Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

Issei Sagawa, the celebrity cannibal

"The public has made me the godfather of cannibalism, and I am quite happy about that." In 1981, at the age of 32, Issei Sagawa leapt to infamy for a cannibal murder the Japanese call Pari jinniku jiken (The Paris Human Flesh Incident). When captured, he was found mentally unfit to ...

‘Ore-ore’ sagi (‘It’s me’ scams)

A: Hello? B: It's me! A: Takeshi? Is that you? What's wrong with your voice? B: I've got a cold. Listen, I need a really big favour... "Ore Ore" sagi ("It's me!" scams) are a well known confidence trick in Japan. A fraudster calls a house. If the voice on the end of the phone ...

Shitagi dorobou (Panty thieves)

In every country, there are men who steal women’s underwear from clotheslines for sexual pleasure. However, they are particularly common in Japan, where they are called “shitagi dorobou”. Unsurprisingly, “shitagi” means underwear, while “dorobou” is thief. For women living in the apartment blocks of Japan’s most built-up urban areas, where clotheslines ...

Sokaiya

External appearances are crucial in Japan, especially in business. Private issues are kept private, but Japanese companies must present a public image of harmony and control. Public embarrassment must be avoided, at all costs... The sokaiya are racketeer groups who blackmail large companies. By threatening to disrupt shareholders' meetings, and cause ...

Yakuza

The yakuza is one of the most famous and most romanticised criminal groups in the world. Traditionally seen by many Japanese people as a modern incarnation of the samurai, the yakuza were tolerated for a long time. They are distinctive for extensive tattooing, missing pinkie fingers and hairstyles 20 years out-of-date. In 1991, ...

Uyoku dantai (Right-wing extremists)

The uyoku dantai are deranged right-wingers who ride around in black jeeps, play marching music and yell imperialist slogans. An embarrassment which most people ignore, they possess a surprising amount of political influence through yakuza connections and bribery. Their campaigning centers monotonously around increasing Japan's military, kicking foreigners out, and making the ...

Boso zoku (Biker gangs)

Japan's urban soundtrack wouldn't be complete without the blaring and whooping of the passing boso zoku (motorcycle gangs). Supposedly introduced by adventurous Hell's Angels in the 1950's, boso zoku membership reached a peak of 40,000 in the 70's. With total disregard for Japan's timid police, the gangs' favourite trick is to cruise ...

Sex immigrants

Every year, the cremated remains of over 50 Thai women, prostitutes dead from AIDS, are shipped back to Thailand from Japan. 30,000 Thai women are living in Japan, of whom only 8,000 have legal visas. Many of Japan's illegal immigrants work in the ravenous, unregulated sex industry, which employs over 150,000 ...

AUM Shinrikyo and the Tokyo subway gas attack

March 20th, 1995. It was just another busy morning on Tokyo's busiest subway line before a non-descript man boarded the train. The newspaper parcel he was carrying attracted even ...

Chikan (Train groping)

In Japan, more than 4000 men are arrested each year for groping on public transport. In 2001, a survey of two private high-schools in Tokyo revealed that more than 70% had been groped on the train. A recent survey of Japanese companies suggested that at least 17% of Japanese women have been ...

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