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Gangs, girl power and getting old: Japan’s magazines ring out 2015


The weekly magazines that went on sale over the past week were the final regular issues for 2015, and, beginning Monday, most — easily recognizable by their ornamental cover designs with gold trim, and referred to in Japanese as gōbengō (combined issues) — will feature extra pages, with sales extending through the first week of January.

Aera (Dec. 21) ran a three-page article titled “Continuing to step on [women’s] skirts,” about why more females aren’t being elected to the Diet. At a panel discussion held at Tokyo’s Sophia University, three well-known female parliamentarians — Kiyomi Tsujimoto, Seiko Noda and Renho — aired their views on gender equality and the difficulties women encounter in Japan’s male-dominated politics.

Shukan Asahi (Dec. 25) takes a different tack, raising the possibility that Tomomi Inada may become Japan’s first female prime minister. Inada, 56, currently heads the Liberal Democratic Party’s Policy Research Council. A graduate of Waseda University with a degree in law, her political and historical views are said to be closely aligned with the current PM, Shinzo Abe.

Over 10 pages, Shukan Taishu (Dec. 28) continued to harp on the schism between factions of the nation’s largest underworld syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi. Neither it nor the two other weeklies (Asahi Geino and Shukan Jitsuwa) that specialize in coverage of the yakuza foresaw the gang’s fragmentation, but they’ve been making up for it with a vengeance. Should a gang war erupt in earnest, their sales are likely to soar, but for the time being we are in the midst of a “sitzkrieg” (phoney war) while heads of the rival factions maneuver for advantage.

Shukan Post (Dec. 25) devoted 16 color pages in the front and back of the magazine to the topic of “O-haka erabi no jōshiki ga kawatta!” (“The common wisdom on selecting a grave has changed!”). For example, depending on the type of oceangoing vessel and choice of plan, having one’s ashes scattered into the ocean can run from ¥100,000 to ¥300,000. To enable you to enjoy fluttering pink blossoms each spring, there’s an NPO named “Ending Center” that can arrange for your remains to be buried at the foot of a cherry tree. A somewhat larger outlay can have your remains rocketed into space (cost: ¥450,000 to ¥2.5 million). And more people are opting to be buried together with their favorite pets.

American actor Charlie Sheen’s shocking revelation that he is HIV-positive spurred Shukan Gendai (Dec. 26) to take a look at AIDS in Japan. The news is not good: AIDS is reportedly making a comeback in the Kansai area. Between 2003 and 2006, the number of HIV-positive carriers is believed to have tripled. “There’s no such thing as 100 percent safe sex,” the magazine warns readers.

If you think you’ve experienced just about everything it’s possible to do in Japan, think again: Sunday Mainichi (Dec. 27) stays at five authentic minka (traditional houses) that are well over a century old. Locations in Niigata, rural Tokyo and Shizuoka, Gifu and Hyogo prefectures are introduced.

Which long-term investment strategies will help ensure a salaryman doesn’t become a “down-and-out” senior after retirement? Asahi Geino (Dec. 24) weighs such factors as purchasing a home versus rentals, taking early retirement benefits or deferring them until later and conventional savings versus investments. (It also devotes eight pages to the Yamaguchi-gumi split.)

Meanwhile, Spa! (Dec. 22) professes to reveal how figures about the health risks of smoking are being falsely manipulated. (One example: Even though the percentage of smokers has declined, the number of lung cancer cases continue to rise.)

Flash (Dec. 29) provides some of the details concerning a violent encounter involving some 50 soldiers in two yakuza factions that erupted in the early hours of Nov. 20 on the streets of Shinjuku’s famous watering hole, Kabukicho. Thirty policemen had to be mobilized to quell the disturbance. Apparently the breakup of the Yamaguchi-gumi is starting to fray the nerves of other gangs, who aren’t sure which faction will come out on top.

Under the headline “The king’s new underwear” — a reference to Hans Christian Andersen’s fable — Shukan Shincho (Dec. 24) continued its badgering of veteran LDP Diet member Tsuyoshi Takagi, who for the past several months has been the target of media brickbats after revelations surfaced over an indiscretion in his youth in which he supposedly pilfered lacy souvenirs from a woman’s clothesline. (Takagi has strongly denied the allegations, but that hasn’t discouraged Shincho in the least.)

As Japan confronts a growing shortage of caregivers for its burgeoning elderly population, Shukan Bunshun (Dec. 24) claims the government’s proposal to ship out more seniors to facilities in rural areas is an outrageous fraud. A separate article reveals the government’s “secret plan” to incrementally extend the age of eligibility for receiving the social-security pension to 70.

Shukan Jitsuwa (Dec. 31) topped its two rivals with a full dozen pages on yakuza politics. But it was the photograph on page 32 — a full-page portrait of Yamaguchi-gumi’s 6th oyabun (godfather), Shinobu Tsukasa, decked out regally in formal kimono — that was telling. In this writer’s view, the magazine is playing favorites with Tsukasa’s Nagoya/Kodokai faction, anticipating that it will prevail over the breakaway faction in Kobe.

Finally, in a case of “CSI: Kyoto,” Friday (Jan. 1) reports that DNA evidence at a crime scene points to the involvement of a gang member from Kyushu. This appears to be the first solid lead in tracking down the killer of “dumpling king” Takayuki Ohigashi, the president of Osho Food Service, who was gunned down in Kyoto on Dec. 19, 2013.