LONDON — The sad case of the murder of Lucy Blackman, the young British woman who was a hostess in a Roppongi bar, inevitably attracted the attention of the British media.
The gist of press reporting was that, if it had not been for the tireless efforts of Lucy’s father, who visited Japan on a number of occasions and invoked an intervention by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the police would have shelved their investigations.
The nature of the Roppongi bars and their role in the “water trade” in Japan have inevitably been exposed, reports the press. Lucy’s father was clearly horrified by what he saw in Roppongi. He found the bars sordid and questions have been asked about their safety in terms of fire and health hazards. It has been suggested that the bars are only able to continue in their current fashion because many are controlled by yakuza groups.
If this were not the case, the popular press argued, than surely the police and the immigration officers would be conducting frequent raids to detect and deport illegal immigrants or those on tourist visas who have overstayed the terms under which they were admitted to Japan.
Newspapers have noted the connections between yakuza groups and prominent Japanese politicians and the influence they exercise over property companies and construction firms. The media recognized that the women involved in this trade were there because the wages were good but noted the high costs of living as a foreigner in Japan.
In Lucy Blackman’s case, it has been reported that she owed large sums on her credit card and had gone to Japan to make some money quickly. The media also recognized that the nature of the job should have been obvious to all but the most innocent, but asked whether the apparent exploitation should have been accepted by the Japanese authorities.
The Japanese authorities and especially the police will no doubt argue that this kind of reporting is both incorrect and unfair. Perhaps it is. The media does have a natural propensity to exaggerate and sensationalize news stories. The Japanese police will also no doubt argue correctly that they can only act on adequate evidence and they cannot just arrest people on suspicion. They cannot force people to give evidence when they may incriminate themselves. They do not have the resources to provide police protection for all those who might be threatened by unidentifiable gangsters.
Nevertheless there do seem to be reasonable grounds for some of the criticisms leveled against the handling of this and related cases. In particular it seems extraordinary to many that the bar in which Lucy worked has been able to reopen, admittedly under a new name.
It also seems odd that in a country with such a strict immigration policy as Japan’s, women who are in Japan illegally are not at least warned and if they continue to stay on, deported. Japanese health and safety regulations are supposed to be strict, but do not seem to have been adequately enforced in the bars in Roppongi and other districts.
The evidence of yakuza connections with politicians and shady businessmen in the construction and property sectors does seem to have some substance.
There seems little doubt that the yakuza have had close connections with the “sokaiya” (racketeers). Some sokaiya activities were exposed by high profile cases in the recent past. There have been no similar reports recently, but it is reasonable to ask whether this is because the sokaiya have ceased to operate or whether it is because they have adopted quieter and more covert methods. It seems doubtful to many outside observers that these crooks can be eradicated until there are significant reforms in Japanese corporate governance.
There have been too many reports recently of corruption in political circles. Where there is corruption the yakuza are likely to be involved. Observers are asking whether the KSD scandal is just the tip of an iceberg. Until Japan adopts and enforces laws to ensure transparency in relation to political donations suspicions will inevitably grow.
I am sometimes asked whether the yakuza play as important a part in Japanese public life as the Mafia does in Sicily and parts of Italy. I doubt this but I would like to see an independent and thorough investigation of the activities of the yakuza and of their connections with politicians and businessmen.
Japan does not seem to have a tradition of appointing a senior judge or judges, with powers to call evidence both oral and written, to undertake investigations of this kind. A properly conducted judicial inquiry in public and open to the media, which exposed the connections and influences exercised by the yakuza, could also usefully be asked to make policy recommendations about effective ways of dealing with the yakuza menace to Japanese society.
Unless there is a proper and full expose of the tentacles of the yakuza, observers are likely to continue to criticize the Japanese authorities for their failure to tackle a serious canker, which could undermine Japanese parliamentary democracy. Japan’s reputation as a democratic state, which maintains and protects human rights, is at stake. It is very much a Japanese national interest that Japan should not only have good government, but that the processes should be seen to be unaffected by criminal gangs and corrupt practices.
The fact that there is no precedent for holding such a public inquiry is not a reason why one should not be held. It is always possible to create a precedent, and a courageous minister of justice should raise the issue with his Cabinet colleagues and press it publicly. Japan’s judiciary is rightly politically independent, but a public investigation of the kind envisaged would help to reassert its independence and ensure that it becomes an important bastion protecting Japanese society and human rights.
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