Amazing expose on internet “pranksters” from The Smoking Gun

I direct all MFT readers to read this amazing, detailed expose from The Smoking Gun identifying and incriminating the the denizens of “Pranknet” an online community of highly destructive and juvenile practical jokers, whose exploits include the following:

Late on the evening of February 10, a call to Room 306 at the Best Western in Shillington, Pennsylvania roused a sleeping traveler. Jonathan Davis at the front desk was calling with scary news: A ruptured gas line was threatening hotel guests, some of whom were already feeling lightheaded and dizzy.

Noting that he was following a “protocol sheet,” Davis instructed the male guest that he needed to quickly unplug all electrical devices and place wet towels at the base of the room’s door to keep carbon monoxide from entering the space. After the guest took those precautions, Davis then directed him to bust out a 5′ x 5′ section of window. The man, who happened to be a glazier, asked, “Are you serious?” When Davis urgently assured him that the drastic measure was required for his safety, the guest replied that he would put on clothes and “bust this fucker.”

Using a chair, the guest then smashed a window. As broken glass cascaded into the room, Davis then advised that the television screen would need to broken since the tube contained an electrical charge that could spark an explosion. Davis suggested the use of the toilet tank cover to disable the television. But when the guest threw the porcelain lid at the TV, it broke. So Davis directed the man to toss the set out the window. Stepping gingerly around glass shards, the guest complied.

At this point, Davis’s supervisor, Jeff Anderson, joined the call and determined that the guests in 306 had co-workers in the adjoining room. Anderson then called Room 304 and advised the man answering the phone to “remain calm.” He told the guest of the gas leak and advised him of the safety measures that had already been followed next door. The man in 304 also unplugged electrical devices, placed wet towels at the door, smashed a window, and tossed the television to the sidewalk below. Anderson then directed the guest to pull the fire alarm. As a siren wailed, the guest asked Anderson, “Can we get out of this motel? Why can’t we just leave the building?” He had previously remarked, “I hope this ain’t some kind of joke.”

This is a really impressive investigation. The author writes with a well-deserved satisfied tone and seems to almost taunt the Pranknet members with his ability to expose them. Do yourself a favor and spend the next half hour reading through it and listening to some of the calls. You’ll see what a public service it is to hopefully stop these people.

How to outwit a police investigation, Kyoto-style

I am currently reading Discrimination and Power (差別と権力), Akira Uozumi’s fascinating biography of Hiromu Nonaka, a former LDP heavyweight and cabinet minister known as a member of the burakumin, a minority outcast group who have suffered discrimination due to their historical role in feudal Japan as leather tanners and undertakers, vocations considered unclean. MFT readers will remember him as the man a New York Times article characterized as Japan’s version of Obama, as he too was a minority politician who rose to become a powerful politician.

I will post more on the book later, but for now I just want to share the following episode:

Just four months after Nonaka’s first successful bid* for the Diet’s lower house in 1983, the Kyoto Prefectural Police arrested the head of his koenkai (support association, kind of like a political action committee) for violating election laws. But Nonaka and associates were mostly able to beat the charges. Here is why:

You see, when Nonaka was first elected to the lower house he was already 57, a very late start for an LDP politician. But before that he had already made a very large name for himself in Kyoto prefectural politics as an anti-Communist conservative at a time when Kyoto had a Communist governor for more than two decades.

Part of the secret of Nonaka’s success was a questionable election tactic – when election season came around, construction executives friendly with Nonaka would mobilize housewives associations and other support groups to visit houses and run “get out the vote” campaigns in Nonaka’s home district of Sonobe and surrounding areas of Kyoto. Under Japanese election laws it was (and remains) illegal for politicians or their staff to visit people’s homes to ask for support, as it’s (correctly) assumed bribes will be forthcoming during such visits. However, Nonaka was able to get away with this for years as the construction executives ostensibly acted independently.

Eventually, police found evidence that during Nonaka’s first bid for the Diet, the voter mobilization efforts were in fact illegally run directly by the campaign. That’s when they moved to raid Nonaka’s offices, arrest the head of the koenkai, and question two leaders of the koenkai‘s youth bureau.

However, the charges never stuck due to a lack of evidence or confessions (subordinates were prosecuted for minor offenses but the investigation never spread) thanks to a flurry of expert moves by Nonaka’s people to undermine the investigation before, during, and after the fact. They included:

  • Keep the top guy out of the loop. The ostensible head of the koenkai was in fact a figurehead who was never fully informed of the details.
  • When all else fails, act like you’re too sick/crazy to answer questions. The two leaders of the koenkai‘s youth section (青年部) questioned on suspicion of deep involvement proved uncooperative in answering police questions. They would refuse to attend interrogation sessions by claiming to have diarrhea. If they did attend a session and the cops started to get the upper hand, they would go wild and start banging their heads against the wall to disrupt the proceedings.
  • Destroy evidence. Koenkai membership lists and other relevant documents somehow got destroyed.
  • Stay informed. Nonaka used his contacts inside the police force to get daily updates on the status of the investigation. A closely allied prefectural assemblyman actually stationed himself inside the office of the Kyoto police force’s second in command to hear reports from detectives. Uozumi’s source described the process as “just as if [the police] were teaching [Nonaka] how to respond as they investigated.”
  • Keep them on their toes. At one point, Nonaka himself showed up at the Sonobe precinct and shouted at the lead investigator to release his koenkai youth section chief if he was not yet formally charged.
  • Don’t forget to use some carrots along with your sticks. By keeping careful records of police administrators’ promotion status, Nonaka was able to bribe police bigwigs with cushy post-retirement positions at railroad companies and elsewhere (early in his career Nonaka worked for the national railway in Osaka). According to Uozumi, far from weakening Nonaka, the investigation ended up actually strengthening Nonaka’s political ties to the police.

From the beginning, the top brass in the police were hesitant to rock the boat since the politicians have a hand in deciding the police force’s budget. I can’t help but think they were a little prescient.

*from Kyoto’s 2nd district; he ran with (or more appropriately, against) Sadakazu Tanigaki and they each won a seat in the two-member district.

In America, try not to kancho your friends


A few weeks ago NYT ran this great article about the difficulties of raising a son in both Japanese and American cultures:

My Un-American Son


Getting Yataro ready for his first sleep-away camp overseas is turning out to be much more than counting T-shirts and towels. I’m having to review the way children interact here to see which behaviors would go against American codes of conduct. American parents have higher standards than Japanese when it comes to acceptable behavior among children.

Take “kancho” for instance, a popular prank where kids creep up on and poke each other with pointed finger in the behind, shouting “kancho!” or enema. That would likely have the camp counselors in America alleging sexual abuse.

Kancho certainly isn’t encouraged in Japan — a friend of mine is convinced her daughter failed a preschool entrance exam because she playfully jabbed her mother in the rear during the interview. But Japanese parents usually bestow only a mild rebuke.

Please head on over to NYT to read the original article!

Other differences mentioned:

  • In Japan, racial epithets directed at her half-white son tend to be tolerated (and he is apparently not fazed by them), but in America they would be a cause for great concern.
  • In sports, coaches and other players tend to use positive reinforcement, while in Japan when her son makes a mistake he is told to “stop screwing up.” This might mean her son could take praise far too seriously and not understand where he needs to improve (his English language skills, in this case).
  • As someone from a country where communal bathing is common, her son might not understand the more chaste attitudes toward nudity and privacy in America.
  • Her son has never been given truly “free” time or open-ended choices, while the summer camp he is to attend consists of almost nothing but free time and freedom to choose.
  • In Japan she wouldn’t think twice about scolding using insults to scold her children, but American parents who see that behavior might think it’s abusive.

All these observations ring very true, though obviously your mileage may vary. I thank my lucky stars every day that I’ve never been kancho’d.

What I like best about this piece is that she resists the temptation to theorize or lecture about which society has the better practices. That’s the right approach because proclaiming one country’s education/child-rearing regime to be superior to the other’s does nothing to help Yataro navigate his new summer camp. By talking from her own experiences as someone who has had to navigate both societies (and offering some speculation about how Americans at the summer camp will react), she is able to shed light on cultural differences without getting into ultimately unhelpful broad conclusions. And in the process she has given us an entertaining and enlightening case study in the form of her own son. I look forward to the follow up article to hear how Yataro fared.

(A Google search for “Maki Katahira” “Kumiko Makihara” reveals several other articles about her son and life in Japan, along with this right-wing conspiracy theorist who implies she must be a CIA agent and part of the Trilateral Commission‘s plot to control Japan because she was married to former Newsweek Japan bureau chief William Powell (though apparently they divorced) and once worked as an executive assistant for a firm partially owned by private equity group Ripplewood. I don’t want to lend any credibility to this crackpot, but even if she is working for the man, this is still a pretty great article)

Mizuhiki twine art

Mizuhiki is a Japanese craft that uses twine made from washi (Japanese-style paper) to create fancy bows and other designs. You could call it a rough analogue of American pipe-cleaner art. Anyone familiar with Japanese culture has probably seen it decorating gift packages or envelopes used for cash gifts given at weddings:


Foreigners who rave about Japanese gift-wrapping techniques often have this stuff in mind.

More than 70% of Japan’s mizuhiki output comes from Iida, a city in Nagano prefecture. The city is home to a mizuhiki museum, where you can find some more creative renditions of the art form:


A turtle and a crane, made as a gift to Crown Princess Masako Owada.


A twine wedding dress.


A dragon (If I am not mistaken, even the smoke is made of twine).

Great news! Sears Tower is now the (Wesley) Willis Tower

It’s a good day in America, folks: the Sears Tower has been renamed!

CHICAGO (AP) — The Sears Tower, one of the world’s iconic skyscrapers and the tallest building in the U.S., was renamed the Willis Tower on Thursday in a downtown ceremony, marking a new chapter in the history of the giant edifice that has dominated the Chicago skyline for nearly four decades.

The linked story might claim the building is being named after an insurance broker. But that’s just not true. Everyone knows the building was named after the late native Chicagoan and prolific schizophrenic songwriter Wesley Willis.

Rock over London! Rock on Chicago! Taco Bell: Make a run for the border!

As a fan of his since junior high, I was shocked when Willis died in 2003. I couldn’t think of a better tribute than to name a huge building after him!

Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 10 of 10) – Sachiko Miyamoto (Happiness Realization Party)

I am wrapping up this profile series on the final night of campaigning. All ten candidates have had their vans drive by my apartment at least once. Since the average time someone can listen to a passing van is about 3 seconds, the candidates’ strategy seems to be “forget about policy, just repeat your name again and again.”

Last but not least is Sachiko Miyamoto, the candidate sponsored by the infamous Happiness Realization Party:

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

The Happiness Realization Party was formed in May of this year as the political wing of Buddhism-based new religion Happy Science, which claims to have somewhere around 10 million followers (compared to between 12-20 million for Soka Gakkai), an enormous rate of growth for a faith that only started in 1986. I am not sure exactly why Happy Science decided now is the time to enter politics, but they seem to be very well-funded and serious about trying to get elected (their resources quite obviously outstrip someone like Osato Ichikawa).I have probably gotten more literature from HRP than anyone else during this election cycle. Also, they make no attempt to hide their affiliation with Happy Science – it says so right there on the literature.

Whatever else the HRP might have wrong with it (and there’s a lot), you cannot accuse them of thinking small. Every proposal they have is radical and sweeping. This video from their official Youtube channel makes it look like they are prepared to conquer the earth just to install a high-speed rail network:

As you can see from the video, the HRP is promising to build nothing less than a utopia in Japan – prosperous, safe, and above all happy. Unfortunately they are light on details on how they could bring this about.

Among their chief policy proposals:

  • Revise the constitution to allow a pre-emptive strike on North Korea if necessary.
  • Eliminate inheritance taxes and consumption taxes.
  • In the cities, “bring work and home closer together” by building offices and residences in the same building.
  • Build an enormous monorail around the entire city of Tokyo.
  • Allow massive immigration and promote reproduction to increase Japan’s population to 300 million by 2050

Some of their most radical proposals can be found in their draft constitution:

  • Make a directly elected president the head of state. The president would have the right to issue presidential orders apart from parliamentary legislation. If an order and legislation contradict each other, the chief justice of the supreme court would decide which to follow. But if there is no decision in two weeks, the presidential order will take precedence.
  • The emperor “and other traditions” would be kept on but with their power limited by law.
  • The chief justice of the supreme court would be directly elected.
  • Payment for public bureaucrats would be based on performance (this would be in their constitution!)
  • “Equal opportunity” and total freedom within the law.
  • The state must always aim to have a small government with low taxes.
  • “The mass media must not abuse their power and must act responsibly to the people.”

I am not sure how exactly this is related to the Happy Science teachings, and frankly I don’t care. Their mythology is complicated to the point that it’s just about impenetrable. All anyone needs to remember is that Happy Science is that it is a personality cult above all else. They believe that the founder Ryuho Okawa had a vision in the 80s that he is essentially the savior of mankind. If you’re interested in learning more I am sure they’d be happy to talk to you.

Career: Miyamoto’s website offers precious little information. She apparently moved around a lot as a kid – born in Itabashi-ku, then moved to Wako-shi in Saitama through middle school followed by Koshigaya for high school. After studying French in college, she worked for the Palace Hotel company for two years until she got married in 1981. From then until deciding to run for office, she has apparently held no job or responsibility besides raising her two boys to adulthood.

Policy: The main point of her candidacy is to spread the message of the national HRP. To do that, in her speeches she constantly repeats that the HRP is “the party of zero consumption taxes.”

In her more detailed campaign literature, she says Tokyo needs a “transportation revolution” with the following main policies: build another highway on top of the most crowded sections of the Shuto Expressway; make intersections and rail crossings “three-dimensional”; and install double-decker train cars for use at rush hour.

Something interesting: Miyamoto is a mysterious blank slate, so I don’t know what to say here.

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election


And so ends my attempt to humanize these people! Once the election is over I will be back with some reflections on voting and analysis of the results. Just for the record, here is my projection of the winners, in descending order of votes:

  1. Satoru Onishi (DPJ)
  2. Haruhisa Tomotoshi (New Komeito)
  3. Nobuyuki Nakayama (New Komeito)
  4. Yoshie Oshima (JCP)
  5. Naoki Takashima (LDP)
  6. Katsuhiro Suzuki (DPJ)

That’s right, I am predicting the LDP will walk away with just one seat. One anonymous Adachi-ku assembly member put the chances of this happening at “around 70-80%” and I am inclined to agree.

Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 8 of 10) – Mitsuhisa Asako (Independent)

The last post completed our look at the most credible candidates in this election. The remaining three candidates are considered relative long shots, but they still deserve our attention. First among these minor candidates is Mitsuhisa Asako (39), a former Adachi-ku city assemblyman looking to get back into political office.

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

Career: This self-described “samurai” was born and raised in Adachi-ku, close to this Don Quixote discount store. After dropping out of Komazawa University, in 1995 he became the “nation’s youngest” city assemblyman at age 25.

He served three terms in Adachi but then left in 2007 for complicated reasons. After LDP prefectural assemblywoman Yayoi Kondo was elected Adachi-ku mayor in 2007, Asako campaigned for LDP backing in the election to replace her, only to lose to Masatsugu Mihara, a more experienced politician who had lost his bid for re-election to the prefectural assembly in 2005. Not to be discouraged, Asako decided to run anyway under a one-man party “Vibrant Prefectural Politics” (活きる都政). This move turned out to be a costly gamble as Mihara won in a landslide while Asako came in dead last (PDF).

Chances of winning: Basically Asako is seen as a long shot. He had LDP backing during his three terms in the Adachi-ku assembly, but he has been out of office for two years and thus enjoys no official party backing or any voter base to speak of.

According to the Sankei, his strategy is to go after political rival Masatsugu Mihara by wooing away hi’s base of voters who supported Mayor Yayoi Kondo. To that end, Asako has placed a former secretary to Kondo on his campaign staff.

It’s unclear how well this strategy will work since Kondo has come out strongly in support of Mihara, going so far as to appear in posters shaking hands with the incumbent. But as I noted, Mihara is the one candidate who gives the impression of not really giving a crap, so maybe Asako will be satisfied if he can woo just enough voters to kick Mihara to 7th place and thus out of office.

Policy: He is running as a “conservative independent” (保守系無所属) affiliated with lower house LDP Diet member Takeo Hiranuma, who is well-known for voting against postal privatization in 2005, leading to his temporary purging from the party (Update: actually Hiranuma is the only postal dissenter who survived purging but did not return to the LDP). Hiranuma is also known for his conservative stances: he is an active campaigner against “anti-Japan events” such as exhibits depicting the Nanjing Massacre, and in 2006 argued against allowing a female to become emperor on the grounds that she could marry a “blue-eyed foreigner.”

In a JANJAN video, Asako can be seen advocating expanded credit lines to small businesses, employment protection, and the by-now-perfunctory child-rearing subsidies and other welfare programs.

On his website he claims that he was the one in 1998 who initially proposed the Harukaze community bus system that runs through Adachi-ku. He is proud to note that the project is completely financed by the private sector and thus uses no taxpayer money.

Something interesting: Roll your mouse over Asako’s profile picture to see him in his matsuri costume:

Also, here’s a picture of him making the peace sign during a radio appearance:


Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 7 of 10) – Naoki Takashima (LDP)

In our next installment we turn our attention to the other LDP incumbent running for re-election, third-term assemblyman Naoki Takashima (59).

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

Takashima is your typical career politician, with one kick-ass difference – he is the president of his own anko (red bean paste) factory. Born and raised in Adachi-ku, after graduating from nearby Dokkyo University Takashima became a staffer for a prefectural assemblyperson. After that, he spent two years working at the bean paste factory before running and winning a seat at the Adachi-ku assembly in 1983, where he would stay until attempting to move to the next step in his career. He  lost his first attempt at the prefectural assembly in 1993 but won on his second try in 1997 and has been there ever since. Since August 2008 he has been the secretary general for the assembly’s LDP caucus.

Policy: As a loyal LDP man, Takashima supports all of Ishihara’s controversial policies, including the bailout of Shinginko Tokyo, moving Tsukiji Market to Toyosu, and bringing the Olympics to Tokyo in 2016. He also promotes a series of building plans and, of course, juicier welfare options for Adachi residents.

Chances of winning: Takashima’s position appears to be solid, barring a complete collapse in support for the LDP. Unlike fellow LDP incumbent Masatsugu Mihara, he’s never been voted out of office (though he lost his first attempt at the prefectural assembly) and thus is less likely to get drawn into the strategy of some of the minor candidates to split the conservative vote, which I’ll get to in a later installment.

Something interesting: Like a true playa, Takashima’s campaign office doubles as a bean paste factory. And since he is a powerful local politician, he’s been able to keep the decrepit building standing in the shadow of several enormous apartment complexes. Here’s the Street View image of the building:

Takashima Red Bean Paste

He considers himself to be computer savvy, bragging in his profile that he communicates with prefectural bureaucrats via e-mail. But since he is used to the keyboards on older Japanese PCs – he mentions the If-800 model from Oki Electric – he claims to have trouble typing Japanese characters using romanized spelling. Older keyboards in Japan used a unique keyboard layout that assigned a key to each kana character (the relics of that system remain on the current keyboards).


(Wow, there’s a printer inside the keyboard…).

In 2002 his koenkai (support association) held a dance party, resulting in some precious moments of seniors having fun:



David “Lizard People” Icke in Kitasenju

Now, don’t get me wrong – Takashima has nothing to do with infamous conspiracy theorist David Icke. But thanks to the magic of Google Maps, I now know that in 2008 Icke gave a talk just a few blocks from Takashima’s bean paste factory. Let’s watch:

Personally, I want to know where I can get a sweet gig interpreting speeches for David Icke. I bet he pays pretty well. Icke’s Japanese page is here. You can read his theories of how humanity is controlled by lizard people here in the original English.

Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 4 of 10) – Yoshie Oshima (JCP)

Today we profile Japan Communist Party candidate Yoshie Oshima (age 59):

Yoshie Oshima 20090709080401

Taken during this morning’s commute.

Career: Oshima has spent her entire career working in the Adachi-ku government, first as a bureaucrat and later as a politician. After graduating from high school in 1968, she became a bureaucrat in the Adachi city hall. In a biographical video, Oshima recalls her daily tasks included cleaning the senior workers’ desks and serving them tea, tasks that she didn’t hate but considered fairly useless to her goal of helping the people of Adachi-ku. At that point, she decided to start looking for a job that would give her the same status as the men and allow her to realize her objectives.

She found her niche in 1973 when she became a case worker at the city’s welfare office. At this time she got involved with the Communists, which no doubt played a role in inspiring her to become a consistent political agitator. She joined movements to oppose price hikes to and push for improvements to pre-school services, in part because she herself had trouble finding ways to balance child-raising and a career. She also served as head of the city workers’ labor union.

Oshima left the city hall in 1982 to run as the chosen successor to a retiring Communist politician and won her first election in 1983. She’s been a fixture of the Adachi assembly ever since. As a city assemblywoman, her achievements have focused on very specific local issues, such as fixing water buildup in a Kitasenju walkway. She’s also been highly critical of the LDP mayor’s policies, such as the elimination of detailed garbage separation requirements and price hikes to pre-schools (a pet issue for Oshima).

Policy: While she has joined the other candidates in offering a program of beefed up welfare benefits, her campaign is unique for her particularly blistering criticisms of the Ishihara administration, echoing the general JCP line. The party’s efforts to uncover scandalous spending and potential corruption have formed the only credible opposition force in prefectural politics, a foundation the DPJ has sought to expoit by belatedly coming out strongly against Ishihara’s policies.

Despite the JCP’s commendable record in that regard, the main reason Mrs. Adamu and I cannot support any JCP candidate is their program of radical social change. The party may have softened its line in recent years, but the JCP’s policy remains essentially unchanged – they are working to build up their political support in preparation for eventually realizing communism.

Chances of winning: Hoping to repeat history, Oshima is once again running as the chosen successor to a retiring JCP veteran. This time she seeks to replace Yasunobu Watanabe who is retiring for health reasons after a long political career. Both Tokyo Shimbun and Nikkei Shimbun expect her to win a seat by inheriting the support of her predecessor.

Tell me something interesting: Not much in this department. Oshima is the only candidate so far to prominently feature her personal life in her campaign. This makes sense since it was no small achievement for her to lead a political career while married and raising three kids. The kids are grown up and Oshima now has two grandchildren. Her hobbies are photography and flower arrangement. 


North Korean propaganda posters

imperialist wolves

“Do not forget the US imperialist wolves!”

ess_north_korean_39 extensive goats

“Let’s extensively raise goats in all families!”

Check these amazing samples of NK propaganda posters, with an interesting analysis:

Stylistically, North Korean art is far more than a mere copy of Soviet Russian socialist realism. As was the case with the revolution itself, North Korean socialist realist art had to accord with Korea’s specific historical conditions and cultural traditions. Kim Il Sung pronounced that “Korean Painting” [Chosonhwa], the indigenous post-revolutionary development of traditional ink painting, was the best representative of Korean styles and emotions. He made the essential features of Korean painting the model for all fine arts. Kim Jong Il in his Treatise on Art (Misullon, 1992) described the qualities of Korean Painting as clarity, compactness, and delicacy. These characteristics have become the standard applied to all art produced in North Korea. As such, they also form the basis and model for poster art. On the latter, Kim Jong Il had more to say in his treatise on art. As important tools in the mobilization of the masses, posters have to have an instantaneous impact on the viewers’ understanding and their desire to act upon this understanding. Their message has to be accessible, clear and direct; informative and explanatory, as well as exhortative. The link between contemplation and action is crucial. A poster artist is ultimately an agitator, who, familiar with the party line and endowed with a sharp analysis and judgment of reality produces a rousing depiction of policies and initiatives that stimulate the people into action. Only if the poster appeals to the ideological and aesthetic sentiments of the people will it succeed in truly rousing the people. Kim Jong Il refers to poster painters as standard bearers of their times, submerged in the overwhelming reality and in touch with the revolutionary zeal and creative power of the people, leading the way from a position among the people.

Posters are visual illustrations of the slogans that surround the people of North Korea constantly. North Korean society is in a permanent mobilization. Party and government declarations are stripped down to single-line catchphrases. Through their endless repetition in banners, newspaper headlines, and media reports, these compact slogans become self-explanatory, simultaneously interpreting and constructing reality.

Koen de Ceuster

(thanks to @cominganarchy)