The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Newsletter
Newsletter No. 8. 2012   

February 20, 2012   
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In the coming weeks we plan to offer an expanded What's Hot section with brief and timely articles on our signature themes, including reprints and commentaries.

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Our home page has two new features. One is a regularly updated guide to the more than 100 articles we have published on the 3.11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power meltdown which is transforming Japanese politics and society, and is reshaping issues of nuclear power and energy policy in that nation and globally. Articles are arranged topically. In addition, we have added a guide to some of the most important, and liveliest, online and print sources on 3.11 including blogs and websites. Secondly, the list of articles now indicates all articles available in Japanese translation or original, as well as other languages. Please draw the attention of colleagues and friends to our comprehensive coverage of 3.11.

Many of our most important and widely read articles appear in What's hot and they bring a diversity of sources and reports from Ground Zero in Tohoku and Tokyo. "What's hot" offers breaking stories and provides information beyond the headlines, to cast them in broader perspective. What's hot is regularly updated, at times on a daily basis, and we invite you to consult it and contribute to it. Find it at the top of the homepage.

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Jon Mitchell, U.S. Vets Win Payouts Over Agent Orange Use on Okinawa


The issue of U.S. military use of Agent Orange on Okinawa, suppressed for forty years is now coming to public attention in the face of strong Pentagon resistance. On February 14, 2012, The Japan Times published the following article concerning two more US veterans who have been awarded government compensation for illnesses caused by their exposure to Agent Orange on Okinawa in the 1960s and '70s. Having interviewed over 30 former service members during the past 12 months - all of whom have had their claims refused by a collusion of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) incompetency and Pentagon deceit - the discovery of these new successful cases struck a rare, positive note. Although the VA repeatedly contends that previous awards are non-precedential, these claims suggest cracks in the government's wall of denial which hopefully other ailing veterans will be able to parlay into long-overdue justice for themselves, too.

However, at the same time, it is important to frame these veterans' struggles alongside the likely exposure of thousands of Okinawan civilians to these military defoliants. Increasingly, evidence has come to light suggesting that not only base employees, but also Okinawan farmers and families who consumed seafood near US installations may also have been contaminated by the dioxins within these chemicals. Given the US government and war contractors' criminal refusal to compensate the 3million+ people still suffering from Agent Orange poisoning in Vietnam, it seems unlikely that financial reparations will ever be extended to the Okinawan population.

Despite the long odds, there is a groundswell of support among Okinawa's politicians, public and media to uncover the extent to which Agent Orange was used there and the damage wrought- and recently, with national attention focused on the island leading up to May's 40th anniversary of reversion to Japanese control, even the normally Ryukyu-phobic Tokyo-based press has begun to report on this environmental and health tragedy unfurling 1500 kilometers to its south.

Jon Mitchell is a Welsh-born writer based in Yokohama and represented by Curtis Brown Ltd., New York. He has written widely on Okinawan social issues for the Japanese and American press - a selection of which can be found here. He teaches at Tokyo Institute of Technology. He is an Asia-Pacific Journal associate.

Recommended citation: Jon Mitchell, "U.S. Vets Win Payouts Over Agent Orange Use on Okinawa," The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 10, Issue 8, No 2, February 20, 2012.


 Read more . . .

Gavan McCormack, Mage - Japan's Island Beyond the Reach of the Law  


While a great deal of attention focuses on the chain of islands dividing the East China Sea from the Pacific Ocean between Japan's Kyushu and Taiwan, it tends to focus heavily on those that are part of Okinawa prefecture and to neglect those in the northern part of he chain that are close to Kyushu and administratively part of Kagoshima rather than Okinawa prefecture. Mage is one such. Mage (literally: Horsehair) island sits well north of the line that separates Kagoshima from Okinawa prefecture. It is not Okinawa but is worthy of attention because it shows the same general trends as does Okinawa - of "remote island" blues (especially depopulation), dependence on whims of the central government, and the insidious workings of a military base mentality (even though not one soldier has yet set foot on it).

Recent events in Mage make for a remarkable story, suggestive of bureaucratic irresponsibility, corruption, and environmental abuse on a grand scale. Furthermore, as in the islands of the Okinawa group, Mage and its adjacent Kagoshima Prefecture islands bear witness now to the gradual awakening of levels of civic responsibility and engagement till recently unimaginable. Compared to Okinawa's Henoko and Takae, the Mage struggle is at an early stage and remains little known nationally and scarcely at all internationally, but it shares much of the same character.

Gavan McCormack is a coordinator of the Asia-Pacific Journal and author, most recently, of Client State: Japan in the American Embrace (New York, 2007, Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing 2008) and Target North Korea: Pushing North Korea to the Brink of Nuclear Catastrophe (New York, 2004, Tokyo and Seoul 2006). He is the co-author, with Satoko Oka Norimatsu, of Resistant Islands: Okinawa confronts Japan and the United States, forthcoming, Boulder, Rowman and Littlefield, 2012.

Recommended citation: Gavan McCormack, "Mage - Japan's Island Byeond the Reach of Law," The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 10, Issue 8, No 3, February 20, 2012.

 Read more . . .


Andrew Rankin, Recent Trends in Organized Crime in Japan: Yakuza vs the Police, & Foreign Crime Gangs ~ Part 2   

 II The State, the Police and the Yakuza: Control or Symbiosis?
The Yakuza and the NPA
The popular status of outlaws logically relates to the integrity of the legal system outside which they operate. Putting it simply, for villains to look bad, the police need to look good. Tamura Eitar has shown how the chivalrous image enjoyed by nineteenth-century yakuza stemmed in part from public disgust for corruption and violence by the police squads who hunted them.1 A similar problem confronts the NPA today. Since the early 2000s police corruption has been the subject of increasingly numerous academic articles and media reports.  Ichikawa Hiro, a lawyer who gave testimony on police corruption in the Diet, says, 'There is an institutionalized culture of illicit money-making in the NPA, and since it has gone on for so long it is now very deep-rooted'. In 2009 a veteran police officer named Senba Toshir, while still serving on the force, published a lengthy exposť of police corruption: financial scams, fabricated evidence, forced confessions, beatings of suspects, drug abuse by police officers, embezzlement from police slush funds, and much else. Senba's sensational conclusion: 'The largest organized crime gang in Japan today is the National Police Agency'.


As a case study of the sort of situation that Senba describes we might consider the recent history of the pachinko industry. The yakuza first infiltrated peripheral areas of the pachinko industry during the 1970s. Supplies of gifts to pachinko hall stores, for example, provided effective camouflage for extorting security payments. In the 1980s the police announced their intention to eliminate these yakuza rackets. They accomplished this with great success. Today pachinko business owners need not placate the yakuza.  Instead they must placate the Security Electronics and Communications Technology Association (SECTA; referred to in Japanese as the Hotsukyo). A governmental body founded in 1985, SECTA is the sole regulator of the entire pachinko industry, issuing permits for pachinko halls, conducting safety inspections of pachinko machine factories, and so on. Given the vast sums of money at stake - annual pachinko earnings are estimated at •30 trillion - SECTA is an immensely powerful organization.


Though it is unclear what types of skills are required to work at SECTA, being a recently retired police officer seems to be a plus.  Yamamoto Shizuhiko, chairman of SECTA until 2005, was formerly the Director-General of the NPA, and his successor, Yoshino Jun, is a former Commissioner of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.  A former bureau chief at the NPA's Communications Division and a former chief of the Fukuoka Police Department sit on the Board of Directors.2 Investigative journalists estimate that one third of SECTA's employees are ex-policemen.3 Ex-policemen who cannot find a post to their liking at SECTA may choose from a number of related organizations, such as the associations of wholesalers who supply gifts to the pachinko halls, or any of the companies that provide card-reading machines for pachinko halls; all of these have security departments and monitoring teams that are heavily populated by ex-policemen.  Many pachinko machine manufacturers and pachinko owners' associations retain ex-policemen as consultants simply to ensure smooth relations with SECTA. In short, all that appears to have happened is that the police have closed down the yakuza rackets and set up their own rackets, creating retirement comfortable posts for themselves while causing more trouble and expense for pachinko businesses than the yakuza ever did.


Andrew Rankin lived in Japan for nearly twenty years and studied at Tokyo University. He is currently in the Japanese Department at Cambridge University, writing up a PhD dissertation on Mishima Yukio's non-fiction.  He is the author of Seppuku: A History of Samurai Suicide (Kodansha International, 2011).


Recommended citation: Andrew Rankin, 'Recent Trends in Organized Crime in Japan: Yakuza vs the Police, & Foreign Crime Gangs' - Part 2,' The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 10, Issue 7, No 1, February 20, 2012.  

Read more . . .