Japan police raid N.Korea-linked group over kidnap
About 600,000 ethnic Koreans live in Japan, many of them descended from the 2 million Koreans
brought to Japan as forced labor during Tokyo's 1910-1945 colonization of the peninsula.
Student group 'supplied agents'
Women became N. Korean operatives after involvement in group
A student organization under the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), which was searched Wednesday in connection with the abduction of two children, allegedly was the source of personnel for North Korean agents, sources said.
Two women, believed to have been involved in abductions, joined a company allegedly used as a front for operations by North Korean agents, after being involved in activities at the Korean Student League in Japan, the sources said.
The Human-Rights Mafia
by Eric Johnston
Last year Osaka was the scene of one of the biggest news events in Japan in the past three decades.
At first sight, it was nothing dramatic: merely the arrest of an elderly gentleman named Kunihiko Konishi on
fraud charges. But the fallout from the arrest has led to a gradual breakdown of one of Japanese journalism’
s last great taboos: Japan’s hereditary outcasts, the buraku.
Before his arrest, Konishi was considered by his supporters to be a paragon of the Osaka and Kansai community,
a man who had spent his life working for the human rights of others. No scruffy leftwing activist shouting on
the fringes of society he, but a wealthy political insider who dined regularly with Diet members, local politicians,
senior police officials, and major enka singers.
But Konishi led a double life. By day, he was the head of an Osaka social-welfare foundation known for its
active pursuit of human-rights issues and for providing employment for its buraku members through deep
connections to Osaka City Hall. He was also the head of a local chapter of the Buraku Liberation League
(BLL), which was set up to promote buraku rights.
But by night, Konishi was a member of the Yamaguchi-gumi, a fact known to police and local journalists but
never reported. And not just any senior member, but one of its most influential, a man who played an indirect
role in not one but two of the gang’s most notorious incidents.
a business intelligence and risk management consultancy, says it receives requests at least once a week from investors, including foreign funds and domestic banks,
to do due diligence on pachinko parlours.
"There is a very large number of companies looking at potential investments in pachinko parlours," most of which are foreign,
says Stuart Witchell, Japan representative at International Risk.
Historically, pachinko parlours have had a delicate relationship with the authorities.
This is because gambling, with the exception of government-sanctioned racing, is illegal in Japan.
But pachinko, where 90 per cent of winnings are converted into cash, is, in effect, a form of gambling, to which the police turn a blind eye.
Furthermore, an estimated one-third of pachinko parlours are operated by people of North Korean descent and
"potentially $US1 billion ($1.28 billion) per annum is being funnelled back to North Korea via Japan", says Witchell.
The police are cracking down on the industry, not just to stop the flow of funds to North Korea, which breaches economic sanctions,
but also to try to reduce the high-stakes nature of pachinko and turn it into a form of casual entertainment.
In 2005, Deutsche Bank arranged the largest securitisation for a pachinko parlour, GAIA, at Y70 billion.
Last December, Merrill Lynch organised a Y12 billion loan for Yuko Luckygroup, backed by the operator's cash flows.
NKorean nuke test
and Japanese gambling habits intersect at pachinko (AP)
For the pachinko industry, however, North Korea's image problems and the sanctions have not been a business issue, officials say.
While ethnic Koreans may worry about how relatives in the North are faring without the cash they used to take to them, their main concerns as businessmen lie elsewhere.
Tokyo's Leverage Over Pyongyang
Wall Street Journal (subscription), NY - 6 hours ago
The lucrative revenues from Pachinko gaming parlors throughout Japan --
one-quarter of which are owned by ethnic Koreans -- are the principal source of these ...
Tokyo's Leverage Over Pyongyang
By Charles Wolf, Jr.
Word Count: 924
North Korea dominated the agenda at last week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Hanoi,
as new rounds of negotiations with Pyongyang loomed.
While all 21 member-states vowed to press Pyongyang to disarm, one nation may hold the key to a successful outcome: Japan.
While China and South Korea are most often cited as linchpins in managing Pyongyang,
Japan has more leverage than is usually acknowledged and may feel less compunction about using it than China or South Korea,
the North's two other major trading partners.
One of the first North Korean agents
to go public with his story was the late Chang Young Ung, a Japanese-born Korean who was a high-level member of Chongryun in Kobe.
Chang, code name Blacksnake, spied on Japan for over a quarter century until the early 1990s.
His memoirs, published in late 1999, were the first of their kind. The book sent shock waves through Japan.
Chang told The Japan Times in 2000, the year before he died, that he helped move billions of yen in money and goods into North Korea.
During the 1970s and 1980s it was ridiculously easy to transfer all sorts of sensitive electronic parts and funnel cash to North Korea.
Port authorities in Japan, especially in Niigata, didn't bother to carefully inspect either the cargo or hand luggage of passengers on ships to North Korea," Chang said.
How much cash from Japan has ended up in North Korea will never be known but most experts say it is at least in the tens of trillions of yen.
during the bubble economy of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the amount moved, both legally and illegally,
was about 60 billion yen annually.
Sakamoto said that much of the illegal cash in the 1970s and 1980s was from pachinko parlors run by Chongyrun members, who would stuff it into suitcases and walk them past customs officials,
especially in Niigata Prefecture, where a ferry runs to North Korea. By the mid-1990s, he said, that income had all but dried up.
Shed a little light on pachinko
Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006 By S. DOUNTZ
Isn't it time The Japan Times did a special report on the pachinko industry in Japan?
The Economist magazine has only scratched the surface in a recently published story.
The pachinko industry is huge but gets little, if any, media attention.
As Japan changes, so does this profitable and conspicuous industry. The public deserves to know more about it and its effects on Japan.
Does Japan want to be a gambling nation? If so, then gambling should be legalized and taxes enforced properly.
If not, then the police should stop looking the other way.
Many foreign people find it surprising that even though gambling is technically illegal in Japan,
all of the main train stations are littered with pachinko parlors.
Many of these add an element of shadiness and seediness that used to pervade New York City's Time's Square before it was cleaned up 15 years ago.
The parlors certainly scar the urban landscape as well as the otherwise attractive countryside in Japan.
Points of exploration might include pachinko's ties to North Korean interests,
pachinko's effect on tax revenues and the Japanese economy, negative elements such as organized crime and gambling addiction,
and the question of what kind of entertainment nation Japan should be.
Pachinko may be good or bad overall -- that's for the people to decide.
Sounding out fantasy of faraway places
Steven Knipp Sunday, August 13, 2006
Years later, when I became a journalist, I was lucky enough to travel to many of the very places my mom and I had known only in our mind's eye.
But, sadly, some destinations don't fare so well.
Say "Kyoto" and you probably envision a small, exquisitely temple-encrusted city,
bisected by narrow back lanes where clusters of kimono-clad women pad silently by like swarms of silken butterflies.
N. Korea threatens to ‘bolster war deterrent’
July 17 2006 04:57
The flow of funds from Japan to North Korea is thought to have dwindled considerably over recent years,
and Tokyo's banning of the ferry service to North Korea, after its recent missile tests, has further cut off opportunities for Korean residents in Japan to carry suitcases of cash there.
Other transfers are made by companies through banks in Hong Kong, Macao and Switzerland,
including owners of pachinko (pinball) parlours, many of whom are of Korean descent.
Japan should be encouraged to:
North Korea's government is even less worthy of legitimization, to say nothing of underwriting, than Mafia and other criminal organizations in the United States.
It is, after all, guilty of a monstrous crime surpassed by few others in human history (i.e., the genocides perpetrated by Nazi Germany, Stalin’s U.S.S.R. and Mao’s PRC):
the deliberate death by starvation to which some 2.5 million North Koreans have been subjected by Kim Jong Il.
This episode offers an insight into other courses of action that might now be adopted by the United States and Japan -
the only other of the so-called “six parties” seemingly willing to address what the government of North Korea is doing to the neighborhood, and beyond.
It is time to come to grips with Pyongyang’s “broken windows”; the object should be to put Kim Jong Il’s criminal enterprise out of business.
Toward that end, Japan should be encouraged to:
cut off remittances from Korean exiles (worth by some estimates as much as $1 billion per year);
prevent the repatriation of proceeds from North Korean-operated “pachinko” gambling parlors;
and refuse to bail out a dozen-or-so North Korean-associated savings-and-loan institutions in Japan that have reportedly run up $7 billion in bad loans.
Forbes Global On The Cover/Top Stories
Love for Sale Tim Kelly, 05.22.06
Japan's appetite for securitization may lead to more unorthodox offerings, such as hot sheets and pachinko parlors.
Deutsche in December completed the first-ever pachinko-parlor-chain whole business securitization,
a deal rated by Moody's (nyse: MCO - news - people ) and S&P and sold to some 20 domestic investors.
Gaia, the operating company, for its part agreed to funnel investors the cash flow from 31 of its outlets.
The $600 million deal adds legitimacy to an industry hobbled by a reputation for having underworld ties.
The cash-rich industry may be a pull to investors, but it's a draw to organized crime, too.
(That's not all: Two-thirds of the owners are ethnic Koreans, and in the past the industry has been accused of helping keep the North Korean regime afloat with hard-currency remittances.)
"The big risk is of any connection to organized crime, so we need to be very careful about which company we do business with," Deutsche's Egawa emphasized.
In the case of Gaia, that protection is a mechanism built into the securitization agreement, which lets investors wrest control should things go awry.
Japan's estimated $240 billion Pachinko industry
Pachinko World, Inc. (OTC Bulletin Board: PCHW - News),
a publicly traded company competing in Japan's estimated $240 billion Pachinko industry,
today announced that Cohen Independent Research Group has updated its January 10, 2006 coverage of the Company.
S. Korean, gang member nabbed over drugs linked to N. Korea
Police on Friday served arrest warrants to a South Korean national and a gang member suspected of
smuggling drugs into Japan from North Korea, law enforcers said.
The South Korean man, U Siyun, 59, and the gang member, whose name was not released, are accused of
violating the Stimulants Control Law. U is believed to have been one of the contacts found listed on
a cell phone that was seized from a North Korean vessel that sunk following a gun battle with
the Japan Coast Guard off the coast of Kagoshima Prefecture in December 2001.
2‘Yakuza’ men, cop killer unmasked TUESDAY, MAY 09, 2006
P/Ch. Insp. Tesnado Sanchez, chief of the city hall-based SOG, identified the arrested Koreans as Il Ki Park, 44, and Kilsu Kang Kim, 36, both billeted at a five-star hotel.
Mayor Lito Atienza directed the SOG to coordinate with the Commission on Immigration and Deportation (CID) in the investigation of the two alleged members of the Japanese-Korean Yakuza.
Probers and People’s Tonight noted that Il’s forefinger had been severed, an indication he may have been punished for running afoul with the Yakuza’s code of conduct.
The World: When Laws Don't Apply;
South Korea Criticized for Double Standards on Human Rights Issues
The South Korean government did not participate in voting on the resolution
against North Korea's human rights conditions
that has been presented three times to the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
On the other hand, it did not miss the opportunity to vote for similar resolutions
on human rights conditions in Belarus, Turkmenistan and Cuba, which are former socialist countries.
China and Russia, which uphold sovereignty over human rights, usually vote against
such resolutions on human rights, while the U.S. and the European Union vote for them.
However, Korea has taken sides with China and Russia when it comes
to North Korea’s human rights issue, while standing by Western countries in other occasions.
Quake hit foreign community at its roots
there has been a noticeable increase in the number of Chinese
and Korean residents, especially in private international schools,
which were once the domain of Westerners.
According to local foreign residents, the trend, which began in the 1980s,
accelerated after the quake.
One area where we've noticed a real difference is in the international schools,
where over the past few years there have been fewer Western children
and more from East Asia,
★especially (South) Korea," said George Gibbons, a Kobe resident
from Britain who recently retired as an official at
Marist Brothers International School.
While exact figures were not available, a Kobe official said the number of
ethnic Korean residents has seen a slight increase over the past four years.
He attributed the rise to a growing interest in Kobe as a base in Japan
for South Korean professionals, especially those in the medical profession,
who come to work at the World Health Organization office in Kobe.
Machii is a Korean resident in Japan
Toa, founded and led by Hisayuki Machii, a former gang leader closely associated with Kodama
who was a secret agent during the war, planned to build Asia's largest leisure facility,
called Asuka Hill, in the prefectural village of Nishigo, and Tsutsumi extended
1 billion yen in loans to the company through Seibu Real Estate Co. in October 1971.
Cannon and Machii Hisayuki. Kaplan, Yakuza, page 61. Machii helped
Korean CIA kidnap activist (and future president) Kim Dae Jung in Tokyo
in 1973. Kaplan, Yakuza, page 183. Machii headed Tosei-kai. Whiting,
Tokyo Underworld, page 80. Aside from being the Oyabun or godfather of
the Toseikai underworld, Machii also was president of Toa Sogo Kigyo
Company and operated the ferry company called Kanpu linking Shimonoseki,
Japan, to Pusan, Korea. He died of heart failure on September 14 2002.
Excerpt from page 48: appealed for help to a Korean Japanese named Hisayuki Machii,
who was then in the process of forming one of the major gangs of the yakuza,
largely ethnic Korean gang known for it’s ruthless control of nightclub in Tokyo’s famous Ginza district.
Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld, Expanded Edition
by David E. Kaplan, Alec Dubro
David E. Kaplan covers organized crime and terrorism for U.S. News & World Report
He is coauthor of The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult that exposes cozy relationships between Aum, ethnic Korean Yakuza and North Korea.
Remember the Pueblo
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: July 19, 2005
PYONGYANG, North Korea
Japan's Invisible Minority: Better Off Than in Past, but Still Outcasts
New York Times November 30, 1995
By Nicholas D. Kristof
KYOTO, Japan - A 23-year-old woman had just given birth to her first
baby when she learned something devastating about her husband.
He was secretly a burakumin, a descendant of outcasts.
So the woman refused to touch her own baby. She returned to her parents' house
and abandoned her husband and child forever. That was a generation ago,
in Nagano Prefecture in central Japan, and the incident underscores a legacy of
discrimination in Japan that has parallels in the United States.
Even today, there is no better way for young Japanese to give their parents heart
palpitations than by suggesting a marriage to a burakumin, and most burakumin
still live in segregated neighborhoods riven by crime, alcoholism and unemployment.
Yet Japan is also remarkable for the progress it has made.
Today almost two-thirds of burakumin (pronounced boo-RAH-koo-min) say in opinion
polls that they have never encountered discrimination. About 73 percent now
marry non-burakumin, and most dismiss the possibility that the Japanese police
might treat burakumin unfairly.
The E-word -- Eta, or "much filth," the traditional word for burakumin -- has been
banished from discourse, so that virtually no Japanese ever uses it.
"I haven't ever encountered discrimination myself," said Masuharu Okuda,
a prosperous 53-year-old who was standing outside his dry-cleaning shop
in a burakumin neighborhood in Kyoto.
Mr. Okuda proudly pointed to his daughter-in-law, a woman in her 20's who
was busy ironing shirts in the shop. "My son married a girl from outside
the neighborhood, and she moved in here with us," he said. "There've been no problems."
Yet Japan has not overcome its divide. For if the three million burakumin, a
mounting to a bit more than 2 percent of the population, are now rarely
burdened by overt discrimination, they face the same problems as some minority
groups in America: disproportionate poverty, high crime rates, low education levels,
many single mothers, dependency on welfare benefits and resentment from a public
that believes they are getting special help.
The issues are those that Americans associate with race; in Japan the burakumin
are not a different race at all.
They are an occupational minority group rather than a racial one. Indistinguishable
in appearance from other Japanese, they were discriminated against simply because
they were the descendants of people whose jobs were considered ritually unclean,
like butchering animals, tanning skins, making leather goods, digging graves and
A related group of outcasts, also ancestors of some of today's burakumin, were hinin,
or nonpersons. They were given tasks like torturing suspects, crucifying Christians
and sawing off the heads of criminals for public display.
Outcasts were legally barred from marrying outside their group or from living outside
their slums. These slums were called buraku, or hamlets, and that remains the term for
a burakumin neighborhood.
In Japan, the outcasts were formally emancipated in 1871, but for decades after that
they were effectively barred from ordinary jobs or any life outside the slums.
Some Japanese shopkeepers so loathed the burakumin that they would wash their coins
upon being paid.
Such behavior has vanished, but contempt still survives in some households.
A university-educated housewife in Tokyo was scandalized when asked if she would
allow her daughter to marry a burakumin.
"Never, never, never!" she said. "Even if she wanted, I could not allow it.
They're dirty. And they're not really Japanese."
Yet attitudes are changing in most families. A housewife in Mie Prefecture noted
that the best friend of her teen-age son is a burakumin, and she said this had
been a problem until the death of her mother-in-law a couple of years ago.
"My mother-in-law was a very good woman, but she had a terrible prejudice,"
"So I could never tell her where my son's friend lived, even though
he visited us all the time. She would have been furious. She would have said
things like, 'He can't be allowed in the house! He can't touch the plates we use!' "
Now the boy eats with the family often, and the mother says she does not know if her
son even realizes that his friend is a burakumin.
Invisibility: A Minority Hard to Identify
Some Japanese say the reason that their country has made progress with the burakumin
is not broad-mindedness, but rather the inability to figure out who is a burakumin.
Members of another minority group, ethnic Koreans, are more easy to distinguish.
Perhaps as a result, Koreans still face enormous discrimination in Japan.
Burakumin are not easily identifiable by their jobs, for only a few of them now
work in traditional fields like leather-making. The other big clue to who
is a burakumin -- an address in a buraku -- is also less useful now, because
burakumin have been pouring out of their neighborhoods while other Japanese
have been moving in.
Kenichiro Tatsumi, the head of the Buraku Liberation League in Kobe, said the buraku
in which he lives did not have any non-burakumin residents until 1980. "Now half
the people who live there are outsiders," he said.
The burakumin are also invisible because there is a virtual taboo on discussing
the issue. Newspapers and television stations virtually never mention the word buraku,
partly because buraku organizations have sometimes denounced publishers for insensitivity when they have written about buraku issues.
"There've been arguments in which burakumin said some very tough things, and so
people became afraid of us," Mr. Tatsumi said.
Most Japanese clam up in horror when the topic is broached, and so most young Japanese
know far more about discrimination against blacks in America than about discrimination against burakumin in Japan.
Some junior high school students in the town of Omiya, where there are many buraku,
looked puzzled when the topic of burakumin came up.
"Who are they?" a teen-age girl asked. "I've never heard of them."
Even many burakumin students themselves find out only in their mid-teens that they
"Most parents don't tell their kids," said Masahiro Takino, a city administrator
in Kobe. "They say, 'Don't wake a sleeping baby.' "
Mr. Takino, who is in his 40's, first learned that he was a burakumin in the third
grade, when he went to visit a friend's house. The friend's mother told her son,
loud enough for Mr. Takino to hear, never to play with a boy from a buraku.
Japanese corporations used to search the backgrounds of potential employees to make
sure there was no trace of burakumin heritage. Parents hired private detectives to
investigate the pedigrees of their children's boyfriends or girlfriends.
Such searches are becoming rare now. Strangers are now banned from looking at other
people's family registration certificates, where past home addresses are recorded.
Private detective agencies are barred in some areas from checking on family backgrounds.
Poverty: Social Problems Are Persistent
In the 1960's, the buraku were immediately recognizable as slums: dilapidated
hovels leaned over tiny alleys, open sewers carried waste water into the rivers,
and old people blinded by contagious disease sat hopelessly in the open doorways.
Now that has all changed. A torrent of Government investment has improved
the buraku so they are no longer slums.
Yet average income for buraku families is still only about 60 percent of the national
average, and social problems are proving to be far more persistent than discrimination.
Buraku leaders acknowledge that alcoholism is a disproportionate problem in their
communities. Poverty and alcohol, in turn, weaken the family in the buraku.
Single parents are almost twice as common in the buraku as in the nation as a whole.
Five percent of burakumin are on welfare, seven times the rate in the overall population.
A 35-year-old study in Japan found that buraku children had lower I.Q.'s than
non-buraku children in the same public schools. Scholars who examined the data s
ay the differences reflect general apathy and lack of self-esteem, a result of
discrimination and contempt from society as a whole.
In the field of education, burakumin have made stunning progress. But they also
remain stunningly far behind.
Truancy rates in elementary school in 1960 were 12 times as high for buraku
children as for others. Now they are twice as high.
Burakumin have almost caught up with their peers in the proportion who graduate
from high school, a tremendous achievement. But only about 24 percent of burakumin
go to college, compared with 40 percent of other Japanese.
Crime: High Membership Among Gangsters
Social workers say crime is a disproportionate problem among young burakumin,
but the issue is so sensitive that no Japanese scholars have conducted research on it.
One rare statistical study, conducted by Americans in the 1960's, found that burakumin
youths were three times as likely as non-buraku youths to be arrested for crimes.
One explanation is that young burakumin sometimes feel that they are outside the
umbrella of middle-class society. Denied the benefits by society, they also spurn
Another explanation, aside from high rates of poverty and unemployment, has to do
with one of Japan's open secrets: burakumin and ethnic Koreans dominate the organized
crime gangs known as the yakuza. More than three-quarters of the members of
the Yamaguchi Gumi, Japan's biggest underworld organization, are said to be
burakumin or ethnic Koreans.
In the buraku of Kobe, the nicest houses -- gaudy American-style homes with wide
porches and Mercedes-Benzes in the driveway -- belong to yakuza bosses. As a result,
the "success stories" whom children in the buraku see as they grow up are often mobsters.
To be sure, there have been many brilliant buraku youngsters who have grown up to be
doctors, lawyers, athletes and politicians. But they melt away into the overall society,
keeping their background quiet, and so they do not serve as role models.
One of Japan's best-known politicians is secretly a burakumin, according to several
buraku social workers. This politician, who has held major Cabinet posts, was
horrified when a reporter called his office to ask for an interview on the subject.
By all accounts, the buraku connection could still hurt him at the polls, and so he
refused to go public.
Partly because burakumin are so invisible, and because mobility is breaking down
the barriers that used to keep them apart, many Japanese believe that burakumin
will become assimilated over the coming decades.
Yet for now, the progress is only partial.
The daughter-in-law of Mr. Okuda, the dry cleaner, was initially happy to talk
about how she had married a burakumin and moved into the buraku. She even posed
for a photo in the dry cleaning shop, a symbol of integration in the new Japan.
Then she decided she did not want people to know after all that she had moved into
"So," she said, "don't use my name or my picture in the paper."
Aum cult and Koreans
The Japanese weekly press (the weeklies are Japan's sole bastion of
crusading and every-so-often reckless journalism) has been filled
with speculation about Aum's connection to the South Korean
Unification Church--the Moonies, which itself has long had strong
ties, even its origins, in the Korean CIA. This same speculation has
extended beyond the pulpy pages of the weeklies. Last week,
journalist Takashi Tachibana asserted the Moonie-Aum connection
in a TV interview, as well as widespread links between Aum and
Tachibana didn't cite any evidence, but he does have his credibility
to ride on. He's the journalist whose revelations played a leading
role in bringing down the government of Lockheed-scandal-
connected Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka.
One weekly reported that Asahara's own father is Korean. The
conservative daily press and TV won't touch that one, for fear of
stirring up anti-Korean resentment and, possibly, alienating the
South Korean government which Japan has recently been bending
over backwards to befriend. It was reported that, when the
crackdown on Aum began, the cult gave some of its assets to
another, unnamed religious organization for safekeeping. The
Aum and North Korea
DSTC is supported by the Australian Government's Cooperative Research Centres Program,
and a dynamic consortium of Government, Industry and University organisations.
Core research & development is undertaken by a large network of experienced scientists,
university academics and industry secondees.
Korean activist braces for `storm of fascism'
By PAUL BAYLIS, Asahi Shimbun News Service
Asked whether she is concerned that her outspokenness will draw the ire of right-wing forces, she is defiant.
``I hope they send the sound trucks over and park them outside my window. I will set up my own loudspeakers and blast them right back!''
Most of those who appear to be right-wingers, she says, are just frustrated people feeling the same sense of isolation that minorities such as herself feel. Many, in fact, are Koreans, she said.
``They just want to be loved by the Japanese. The real problem is the persistent refusal to grant full rights to foreigners. Foreigners are not seen as fully human. When it comes to `internationalization,' it is the Western foreigner with blue eyes that people think of.''
Pinball Wizards Fuel North Korea
By Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 7 1996; Page A25
The Washington Post
Japan's Passion Aids Communist State; Pachinko Players Underwrite North Korea
Yuichiro Aoyama sat on a stool in a garish game room and watched a blinking, bleeping, boinging pinball machine eat his $40 before he had finished one cigarette. Although he sometimes loses hundreds of dollars, Aoyama is still hooked on this game, pachink o, and he spends eight hours a day in his favorite gambling parlor.
"It's like opium; I can't stop," said Aoyama, whose addiction is not only good news to the pachinko industry, which has sales equal to Japan's colossal auto industry, but to the cash-strapped leaders of Stalinist North Korea.
It is an open secret in Japan that pachinko is one of the pillars upon which North Korea's economy rests. Police and economists estimate that up to 30 percent of the pachinko industry is controlled by North Koreans living in Japan, many of whom fun nel a portion of their profits across the Japan Sea to their homeland.
While pinball parlors might seem an unlikely underpinning for a national economy, even one as shaky as North Korea's, consider the numbers: Japan's 18,000 pachinko parlors ring up annual sales of $280 billion.
No one knows exactly how much profit there is in the shady, mob-connected world of pachinko, or how much of the game's proceeds wind up in North Korea. In 1994, Japanese police testified in parliament that $600 million or more was being sent to the world's last Stalinist state, much of it derived from pachinko. Japanese media and economists also have placed the number in that range, though some say it may have fallen by more than 80 percent.
Still, the Japanese money pipeline is irritating to the United States, which has accused North Korea of fostering terrorism and tried to use economic sanctions to isolate it while offering some humanitarian assistance. The recl usive nation has ties with many of the world's outlaw states and is believed to have sold missiles to Iraq and Iran. It also has threatened to produce nuclear weapons and keeps a million-man army along the world's most heavily armed border.
But even though Japanese customs and police authorities have never cracked down on the cash flow, the pipeline is drying up. New American and Japanese economic and intelligence estimates say the amount now winding up in North Korea is probably $100 million a year or less.
Japan's connection to Pyongyang has weakened since the 1994 death of national founder and "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung, who ruled for 46 years. The North Korean community here is facing its own economic difficulties, and loyalty to current leader Kim Jong I l is wavering.
In North Korea itself, the "workers' paradise" promised by Kim is now a grim place of hungry children and idle factories, according to many people who have visited since severe floods devastated the country last summer. As the economy continues to sink and hunger problems worsen, disillusioned expatriate North Koreans are less willing to turn over their earnings to keep the place afloat, analysts say, and are scaling back their cash contributions.
"The loss of funds here is devastating to North Korea," said Katsumi Sato, head of the Modern Korea Institute, a Tokyo think tank.
Nicholas Eberstadt, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute who has written extensively on the North Korean economy, estimates that as of now North Korea probably receives $100 million or less from its patrons in Ja pan. If North Korea really were receiving $600 million a year from Japan, as many have believed, it probably would not have critical food and fuel shortages, he said.
Eberstadt said North Korea lost its benevolent "uncle" when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, and its patronage from China, which is developing increasingly close ties to South Korea, has been severely cut.
United States defense and intelligence experts keep a close eye on North Korea's cash intake, and in particular the all-important Japanese connection. The information helps them determine how close the government is to collapse and how much money it has for things like fuel and military equipment.
Officials say that as the Japanese money becomes scarcer, North Korea is more likely to seek cash through other illegal means. The country already is suspected of producing counterfeit $100 bills and trafficking in heroin.
A down-on-its-luck North Korea also worries U.S. officials and many Asian countries because they fear Pyongyang could lash out with the only major resource it has left: its massive army. The 37,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in So uth Korea are in the sights of that huge military machine.
Many of the 700,000 Koreans in Japan came, or their parents or grandparents did, when Japan ruled the Korean peninsula as a colony from 1910 to 1945. After the war, the peninsula was divided into a pro-Soviet North and a pro-U.S. South.
In the 1960s, many of the Koreans here, still stung from harsh Japanese treatment, heard Kim Il Sung's promise of a socialist dream and returned to North Korea, which at the time was faring better economically than its southern rival. Many Koreans in Japan send money to poor relatives in North Korea, but it is unclear how much actually reaches them and how much is siphoned off by the government.
Lee Young Hwa, an economist and disillusioned member of the North Korean community here, said the membership of the Chosen Soren, the influential North Korean residents association in Japan, is dropping as people become disenchanted. He said enrollment in the extensive network of North Korean schools in Japan is down to 12,000, about a third of what it was in the 1980s.
"People don't want the dictatorial system anymore," said Lee, who has lived in North Korea.
So Chung On, a Chosen Soren spokesman, denied that membership is declining, but said that membership figures are not public. He also called the large estimates of cash traveling from Japan to North Korea "lies" designed to mali gn North Koreans.
However much money is going to North Korea, it is going with little objection from the Japanese government.
Although Japan is believed to devote enormous intelligence resources to tracking North Korean activities on its soil, it does little to control the money flow. Thousands of passengers come and go on ferries to North Korea from Niigata on Japan's west coast, but there are not rigorous customs checks there. Passengers are allowed to carry out the equivalent of about $50,000 in Japanese currency, but few suitcases are actually opened and money counted.
Large amounts of money are believed to be wired from North Korean-controlled banks in Japan to accounts in third countries, particularly Hong Kong and Austria. But Japanese government officials, famous for their rigorous regulation of most commerce in the ir country, say they know little about that trade.
Critics say the government deliberately ignores the money flow, hoping to avoid confrontation with North Korea, which has missiles pointed at Japan. They also say the government wants to avoid being seen as discriminating again st Koreans, with whom the Japanese have a troubled history.
Even though the money flow to North Korea may have slowed, it is not likely to dry up completely if the Japanese keep spending far more on pachinko than movies.
In the dull neon glow of his favorite parlor, called Paradise, Aoyama, 75, said his concern was pachinko, not politics. Once the machine takes his money, he said, it doesn't matter where it ends up.
"I have heard that a lot of pachinko money goes to North Korea," Aoyama said, his eyes following the ricocheting silver balls. "But I don't care."
In the quest to halt North Korea's nuclear development,
there is one bright idea that even Kim Jong-il
would not be able to complain about. In "Put Economic Sanctions on Pachinko," psychiatrist Hideki Wada reveals an ingenious plan that would not fall into the diplomatic category of economic sanctions.
He got the idea from US Undersecretary of State John Bolton, who in a committee hearing in the US House of Representatives on June 4 spelled out a policy of depriving North Korea of foreign currency.
Bolton specified three sources of funds remitted legally and illegally to that country: sales of ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction; sales of illegal drugs;
and connections with Japanese organized crime networks.