Goro Koyama, 50, is a private investigator and founder of Japan PI, a bilingual investigation agency based in Tokyo. His agency covers everything from legal and business investigations to finding missing persons, and specializes in working with overseas clients.

1. How did you get into private investigating? When I was young, I wanted to be a writer. I thought that if I got involved in some sleazy jobs, like private investigation, then I would get a lot of inspiration to write about.

2. What did you study at college? Ancient history. I was also a member of the full-contact martial arts team.

3. Why martial arts? Back then, I thought that I had to learn a skill that would become a lifelong task. Like being a swordsman if you were a samurai. I wanted something athletic that could be used for my job.

4. Have you ever used martial arts at work? Ha, no, not at all. But it’s still useful. For example, if I was conducting surveillance near some gang members and they spotted me, I wouldn’t fight them. Just knowing that I have body strength, though, would help me stay mentally strong.

5. Why did you drop out of college? I wanted to learn something on-the-job and connected to society. Even at college I looked for odd side jobs, like being a human guinea pig and getting injections 30 times a day, or cold-calling door-to-door sales, which felt almost like scamming.

6. What was so appealing about that kind of work? It was exciting and the people were unusual. Society and the education system had failed many of them, so they had to develop street smarts to get by.

7. Why were you fascinated by the underbelly of society? As kids we are told to study hard at school or we will become losers. Some people, though, are just not good at studying, and I don’t believe they all become losers. They could be smart, like (Apple co-founder) Steve Jobs. I wanted to learn more about those who are seen as weak just because they couldn’t adjust to society’s norms. That includes me. I’m that kind of person.

8. How do you get a PI license in Japan? There is no licensing for private investigators in Japan. A registration system was established in 2007, but before that, there were no government regulations at all.

9. So how did you develop PI skills? I interned for 10 years with another agency.

10. That’s a long time. Did you get paid? Yes, but it wasn’t much. Despite the hard work and long hours, PI pay is lower than the average wage. That’s just how the industry is.

I see you: Private investigator Goro Koyama says the most-requested service he provides is locating people. | COURTESY OF GORO KOYAMA
I see you: Private investigator Goro Koyama says the most-requested service he provides is locating people. | COURTESY OF GORO KOYAMA

11. What was your first assignment? It was for a Mr. X. He wanted to stay anonymous, so we just knew him as Mr. X. We only talked to him on the phone and he sounded like he was over 60 years old. Mr. X had a boyfriend, possibly in his late 50s, and I was assigned to follow and observe him. I had to report what kind of food he bought in the supermarket. If he got garlic, an energy drink or something similar, then Mr. X would be furious and we would be assigned to follow him more that week.

12. Do you watch any PI TV shows? I like (Agatha Christie character) Hercule Poirot, but what we do is completely different from PIs in movies and books.

13. How different is it? Well, we don’t handle criminal cases. In Japan, the police are incredibly powerful and self-contained. They don’t share any information with private sectors. Only on rare occasions will a PI work with the police.

14. Do you use special spy gear? Actually, we often use smartphones instead of dedicated spy goods. A smartphone doesn’t stand out and there are apps that can hide the fact that it’s recording.

15. Are there many differences between Western and Japanese PI work? There are a lot. In the West, for example, court documents are delivered by professional licensed process servers. In Japan, they are served by certified mail and delivered by Japan Post. A foreign court won’t want a post office guy to deliver a legal document, so they sometimes hire a PI to locate the subject and deliver it.

16. What do you think is Japan’s public perception of a PI? If you ask someone what they think a PI does, they’ll tell you that we only do infidelity cases.

17. Do you do a lot of infidelity cases? We sometimes do domestic cases, but a lot less than most agencies because we focus on overseas clients.

18. What is the most requested service of your agency? Locating people. We are often asked to locate a defendant who is trying to avoid trial in another country by running away to or returning to Japan. Sometimes we look for people who have taken their kids away from a spouse. That involves the Hague Convention and child custody battles. We are also involved in processes that require finding people, like delivering divorce papers.

19. Aside from individuals, what kind of clients do you deal with? Many are overseas corporate customers, like PI agencies who specialize in due diligence or background checks. We also work with U.S. attorneys for probate cases. If someone dies overseas without a will or family contact information, we would look for heirs in Japan.

20. Have you ever been asked to do something weird? Someone once wanted me to pull out his tooth to check if a mind-controlling bug had been planted in it. He believed his dentist did it for some gang members who were trying to conquer the world. I didn’t do it.

Later, though, it was reported in the news that the guy murdered the dentist.

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