Category Archives: Crime

White people for rent – not as innocent-sounding as it seems

A little while ago a story swept the Internet that “white people are available for rent in China.” Apparently, sometimes companies hire Western actors to pretend they’re either visiting foreign businessmen or high-level employees to make a positive impression.

For the purposes of this post, I am assuming the posts and CNN report are basically accurate, though I couldn’t find any corresponding job listings on a cursory Google search.

What surprised me about this story was the cool reaction of much of the reporting and reaction (I’m looking at you, CNN). The dominant explanation seemed to be that white people lend “face” to a company, a characteristic aspect of Chinese culture. But when does getting “face” cross the line into fraud? Sending a fake company representative might sound like a funny sitcom premise, but misrepresenting your company’s operations can have some serious negative consequences. Not that any of this crossed the minds of the winners in the video. By the way, who wears a wifebeater to their CNN interview?

For a case in point, let me point to this Asahi story about securities fraud among startup companies in Japan:

FOI Corp., a maker of chip production devices in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, pretended to have sold products to overseas companies when the goods were actually gathering dust in a warehouse in Machida, Tokyo.

To sell the story of its overseas business, FOI took CPAs abroad where they met the company’s supposed business partners. The translator hired by FOI lied to the accountants about the sales, sources said.

FOI was listed on the Mothers market in November last year after apparently window-dressing accounts starting in fiscal 2003.

The company reported fiscal 2008 sales of about 11.8 billion yen, but investigators suspect that 98 percent of the amount was fictitious. The company is now undergoing bankruptcy procedures.

FOI’s tactics fooled not only the CPAs, but also Mizuho Investors Securities Co., which advised the company on the listing, and the TSE.


I wonder if these “out of work actors” ever checked to see whether they were fronting for a real company. The overseas trips could easily have been to China, maybe even to a phony shop floor with real live white people.

Most Congressional hearings are now “kabuki”

Click here to watch some wrinkled political blowhard casually dismiss an entire branch of government with our favorite tired cliche:

(The BP hearings are) not a forum where we can expect answers. It’s kind of a “kabuki drama” if you will, like most congressional hearings.

You can leave comments on the BP oil spill under this post. Bill Maher said that even he is too depressed to read the news these days, and I agree. It seems like such devastation for so much of the gulf I am tempted to block it out of my mind, which is the kind of tactic I usually reserve for the suffering in third world countries.

(Borrowed the fun image from Google. Bloomberg’s Youtube channel doesn’t allow embedding)

Right wing new-age cult party lands a Diet seat

Troubling news:

The Happiness Realization Party, the political wing of new-age religion Happy Science, has scored its first seat in Japan’s legislature. Yasuhiro Oe (pictured), a proportional representation member of the upper house, has announced his intentions to change affiliation. The move comes after Oe chose not to join his comrades in the Japan Renaissance Party (改革クラブ) as it transformed into former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe’s new Nihon Rennaissance Party (新党改革). Oe commented that he joined because he shares most of the same conservative principals as HRP.

In a blog post, Oe writes that HRP had approached him last year about running with their backing in the 2009 lower house election, but he did not know enough about the group to accept. However, he has since learned that party leader Ryuho Okawa is a man with strong beliefs, the party shares his views on issues that are important to him, and that Happy Science is not one of those “questionable, strange religions” that forces people to spend money on expensive altars/shrines or makes them beat drums. (According to this anti-cult website, Okawa makes most of his money by making followers buy his published works). Add to that the recent drama with his former colleagues, and that was enough to make the switch. He is apparently not a Happy Science adherent.

I had not heard of Oe before now, but according to Wikipedia he has a history of switching affiliations. The Wakayama native first became an upper house member in 2001 as a PR candidate on the LDP ticket, then as a DPJ candidate in 2007. He later joined JRP as a founding member in 2008, citing problems with the DPJ’s methods. In terms of policy, he has adopted some typical right-wing positions – he’s pro-Taiwan, a firm Nanjing Massacre truther, and a vocal supporter of the victims of North Korea’s kidnapping program. He comes up for reelection in 2013. As Happy Science’s go-to man in the Diet, Oe will have the power to question government officials to try and get them on the record on issues relevant to the party. At the very least, you can probably expect some fairly bizarre formal written questions to the cabinet coming from Oe’s office.

HRP Update

The Happiness Realization Party was founded in May 2009 ahead of last year’s election season, fielding candidates for the Tokyo prefectural assembly and then in the historic lower house election in August on a radical program of major social upheaval and fiery neoconservative bluster. They failed to win a seat in any of the races, which cost them a lot of money in lost candidacy deposits. There have been organizational setbacks, too – weeks before the lower house election they announced they were pulling out of the race entirely before reversing themselves just three days later. And in its year of existence the party has had a total of six leaders (even worse than the LDP’s turnover rate!).

Money and bumbling will not stop these people, however – they just might be here to stay. Wikipedia says a candidate HRP backed in Machida-shi won a city assembly seat, which is a tangible success. The posters are still around Adachi-ku. Their website is packed with content and activity, including official commentary on the scandals of the day, ranging from the Ozawa scandal to Princess Aiko’s bullying troubles (their typically hard-line solution – radical reform of the teachers’ unions and a sweeping “bullying prevention law”). And they have already announced more than 20 candidates for the upper house elections this July.

If they can’t manage to actually win elections on a national level, convincing sitting members to switch parties like this might be a good way to get their foot in the door, especially in this time of party realignment.

For more info on what the Happiness Realization Party stands for, check out my post from last year’s election season.

(via J-Cast)

PS: This is my first in what will hopefully be a regular series of posts on the upcoming election. Stay tuned!

The Geos bankruptcy – what’s next for eikaiwa?

(Updated to change student data)

Geos, one of Japan’s major “eikaiwa” English conversation chains, has entered the bankruptcy process (see Let’s Japan or any number of news reports for more details). Some reactions are declaring eikaiwa dead and encouraging teachers to look for employment outside Japan. It does seem like the old eikaiwa business model is not poised for a serious comeback barring a significant improvement in the Japanese economy. That said, eikaiwa as a concept and attractive learning option for Japanese people isn’t going away.

From the looks of it, some eikaiwa bankruptcies are all but inevitable. Revenue is down, and according to Nikkei “the number of language schools in operation last year remained mostly unchanged from 2008, but the number of new students enrolling in the schools plunged 35.7%.” That’s down 35% from post-NOVA levels!

Let’s see some of those numbers in graph form:

And some indicators of our own:

As overall revenues have fallen, sales of teaching materials have risen in importance, now accounting for around 10% of the language school business.

The industry overall now employs more part-time teachers than full-time, but now both categories of teacher are in decline. Not exactly a good sign for financial health or the job security of teachers.

Revenue per student has risen slightly as the average number of classes per student is down, which suggests to me a slightly lower value for the lessons.

Going forward

Paradoxically, this sort of downsizing is exactly what the industry needs, but when schools collapse so suddenly and spectacularly it scares people away and hurts business even more. Nevertheless, I would not be so intensely pessimistic as some of the commenters I have read. The initial success of these schools has created the “eikaiwa paradigm” that will live on, I think, even if all the big chain schools fall to the wayside. Just as small-time piano teachers can make good money anywhere in the world, any halfway decent teacher who can reliably provide value for his/her services can do OK. Maybe not “tens of thousands of western immigrants descend on Japan” kind of OK, but OK nonetheless. Japanese people still want to learn English and are willing to pay for it. They just can’t afford it as much anymore and don’t want to hand their money to crooks.

The problem is that these major players set up large-scale businesses that profited by essentially gouging customers – promising stellar results and pressuring them into long-term contracts only to give sub-standard lessons to people who may not have really been able to benefit from them in the first place. Now, a combination of factors – tighter laws, the bad economy, rise of the Internet as a study tool, people generally getting wise to the con – has come crashing down on Geos.What the numbers don’t show is that the major operators seem to be offering more or less the same product as before – if anything, they are diluting the product with less value and more part-time teachers – and customers just aren’t as interested anymore.

(The stats above can be had at the METI website (bilingual Excel file))

Things which Japan does not monopolize, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary

  1. Upskirt photography: Police in upstate New York recently ran a sting operation to catch an upskirt photographer in a clothing store, which led to the unsuspecting victim suing the store.
     
  2. Expensive airports that nobody goes to: “Local officials were so confident that tourists would flock to this beautiful, mountainous county in southwestern China that they made the terminal big enough to accommodate 220,000 passengers annually, and built a runway capable of handling a 140-seat Boeing 737. But only a few charters and budget carriers have established service here. A grand total of 151 people flew in and out of Libo last year.
     
  3. Whaling: See this piece in The Economist, then Wikipedia for the breakdown.
     

Did I miss anything?

We’ve seen this one before, haven’t we

Spurned lover’s poisoned curry revenge

Day after day Lakhvir Singh sat in the dock at the Old Bailey, usually with her eyes closed, as family members and her love rival gave evidence against her.

From her arrest – of which a police officer said: “She appeared calm and controlled and did not show emotions” – right up to her conviction, Singh appeared detached from the cruel death she inflicted on a man she professed to love.

The court heard how the 45-year-old mother-of-three had a secret affair with Lakhvinder Cheema, which lasted 16 years.

But two weeks before he was due to be married to Gurjeet Choongh, “lovesick” Singh, laced a pot of curry with Indian aconite, which is known as the “queen of poisons”.

Ichihashi’s very dubious version of events

The latest news on the Lindsey Ann Hawker murder case: alleged perpetrator Tatsuya Ichihashi has confessed. Unfortunately, his story sounds bogus and calculated to avoid a death sentence:

According to the indictment, Ichihashi assaulted Hawker at his apartment in Ichikawa between March 25 and 26, 2007, tied her wrists with adhesive tape and raped her before strangling her to death. Sources close to the investigation said Ichihashi had remained silent over the incident ever since his arrest in Osaka on Nov. 10 this year.

Meanwhile, an attorney for Ichihashi said he started explaining about the events leading up to Hawker’s death after he was first charged with murder on Dec. 2.

“Because she yelled, I strangled her from behind, and she became motionless. After that, I gave her CPR. I didn’t mean to kill her,” Ichihashi was quoted as telling his attorney.

Hawker was alive until dawn on March 26, Ichihashi was quoted as telling his lawyer. The pair reportedly spent some time listening to a Martin Luther King speech via the Internet.

Investigative sources said DNA from body fluid found on Hawker’s body matched that of Ichihashi’s, and that in addition to heavy beating to her face and body, her neck was broken.

The case is slated to be put on a lay judge trial.


I really wish I could know why Ichihashi made her listen to Martin Luther King…

Adam J. Richards disappointed in court decision in favor of Borat

From Bloomberg:

News Corp.’s Twentieth Century Fox Film won an appeals-court ruling affirming the dismissal of three lawsuits filed by people who claimed they were emotionally harmed by appearing in the “Borat” movie.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York upheld the dismissals from last year in an order today. People who appeared in the film, including those in a dinner-party scene in which the protagonist presents a bag of feces, also sued for fraud and unjust enrichment, according to the ruling. They argued the ambiguity of “documentary-style film” in signed releases meant the lower court couldn’t rely on them to dismiss the litigation.

“While the character ‘Borat’ is fictional, the film unmistakably tells the story of his travels in the style of a traditional, fact-based documentary,” the appeals court wrote. “Indeed, the film’s stylistic similarity to the straight documentary form is among its central comedic conceits, employed to set the protagonist’s antics in high relief.”

...

“It’s disappointing,” Adam J. Richards, a lawyer for six of the seven plaintiffs, said of the ruling in a phone interview. “It allows well-financed parties such as Twentieth Century Fox to outright lie to people and rely on, in my opinion, an ambiguously worded document to get by the lies.”

...

The appeals court found the plaintiffs couldn’t claim the filmmakers fraudulently induced them into signing the releases because they didn’t try to verify what they were told by, for example, asking to meet the “reporter” or learn his name.

“They would have lied to him,” Levine said of his client Psenicska. “To use clear language like ‘mock documentary’ or ‘mockumentary’ would have given the game away. They were clearly trying to use obsfucation.”


While I agree that the plaintiffs should have maybe had a little common sense before jumping in front of the camera, I really hope Sasha Baron Cohen remains the only one making these obviously subversive movies. They work, but only because the makers are doing things everyone knows are completely wrong.

Gambling and the Yakuza: An Interview with Jake Adelstein

Tokyo Vice

Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan came out this past Fall. A tale of sex, scandal, and gangsters, it was written by Jake Adelstein, a former vice reporter for the Yomiuri and the only American to have been admitted into the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department press club. If you’re interested in hearing more about the seedy side of Tokyo, I recommend picking up a copy. It’s a great read, at least as interesting as Robert Whiting’s Tokyo Underworld.

Some of you may have heard of Adelstein when his name popped up a year or so ago as the author of a Washington Post article about the yakuza (Japanese mafia). He is an interesting fellow; besides his unique former press credentials he also was instrumental in the 2006 TIP report that embarrassed Japan into adopting stricter anti-trafficking measures. Additionally, he runs the “Japan Subculture Research Center,” a blog devoted to the Japanese underground. He is currently running around the world promoting his new book. This isn’t just to generate sales. The publicity he generates keeps him alive.

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