Japan’s Rightwing Violence Escalates

A march by the far left “Anti-Imperial System Action Network” is met by a ferocious series of counter-demonstrations by rightwing activists, with a thin line of riot police in between. These events occurred on August 15, 2013, on the streets of Tokyo.

But we’re speaking Japanese!

This funny video tackles the issue of how we often struggle when someone’s race doesn’t seem to match our expectations of how the person should act. People who might look Japanese don’t necessarily speak the language, while people who might look like gaijin (ahem, like me) can be quite fluent.

This video really resonates with me, as I just came back from presenting at a conference in Daegu, Korea, on migration in Asia. The conference had speakers from several Korean universities, and representatives from Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. As the representative of Japan, I was the only non-native to represent a country—and the only non-Asian at the conference. And yet no one seemed surprised that the speaker from Japan was a white guy from the United States, who was talking about Peruvians in Japan. A sign of progress, perhaps.

Explorations into being Hafu: Megumi Nishikura at TEDxKyoto 2013

by Robert Moorehead

In September, filmmaker Megumi Nishikura gave a powerful, moving, and extremely personal presentation at TEDxKyoto. Her film, Hafu, is showing in theaters around the world, and offers an insightful look into the experiences of five hafu in Japan. The film opens in Kobe on November 23, and I can’t wait to see it.

Saving 10,000: Winning a War on Suicide in Japan

by Robert Moorehead

Film description from “Saving10000.com“:

In a war on suicide, who is the enemy? ‘Saving 10,000′ is the story of an Irishman’s personal passion to uncover the true causes of the high suicide rate in Japan. The disturbing findings include the Japanese media`s perverse love affair with suicide, a variety of cruel and predatory economic pressures and an outdated and failing mental health care system. With the help of front-line experts and ordinary Japanese, many touched by the horror of suicide, the movie delivers practical proposals on how Japan can win a war on suicide. However with suicide such a taboo, the odds are nobody will listen. Or will they?

Saving 10,000 – Winning a War on Suicide in Japan” is a 52-minute documentary directed by Rene Duignan and filmed by Marc-Antoine Astier. Unusually for a small low budget documentary, “Saving 10,000″ has attracted a lot of media interest with Rene giving over 30 interviews to date. The movie also sparked interest from politicians with DVD requests from a Minister and Vice-Minister and a screening was held at the Japanese Parliament. Rene has had the privilege of sharing his ideas in a meeting with the Suicide Prevention Unit of the Cabinet Office. After the high profile Japanese media coverage, a large amount of screening requests have been coming from all over Japan. Due to huge public interest and the extreme urgency of raising suicide awareness in Japan, Rene has made the decision to release the full movie online for free. Please note DVDs will be provided free of charge to any organisation/university/NGO that would like to hold a public screening.

Rene will endeavor to fulfill as many speaking requests as is feasible for a “film director” with a day job.

Requests and enquiries to rene.duignan@gmail.com

Twilight of the Yakuza

Click on the image to view Twilight of the Yakuza on distrify.com

Click on the image to view Twilight of the Yakuza on distrify.com

by Robert Moorehead

Sebastien Stein’s film, Twilight of the Yakuza, explores the decline of Japan’s organized crime syndicates. Stein says the yakuza are a dying breed. Their members are aging and the government of Japan has launched a large-scale crackdown on them to eradicate them once and for all. But who are the yakuza? A threat to public safety or a necessary evil?

(For a detailed review of Stein’s film, check out foreignpolicyblogs.com, and for a great read on the yakuza post-March 11, check out Jake Adelstein’s article on japansubculture.com. The rest of this post borrows heavily from Stein’s description of his film.)

The film follows three members of the yakuza: Yoichi Nakamura, the “Tiger of Ginza” who was recently excommunicated from the Sumiyoshi-kai; Toyohiko Tanaka, head of the Matsuba-kai; and Daikaku Chōdōin, a yakuza consultant. Nakamura’s story is the most compelling, as he struggles at age 60 to leave his yakuza past behind him and succeed as a “legitimate” businessman.

Tanaka laments the low standards and lack of honor of young yakuza. As Jake Adelstein has described them, “the yakuza are Goldman Sachs with guns increasingly white collar criminals who follow no code and who serve no function in society.” Deeply rooted in Japanese society, the yakuza are seen as a necessary evil and ‘problem solvers.’ They have been around since the 1700s and were said to protect the weak from the strong, following a rigorous code of honor. Several clans even contributed aid for the victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami. As Adelstein notes:

in the midst of the dark days that followed the great earthquake, there was a time when the yakuza lived up to their claims to be humanitarian groups, and it was oddly inspiring. For a brief time, the yakuza, the people and the police all had a common enemy: natural disaster. And as the saying goes, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ and for that short time — it seemed like we were all friends.

Unlike the mafia, the yakuza is a legal, public group making them relatively easy to check on. You can find their offices by looking on the National Police Agency website, and you can read all about them in their many fanzines. I’ve even sat near them at Japanese pro baseball games in Nagoya, while they tried to explain the sport to the Filipino women sitting with them. Strict government crackdowns have moved many yakuza underground. As the police concentrate their resources on the yakuza, many criminals simply don’t register with clans anymore and start operating underground, evading the grasp of police. A clear trend is emerging towards a new structure of organized crime in Japan, resulting in a steep decrease in the numbers of the traditional yakuza while the underground is soaring – including foreign Russian and Chinese mafias.

This documentary deals with the struggle of the yakuza for its survival and the restructuring of the organized crime scene in Japan. Furthermore, unprecedented access to the secret world of the yakuza gives you an insight on who the yakuza are: criminals, outcasts, but also family men and a part of Japanese society.

Japan Grapples with the Rise of Hate Groups

This YouTube video from “The Real News.com” provides an interesting and informative look at the recent protests against resident Koreans and other minority groups in Japan.