Underground Gamblers and Academic Grants

This week’s Metropolis has a feature on underground gambling. It’s an interesting read:

The gambling professional is, in general, not who you think he is. For a pro gambler, Rei looks pretty normal. He has an average build, wears average clothes and works a regular day job. He lives in a messy six-mat apartment. The paint on the walls is peeling off, and his stuff is strewn about the room. In the corner lie a couple of duffel bags thrown there the previous night. By all appearances, it’s a standard Japanese bachelor’s apartment.

Except that those bags contain enough ¥10,000 bills to wallpaper the entire room.

Later on in the article, there are short notes about gambling in Japan. Academics may be surprised to read this:

Doing research on Japan? There’s a good chance you’re being supported by the gambling industry. Every year The Nippon Foundation donates roughly ¥30 trillion to charitable and educational causes. It all comes from boat racing.

For the most part, this is true. The Nippon Foundation, the largest philanthropic organization in Japan, receives over 3% of kyotei (motorboat racing) annual revenues.  According to the 2006 Government Whitepaper on Leisure, the total market for 2005 for kyotei was 978 billion yen. In the early 90s, it was about double this. More details can be found in David Plotz’s Pachinko Nation. (Incidentally, Plotz’s research was supported by a Nippon Foundation grant.)

Of course, this isn’t to criticize the foundation itself, which has supported good works around the globe. Apparently some academics in Japan do look down on their grants, however. Last year, a friend of mine was faced with the choice of either a Fulbright or a Nippon Foundation grant for her dissertation research. When she told an academic friend of hers about this, the friend closed the door and quietly told her that she risked a small amount of stigma were she to go with the latter.

If this is how some Japanese academics deal with researchers whose grant is merely peripheral to gambling, I wonder how they will treat someone whose research is on gambling…

40 thoughts on “Underground Gamblers and Academic Grants”

  1. Benjamin,

    I don’t know about how academics in Japan feel about the Nippon Foundation, but think that the reason that some scholars overseas disapprove of accepting money from the Nippon Foundation is because of the Foundation’s links with Ryoichi Sasakawa, and not because it gets its money from gambling on boat races.

    I guess that some scholars on Japan feel that it is unsavoury to accept money from an organisation that was founded and run for many years by someone who was an accused (although not convicted) war criminal, fascist, and scoundrel.

    I imagine (although I do not know) that many academics in Japan might feel the same way, which could explain your friends experience. At least, it seem more plausible than the assumption that the academic was oddly anti-gambling.

    The Nippon Foundation does fund a lot of academic research both in Japan and overseas, and also funds lots of philanthropic work in many countries. It has always been my opinion that the Nippon Foundation, the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and his other philanthropic acts were Ryoichi Sasakawa’s way of restoring his reputation both in Japan and overseas. However, that does rather taint the money that they disburse.

  2. I echo the thought that the issue with the NF is not the gambling money but Sasakawa. He embodies in a single person not only the worst thuggish excesses of Japanese imperial-fascism but its intersection with organized crime — and the extension (and strengthening?) of this network into the post-war.

    He was a war criminal by all conventional measures. The American government just dropped the charges because he was useful in their fight against domestic communism. And he and Yoshio Kodama were up to their usual tricks right out of jail — but this time with CIA and LDP backing. (This isn’t really an exaggeration, right?)

    I forget the whole story, but there is also something fishy, apparently, about how Sasakawa was able to be the guy who the government gave permission to run the only openly legal gambling operation in Japan. Sasakawa had no background in gambling yet mysteriously was able to win everyone’s support to be the central figure.

  3. Sasakawa was a gangster and by all reports, a grade A #$$hole, but war criminal?

    He was jailed for “instigating nationalism”. If that was a crime, they should have jailed millions. I’m not aware of Sasakawa killing anyone or ordering anyone killed. Being a warmonger is by no means the conventional definition of a war crime. Outside of the Tokyo Trial, there have been no other trials for “crimes against the peace”. He can be scum without being a war criminal.

    In any case, there aren’t many academics that don’t know the deal with the Nippon Foundation. However: A – the old man has been dead for 15 years; B – they really do good work and tailor their scholarships toward Asian development, Sino-Japanese friendship, and all that nice stuff; C – compared to the Japan Foundation, Nichibunken and others, they don’t give out so many research fellowships so most people don’t worry. I wouldn’t have any more qualms about taking a Nippon Foundation fellowship than a Fulbright. It only taints the money if they want to have a say concerning the final research project.

  4. (and strengthening?)
    (This isn’t really an exaggeration, right?)

    I agree with these points, however.

  5. I am an academic and have never heard of the Nippon Foundation. Actually, that is probably because I am a scientist who looks to sources like NSF, NERC, and JSPS for funding.

    So from my point of view, unless the amount of funding from NF was significantly higher than Fulbright, taking a Fulbright seems like a no-brainer.

    Back in graduate school, I knew several natural science PhD students on Fulbrights.

  6. I always thought the war criminal charges were from his pillaging of China. As in, he was using the pretense of the war to basically fly out all of China’s valuables and take them to Japan.

  7. M-bone,

    The comment there about Crimes Against Peace is a bit of a derail, and is also factually inaccurate.
    The “crimes against peace” indictment at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial was based on the similar indictment at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials. According to Article 6 of the Charter for the Nuremburg Trial, the first indictment was for
    “Crimes against Peace: namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a Common Plan or Conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing;”.
    According to Wikipedia, Hermann Goring, Rudolf Hess, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Keitel, Konstantin von Neurath, Erich Raeder, Joachim von Ribbentropp, and Alfred Rosenberg were all found guilty of “Crimes against Peace.”
    So it is incorrect to say that there has been no use of this charge outside of the Tokyo Trial.

    Sasakawa was charged as a Class A war criminal, which was the designation given to those who were charged with Crimes Against Peace.
    I am not sure exactly why Sasakawa was charged with this, and will have to look it up when I am not at work and have more time. According to his bio on the Nippon Foundation website, he was only charged because he went around Japan taunting the Americans to charge him, and so they did. However, that sounds rather self-serving.
    However, even if he was not guilty of “Crimes Against Peace” (whatever that really means) it is true that he was running a private army in China, selling drugs, and profiting from the war.
    Whether he or his organisation committed actual war crimes (or crimes against humanity) in China during the war is another thing that I am not sure of. he certainly wasn’t charged with actual war crimes (raping, pillaging, murder of civilians etc). Thus I did not call him a war criminal, only stating that he had been accused, but not convicted. However, he probably should have been charged in relation to the garden variety war crimes that he and his organisation committed in China during WWII.

    I had always assumed that Sasakawa took over the boat racing with the help of Kishi Nobusuke, who was in Sugamo Prison at the same time as Sasakawa. Richard Samuels (http://www.jpri.org/publications/workingpapers/wp83.html) claims that Sasakawa, Kishi and Kodama Yoshio were cellmates, but I am unsure of the source of that claim. However, Sasakawa did have good contacts with politicians in what became the LDP, and I had always assumed that he was able to use those contacts to get control of the motoboat racing organisation after it was set up in 1951. If you know anything else about it, please share it.

  8. M-Bone, no worries, I knew that is what you meant. My point was that a Fulbright is prestigious to people outside of Japanology, while the NF is, if I am to be taken as an example, obscure.

  9. Funny. I had an experience to be an Aikido teacher for the boat drivers school at Yamanaka ko of the Nihon Zaidan.

    All the students were wearing school uniform strongly reminiscent of the IJA. At 17:00 PM every day “Hino maru” was raised, and following a trumpet “Kimi ga yo” was played, and every body at any place inside the school stood up silently.

    Sasagawa was also a financial supporter of the Aikido school to which I belonged, and he wrote in our school news letter funny articles. In one article he wrote that he invented when he was in Sugamo prison ”世界は一家、人類は兄弟”主義 (Whole world is one family, all humans are brothers-ism).

    I later figured out that this was his post war version of 八紘一宇. He carefully dropped the “under the emperor” line, of course.

  10. James and Marxy,

    Yes you’re right. I didn’t mention Sasakawa. That’s probably where the stigma comes from.

    I still wonder if its links to _kyotei_ revenues has any affect on how people look on the organization. Any business having to do with gambling in Japan carries a certain amount of stigma and _kyotei_ isn’t really a place you’d want to take your family to.

    M-Bone and stevicus,

    Not to nitpick, but this is relative, isn’t it? As far as I know, Fulbright grants are only for Americans studying in other countries or non-Americans studying in America. The Fulbright program is certainly more well known globally, but that’s probably because most academics applying for international grants have an interest in study in America. Does anyone know if Japanese can receive NF grants?

  11. Tomojiro,

    Wow, that’s a great story! I had read about nationalist links to Aikido schools before. I guess I’m not surprised to hear that _kyotei_ is in the loop as well. Do martial artists train horse race jockeys and cyclists as well?

  12. Benjamin

    Well only the boat drivers (Kyotei senshu), I guess. It is a result of personal relation ship between the founder of my Aikido school and Sasagawa.

    But the son of Sasagawa, who is a lawmaker of LDP is known to be a quite liberal person. Since his son inherited Nihon Zaidan, it is known that they have cut ties with some extreme right wing groups. Well, I don’t consider my Aikido school as “right wing (there is nothing political inside the school)”, but the support from Nihon Zaidan has been cut too since his father died.

  13. I once worked in the same financial company as a man who had grown up with stories of his father’s experiences as a POW in a Japanese camp. He refused to employ anyone who had any association with the Japan Foundation and would often call a person in for interview just to tell them that. He also ensured the firm never dealt in shares of Green Cross pharmaceutical. He’s still an advisor at one firm but I doubt whether he is closely related to their Tokyo hiring policies.

  14. “So it is incorrect to say that there has been no use of this charge outside of the Tokyo Trial.”

    Right, should have said “since” the Tokyo trial.

    “pretense of the war to basically fly out all of China’s valuables and take them to Japan.”

    So were they stolen by murder squads or bought at rock bottom prices though links with Chinese organized crime (or taken from criminals) or in a colonial context or bought from Japanese soldiers who looted them? I’m under the impression that the last three were the case. If that is indeed the case, not only are these not considered to be war crimes, but people are flat out getting away with this as we write and the countries which provided Tokyo Trial judges (including the Chinese nationalists) were restoring their infrastructure of exploitation even as Sasakawa was stewing in jail. Criminal? Sure. War criminal? Not according to the Tokyo Trial mandate or any definition of the term that has been applied since.

    “it is true that he was running a private army in China, selling drugs, and profiting from the war.”

    This kind of allegation pops up online and he was certainly running criminal activities in China. However, the main sources for this kind of thing are pretty dodgy-


    This one, which fed Wikipeida, for example, turns his group, which was not a private army in China, but a regular “uyoku” organization, into a force in Manchuria of 150,000. Not true. It was more like 15,000 (leading me to believe that the author of that piece misread “ichiman”, he also provides no source for any of it) and the vast majority of them were in Japan running various patriotic schemes. In the heyday of Japanese opium dealing on the continent, Sasakawa was actually in JAIL in Japan. Unfortunately, we know that he was a bad guy, but have little idea what he actually did. Some sources like “Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy” have just made stuff up, so we have to be careful about this.

    Private army allegations tend to come from his “air force” which was used to ferry valuables back to Japan and supplies to China but was only used in combat operations after it was “donated” to the state.

    Elsewhere online, Sasakawa appears as the fearsome “Tiger of Malaya” whose private army killed thousands of Chinese and Malaysians. He gets confused with Yamashita Tomoyuki and so the legend grows.

    In the end, I’m not aware of any documentary evidence or serious testimony that Sasakawa did anything other than garden variety criminality (part and parcel of colonialism, really). He was a warmonger and profited from the war – but, as I mentioned above, you could put millions into this category in Japan alone.

    “However, he probably should have been charged in relation to the garden variety war crimes that he and his organisation committed in China during WWII.”

    My personal opinion – they should have hung all the bastards. The best reports that I have seen, however, indicate that Sasakawa’s main actions during the war were to buy Chinese mining concessions at rock bottom prices and gouge the Japanese military, using a combination of his thugs and local talent to facilitate things. He was a colonial operator, and I think that the same concept of justice would have needed to be applied to the often despicable colonial looting of the victor nations as well. Sasakawa’s style bears disturbing parallels to how African resources, mineral wealth, and diamonds are being approached at present, but if we have collectively decided that this is fair game (and we give our consent as consumers), I’m not sure that we can fairly call Sasakawa a war criminal.

    “while the NF is, if I am to be taken as an example, obscure.”

    My administration just looks at the number of zeroes on the bottom line.

    Mulboyne – do you mean Nippon Foundation and not Japan Foundation above? The Japan Foundation (which does a very bad job of distinguishing itself) if the Japanese gov’s way of funding cultural exchange, is (fairly) ideologically neutral, etc.

    Benjamin – I’ve never really heard anyone complain about the gambling origins of the money and I have no personal issue with it whatsoever. When you think about it, public universities in the United States and elsewhere also are partly funded by massive government gambling revenues.

  15. M-Bone, yes, sorry, I do mean Sasakawa’s group and the guy I’m mentioned did know the difference.

  16. When I attended STUDY IN UK seminar at the British Council way back in ’93,Many development study related faculty in UK are granting scholarship from Sasakawa related organization Japanese student studying development studies.I talked one of the recruiter from SOAS and told him the concern,and his answer was “Mr.Sasakawa’s dollar is as green as anybody’s dollar”.

  17. Like the person in your post above, I was awarded a Sasakawa grant to do post-graduate research in my home country, and then turned it down in favour of a garden-variety university scholarship once I read who Sasakawa was. Dick Samuels’ essay on the JPRI website clinched it for me.

    Having since worked with various Sasakawa-related organisations though, I have to say that they have never pressured me or my colleagues into taking particular positions. Their top priority seems to be, as M-Bone said, to work towards Asian development, with a side project–particularly for their subsidiaries overseas, which are treated by the Tokyo office as separate organisations–of making sure that Japan is noticed in the international community. The latter objective is hardly sinister. Actually, it is pretty much the goal of the mombusho scholarship.

    The well known political scientist Sato Seizaburo wrote a biogaphy of Sasakawa. I’ve heard it was controversial because it didn’t repeat the mantra of the man as an evil rightist. According to Sato, Sasakawa hated Tojo and wanted to get arrested by the Allies, because only a trial would clear his name. He also wanted to stand and defend the Emperor in court as well as some of the politicians he saw as hopeless saps who just went along for the ride. Again, according to Sato, GHQ thought he was just some industrialist out for noteriety and didn’t bother with him until he harangued the occupation authorities to arrest him.

    Has anybody read this? I know Sato was not a trained historian and there is some dubious use of sources, but if it is true, it paints a very different picture of the man.

    I dunno. To me he seems a bit like a conservative nationalist in the mold of Nakasone. Perhaps Nakasone was even worse given some of the things he has admitted to doing during the war. But then, nobody runs around criticising Nichibunken as an elaborate ploy to disguise jingoism as “positive Japanese nationalism,” do they?

    As for the Japan Foundation, I’ve actually found them a little more aggressive when it comes to propagating positive images of Japan. The Sasakawa people don’t seem to care as much.

    “My personal opinion – they should have hung all the bastards.”

    That was the solution proposed by the British–and to do it without trials.

  18. More trivia: The artist management company Kenon was supposedly founded by an ex-newspaper man from the Kyotei newspaper. There are some who believe the investment money came from Sasakawa’s business network. Financing for artist management companies, however, is probably the least transparent thing in Japan, so who knows.

  19. “That was the solution proposed by the British—and to do it without trials.”

    The difference is that I would have wanted to see a single definition of what a war crime is and hung the British bastards too.

    I haven’t read Sato’s book, but Sasakawa’s grudge against Tojo is well documented elsewhere as well. I’ve also seen reports that Sasakawa wanted to see the wartime censorship order done away with. He was a complicated man, and no one understood him but his okami-san.

  20. “I’ve also seen reports that Sasakawa wanted to see the wartime censorship order done away with.”

    I’ve seen that too. He also hated the practice of Diet candidates being “recommended” by the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, and spoke out against it in the Diet. Of course, he himself had to be recommended to maintain his seat, but he kept his party alive outside of the organization. That says something about the man, given the times in which he was a Diet member.

    One can go too far. Of course he was a mercantalist thug expoiting the colonialist policies of his government. But I’m with M-Bone. He was no more a war criminal than the executives of Halliburton, Dick Cheney excluded.

  21. No, but wiIl your grandchildren feel the same way?

    And I expect you would accept a Rhodes were it offered to you.

  22. Tony, good point. It’s a lot easier to ignore the provenance of a foundation’s money when the person who founded it is dead, and their crimes become a matter of history rather than current events. Rhodes was probably a worse person than Sasakawa or Cheney in many ways, but I really don’t think his politics have any influence on awards made by his scholarship fund today, or whether or not people accept them.

  23. Leaving Sasakawa aside for a moment, there have been very real moves in American and UK academia to boycott any academic exchange with Israel. I do not agree with this. If you take this line of thinking to its natural conclusion – do we take scholarships from the Catholic Church who have in recent memory actively covered up child abuse? Or if we condemn Haliburton, what about a Fulbright during the Bush years? Coke because of accusations that they have outsourced violence against organized labor in Latin America to local thugs? Haiti was still paying off its cripplingly huge indemnity to France when Sasakawa was getting the ball rolling on his postwar scams, do we boycott Francs too? If we start thinking about it, pretty soon we can’t get money from anyone!

  24. Strictly speaking, that statute portrays him as a filial son (孝子), which doesn’t necessarily imply that he also cares about his fellow man outside of his own family. That would be 仁 or 博愛. Pretty hilarious self-aggrandizing statue though.

  25. M-Bone wrote “If we start thinking about it, pretty soon we can’t get money from anyone!”

    If you take that line of thought to the other extreme, however, you might conclude that you should take money from everyone and that’s something I wouldn’t agree with.

    I recall the fuss a couple of year’s ago when the American School in Japan accepted $2m from Jin Roy Ryu, CEO of Poongsan Corporation which manufactures cluster bombs. A campaign to refuse the donation failed but it seems that some alumni subsequently decided to withhold their own contributions. I’m not aware of anyone accepting money from Sasakawa who was then refused money from other sources but there are risks in concluding everyone’s dollar is as green as anybody’s, as Aceface was informed.

  26. True enough, but I don’t think it’s very hard to draw a line between refusing money based on current activities and accepting money that was donated by someone who is already dead and buried.

  27. Mulboyne, I agree that we have to come up with some sort of ethical stance on this – first and foremost, anyone who wants to influence research projects goes to the top of the “bad” list. Next, I start by considering how closely related money or individuals are to bodily, human damage that is going on right now and work from there.

  28. What matters more is whether the money has strings attached.

    James Fallows came to Japan 20years ago with grant from Sasakawa related money and still wrote “Containing Japan”.
    He also wrote this.

    I’d say Sasakawa is not guilty for this particular accusation,which is using various foundation and buying power and influence on behalf of the rising sun.
    I dunno.Maybe what Sasakawa had in his mind was going after the footsteps of that Swede who made billions by either making lots of people blown to pieces or crippled for life.

    I have a lot to say on JPRI and it’s friends doing spin doctoring on Japan while accusing the opponent for doing exactly so.Reading them for the past twenty years is one of the primal reasons why I’ve lost faith on America and Japan-US relation in general.

    “And I expect you would accept a Rhodes were it offered to you.”

    Can’t remember whether that I read that wither from Japanese translation of his collected Atlantic essays on Japan 「日本封じ込め~強い日本と巻き返すアメリカ~」But a J-reporter was writting about Fallows was pissed when one JapaneseTV crew portrayed him as man with prejudice toward Japan because he studied at Oxford using grants founded by a famous 19th century racist and imperialist.

  29. “What matters more is whether the money has strings attached.”

    I had an interesting experience with the Japan Foundation where we got a wheelbarrow full of cash for some talks which ended up going against the “soft power” line and slamming Aso. Now they’re basically begging us to do it again.

  30. “I dunno.Maybe what Sasakawa had in his mind was going after the footsteps of that Swede who made billions by either making lots of people blown to pieces or crippled for life.”

    Are you referring to Nobel, who invented dynamite and then named the world’s premiere prize after himself? He’s actually Norwegian… Or do you mean someone else that I’m not getting?

  31. An example of how complicated this kind of thing gets – I know someone who does pretty neutral work and is politically progressive but took a grant facilitated by Michael Ledeen at the American Enterprise Institute (conservative think tank) and a few months later he (Ledeen) got caught saying, “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall,
    just to show the world we mean business.”

  32. I’m referring to Nobel,who invented dynamite and then named the world’s premiere prize after himself.He’s actually a Swedish born in Stockholm,Roy.

  33. The prizes are administered by Norway but Nobel was certainly Swedish. He lived while there was a union between the two countries but it was dissolved a few years after he died.

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