[28 September 2006]
Of course, the big news from Japan most recently is the birth of a boy to Princess Kiko and Prince Akishino, the second son of Emperor Akihito. This was the third child for this relatively fecund couple; by comparison (and, in monarchies comparisons are unavoidable), Akishino‘s elder brother (and next in line to the throne), Crown Prince Naruhito, has been able to produce but one child, a daughter, in his 13 years of marriage. And, in insular, traditionalist, and media-rich ReDotland, when it comes to female heirs to the throne, tongues tend to wag. Publicly. Noisily. Cattily. Mercilessly.
How would you like that kind of pressure in bed every night?
“Honey, sorry. Really I am, but that Obuchi-sama over at the Royal Household Agency called again today and suggested that we might possibly . . . could . . . ought to think about . . . perhaps we might . . . have . . . engage in . . . er . . .”
“Right! Sex . . . ual relations . . . tonight.”
“Again? We just did it twice last month.”
“I know, my chrysanthemum doll, but you know how it is: no male heir from us and no pregnancy in the last fifty-four months and people start thinking we aren’t taking our Royal job seriously.”
“Well . . . we do. We try. it’s . . . it’s just the pressure. The things the maids-in-waiting say behind my back when I’m in the Royal bath. And your Mom—excuse me for saying so, my most revered temple of rock and steel—but your Mother produced two male heirs, and what have I managed to come up with? One daughter.”
“Mom means well, dearest stork in the reflecting pond.”
“Oh I know. But still . . . and then there is the media going on and on about how we can’t seem to ‘steam another dumpling’.”
“I know it’s tough, lotus petal. But we have to at least make an effort. It’s Japan, after all. We have to at least make a show that we are trying.”
Okay. I understand. So, what did they recommend tonight? Missionary again or pillows, from behind?”
“Actually, he left that up to us.”
“Now there’s a change.”
“I guess he doesn’t want to take responsibility for our failure.”
And no wonder. Guys have been beheaded for less in the course of the country’s history.
* * *
Anyway, that was my thinking (well, I actually just thought that bedroom scene up a minute ago) about this month’s ReDotPop installment; to talk about the most recent Royal development and how Japan’s recent “female trouble” has now been alleviated—at least in the minds of those right-wing, by-the-history-pages types who infest the woodwork (and lead to the continued rot) of the ReDot‘s moribund infrastructure. My column goal was to address this significant development: the production of a male heir and its social fall-out. Now, thanks to this new creation, the constitution will not (necessarily) require re-writing to accommodate the installation of an Empress. This despite the fact that NHK’s, (Japan’s public broadcasting corporation) recent telephone survey found that over half of the 1,600 people polled (56 percent) felt that women should be allowed to inherit the imperial throne. Only 33 percent opposed the idea.
Yes, I was going to explain how the new name for the third in line to the throne would be “Hisahito”, a name picked out by the Agency that oversees the management of Royal Affairs. I was then going to inquire how that would make you feel as a Mom or Dad—having a child and not even having a say in what you’d be saddled with calling the kid for the next 50 years of your life. I suppose the official royal label wouldn’t stop a Mom from calling her little creature “pumpkin” or “boobles” or “my funny vampira”. Moms being the same no matter which country or class they come from.
* * *
Finally, I was thinking about explaining about how “Hisato” means “virtuous”, “calm”, and “everlasting” . . . and then my cell phone rang.
And we were suddenly into a tale involving virtue of a very different order. For, in snatching up the cell and punching the message button, I had suddenly been transported—nay, pulled—forcefully, against my will, into the realm of sagi. A world of deception and fraud unfortunately all too popular in ReDotPop. Popular as a practice, and popular among the media as a never-ending topic of fascination, sagi never fails to astound us ReDotPoppers because of the ingenuity it often requires, the mendacity, the raw ambition and greed, and the unblinking, unflinching audacity that is necessary to dupe others into relinquishing their personal fortunes.
My cell phone message told me all I needed to know about virtue in this era of the coming of “Hisato”, future Emperor of the ReDot realm.
Hello. This is the Financial Affairs Bureau of Internet Entertainment Productions. My name is Wakai Junichi. It has come to our attention that you recently paid for access to a web site, “H Girls Unlimited”. On August 30th, 2006, to be exact. Since that time, you have been a constant visitor, yet you have not yet paid your subscription fee. That fee is 150,000 yen and must be paid in the next three days or else penalties will accrue, consistent with the terms stipulated in the contract you agreed to when you signed up to become a member of “H Coming Out”. If you fail to make payment we shall have no recourse but to contact your employer. If you wish to discuss payment arrangements or feel that somehow this call has been made in error, please call me at the following number…
Things you need to know I: in Japanese “H” is a euphemism for “horny, raunchy, racy, sexual”. An abbreviation for “echi”, “H” is an all-purpose “word” that can be used in phrases such as: “I’m feeling H” or “let’s do H” or “he’s H”. Convenient as hell, especially when naming an X-rated web site.
Things you need to know II: 150,000 yen is about $1,500 US.
Things I might want you to know I: I wasn’t on any such web site on August 30th, 2006, or thereafter. (I know, this fact runs counter to perception, if not character, but it happens to be true). In fact, I was occupied with my family (and I have witnesses!) for the day in question.
Things I might want you to know II: no one has my cell phone number. I just changed it a few weeks ago and have used it only with family members and a few friends.
Things I might want you to know III: Mr Wakai’s phone number is 03-5348-7521, just in case you want to give him hell. Feel free. (You didn’t think I was going to let the little shark swim away so easily, right?)
Things you need to know III: Wakai’s sagi scheme is by no means an anomaly. That stuff is all around we Japanese, flowing up from the sewers and gumming up the gutters of our clean-seeming ReDot realm on a daily basis. As a practice, there are very few less popular. Aside from sex, reading the sports pages, and riding the subways, it is a sagi, sagi world over here. Schemers abound. Grifters galores. To paraphrase Gerry Rafferty and Stealers Wheel, “con artists to the left of me, gypsters to the right, here I am, scammed and diddled by you.”
* * *
The most famous of these hustles is the ore, ore sagi (basically, “it’s me, me shakedown”). In this play, some male calls on the phone during the day and generally is assured of reaching the woman of the house. There, playing on a woman’s motherly instincts (hey, don’t shout at me, this is the case of a stereotype being put into cold, concrete—and result-deriving—action), he says:
“Mom? It’s me.”Please. Mom . . . please. And you won’t believe how many people fall for it. I mean, imagine Mom at the other end, fretting over the fate of her precious pumpkin, suspending disbelief, buying the idea that the voice on the other end is her once-cuddly little one. Now a big one in dire straits. Is Mom going to turn her back on her baby? Nosireebabe. Mom is going to buy into the idea that her kid is in need, to the tune of a few million yen. Ore, ore sagi proved to be big business for the bad guys. Police estimate that between January and October 2003, phony callers swindled hundreds of unsuspecting victims out of almost 2.3 billion yen (we’re talking a couple million dollars here for a few minutes of phone work). This may be why 10 thugs who were recently caught running an ore, ore sagi ring reportedly told police that they adopted this scheme because it was much easier work than their previous line: loan sharking. Ore, ore sagi requires a lot less foot traffic, virtually no banging on doors, and, ultimately, not having to rap on other people’s hard heads for a living. * * * As a sign either that there are a paucity of good grifts floating around out there, or else that Japanese thieves lack imagination, a recent variation on ore, ore, sagi has been making the rounds. In this one, con artists pretend to be the railway police. They then claim to whoever picks up the phone that a male family member has been arrested for molesting a woman on a train. Playing on the opprobrium screaming in the eardrums of the afflicted mother, father, or grandparent on the other end, the scammers get the shocked family member to rush to the bank and transfer amounts running into the millions of yen. The caller insists that if this hush money finds the designated bank account, then the relative will be set free. Variations on this scam have the caller pretending to be the relative’s lawyer or a prosecutor. In such cases the money demanded is referred to as “bail”. Whatever name it goes by, once placed in the dummy account, we can call that money burned. Forever. According to one article I read on this scam, the rise has, ironically and somewhat counter-intuitively, been attributed to a recent crack-down on train molestation. For years Japanese men have licentiously engaged in probing beneath women’s skirts on subways, trains, and station platforms with their hands (and, of late, with camera probes and stick microscopes, recording the results). Now, with police aiming in earnest to catch these sexual predators, folks intent on fraud have a new angle of attack. The fact that they can turn money out of the new ReDot reality of heightened protection of women serves as the unfortunate case of a social good begetting a social bad. Since sex has reared in muli-faceted (or is that “multi-fascinating”?) head, we ought to acknowledge that, in the matter of scams, sex sells. Big surprise here, right? But actually, in the matter of scams, it is the suggestion of sex that sells. According to one newspaper, so-called “fraud broads” meet guys over the web, first becoming pen friends, then after some back-and-forth, setting up a meet. The girl asks the guy to send money for the train trip (since she lives in another city), and—fool that the guy is—he does. The woman actually shows for the date—but that turns out only to “prove” that she is trustworthy and really cares for the guy. These guys are so gullible they don’t even notice their legs being roped and ready to be pulled out from under them. These are the kind of guys who do all their thinking with body parts other than their brains. After their meet—which may or may not include intimate contact (scammer’s discretion)—the woman returns home and, before the two can reunite, she emails the man telling him of the horrible car crash that her parents have been in. The accident has proven costly from a medical stand-point, so although she would like to meet the man (oh, let’s just call him what he is: a dupe), she won’t be able to meet him for the foreseeable future.
And Mom, not being a complete dupe says: “who is this?” And the caller says: “ore, okaa-san, ore.” It’s me, Mom, me. And unless Mom is generally called “Mother” or “Mama” or “Ma” or “Gladys” by her kids, the old gal is gonna bite. As hard as it is to believe it, she bites. “Taro?” (or whatever her boy’s name is).
“Right, Mom. It’s your boy, Taro.” (Or whatever). “What’s happened?” “Mom, I just got in a car accident. I’m okay, but I have to pay the money to get out of jail.” (A variant here is “I have to pay the other guy for the damage or he’s going to sue me for his injuries.”) Whichever tack is taken, Taro then continues: “I don’t have any money and I need you to deposit 2 million yen into my bank account.”
“Unless . . . but no.” “Unless?” “Well, I have to save every possible yen for the medical bills. They are just too great. Astronomical.” “How much?” “At least one million yen. And right now I need another 800,000 yen to cover everything.” “I see.” (No, I don’t think he does. . . ) “If I had that money—that 800,000 yen—then I could come and visit you again.” (He can virtually see her batting her eyelashes, wink-winking, her pink tongue running across those glossy lips).The fool. He bought her tale. And—any surprise?—after sending the money to her account, he never heard from her again. * * * Actually, when it comes to sex scams, there are any number of creative incarnations. One that has made the rounds involves a complicitous couple, a corrupt team, with the woman baiting the mark, and the man shaking him down. It works like this: the woman begins an on-line flirtation with some (stupid) guy who somehow convinces himself that he is her new shiny stallion—this despite the fact that they are both married and he is older than her. They set up a tryst and enjoy a fine romp in a love hotel. Sometime thereafter a letter arrives in the post from the dupe’s paramour’s hubby, saying: “your telephone number and address were in my wife’s email bin. I’ve read your love letters. You totally destroyed my life!” And now for the crowing blow: “I am going to hold you responsible,” hubby says, “for breaking up my marriage and trashing my confidence and ruining my life . . . unless you make restitution, letters are going out to your boss and also your wife.” Restitution in the case I read about came in the sum of 300,000 yen. By complying you hope that the mark learned a lesson about the perils of Internet romance. There’s more sex scams out there; above all there’s a scam revolving around underage girls who claim to be one age when they bed the mark, then turn out to have falsified ID. We don’t have to go into the details for you to get the drift of this grift: sex and blackmail are very compatible bedfellows. A private investigator in one newspaper story I read was quoted as saying: “What’s most terrible about these swindling sisters is that the mental damage they cause is worse than you’d expect, causing some guys to develop a deep mistrust of women and jeopardizing their ability to lead a normal life.” Normal? What’s normal about sex with underage girls? Or sending two months worth of paycheck to some doll you’ve met once for, like 15 hours? Somehow it is hard to feel sorry for these men, as they have brought it on themselves. Still, the larger message is that it is hard—maybe becoming impossible—to accept folk of the ReDot at face value. It may just be that the ReDot is no longer a place where we can regard our fellows as naturally kind, fair, innocent, and pure. If they ever were, if this ever was such a place. The latest case to drive this point home—the most recent scheme to hit the ReDotscene—was one reported rather prominently on in the Wide (i.e., talk) Shows this past week. Here the targets were young women who frequented the fashionable district of Harajuku. Although the criminal complaint only specifies eight victims, police estimate that Toshinori Matsumoto and seven accomplices swindled 470 women over the past two years, netting them in the neighborhood of 280 million yen. Uh, that is a tidy sum of cash culled from a significant number of gullible marks. How did these guys manage it? By playing off of female vanity, mixed with good old-fashioned pressure-sale’s technique. The scam starts with Matsumoto or one of his shills chatting up a woman on the street, saying: “Hey, you’ve got the look! Have you ever thought of working as a model?” Now how many unmolded fashion plates vamping around the glitzy quarters of Tokyo are going to walk away from that come-on? Once the gals are seated in the scammer’s shop, bait comes their way in the form of a few Polaroids and a little contract discussion. At this point the scammers explain that in order to become a model for certain companies it is often important that the model actually own the merchandise they are fronting for. There is a gap in logic somewhere around this juncture, but many of the aspirants buy it without much consideration. Either they require remedial education or else a little more concentration when seated in front of an “exclusive professional modeling contract”. In some cases—generally when a model balked—Matsumoto’s male staff would surround the would-be model and basically brow-beat her into accepting the contract terms: buy the jewelry, become a successful model. Whatever approach was employed, the bottom line remained: the young women soon parted with their cash and they left Matsumoto’s offices in sudden possession of extremely expensive costume jewelry—baubles on the order of 400,000 to 1 million yen. Oh, and one more thing: they never received any significant modeling opportunities thereafter. When any of them called Matsumoto’s company to complain, they were told that the person in charge was gone. Just like their cash. Gone. Long gone. The reaction of some readers to this on-line story were merciless: “Ho-Hum . . .” one male wrote, “ya gotta laugh . . . dumb bimbos learned a valuable lesson in vanity here and hopefully they’ll realize now that they are not princesses . . .” * * * But the real conclusion from all of this isn’t about Japanese women being vain or even short a brain cell or three. The point is that there is a fog afoot, a mist of duplicity, a cloud of deception that now permeates the ReDot planet. It is not gender-specific; nor is it generational or even class-based. Criminals come in all shapes, sizes, features, and flavors. I once received a threatening letter from someone who earns gobs more money than I do and swims in much more rarified circles. Nonetheless, she thought she saw the opportunity for a quick score from my (non-existent) bank account. Although she couldn’t interest the local police in the alleged “crimes” she felt I had committed, she had a legal looking document drawn up and mailed it to me. In it, she specified how much, by when and where I had to deposit my “apology money” . . . or else! was the insinuated threat. What did I do? What all right-thinking citizens would when backed into a corner with a gun to their head: I ran to the corner police store. The detective I consulted there told me that her letter:
”. . . has the odor of a yakuza shake-down. Woman like that—with a gei mei (professional stage name), who has worked her way up through the mizu shobai (“water trade”/night entertainment) like she has, she’s likely got mob ties from way back.That experience was an eye-opener. It slapped me in the face and told me all I needed to know about the evolving ReDot. In the current environment people are ever on the lookout for a quick strike; they are trying to push some advantage, imagined or otherwise, by hook or by crook, they are hoping to cash in. That much is clear just from scanning the papers, watching TV, taking an unprotected walk down the street. To paraphrase a Tokyo Railway Police Department spokesman, trying to explain the molestation sagi discussed above: “(These) . . . scam(s) evolved from the spirit of the times.” That’s right. Times that the ReDot finds itself stuck fast inside. Times it may not easily be able to extricate itself from. Fraudulent times. Sagi times. We ReDotPoppers find ourselves in the moment of con, in an age of deceit, trapped within the epoch of cheat, run-through by an ideology of insincerity. We ReDotPoppers find ourselves recognizing that it is definitely time for an Emperor whose name includes virtue. Fast may he ascend the throne. For, in the world that currently contains us, alas, virtue is in too short supply. Far too short supply.
Back when she got her business going, maybe they helped jump-start her business. Possibly even her place is a front for their business . . . a way to launder their money. After all, her business doesn’t even have a home page advertising its services. Anyway, this demand that you place money in her bank account—or else? This making the letter appear as if it is a pre-filing legal brief, drawn in consultation with a lawyer? Hinting at lawsuit? That is a standard yakuza play. The thing is, though . . . once you pay? They’ll hit you up for more money. Again. And again. And again. Playing with you like a tiger pushes around a human rag doll. They’ll keep pumping you for cash until they get tired of the game. Until then . . . you’re at their mercy.