Sunday, December 12, 2010

Elderly Inmates Tax Japan’s Prisons

It’s quite well known that Japan’s rapidly aging population is taking its toll on many facets of polite society. But what is the toll on not-so-polite society? According to a recent AP article, Japan’s population of elderly inmates is also growing fast.

And prison facilities and personnel have to adapt. One prison near Hiroshima has installed handrails in hallways and replaced staircases with ramps to accommodate old inmates with arthritis and bad knees. Provisions are made for bed wetting and other degrees of incontinence. The facility has also hired nurses with expertise in elderly care.

The saddest part of the article, though, is the revelation that it’s not old yakuza and other toughs convicted years ago who are filling up prisons. Most are new, non-violent offenders wrapped up in the throes of recession. With jobs scarce and money running out, they turn to shoplifting, petty theft, and more. When the short sentences (two or three years) end, they seemingly have nowhere to go. Japanese culture doesn’t embrace second chances. In a land where family honor means everything, many aging inmates fear their siblings and children will shun them upon release. However, it’s harder to get paroled if you don’t have a reliable “guardian” to look after you on the outside. A handful become repeat offenders because they simply have nowhere else to turn.

Though a prison official pointedly said prisons should not become de-facto retirement homes, the article almost paints a different picture. The facility is a far cry from the rough-and-tumble atmosphere you’d expect in an American penitentiary. It’s very Japanese in its orderliness. Inmates work six hours a day, even if they’re older than the standard retirement age. Talking is not permitted for most of the day, and bedtime is 9 p.m. when the lights are turned off. Sadly, for some inmates, the lights may never come back on.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tokyo Lives Available in Multiple Formats

I just wanted to give everyone a quick update: Tokyo Lives is now available in several e-book formats, including on Kindle and the Sony Reader. In fact, the Amazon page even says you can start enjoying Tokyo Lives in a under a minute via Kindle! It’s only $7.99 on Kindle--a great deal for yourself or as a gift.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Reviewer Gives Tokyo Lives Two Thumbs Up

Esteemed reviewer Jennifer DeFoy has shared her thoughts on Tokyo Lives on her blog "Just Jennifer Reading." Her commentary starts off:

“This was a really good book. It had a bit of everything in it. There was a hint of a love story. There was a really good murder mystery. It had emotions. And it was just exciting to read. I really liked it.”

Visit Jennifer’s site to read more!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tokyo Salarymen: Modern-day Samurai Fight Back

An interesting piece from CNNGo reveals that some salarymen, sick and tired of the daily grind, and are fighting back by eschewing the rigors of corporate life and adopting a more relaxed attitude.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Is Japan Finally Standing Up?

Earlier this summer, the revered Japanese sport of sumo made headlines worldwide for all the wrong reasons: High-level ties to the yakuza, including match-fixing, were finally exposed. It turns out that sumo and the yakuza went together like sushi and soy sauce. For the first time ever, broadcaster NHK cancelled airing a match. Later, signs at sumo arenas and stables sprung up specifically denying access to gangsters and other undesirables.

Could the sumo fiasco be the impetus to bring the yakuza out of the shadows and shine a bright, probing light on organized crime in Japan? Two articles I uncovered suggest the philosophy might be taking hold. First, yakuza-affiliated construction concerns are officially barred from work on the Tokyo Sky Tree project. (For years, the yakuza has called the shots in the construction industry.)

Second, the Hyogo Prefectural Assembly approved an ordinance Wednesday to ban gangster leaders from setting up offices or buying homes in neighborhoods and near schools. (To indicate just how little yakuza regulation there has been, most organized crime families set up traditional office spaces, proudly displaying their insignia and affiliation on the front door.)

These are both small steps, to be sure—but you’ve got to start somewhere!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sumo Says “Sayonara” to Yakuza (But Does Anyone Believe It?)

In the wake of any great scandal comes a heavy-handed crackdown, and the Japan Sumo Association is falling in line. To recap, Japan’s most cherished sporting tradition has been rocked in recent months as investigators and the media unraveled deep ties to the yakuza that involved illegal gambling, nefarious sponsorships, and even the use of premium ring-side seats to send messages to incarcerated gangsters. Things got so bad that NHK decided not to air a live tournament for the first time in nearly 60 years.

That’s all a thing of the past, says the JSA. In typically overworded fashion, the JSA has issued a “Declaration of Rejection of Violent Groups.” As such, “violent groups or antisocial forces” are banned from training stables, matches, and other sumo facilities. Meanwhile, surveillance cameras are being installed to sniff out yakuza members who may have sneaked into matches.
Only time will tell, however, if the JSA lives up to its newfound sense of propriety…because you know the yakuza won’t willingly disappear.

Read more about the
yakuza in my book, Tokyo Lives, available in paperback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yakuza Weigh in on…Yakuza

One of the most popular video games on the market is called Yakuza, now in its third iteration. It covers…yep, you guessed it: Japan’s seemy underworld! Yakuza 3 is a “simulation” game in which players delve into the role of a real-life yakuza clan.

And who better to review the game than actual yakuza members? Such was the keen idea of Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice and the foremost American authority on the yakuza. He met up with some actual “yaks” (as he calls them) to test drive the game.

Turns out the folks at Sega are spot on in their rendering. Take, for example, their comments about the depiction of a red-light district: “You got your salaryman in there, the delinquent school girl and her sugar daddy, Chinese people, and even those Nigerian touts.”

The review goes on to cover what you’d expect—the authenticity of street fights—and what you wouldn’t—gangsters’ clothes, culinary preferences, and whether or not shabu (crystal meth) should be one of the game’s “power up” features.

Should you desire to learn more about this Japanese mafia milieu but aren’t a gamer, check out the short excerpt below of my book, Tokyo Lives, which describes the very neighborhood—kabuki-cho—that the yakuza commented on in the game review:

“Shinjuku pulses with radiant activity night and day. It is Japan’s neighborhood that never sleeps. There’s something for everyone: shopping, hotels, bars, restaurants, movie theaters, parks, galleries, shrines.

And sex. Lots of sex. Wind through the restaurants and department stores, past the giant screen above Studio Alta, cross Yasukuni Dori, and enter Kabuki-cho. By day, the neighborhood is tame and welcoming, the alleyways empty and uncluttered. But as day fades to night the neon flickers on and the neighborhood transforms itself. The signs glow red and pink. Fleshy images preside over each door front. Salarymen with loosened ties roam the alleys, with scantily-clad women interspersed to lure them to their lairs. Elicit desires are indulged in all forms: strip clubs, porn theaters, hostess bars, massage parlors, brothels, S&M studios. No fantasy goes unfulfilled. And the Chinese rule the neighborhood with an iron fist.

Simple economics drive neighborhood trade: a glut of women and gangsters willing to work harder for less. There is no planning; there is no tomorrow. The next customer is the only concern. Where the yakuza focus on reputation and survival, the Chinese have only three priorities: The first thing is money, the second thing is money, and the third thing is money."