Sunday, May 11, 2008

Japan's John Gotti

After about the unluckiest day of the last 12 years or so---my 3-day old Canon G90 electronic dictionary blew up; I was stranded 30 minutes from home with no money because UFJ bank & ATMs were closed yet again; and my Canon printer suddenly stopped working---it was refreshing to read an article on the y*k*za. Like the mafia, there is romanticizing about them by some. Others fear them very much.

About 20 years ago, there was a book published by 2 American journalists which was appropriately titled The Y*k*za: Japan's Criminal Underworld. I read the original and the updated version too, but always wondered just how accurate it was. The journalists were based in the US and had access to US law enforcement officials as well as some in Japan, but I wondered how much they could really do working from what appeared to be even more outside than the norm for non-Japanese reporters.

A former reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun, that sometimes surprising right-wing newspaper---it actually published a decent book on Japan's WW2 responsibilities---has written an article about the y*k*za in the Washington Post. He was the first non-Japanese to work for the Yomiuri.

Most Americans think of Japan as a law-abiding and peaceful place, as well as our staunch ally, but reporting on the underworld gave me a different perspective...

...In Tokyo alone, the police have identified more than 800 yakuza front companies: investment and auditing firms, construction companies and pastry shops. The mobsters even set up their own bank in California, according to underworld sources...

...In the good old days, the yakuza made most of their money from sleaze: prostitution, drugs, protection money and child pornography. Kiddie porn is still part of their base income -- and another area where Japan isn't acting like America's friend...

[On the relatively recent law banning producing and selling child porn, but not possessing it] The ban is so weak that investigating yakuza who peddle child pornography is practically impossible. "The United States has referred hundreds of . . . cases to Japanese law enforcement authorities," a U.S. embassy spokesman recently told me. "Without exception, U.S. officials have been told that the Japanese police cannot open an investigation because possession is legal." in Japan of criminalizing simple possession, but some political parties (and publishers, who are raking in millions) oppose the idea...

[US law enforcement officials] can't even keep the yakuza themselves out of the country. Why? Because the national police refuse to share intelligence...

I knew that child porn had been made "illegal" several years ago, but I did not realize that Japan did not ban the possession of child porn. I did know that the Japanese police have always been very, very reluctant to share its information with foreign police.

The reporter then goes on to describe what he calls the biggest story of his life: The deal that the FBI made for the "John Gotti of Japan" to be flown to the USA for a liver transplant.

He had to drop that story and resign from the Yomiuri Shimbun due to pressure from some very kind folks with an unusually small number of fingers. The Japanese police themselves were, of course, very helpful.

The author ends the article with a confession of bias:

Of course, I'm a little biased. I don't think it's selfish of me to value the safety of my family more than the personal privacy of crooks. And as a crime reporter, I'm baffled that the Japanese don't share intelligence on the yakuza with the United States.

And I am baffled that the US, and other governments, tolerate that.

Is it safe in Japan to even refer to this article? Well, its only being done here in order for someone in the know to "debunk" it so as to to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. After all, this is not the Japan of temples & shrines, geisha girls, tea ceremonies, sake, and onsen that we all know.

Full article at the Washington Post here.

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