Society

How The Japanese Mafia Is Making Millions From The Fukushima Cleanup

Police have arrested "yakuza" mob members, who recruited people who owed them money or were mentally disabled to do cleanup work in contaminated nuclear zones.

Radioactive money for the yakuza
Philippe Mesmer

TOKYO – It has been almost two years since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, and since then there have been multiple allegations about the role played by the Japanese mafia – the yakuza – in the reconstruction process.

On Jan. 31, Japanese police arrested a yakuza boss on suspicion of illegally sending workers into the disaster zone. According to the police, Yoshinori Arai is the head of a crime gang operating in the Yamagata prefecture – in northern Japan. His gang is affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate, the second most powerful crime syndicate in all of Japan with 12,600 members.

Arai is accused of sending day laborers to a nuclear decontamination project in the city of Date, in the Fukushima prefecture. The workers only got paid half the promised 20,000 yens ($216) per day. The rest of the money went to Arai’s crime gang.

The reconstruction of the regions devastated by the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster – and the billions of yens involved – is very appealing to the Japanese mafia.

The chance to cash in came at the right time for the yakuza, who have fallen on hard times in recent years. They have lost a huge chunk of revenue as the result of stricter anti-gang laws introduced in October 2011 and increased police crackdowns. The new laws made it illegal to do business with crime syndicates or have ties with gangs.

In Tohoku – the region devastated by the earthquake and tsunami – crime gangs are allegedly implicated in all different aspects of the reconstruction, from demolition to waste removal. The police are investigating 37 cases involving crime syndicates active in the rebuilding and cleanup effort. In May 2012, they arrested Makoto Owada, another high-ranking member of the Sumiyoshi-kai, for illegally dispatching workers to the Fukushima power plant through local front companies.

Jobs no one else wants

The close ties between the yakuza and the nuclear industry have been known for a long time. Journalist Tomohiko Suzuki wrote about it in 2011 in his book: Yakuza and Nuclear Energy: Diary of An Undercover Reporter Working at the Fukushima Plant.

He reports that yakuza have been around the Fukushima site since the nuclear disaster -- working to stem the effects of the plant’s meltdown. They “find people and send them to the site,” recruiting men who owed money to the yakuza, who were homeless, unemployed or even mentally handicapped. According to Suzuki, this system didn't start with Fukushima – the nuclear industry has always used the yakuza to recruit people for the most dangerous tasks, the jobs no one else wants.

In the first days following the nuclear disaster, Tepco, the electricity company managing the plant, who was short on manpower, asked recruiters to fetch “those who are not afraid of dying.”

In July 2011, Tepco was forced to make a public statement announcing they would be cutting ties with the yakuza. The company also decided to ask its subcontractors to sign a document stating they had no ties to the mob. But since subcontractors use front companies, this is virtually impossible to verify.

The announcement of Arai’s arrest came just as Tetsuo Nayuki, a senior official with the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), which was set up in September 2012 to “restore public trust in Japan and abroad regarding nuclear regulation,” was being sacked. On Jan. 22, Nayuki leaked a report on the nuclear sector to the Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC). He shared a draft report about a site survey of the company’s Tsuruga nuclear plant before its public release.

The NRA was evaluating seismic risks at every Japanese nuclear plant, and found that there was an active fault under the Tsuruga plant and that the reactors would have to be decommissioned. The JAPC wanted to get their hands on the document before its public release to be able to prepare its rebuttal.

The JAPC had denied lobbying the nuclear watchdog, saying it never gave Nayuki any money.

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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