The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Tokyo: Vice City

Cable readers already know the pernicious role that illicit cash can play in the U.S. politics, but it’s nothing compared to what goes on in Japan, where the mafia organization known as the yakuza has deep ties to even the country’s top leaders. The recently-released Tokyo Vice, by American reporter Jake Adelstein, is the most ...

573674_100208_yakuza2.jpg
573674_100208_yakuza2.jpg

Cable readers already know the pernicious role that illicit cash can play in the U.S. politics, but it's nothing compared to what goes on in Japan, where the mafia organization known as the yakuza has deep ties to even the country's top leaders.

The recently-released Tokyo Vice, by American reporter Jake Adelstein, is the most in-depth look at the group published in English. In 2008, Adelstein broke the blockbuster story of top yakuza boss Tadamasa Goto, the "John Gotti of Japan," who made a deal with the FBI to rat out his cohorts in exchange for a liver transplant at UCLA.

He literally risked his life while writing Tokyo Vice and remains in constant danger as he continues to break news all over Japan. A great explanation of the yakuza can be found in this excerpt, titled, Bury Me In a Shallow Grave: When the Yakuza Come Calling (pdf).

Cable readers already know the pernicious role that illicit cash can play in the U.S. politics, but it’s nothing compared to what goes on in Japan, where the mafia organization known as the yakuza has deep ties to even the country’s top leaders.

The recently-released Tokyo Vice, by American reporter Jake Adelstein, is the most in-depth look at the group published in English. In 2008, Adelstein broke the blockbuster story of top yakuza boss Tadamasa Goto, the “John Gotti of Japan,” who made a deal with the FBI to rat out his cohorts in exchange for a liver transplant at UCLA.

He literally risked his life while writing Tokyo Vice and remains in constant danger as he continues to break news all over Japan. A great explanation of the yakuza can be found in this excerpt, titled, Bury Me In a Shallow Grave: When the Yakuza Come Calling (pdf).

Jake’s introduction to the chapter, written for The Cable, explains how one current cabinet minister in Japan is alleged to have deep and longstanding ties to the mafia there:

This chapter from the book deals with the first time I ever met a yakuza boss as reporter and is also an introduction the role of the yakuza in modern Japanese society. I hope people find it elucidating.

As noted in the text, Japan’s longest ruling political party, the Liberal Democrat Party, was originally founded with yakuza money.  Associations with the yakuza don’t seem to be much of a deterrent to holding political office in Japan.

Kamei Shizuka, the current Minister of Financial Services, according to the Weekly Economist, at one time received 40,000,000 yen from a stock-speculating front company Cosmopolitan–which was run by the notorious yakuza crime boss, Ikeda Yasuji. He also received political donations from the late nineties until 2001 from Kajiyama Susumu, a Yamaguchi-gumi Goryokai member and so-called emperor of loan sharks. Kajiyama himself laundered millions of dollars in Switzerland and the US.  When I asked a reporter at one major newspaper why Kamei’s past associations with yakuza members wasn’t an issue–he simply replied, “The Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) makes it difficult to write about these things.”

Minister Kamei is in the unusual position of being the de facto boss of the Financial Services Agency (FSA) in Japan, which is responsible for uncovering corporate malfeasance and making sure that the yakuza make no further incursions into Japan’s already tainted financial markets…

The law was put in place after former Prime Minister Mori became distressed about numerous periodicals writing about his social connections to yakuza figures and touching upon the possibility that he had been arrested in a prostitution raid in his youth. He initiated the movement to create the law and the LDP delivered. In a way, the yakuza are responsible for that legislation—which has successfully muzzled the press and according to lawyers specializing in dealing with organized crime interventions in civil affairs, “has only protected politicians and made it increasingly difficult to discern whether a business is a legitimate entity or a yakuza front company.”

In my humble opinion, if you want to understand the nitty-gritty of Japanese politics, you can’t avoid dealing with yakuza issues on one level or another. There have been a great number of politicians with associations to them, though most of the politicians with yakuza ties usually conveniently kill themselves after an investigation begins.  I’ve always taken this to mean that suicidal politicians somehow find it very enticing to do business with organized crime. I suppose you could argue that they actually wind up getting killed and having their suicides staged. Possible.

The other reason that yakuza can’t be ignored in the political sphere is they have lots of money.  The Yamaguchi-gumi, with 40,000 members is probably the second or third largest private equity groups in Japan and as the Japanese say, ????????? (jigoku no sata mo kane shidai) —” Even in the depths of hell, money talks.”  When money talks, politicians listen.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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