03-04-2010 12:58 PM
You are correct. In the old days, the yakuza and the cops had a give and take sort of relationship. Kaneko, who was number two in the organization, was considered very savvy for his ability to give the police just enough information to keep them happy. The implication that he actually is telling cops about illegal activity the group is involved in clearly would cross the lines of acceptable behavior.
Of course, often yakuza used to rat out rival yakuza groups to the cops--because it made the cops happy and it damaged the competition. The problem now is that it's an all Yamaguchi-gumi world and the cops no longer can play off one organization against another.
03-04-2010 01:43 PM
Is there any sort of popular criticism of the yakuza's recognition as legal corporate entities? The fact that they can legally incorporate means that they enjoy the privileges that comes with that. And some of the privileges are, presumably, protection from the state itself. Does it bother citizens to know that companies obviously involved in organized crime enjoy the benefits and privileges of incorporation?
But, also, how does that work on a practical level? You screw some yakuza on a business deal--break a contract or what not--are they going to take you to court, or are they going to cut off a finger or something? Some of your descriptions of their interests in real estate, leads me to believe it's probably the latter.
Last, I read this morning the "The Saitama Dog Lover" chapters, and the introduction of Sekiguchi. Now you're obviously a savvy guy, as evidenced by your first-scoop, blackmail story. And I'm sure that has a lot to do with your breaking stories. But in the exchanges with Sekiguchi, I also get the feeling that people just like talking to you. Because reporting crime in Japan depends on the type of contacts you develop, and the way you develop them, with law enforcement, do you think it's more important to be a genuinely likable person than it would be reporting from other countries? I'm sure most investigative reporters rely on their personality, to a certain degree, to get people to divulge information to them. But, from what you're describing, it seems absolutely critical.
03-05-2010 03:02 AM
That's a good question, RTA. As a kind of follow-up to that, I'm curious: how much did being gai jin help out here? I know some expats working in Japan who sometimes game the system by pretending to be ignorant of what's going on. The blustery-foreigner act helps them get things done, because the Japanese person with whom they're interacting wants to placate them. If I remember correctly, you kind of pulled this tactic early in the book, but did you continue to do that? And did being an outsider make sources more inclined to talk to you because you weren't part of "the system"?
Also, please bear with us if you have trouble accessing the board. We're installing software updates for a redesign today, and that may result in temporary outages. Thanks.
03-05-2010 04:27 PM
Well, the Japanese government is taking a harsher stand towards Yakuza front companies and any corporate involvement with organized crime. The Wall Street Journal today http://bit.ly/bKqK21 had a very insightful article on how the former CEO of Fujitsu was pushed out for alleged ties to organized crime. Since 2009, having anti-social links at a corporate level is now enough to get a firm delisted from the stock market.
I forget the name but the Yamaguchi-gumi headquarters is registered as a company. That's just how it's done now.
I think in Japan, as you start out as a reporter, being personable is really essential to getting people to divulge information to you. Especially on the police beat. Did you know that in Japan, arrests are not a matter of public record? The only people who know if someone has been arrested are the accused, the prosecutor and the cops. This is great for keeping ongoing investigations under wraps but it is a little scary to think that you might be arrested and no one would know. In the old days, there wasn't even really a system to make sure you had access to a lawyer upon arrest.
Charm is very important as reporter in Japan. I don't have much of that. I'm kind of funny in a Pee Wee Herman way and that helps. The description of police and political reporters as "Otoko Geisha" (male geisha) is unfortunately very apt.
03-05-2010 04:32 PM
Being an outsider helps you get away with a lot, but you can't play that card for long. However, there still is a deep-rooted Japanese belief that a foreigner can't really, can't actually quite understand Japanese so they will over-explain to you, and that helps.
Also, the advantage you have as a foreigner, because of this, is that if you hang around--people will talk openly about things they don't think you'll understand. And there were times, I'd just hang around a crime scene, deliberately talking on my phone in English briefly--so that the cops would assume I was another clueless foreigner, and pick up details of what was happening on the case since I was in essence--invisible.
The other advantage is to being an outsider is that sometimes people see you as a confessor or a fellow misfit--someone they can talk to and trust. I'd say at the time, the advantages of being a foreign working as a reporter outweighed the disadvantages considerably.
03-08-2010 02:07 PM
I'm not sure if you're still checking back, but I wanted to say thanks again for spending some time with us.
And if you are checking back, I did want to ask one more question. I was talking about your book with a friend over the weekend, and I started speculating out loud about a follow-up. Will you continue to write material about the Yakuza in book form, or are you more devoted to your website at this point? What about an update for the paperback version? Or maybe an updated edition X years down the road when safety/privacy issues aren't as critical and you can unpack more of the story?
Anyway, these all occurred to me after the 11th hour, and I know you already graciously spent a lot of time here. So feel free to let me get my answer via the bookstore. Thanks again for stopping by.