levels of mercury and are potentially poisoning Japanese consumers.

…The fishermen in Taiji captured about 100 bottlenose dolphins and 50 pilot whales on Wednesday, with plans to sell some of their catch to aquariums for up to $150,000 per animal.

The Taiji government hasn’t confirmed yet whether the killings will be halted permanently, but the fact that they’re on hold means that they’re listening.

Related stories:
The Cove, an upcoming documentary about dolphins in Taiji
Dolphin slaughter: horrible injustice, or just another meal?

Nori-P arrested for drug possession

NorikosakaiFor those of you who have been following celebrity news in Japan, the biggest fiasco this week was the disappearance of actress Noriko Sakai, aka Nori-P, whose surfer dude husband had been arrested last Sunday for possession of drugs. Not sure exactly what kind. Sakai, aka Nori-P, is now 38 has been popular in Japan and all over Asia for two decades. After this drug accusation Toyota pulled ads featuring the actress off of their web site. The actress turned herself in yesterday after leaving her 10-year old son with a friend.

It’s always a huge media frenzy when a Japanese celebrity is caught with recreational drugs. I don’t think it should be &mdash there are bigger things the country can and should be worried about.

Bill Clinton meets Kim Jong Il, frees American journalists


Have you heard the great news? Former president Bill Clinton went to North Korea in his private jet and had a non-official meeting with Kim Jong Il. They talked for awhile, took this wonderful photo against the bird-and-stormy wave backdrop in North Korea, and at the end of the day KJI decided to forgive and send back the two American journalists that he had imprisoned. BNO claims that the two women, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, have already left the DPRK with Clinton on his jet, though the NY Times hasn’t confirmed that yet. Either way, go Bill Clinton!

(Photo: KCNA via Reuters)

Man intimidated into admitting murder is set free after 17 years in prison

20090605p2a00m0na006000p_size5Disturbing good news of the day: 62-year old Toshikazu Sugaya of Tochigi Prefecture was released from prison after serving 17+ years of a life sentence, when new DNA tests proved that he wasn’t the perpetrator after all. Sugaya was convicted of killing a 4-year old girl in December 1991. He claims he was threatened, beaten, and intimidated by the detectives on the case, who told him he would be better off just making a confession. Likewise, during the trial, Sugaya feared that the detectives would be in the courtroom waiting to pounce on him if he said he was innocent. So he pled guilty, even though he didn’t do it.

Sugaya was released from prison last night, greeted by flowers and a herd of reporters. He plans on heading back to his hometown to see his family. He won’t be able to see all of them, though &mdash his father expired from shock over his son’s conviction, and his mother died a natural death two years ago. The person who actually committed the crime is now free forever under the 15-year statute of limitations. Understandably, Sugaya feels like he was robbed of a huge chunk of his life. He said this to reporters on the scene:

I can never forgive the detectives and prosecutors at that time. I want them to apologize to me, and bring my life back to me.

Japan reinstated the jury system this year, which is great, but we need to make sure there are enough protections in place for the accused so they feel safe standing by their word. No legal system is perfect, I know. But 17 years is a long time to atone for something you didn’t do.

The first thing Sugaya wants to do with his long-deserved freedom is eat sushi and sing karaoke.


Two recent fears: swine flu and North Korea

The news in Japan these days has been veering in the direction of scared. For one thing, swine flu has Japanese people canceling trips to Mexico and even California after some people who deplaned a San Francisco-Tokyo flight were diagnosed with swine flu. Pharmacies are selling out of face masks, and everyone is talking about it. My mom called yesterday and asked if the US is struck with the same fear as they are in Tokyo. I told her I don’t know.

Second, North Korea’s back at it again with its nuclear testing and Japan-hating on its news site, brandishing headlines like “KCNA Report on One More Successful Underground Nuclear Test” next to headlines like “Japan Can Never Evade Responsibility for Its Past Crimes against Humanity.”

I wonder which is more likely to happen, a major swine flu outbreak or a North Korean nuclear attack. I’m gonna vote for neither.

“What’s wrong with getting naked?” t-shirts for sale

Inspired by the recent debacle over SMAP member Tsuyoshi Kusanagi’s drunken naked rants last week, someone is selling these t-shirts online with his now-famous quote: What’s wrong with getting naked? on them. I kind of want one, although the fact that it’s on a t-shirt is kinda ironic, because if you’re wearing it you’re not really naked. Maybe go bottomless to get the point across?

Product page (Thanks, Jenn!)

Swimmy’s party for job-hunting investment bankers in Tokyo

N725939467_246My enterprising college sempai Swimmy Minami was on Bloomberg today, in a story about his new high-end online head-hunting firm, BizReach. He had a big party at Heartland in Roppongi where he invited people searching for jobs that pay $100K or more—Heartland was the investment banker hangout back in the heyday before Lehman died. He called it the Pink Slip Party—cute! Swimmy is a great guy—smart (he graduated summa cum laude from Tufts even though every time I saw him he was just screwing around with his friends), motivated, and kind (I ran into him once at Ala Moana Shopping Center in Hawaii, where he was frantically trying to fulfill a two-page illustrated shopping list from his girlfriend). I wish him the best! (Thanks, Yushi!)

Girl with cancer goes to healing hot spring

20090407p2a00m0na002000p_size68-year old Nanako Murakami has brain cancer. 99% of her bone marrow is cancerous, and she has neuroblastoma even after a stem cell transplant. So her 48-year old mother decided to do for her what many older patients do to heal—she took her to a Fukushima spa called Yawaragi no Yu that has natural radioactive hot rocks that supposedly cure the deadly disease. Apparently, she’s the youngest visitor there ever–other kids are usually denied entry because of the risk of side effects.

I hope this works for Nanako-chan.


Abductee’s son prepares to meet North Korean spy

TagutiWhen Koichiro Iizuka was 21, his uncle told him the truth about his mother—that she was abducted by North Korean spies when he was one year old. Now 32, Iizuka is going to have the interesting opportunity to meet anex-North Korean spy, Kim Hyun-Hee, in South Korea tomorrow. The mother, Yaeko Taguchi, was abducted in Tokyo when she was 22, then taken to North Korea where she was forced to teach spies Japanese. Kim was one of her students. She was later arrested for bombing Korean Air Flight 858m from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok and killing over 100 people who were on board.

Iizuka and his uncle, Taguchi’s brother, are hoping to find out a little bit about what she was like. “(I want) to hear about her manners, her habits, and catch a glimpse of my mother,” he told the Mainichi.


Stabbings, shootings, and chopped up sex slaves

20090114p2a00m0na009000p_size5Maybe it’s the giant moon making us all crazy, but there’s a plethora of violent crime in the Japanese newspapers today. A professor at Chuo University was found stabbed to death this morning in a campus bathroom. A disgruntled Tochigi truck driver shot his ex-girlfriend and her dad on Monday as they were getting out of their car, injuring both. He was arrested for illegal possession of a handgun and attempted murder. On the stranger front, a 34-year old man who blamed his low self esteem on visible burn marks on his legs admitted to slicing up a 23-year old abductee and boiling her bones before flushing them down the toilet. He claims he wanted to make her a sex slave; he was pretty sure nobody would ever sleep with him because of his outward appearance, so he kidnapped her and tried to rape her, but failed—so he killed her instead. The police think the murder part was not premeditated. Like I said, he just wanted a sex slave.

Reduced department store hours are a sign of a flagging Japanese economy

MitsukoshiYou know the economy’s shot when Japan’s department giants Isetan and Mitsukoshi are closing it’s doors to the public once a week. Department stores generally run seven days a week in Japan, but with sales down ten percent in the earlier half of December 2008 as compared to the same period in 2007, the Isetan Mitsukoshi Holding Ltd.decided to run their stores only six days out of the week. They are also going to shorten hours of operation, and kick some of their staff to the curb. They calculated that this drastic move will save them two billion yen a year.This is scary because Japan’s a consumer nation. They even have this credit-pay system in department stores where customers can buy pricey items and make payments every month until everything is paid off. This system also applies to luxury brands such as Chanel and the like. According to some estimates, Japanese consumers buy up 40% of the luxury goods sold throughout the world. Who knew the day would come where branded labels worry about gyarus, OLs, and other Japanese fashionistas forgoing their products. Hell seriously has frozen over. (by Emily Co)

Update (via Jean Snow): It isn’t once a week, but rather once a month, and is restricted to regional stores.


Tokyo = the final frontier of smoking in restaurants

ImagesJapan’s one of the few countries that still allow smoking in restaurants. NYC city banned smoking in bars and restaurants a few years ago; even Paris no longer allows it! But in Tokyo, folks are still puffing away while you cook your okonomiyaki or slurp on ramen. A new survey, conducted by Pfizer, showed that 70% of Japanese are bothered by smoke in restaurants. Will this lead to a nationwide ban on smoking indoors? I don’t know. I kinda doubt it. Especially not based on research conducted by a US big pharma company.

Interestingly, certain wards in Tokyo do ban smoking on the streets. My friend James got fined in Akihabara for it. And they’re trying to tighten restrictions against underage smoking, too, with things like the ID and face scanner on cigarette vending machines.


Happy holiday trivia from TokyoMango

Nn20081224a1aHappy Holly-days! Where are you? I am in Lake Tahoe skiing it up through Christmas. It’s been snowing a lot. The Internet is slightly uncooperative. The dogs are nestled under a blanket. A bit of winter trivia:

– In Japan, Christmas is for couples and New Years is for families.
– You will no longer be able to buy cold medicine on the Internet come June.
– Emperor Akihito turned 75 yesterday. He’s been sick a lot, but managed to make an appearance in front of the people. After that they went to an Imperial party. I wonder what that was like!

I’m hitting the slopes in about a half hour, and then, weather permitting, headed up to Reno to visit some high school friends who happen to be in town.