Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Atlantic Wire: The Yakuza and the Nuclear Mafia

The article is written by Jake Adelstein, who has written about the yakuza (Japanese 'mafia') extensively in the past. I believe he was also the one who reported on one of the earliest and the most substantial disaster relief effort which was carried out by the yakuzas, who sent truckload after truckload of goods to the disaster-affected areas in Tohoku right after the earthquake/tsunami on March 11, 2011.

I have the second half of Tomohiko Suzuki's press conference report to post, but while you wait for that, here's Jake Adelstein's article.

From The Atlantic Wire (12/30/2011), emphasis is mine:

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the monolithic corporation that controls all electric power in Greater Tokyo, and runs the Fukushima Daichii nuclear plant that experienced a triple meltdown following the March 11 earthquake, is on the brink of nationalization according to Japanese government sources. The official reason is that the firm may not be able to handle the massive compensation payments it owes to victims of the meltdown without going bankrupt. Unofficially, the firm has such long-standing ties to anti-social forces, including the yakuza—that some members of the Diet, Japan’s national legislature, feel the firm is beyond salvation and needs to be taken over and cleaned up. A Japanese Senator with the Liberal Democratic Party stated on background, "TEPCO's involvement with anti-social forces and their inability to filter them out of the work-place is a national security issue. It is one reason that increasingly in the Diet we are talking de facto nationalization of the company. Nuclear energy shouldn't be in the hands of the yakuza. They're gamblers and an intelligent person doesn't want them to have atomic dice to play with."

In June we reported that yakuza were working at the Fukushima nuclear power plant as cleanup crews and manual labor, but the post-meltdown yakuza ties were only the tip of the iceberg. This month, a new book was published, Yakuza and The Nuclear Industry: Diary of An Undercover Reporter Working at the Fukushima Plant (ヤクザと原発-福島第一潜入記-鈴木-智彦) in which a former yakuza fan magazine editor Tomohiko Suzuki reports on the nuclear business-industrial-political and media complex in Japan known as the “nuclear mafia” and Japan’s actual mafia: the yakuza. The book is already generating controversy and renewed examination of Japan’s “dark empire” and its ties to the underworld. It presents more solid pieces of evidence that Japan’s nuclear industry is a black hole of criminal malfeasance, incompetence, and corruption.

It is not that the industry ties to anti-social forces were previously unknown. Engineers who worked for the firm noted the practice dated of employing yakuza members at nuclear plants dates back to the 1990s. Police sources also recognize that yakuza having been supplying labor to the area for decades. In the Japanese underworld, the nuclear industry is the last refuge for those who have nowhere to go. One yakuza explains it as folk wisdom, “Otoko wa Genpatsu, Onna was Seifuzoku・男は原発、女は性風俗”--, in other words, “When a man is has to survive doing something, it’s the nuclear industry; for a woman, it’s the sex industry.”

The Fukushima plant is located in the turf of the Sumiyoshi-kai, which is the second largest yakuza group in Japan with roughly 12,000 members; it has a well-known office in Tokyo’s Ginza District and operates under the banner Hama Enterprise. One mid-level executive in the organization even defends the role of his members in the Fukushima disaster. “The accident isn’t our fault,” he said. “It’s TEPCO’s fault. We’ve always been a necessary evil in the work process. In fact, if some of our men hadn’t stayed to fight the meltdown, the situation would have been much worse. TEPCO employees and the Nuclear Industry Safety Agency inspectors mostly fled; we stood our ground.”

However, while the symbiotic relationship between TEPCO and the yakuza has existed for decades, the relationship is officially “unacceptable.” The controversy became so great after the accident that TEPCO pledged on July 19 to try to keep yakuza members from participating in the reconstruction of the power plant and related projects. They have been working with the Japanese National Police Agency (JNPA) to accomplish this but sources inside that agency are dubious as to whether there have been any real results. TEPCO officials met with the National Police Agency and 23 subcontractors in July and created a conference group on organized crimes issues according to government sources and they have met several times since. TEPCO explained at the time, “we want to people to widely know our exclusionary stance towards organized crime.”

According to TEPCO and police sources, since the reconstruction project has picked up speed, the number of workers has dramatically increased to several thousand. The JNPA has directed TEPCO from as early as June, to keep the yakuza out—although many of the subcontractors of the subcontractors are known yakuza front companies. Over 140 workers have been found to have used fake names when getting jobs doing reconstruction work and are presently unaccounted for. In reporting for Yakuza and the Nuclear Industry Tomohiko Suzuki was able to get into the reactor as a cleanup worker under false pretenses partly by using organized crime connections. According to Suzuki, three of the fabled “Fukushima Fifty” who stayed behind during the most dangerous days of high-level radiation leaks were local yakuza bosses and soldiers. He does not specify which groups they belonged to.


When asked what were the major differences between the yakuza and TEPCO the same Senator paused for a minute. “The primary difference between TEPCO and the yakuza is they have different corporate logos.” He explained, “They both are essentially criminal organizations that place profits above the safety and welfare of the residents where they operate; they both exploit their workers. On the other hand, the yakuza may care more about what happens where they operate because many of them live there. For Tokyo Electric Power Company, Fukushima is just the equivalent of a parking lot.”

(The full article at the link.)

"[T]he yakuza may care more about what happens" - well, I'm not so sure. Maybe in an idealized version often depicted in the films and books, and in the minds of the yakuza themselves as their self-portrait. But what do I know. The writer probably know more about the Japanese underground than me.

I do think the Senator he quotes in the article is too harsh on TEPCO. Many in Japan know that the Police is in a close symbiotic relationship with them, and many thinks the politicians are worse than the yakuza when it comes to treating people. They are also well-known for ties with the yakuza themselves. For a LDP politician to criticize TEPCO's yakuza ties is preposterous, and to say nuclear power is safer in the hands of politicians like himself than in the hands of TEPCO and the yakuza is a sheer nonsense. Instead of TEPCO, the national government would indirectly hire the yakuza and that somehow would be OK by him.

I think Tomohiko Suzuki mentioned the faction of the yakuza that dominates supplying the workers, but it was not Sumiyoshi-kai. (I'll have to finish the post.)

Regarding the yakuza's involvement in procuring (often "kidnapping" would be a better word) workers for the Fukushima I Nuke Plant "recovery", NHK made an excellent documentary back in October (I think) that was aired at midnight. For every worker he sent to Fukushima, a pudgy yakuza guy with a fat gold chain was getting 1 million yen from a subcontractor 6th or 7th degrees removed from the original subcontractor to TEPCO. He said "life is good".

As Adelstein points out as does Suzuki, it's always been like this in the nuclear power industry in Japan. I wonder how it is in the other countries. How are the nuclear power plants maintained? By whom? Who recruits them?

(H/T John Noah)


Anonymous said...

Wow, the yakuza really is part of this TEPCO fiasco tragedy.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Yup. In good time and bad. In sickness and health. Goes the same with the government.

Anonymous said...

A state-run company operates the NPP.
Plant workers are hired directly by the company, but new building work is outsourced.

Anonymous said...

Japan has a very dark underbelly

Atomfritz said...

Thank you very much for this article!
It is very interesting to learn more about the Japanese society, government and economy. And I feel that the Yakuza aspect seems somehow taboo-ized.

What if some of the "Fukushima 50" could be some criminals that had done something "bad" against the codex of their organization, and were given the choice to either volunteer to go to Fuku-I or be punished?
“Otoko wa Genpatsu, Onna was Seifuzoku..."

This could also explain the strange fact that I somehow cannot remember a single official media interview with these Tepco workers.
Most of the workers seem to obey some kind of "omerta" (italian mafia law: don't talk if you prefer to stay alive).

Maybe it was indeed the Yakuza that helped to save Japan at the most critical phase when the molten masses in the reactors threatened to escape the containments?

I honestly don't know what I should think about all this.

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