And, just as suddenly, the party was over

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The combination of a surge in Japanese exports to all parts of the globe, a deliberate strategy of encouraging land prices to rise, combined with low property taxes and the concentration of all organs of government and headquarters of major companies within Tōkyō meant that, by fiscal 1987, the market value of land in Japan was 4.1 times greater than the total land area of the United States, a country twenty five times larger.


Banks lent lavishly to landowners in the belief that prices would always rise. Speculation in both land and stocks was pervasive, and with this speculation and the prospects of easy money came the jiyageya, half-businessmen, half-gangsters, who bought up adjacent small plots of land, then built apartments, which were sold at gigantic profit or lent to the rich at exorbitant rents. Even legitimate businessmen were not loath to use yakuza gangsters in their zeal to clear out homeowners or tenants who hindered the route to profiteering.

The Jimbōchō area is famous for bookstores. It was home to families that had lived there for generations, until the jiyageya began to force them out. Tactics included threats, incessant phone calls, daily visits to the owners of the desired piece of real estate, music played at high volume throughout the night, and sometimes arson or crashing trucks through walls and shop windows. Jiyageya also paid hundreds of millions of yen to induce tenants to sell out, for time was of the essence – the quicker an area could be “redeveloped”, the quicker a huge profit could be made.

In 1990, in the aforementioned Sanbanchō area, two tenants refused to budge from their home in a prefab apartment on the top of a three storey concrete building. The area of land was just 53 square meters. The standard formula used to calculate compensation led to a payment offer of $435,000 to move out of a tiny ramshackle rooftop dwelling that could only be approached by ladder… and the tenants refused!

Occasionally, there was stalwart resistance; in most cases residents succumbed, seduced by huge sums of cash, intimidated by pressure and the inordinate fear of the yakuza that pervades Japan. In these circumstances, the appearance of the centre of Tōkyō changed rapidly. During the 1980’s and early 90’s, in any direction, construction cranes could be seen silhouetting the skyline.
Prestigious buildings such as opera houses – for a people who knew little about opera – museums and art galleries were constructed in all of Japan’s cities and large towns. Throughout Japan, these attempted to exceed the finest in the West, though rarely with any deep understanding of the culture being emulated.


During the bubble, inhabitants of large Japanese cities could be divided into two categories; those who were in senior management positions, worked in lucrative areas of the economy or else owned their own business and, above all, owned land, and those unfortunates, the majority, who could never afford to become householders. Almost as wretched as the latter were those who had bought a house on the outskirts of the city and were forced to commute for three or more hours a day. Landowners, who had usually inherited from parents, could take longer holidays, had more spending money, and could think about purchasing a second house. Work colleagues on equivalent salaries would be in sharply contrasting situations if one had inherited land and the other had not.
Two-generation mortgages

Japanese who had saved diligently in hopes of becoming house owners saw their dream destroyed by the relentless rise in land prices. In 1989, the cost of a thin walled 60-square metre apartment was a stunning $498,000. 95% of the purchase price was for the land. Since the early 1970’s Japanese office workers have been allowed to take on a mortgage debt up to 12.9 times their annual income. European and American mortgages are rarely more than three times yearly salary. Between 1970 and 1984, incomes rose four fold, but mortgage debts increased 15 fold.

In many instances, the designer-clothes-clad Mercedes Benz owners were individuals who had abandoned hope of ever being able to purchase their own property, and so bought clothes and imported cars as compensation. Even those who did manage to purchase a house could often not pay off the mortgage within their lifetimes, and so mortgage payments are paid off over two generations.

The Matterhorn

During the bubble period, the government allowed a mass psychology to gain control of the market, an occurrence that was doubly dangerous because the Japanese tend to take actions as a group. Hitherto wise businessmen began to make aggressive and speculative purchases with a view to making quick profits, based upon a conviction that the price of land and the value of stocks would continue to rise indefinitely. Anyone who had the means and did not partake was thought extremely foolish. As long as the value of the stock market continued to rise, more money could be borrowed to purchase even more stocks, creating a multiplier effect. When the stock market lost 60% of its value in just 6 months, and then land prices plummeted, corporations and shareholders were left holding essentially empty assets.

If one image can summarize the entire 1980 to 2000 period it would be a graph illustrating the value of commercial land during that time. Imagine an elongated Matterhorn, its slopes rising steadily during the early 1980s, then steeply in the late 80s, until a pronounced peak in early1991. After this, a steep dive followed by a slow steady decline to the foothills of early 1980s prices. In 1989, the Nikkei Stock Index reached an all time high of 38,957. Contrast that with March 2009, post-Wall St crash, when the Nikkei briefly bottomed out at 7,055.


The crash

Though the Japanese stock market was grossly overvalued during the late 1980s, it was mainly the feeding frenzy of land speculation that caused massive bank debts when the bubble burst. The value of any piece of realty can only be what people are willing to pay for it. No matter how wealthy a nation has become, prices can only be leveraged up for so long. Businesses and wealthy individuals sometimes bought real estate without necessary collateral, on the assumption that it could be sold to some sucker at a higher price. Eventually, the hot potato could no longer be passed on. What remained were relatively worthless assets and the bill. Real estate values were allowed to underpin so much of the Japanese economy that any sharp fall created a vicious downward spiral that eventually forced further reductions in land prices. It was the sheer scale of this mass folly, together with government procrastination and unwillingness to make tough decisions in the aftermath, which caused Japan’s subsequent recession to be so severe and prolonged.

Capital investment

The post-bubble recession was made far worse by a massive capital-spending binge that continued well into the 90’s. Companies took advantage of the surging stock market to raise cheap, equity-linked debt and invest almost 20% of GDP. The principal reason for this was that the financial system and tax regime encouraged it. The result was that corporations squandered fortunes on automation and labour saving devices, built factories that ran far below capacity, and office blocks that contributed nothing to productivity. Huge projects planned in the 1980’s went ahead in the early 90’s because aborting them would have been exceedingly difficult; rather like the momentum of a giant oil tanker causing it to need fifteen miles of ocean to come to a halt. This capital outlay also continued because many could not believe that the dream was over.


When the bubble burst, banks were forced to expropriate Western masterpieces, bought at highly inflated prices, in lieu of unrepaid loans. Tens of thousands of paintings, including works by Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, Braque and Renoir, worth at least $3 billion on today’s market, were sequestered and stored in underground vaults.


During the 1980s, golf courses offered an opportunity for rich Japanese to display their wealth. As Japanese land prices were astronomical, averaging about $82 million per small 18-hole course, many clubs were built by borrowing money from future members. Prospective candidates were required to deposit between $49,200 and $820,000. Despite this, demand far outstripped supply: golf memberships were bought and sold like stocks, sometimes for outrageous sums of money. Prospective members’ deposits were used, not only to create the course, but also to invest in real estate and stocks.

The economic nosedive left some course developments incomplete, the club in receivership. When investors demanded a return of their deposits, the corporations owning the clubs were unable to pay. Some members had invested using borrowed money which they couldn’t repay, or used their savings, or even mortgaged their homes. During the 1990s it was estimated that $78 billion of refunds eventually came due, as increasing numbers of golf clubs went bankrupt.

The Jusen debacle

Because of the mass psychology of the bubble period, Japanese banks were persuaded to make loans to projects that in their hearts they knew were dangerous. Unwilling to have these risky loans on their books, with the aid of the government, the banks set up wholly or partially owned subsidiary finance companies called jusen, gave them unlimited credit, and then fobbed off any unsafe loans. This violated every principle of consolidated accountancy, but the banks’ books looked good and shareholders remained satisfied. As parent and subsidiary corporations kept different sets of records, the real financial situation remained unclear until years later, when the debt crisis became frighteningly severe.

Besides jusen affiliated with banks, there were also many independent ‘non-banks’, which lacked resources to cushion themselves in times of adversity. Many of the nōkyō agricultural credit cooperatives lent massively to jusen without any collateral, in the belief that they would never fail, since they were “subsidiaries” of the Finance Ministry. During the late 1980s, jusen were said to be relending 60% to 70% of the loans they received to speculators, to enable them to buy up real estate. When land prices went into a tailspin, the jusen began to fail, threatening to bring down the entire Japanese banking industry. The debacle cost the Japanese taxpayer US $5.68 trillion to help dispose of losses inherited in the process of liquidating seven failed jusen.

Construction companies had also extended huge loan guarantees to jusen on behalf of subsidiaries and property developers. With the collapse of numerous development schemes, 70% of such loan guarantees went sour, leading to a total debt of more than $410 billion for the industry as a whole. These delinquent debts threatened to have a devastating effect on Japan’s economy, affecting 10% of Japan’s workforce.

In the 1990’s, many of the Japanese government’s repeated attempts to resuscitate the economy, principally via massive investment in public works projects, which to the casual observer appeared inept and inordinately wasteful, were operations aimed at securing the rural vote that kept the LDP in power decade after decade. It was no coincidence that banks and construction companies were major donors to the LDP, and that nōkyō were a vital element in LDP electoral success. Decade-long recession or not, first priority goes to protection of rural fiefdoms.

And so, as the bubble collapsed in 1991, Japan entered a protracted 12 year recession, its so-called ‘lost decade’. At one point its banking system was very close to collapse. The unique circumstances that inspired ‘Japan as Number One’ have vanished. Post-March 2011 and Fukushima, the Bubble Era seems a distant mirage but, for that brief period, Japan’s economy seemed unstoppable. It was a lot of fun to have lived here while it lasted.


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The years when Japan’s economy almost conquered the world

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Tokyo of the 1980s was far more inward and conservative than its 21st-century cousin. The LDP had been in power continuously since the 1950s. Emperor Hirohito was still on the throne, safely transmuted from pre-war God into the mild mannered marine biologist who occasionally turned up at the Kukugikan to watch sumo wresting.


Before the Shiodome and Daiba development, upper Tokyo Bay consisted of drab concrete warehouses. The only tall buildings were one each in Ikebukuro and Kasumigaseki and perhaps fifteen in Shinjuku. Ebisu was still quiet and suburban. Shibuya had only just begun to creep towards Daikanyama and Harajuku.


Business dress was very rigid – dark suits, short undyed hair, 70/30 hair parting, white or off-white shirts, black shoes. Workers did even more overtime than is now the case, and businessmen in their hundreds died of karoshi (overwork). Lifetime employment was the norm in large companies, and changing jobs during one’s lifetime was considered shameful. A job for life meant your job was your life. Fathers only saw children at weekends.


As there were fewer subway lines, trains were crowded up to 400% in rush-hour, with only overhead electric fans for air conditioning. Train windows were left open in summer, which meant subways were incredibly noisy as they screeched around bends. ( and you thought it was bad now. HAH!) Only the train signs of the Yamanote Line were written in English. You could get lost for hours in the underground labyrinths of Ikebukuro and Shinjuku. Pre-Lonely Planet, there were no guide books exclusively about Japan. None. I came to Japan armed with a book on Asia, which had just 15 pages devoted to Japan. Consequently, Tokyo of that time was a much harder city for an outsider to negotiate.

In the early 80s, foreigners were still a relative rarity in the city, so much so that some discos would allow gaijin to enter gratis, in the hope that their presence would show that the club was hip. “Irrashai – live gaijins on display” (OK they didn’t say that, but that more or less was the idea). If you went into the countryside, people dropped their shopping and stared slack jawed at the phenomenon. Japan measured itself against one country – America. In fact, if you were a white foreigner in Japan at that time you were automatically assumed to be American. “Yoa cun-to-rii – Ame-li-ka?? Numbaa wan, numbaa wan” etc


Foreign goods were taxed so highly that most foreigners would stock up on clothes and books during their annual home vacations. Coffee was served in delicate china cups and cost ¥400-500 for two or three sips. In those pre-internet days, gaijin were far more isolated from the outside world than is now the case. As the Cold War was at its height, a flight to Europe necessitated either flying over the North Pole via Alaska, or doing the 24-30 hour Southeast Asian route, before finally arriving exhausted and dishevelled in London. A phone call to parents or friends was kept short as it was so expensive.


There were no fat Japanese people to be seen because they DIDN’T EXIST. The first McDonalds opened in Ginza during the Bubble – the prediction was that it would never become popular in Japan. HAH! Now read on…….

1986 – 1991

The new prosperity was unprecedented: to a people used to deprivation, poverty and sacrifice, it seemed miraculous. From 1959, the economy expanded by an average rate of 9.2% annually for fifteen years, and in the following fifteen years by an average 4.2%. By the 1980s, Japan was clocking up enormous trade surpluses globally, yet managed to protect its own markets from outside competition by a combination of a fiendishly complicated multi-layered distribution system, high import tariffs, interlocking keiretsu business relations and mutual stock holdings which tied companies together and excluded outsiders, together with bid-rigging and other collusive practices. Other features of this mercantilist system were a high rate of savings among the general population, easy credit available to industry at very low interest rates, cosy relationships between politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen, and, not least, the payment of large, sometimes obscenely large, bribes to politicians for favours. The Japanese used more robots for manufacturing than any other industrialised nation, had adopted the Quality Control (Q.C.) system and perfected the ‘just in time’ method of delivering parts for assembly. Japanese employees also worked significantly longer hours per week than their Western counterparts.

Japan as number one

By the 1980s, the country had become an economic superpower. Eight of the ten largest banks in the world were Japanese. The Tōkyō Stock Exchange was roughly the same size as the NYSE. In 1987, Japan accounted for one third of the $150 billion U.S. trade deficit. As General Motors, Ford and Chrysler laid off thousands of workers and closed ageing plants, container ships disgorged shiny new Honda, Nissan and Toyotas onto docks along America’s West Coast. The Japanese domestic economy was 80% the size of that in the United States, despite half the population base, about one-fortieth the land size, and virtually no natural resources. By 1990, every single week, a billion dollars flowed from the United States to Japan. Ezra Vogel’s bestseller ‘Japan as Number One’ was published around this time. Foreigners studied books purporting to show the samurai way of doing business, to the amusement of many in Japan. A poll of 129 by Tōyō Keizai, an economics magazine, predicted that Japan would outstrip the United States in output of goods and services by the year 2010. When President Bush Sr. visited Japan, he appeared to be pleading for mercy for the ailing American car industry. Prime Minister Miyazawa responded by saying that Japan would show “compassion”. As Bush vomited and collapsed at a Tōkyō state banquet, video cameras showed the diminutive Miyazawa trying to push the U.S. president upright. It seemed an apt metaphor for the two countries’ relationship during this period.


Year by year, Japan’s trade surplus with the rest of the world continued to increase by phenomenal amounts. With the exception of Middle East oil producers, every trading partner incurred a large trade deficit. By 1990, Ōsaka City and the Kansai had an economy that ranked seventh in the world. By the following year, Tōkyō officials were boasting that their city’s GDP was also closing in on that of the U.K.


Mitsui & Co., a Japanese trading company with total revenues of $81.8 billion in 1986, displaced Royal Dutch Shell group as the biggest non-American corporation in the world. In 1989, the Nikkei Stock Index measured nearly 39,000 points. Tōkyō was headquarters to 94 of the 500 biggest non-American companies. Japan had more billionaires than the United States, though much of their wealth was based on the artificially high price of land. From the middle of the 1980’s, Japan had become the largest creditor nation in the world.


The Tsutsumi brothers

The world’s richest individual at this time was Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, one of two multi-billionaire brothers. By the late bubble period, the gruff and fiery Toshiaki owned 25 golf courses, 50 Prince Hotels – one of the world’s biggest hotel chains – and ski villages, leisure complexes, a professional baseball team and the Seibu Railway network, Japan’s largest landowner. At that time, his business empire was estimated to be worth $400 billion U.S. The elder, more cultured brother Seiji, poet and patron of the arts, owned the Saison Group, one of Japan’s most dynamic conglomerates, the 100-strong Intercontinental Hotel chain, museums of art, boutiques, avant-garde theatres, and a nationwide chain of chic and glamorous Seibu department stores. The brothers represented the pinnacle of a largely invisible pre-eminent elite, have strong imperial connections, and wealth so vast that they were estimated to own one sixth of the landmass of Japan.


Peak of the Bubble

The average Japanese had the highest income in the industrialised world by the end of 1987 – $23,022 a year. By 1990, senior managers were earning the equivalent of around U.S $60,000, plus twice yearly bonuses of between one and a half and three months additional salary.


At the height of the bubble economy, a million gallons of Beaujolais Nouveau would be flown to Narita Airport and quickly rushed to restaurants throughout Tōkyō so that, because of the nine hour time difference between Europe and Japan, it could be consumed before even the French had tasted the new wine. People happily paid $40 a bottle for this dubious privilege. After the decades-long infatuation with all things American, the bubble period saw a new inquisitiveness with respect to European fashion, food, art, music and culture in general. The bank accounts of Armani, Sonia Rykiel and Chanel swelled as Japanese snapped up their ware. Brown plastic Louis Vuitton handbags were almost de rigueur accessories for many years. It would be no exaggeration to say that, during the 1980s, almost every Japanese young woman carried one of these bags.


French restaurants could charge small fortunes for meals, simply because Gallic food was considered the epitome of sophisticated cuisine in trend-chasing Tōkyō. If you could persuade Japanese people that something was exclusive, sophisticated and fashionable, they were likely to pay exorbitant amounts for the privilege of sampling it. The best seats for concerts conducted by Herbert Von Karajan, for example, cost $574 each. When Miles Davis played at the opening of the Blue Note jazz club, punters paid $328 apiece.

Consumer confidence had never been higher, and this was reflected in changing tastes for expensive items, including imported cars. Tōkyō’s notoriously overpriced department stores made brisk sales throughout the 1980’s, in spite of the several hundred percent mark-up they charged. By 1991, Tōkyō had become by far the most expensive city in the world. 24 carat gold-flake filled soap became popular with women in their 40’s, though ten times more expensive than ordinary soap. Sales of male toiletries grew 30% annually. Pricey customised products sold well too: best-sellers included custom-made golf clubs, and personalised perfumes or wine, which had a minimum order of 200 bottles. Women’s tights, containing tiny capsules that emitted lavender, rose and other scents when heated by body warmth, sold in the millions.


Japan became the world’s leading purchaser of diamonds during this period, and indeed it still is. The chief of the jewellery section of the swank Mitsukoshi Department store said, “Several years ago you could buy a house for 50 to 60 million yen ($400,000 to $600,000). Now it costs up to 500 million yen. It tends to dull people’s sense of money. Nowadays customers come in asking to see diamonds of about 100 million yen”.

The bag man

One day during the bubble period, while travelling on the Yamanote Line, a middle aged man carrying a brown paper bag sat down beside me. He took out large wads of 10,000 yen notes from the bag and began to count them so, out of curiosity, I began to silently count along with him. By the time I had to get off the train, he had reached 900,000 yen and was still counting. The man was carrying at least $8,000 in cash, and thought nothing of counting it in full view of other passengers!


Prices in Ginza’s famed hostess clubs reached outrageous levels. One ex-patron of such clubs told me that he was once charged $246 for the ice for his whiskey. The charge for alcohol and the privilege of having a series of pretty young hostesses flirt and flatter for a few hours often ran into the hundreds of thousands of yen, usually paid on a very liberal company expense account. Prices at exclusive restaurants such as Kitchō, where prime ministers entertain their guests, or Fukudaya, where customers can dine in a wooden building 800 years old, were $578 per person for the basic course. They probably still are.

Costs compared to other countries

A survey conducted in 1988 revealed that rent in Tōkyō was double the levels in New York and Hamburg of that period. Another survey estimated that purchasing power of most Japanese remained at two thirds of their German and United States’ counterparts, and that quality of life was only 55% of Americans’. Infrastructure still suffered from decades of comparative neglect. In 1990, less than half of Japan’s households were connected to mains sewers (this mostly in the countryside). The family budget had to cope with light, heating, water expenses and postal charges twice as high as those in New York. Because of a multi-layered distribution system, even products manufactured in Japan cost more at home than abroad. Rice cost up to four times more, thanks in large part to a ban on imports and to generous subsidies that the LDP paid to farmers. California oranges costing 40 cents per pound in the U.S. could be priced at $4 dollars in a Japanese supermarket. And then there were the infamous muskmelons costing $40 to $50 each in high-class department stores.


Beginning around 1987, the international art market saw the sudden arrival of Japanese collectors and investors, a new breed of multimillionaires who had made huge profits from land and stock transactions. Many treated artworks as assets to be used as collateral for business deals, or else resold at a quick profit. Others bought art for the status it gave. The owner of a gallery in Tōkyō explained, “If you owned a big chunk of Tōkyō’s high class Akasaka district, you were a nobody, but if you bought an expensive painting at auction, you could become one of the most famous people in Japan”. Yasuda, a Japanese insurance company, spent $40 million for the Van Gogh painting “Sunflowers”, more than triple the previous record paid at an auction. By 1989, Japanese art purchases accounted for 43% of global sales, setting new auction records for paintings by Chagall, Van Gogh, de Kooning, Matisse, Klee, and Renoir. Tens of thousands of artworks were acquired over a three-year period.


In 1990, a Japanese businessman, the late Ryōei Sato, stunned the art world by paying more than $160 million for a Van Gogh and a Renoir. When asked about criticism that his profligacy would push up prices for other masterpieces, he said, “It depends on the time frame you are talking about, when cheap and expensive are discussed. I don’t think these prices are expensive”. When asked what he would do with a Rodin sculpture that he bought in the same week, he said, “It was only 650 million yen. That’s for my yard”.


In 1987, more than a million Japanese businessmen and tourists visited the islands of Hawaii. It became the “in” thing to purchase a second house on the islands. Japanese bought golf courses, farms, hotels, and seemed to have a bid on every major office building in Honolulu. A leading realtor estimated that purchases of residences in 1987 had exceeded $250 million and, “are now reaching price levels which are beyond the means of even the wealthiest local residents”. The TV program ‘Newsstation’ broadcast an interview with a Hawaiian woman who complained on camera, “this Japanese man just came up to me and said ‘I want to buy your house’. He offered one million dollars”. The woman refused and told him to go away. The following day, he returned and offered to pay two million dollars cash if she would move out within a short period. Indignantly she demanded, “Just who do these people think they are anyway?”


At the height of the bubble, a program titled Deta Mono Shobu was aired once a month. The object of this program was to search North American and European countries for properties that might be of interest to rich Japanese. In a typical program, a helicopter carrying a Japanese TV crew landed at a 15th century French castle. After greeting the owners, the cameras transmitted images from the chateau live, via satellite, to Japan. The owner was asked how much he wanted for the property, and to write the figure on a card which he sheepishly displayed to the camera. In this case a mere $U.S 1.9 million, which prompted cries of yasui from the excited studio audience. Soon, potential buyers for the chateau phoned in to make inquiries. Amazingly, the program was produced with the co-operation of the Japanese government, which was attempting to show that it was making efforts to reduce Japan’s prodigious trade surpluses. During yet another broadcast, viewers were astonished to learn that a 175 acre chateau in France cost only three times more than the average central Tōkyō apartment. Yasui.

The ocean of liquidity

After the 1985 Plaza Accord currency realignment, the Bank of Japan reduced the discount rate to an all time low, resulting in an abundance of capital, often referred to as the “ocean of liquidity”. Stock prices soared. Heavy industries began to be valued on the basis of the vast tracts of realty they possessed. Landowners were able to borrow astronomical sums of money by mortgaging, and could then build factories overseas, or go shopping for ‘cheap’ foreign properties. The value of land in urban Tōkyō had increased throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, rising steeply in the mid and late 1980’s. There was a 75% average increase in the price of land during 1987 alone – in certain areas it rose by 100%. The land of the Imperial Palace was valued at more than all of the real estate in California. By 1990, a single square metre of land in Sanbanchō, a small residential area of central Tōkyō, cost up to $98,400, by far the most expensive residential land in the world. The madness had almost reached its peak.

Part 2 will be coming soon.

Check out more of Tony Smyth here

gaijinassbannerThe 419 scam is old, like 18th century old, and has been responsible for a lot of laughs for me over the years.  We have all been exposed to this be it through a distraught Nigerian prince, a recently deceased distant relative you never knew, a well intentioned war profiteer searching for redemption or the good old winning of a lottery you didn’t know you had even been entered in.

419 is the numeric code referring to fraud in the Nigerian criminal system and although the majority of these scams come from the USA those from Nigeria have been such high comedy that the name has stuck.

This is what the actual (real) FBI website has to say about this Nigerian gem:

Nigerian letter frauds combine the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter mailed from Nigeria offers the recipient the “opportunity” to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author—a self-proclaimed government official—is trying to transfer illegally out of Nigeria. The recipient is encouraged to send information to the author, such as blank letterhead stationery, bank name and account numbers, and other identifying information using a fax number provided in the letter. Some of these letters have also been received via e-mail through the Internet. The scheme relies on convincing a willing victim, who has demonstrated a “propensity for larceny” by responding to the invitation, to send money to the author of the letter in Nigeria in several installments of increasing amounts for a variety of reasons.

Recently I received a new 419 letter and I am gitty like a school girl re-reading it.  Apparently the FBI, god bless them, have investigated something and determined that I, GAIJINASS, am to be paid 8 million dollars.


The only hurdle left is for me to send a mere 650 USD to facilitate the transfer.

But the actual (I think) FBI website says this about Advance Fee Scams:

An advance fee scheme occurs when the victim pays money to someone in anticipation of receiving something of greater value—such as a loan, contract, investment, or gift—and then receives little or nothing in return.

The variety of advance fee schemes is limited only by the imagination of the con artists who offer them. They may involve the sale of products or services, the offering of investments, lottery winnings, “found money,” or many other “opportunities.” Clever con artists will offer to find financing arrangements for their clients who pay a “finder’s fee” in advance. They require their clients to sign contracts in which they agree to pay the fee when they are introduced to the financing source. Victims often learn that they are ineligible for financing only after they have paid the “finder” according to the contract. Such agreements may be legal unless it can be shown that the “finder” never had the intention or the ability to provide financing for the victims.


But YOU told me to do it FBI!

So it’s goodbye peasants.  GJS is off to a new life filled with the finer things courtesy of the FBI.

In the meantime look for a new Po-cast this weekend and remember to keep a few hundred laying around to wire transfer to someone you have never met when luck finally comes your sad way.

If you like this, you might like:

Costplay SexEc Groper Train Empirial Walker hostess
Biggest Threats to English Teachers Japans Sexual Economics Groper Train Hypocrisy Cynicism Lies Shame She works hard for the money

Everyday I take, The Yamanote Train line aka the Green Circle and everyday it goes by this building. It is about five years old and ever since it was built it has been empty with those same two chairs sitting there … waiting.

Granted it is right next to a somewhat loud train but that means hundreds of thousands of people go by it everyday. Its high visibility would be perfect for a gym, English school, hair salon yet it sits empty and alone. What is wrong with this building?

That building by the tracks in Gotanda
That building by the tracks in Gotanda
That building by the tracks in Gotanda

If you like this try these:

Abandoned Tokyo Cute vs Sexy The best Star Wars behind the scenes yet Making friends in Japan yoji watanabe building
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Rionne drops in and talks about what’s new flying off the top rope, life as a pro-wreslter, shady Shibuya, gullible old ladies and movies. I swear too much and hilarity ensues.



In 2011 I was arrested by about 8 cops outside my flat in Toshima-Ku, Tokyo.  I was then detained for overstaying my visa in Japan.  During my lengthy stay at the Tokyo immigration detention center I met a lot of people, heard a lot of stories, read a lot of books and considered a lot of things.


Immigration and the rights immigrants should be afforded are hot topics both in the USA and in Japan.  America is a country founded on the backs of immigrants and like many others have said, America’s  secret weapon in recent years, has been the H1B visa; the visa allowing particularly gifted or talented individuals in high tech fields into American society because frankly, the American education system is not making American children smart.  Without these very recent immigrants and their specific skill sets, America would be very different and most likely in a far less advantageous place right now.

Japan, for it’s own reasons, is headed in this direction.  In fact, it is likely that the only thing which could stave off an utter financial collapse due to a massive old population with fewer and fewer children is a large influx of tax paying and baby making immigrants.

Considering these things it is both ironic yet understandable, the fear I mean.  And make no mistake it is a kind of fear.

But, before you open your new case of illogical rant please consider what it might be like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  I have done it and it was far darker and more testing than some other very difficult endeavors in my life.

These are things I learned the hard way living 2 years as an illegal immigrant.

You are an easy victim

Simply by being “undocumented”, by definition, you don’t have documents declaring your “right” to be in said country.  Why does this matter? Apart from international law, it also means that you are, nearly by default, always on the losing end of any legal battle against a resident of that country.

“But of course!  Shouldn’t it be that way?!” Some of you are shouting.

But you are wrong.  What’s morally right is what is right, and one’s level of documentation should not impact legal proceedings.  Cries of “But he’s an illegal!” should count for naught, but often, they count for everything and in every kind of case; Rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, identity theft, blackmail, extortionassault and on and on…

Too many cases get boiled down to “But she’s an illegal.”

When this happens justice does not.

 You can never relax

The prevailing image, particularly in the USA, is that the “illegals” are all laying around under beach umbrellas, swilling Tecate-Light and checking their online bank accounts for their monthly EBT payments.



This is BS.  Being undocumented, especially in the USA or Japan, for example, means that it’s likely someone is coming to get you at some point and they are not picking you up to take you on a magical trip to Sea World.  The plan is to lock you up; potentially for a very long time.

Again: Because you do not have a piece of paper saying you are allowed to be in this particular location on earth and work your shitty exploitive job kissing everyone’s ass so they won’t report your undocumented status, you are going to be kidnapped and have your liberty taken away from you.

It’s humiliating, it’s expensive and it’s terrifying for someone who has never committed a criminal act in their life.  And frankly, even for someone who has.

 Your family life is totally dysfunctional

Love this show.

Love this show.

So, you are living undocumented, for whatever reason: fleeing death squads, religious persecution, trying to carve out a better life for your documented children born in said country, trying to make money for your future or you just overstayed your visa.  Now, something happens, your child or significant other, who is documented, needs you to come to such and such place; their school, the tax office, the city hall, the (god forbid!) police station or even the bank and guess what? You can’t go.  Anything which might require your identification being checked is a risk you can’t take. Not if you want to stay in this family members life in your current geographic position.

Or even worse, someone “back home” calls or writes and drops an atom bomb: “Mom is sick. Can you come home?”  Several things cross your mind.  Can I actually go home? Can I leave or will I be detained?  If I go, I am sure I won’t be let back in: do I take my family, who are legal residents/citizens with me? But their life is here.  My income and livelihood is here.  But I have to see if Mom is Ok.

Sounds familiar? Season 3!

It’s torturous. Honest psychological torture and it’s a reality for many people who are really just trying to make their way in the world.

You are constantly lying, even to yourself

Because it totally works AGAIN.

Because it totally works AGAIN.

If you live the life of an undocumented alien inevitably you start lying.  Someone asks “How long is your visa for?” And you lie.  You lie and tell some story.  You do this because you don’t want to be that guyYou lie because you have an illusion of a stable life and if you have never been in this situation you cannot possibly understand how vital maintaining this illusion is, even to yourself.

Over time, this catches up to you. So does scrambling around attempting to avoid giving this person a document or that person a document.  You are constantly gambling:  “Yes, I will get her, the manager, HR (whoever) a copy of my new passport and visa next week.” You have basically shoved all your chips in on the gamble that they are going to forget to ask.

This was so stressful for me personally that my hair began to fall out over the course of two years with the massive 2011 earthquake really being the shit icing on the shit cake; I have no history of hereditary baldness.  It was all pure stress and after it concluded the hair loss stopped.  Intense and constant stress.  This stress also aided in me nearly becoming a full blown alcoholic.  Working six days a week, paying child support, paying even more to see my kid and all the while constantly wondering when the foot would drop and I would be found out.   Then add in juggling friendships, family back home and other responsibilities…it was not a pleasant time in my life.

And then…

 When you do come clean, nobody really gets it.

Triple Threat!  I hate her by the way.

Triple Threat! I hate her by the way.

When I finally came totally clean and told my family I was living here undocumented the general reaction was “So? You’re married to a (insert native country). So, what?”  They just didn’t get it.  Normal residents in the country and particularly the citizens of that country rarely understand the severity of being found out as undocumented.  They imagine it will involve an apology and a long and wasted afternoon at the immigration office “sorting it all out.”

They have no idea it can involve 8 police officers, months of incarceration, lengthy interrogations, the destruction of your professional life, personal relationships, decapitation of one’s savings and any semblance of a decent existence and all because a sticker in a little book is out of date.

They don’t get it because fundamentally most people understand it’s really just a stamp that some arbitrary individual decides to put in a little book you are required to travel with.  On a basic level most people think it’s unimportant.  This is true until one is on the receiving end of the clubs, I assure you.  Suddenly the stamp and what it allows, becomes tremendously important.

It’s not “Jail” per se…

It is widely held, based on various international treaties, that illegal immigration or the breaking of immigration regulations, although against the law is not punishable under the criminal umbrella but rather via civil penalties such as detainment and deportation.

But what is “detainment?”  Well, it’s a lot like being locked in jail, in fact, that is exactly what it is.  Sure, the circumstances detailing the severity of one’s detainment might vary from country to country but make no mistake: You are not allowed to leave and your freedom has been taken away.  In Japan, immigration detention has very few differences compared to normal pre-sentence jail time.  You are locked up, you can’t leave and your belongings and person are subject to regular search and confinement.

Detained? For a minute I thought you meant JAIL. I am SO relieved.

Detained? For a minute I thought you meant JAIL. I am SO relieved.

What’s more, and potentially the single solitary thing which makes “detainment” considerably worse than actual jail time is that in most cases there is no end in sight.  You were not sentenced, there is no deadline.  You are locked up in a kind of hellish limbo with no information about the length of your stay.  Sure, the amateur immigration attorney from Mongolia sleeping on the floor next to you, yeah on the floor, might assure you that the process only takes a month but the Filipino guy on the other side of the cell has been there for four months and is likely being sent to a “long-term detention facility” far away, for how long nobody knows.

You simply have no information at all and no way to get any.  This is one hell of a nifty type of mental torture.

 You get caught in more law breaking just to Survive

A Bangladeshi man I met while “detained” at immigration was picked up because while he was waiting for his first paycheck from his IT job with a major company to be sent, he was working part-time at a grocery store mopping the floors.  This man had a working visa and permission to be working in Japan.  In fact, he had been living in Japan for nearly a decade with his wife who also had legal status here.  Well, someone called immigration, a hotline which pays money to tipsters no questions asked if they turn in some insidious violator, such as the forty year old IT engineer with a Master’s degree who was mopping floors to save pennies to quickly pay for his aging father in law to come to Japan, and he was quickly picked up by 4 police officers and locked up.  He was locked up because mopping floors was not a job he was allowed to have based on his visa working status and he was ultimately deported after months of protest.  He cannot return to Japan for ten years.  His wife is now supporting the entire family alone.

You evil piece of shit.

You evil piece of shit.

Now, this was not my story, I did break the law via breaking someone’s face open and this is what got me on the outs with the law and immigration, but the point is, even if you feel you are doing nothing wrong, you get locked into  a cycle of trying to survive and it spirals into more problems.

For example, one overstays one’s allowed period of stay by accident.  While not realizing it technically you have broken the law.  Now, you continue to work, this is another law broken.  You fail to report yourself to the immigration authorities, another law broken.   After realizing you are six months past due, instead of turning yourself in you decide to just finish the year, you lie to your company and continue to use your expired identification card, another law broken.  You move residences and do not report the move for fear of being found out with expired documents, something all Japanese residence, native or otherwise must do, and you have broken another law.

All this time you are working, paying taxes, paying bills, sending your child support , going to school festivals, birthday parties etc and the law breaking just piles up.

When I sat down with an immigration agent and they opened the tome of knowledge they had on me, literally a paper file thicker than the King James version of the bible I was asked:

“How many laws do you think you have broken in Japan not including anything involved with your assault case three years ago?”

“Hmmm….two? Over staying and not reporting a move?”

“16. You have broken 16 other laws since then.”


You live completely dependent on whoever is covering for you/vouching for you.

Unless you are like the guy I met in “detainment” from India who had overstayed a 3 month tourist visa, for two years, and never worked due to his families fabulous wealth and had just stayed at a hotel in Roppongi the whole time clubbing 6 nights a week utterly tripping balls, then the chances are  whoever is employing you during your undocumented period is essentially your owner.

This might tie into the first point, but it stands alone with ease.

After I paid my dues, literally, and left the warm embrace of the Japanese judicial system, I was hired back by my former company as a contract worker.  There was one caveat: I would be commuting 2 hours, one way, three days a week to a contract at which I would likely be eating a fair amount of day-to-day shit.

I happily accepted.   Why? Because my visa status was in question and I knew getting a new job meant showing someone new papers.  This was not an option when I was just trying to rebuild a shattered personal and financial life.

After a year of them asking me for new documents and me saying “Um…I um…forgot to bring them?”  monthly, they then asked me to take another position, at a location nobody else wanted for money that was not good, and again I happily accepted.

Two years went by and I was balls deep in my undocumented stay and the farce of them asking me once a month when I picked up my paychecks about my new documents was at a blistering high.  Then, due to a restructuring deal which would make them slightly more money, they cut my contract, pulled the rug out from under me and stuck me at another location, for even less money and what did I do?  Did I contact the unions? Expose their (explicitly) illegal move?  Did I call the cops?  No, I smiled and tried to relax my sphincter whilst assuming the position.  Why?

Because I had no way to get another job.  These people knew I was working illegally, they were tacitly supporting it and they knew I had no recourse but to take what I was given.  They knew I had a kid and bills to pay and the leverage they had was strong.   The best part: I was still paying federal and city taxes.  Yep.

Could I have walked? Flipped  the bird and found something else? Probably, but I was clinging to this oasis of legitimacy in my life, which felt very illegitimate, at the time.  Now, imagine a 19 year old girl from Vietnam or Korea or the Philippines.  Imagine what they get sucked into. Imagine an undocumented father of 3 and the shit he will eat to keep food on the table.  The horror show is extensive.  I know a lot of people have no sympathy for undocumented folks in “their” country, and I ask none for myself, but I have seen some of the people who become victims at the hands of the natives who don’t mind leveraging fear and desperation for their personal gain. This happens the world over in any developed country where people go to try and find a “better” life.

You are portrayed as some kind of mooch, dead beat or criminal


Fenster: They treat me like a criminal. I’ll end up a criminal.
Hockney: You are a criminal.
Fenster: Why you gotta go and do that? I’m trying to make a point.

Yes, I broke the law.  In 2008 I made some BIG mistakes and I paid for it.  So, I tried to turn my life around.  Then, in 2011 that all caught up with me again and I had another vacation courtesy of the Japanese government on the luxurious 8th floor of the immigration building in beautiful Shinagawa, Tokyo.  So, what I am going to say here might not apply to me. But I learned it applied to many others.

Too many people think everyone undocumented person in their country is a scum bag or a criminal and this simply isn’t the case.  Some of them surely are, but then again some of you people reading this likely are as well.  Are all of you parasites on society? No.  But I am certain and least of few of you trolls dreaming up your ironic comments for below surely are just that.

The point is that shit happens.  People over stay or can’t get a favorable immigration status and they just decide to chase their dreams anyway.  Living in a country, working, saving, buying and selling things and adding to the local economy are not bad things.  The level of illogical hate I see, particularly online, for “illegals” is absurd.  As I said before, some undocumented residents might be bad, but a lot of the documented native born population is as well and for every “free-loading Mexican” you point a finger at there are 10 more from various countries, including Mexico, who work much harder than you and they have carved their lives out with their own bare hands. Nobody gave them shit; they forced it.

It is a rough place to be in when one is trying to do the right thing by family and one’s self, working hard at jobs other people might turn down, knowing your options are very limited and all the time society referring to you as a criminal, a scum bag and a leech.  The most prevalent stereo types of the undocumented alien are that of a criminal or a mooch.  Sucking away at benefits they have no rights too.  These people are out there, but the vast majority of undocumented workers just want to do the following: Work hard in a place which is providing something their home country could not, raise their family and be left alone.

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