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Dirty deeds done dirt cheap: political scandal in Japan

Written by: (Contributed) on 23 December 2023


An unfolding political scandal has placed the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in panic mode. It sacked four cabinet ministers in mid-December as the government struggled to cover the main scandal: long-time political corruption stretching back decades with connivance from far-right groups, spurious pseudo front organisations, organised crime and seemingly non-legitimate business practices as standard operations.  The relative silence accompanying the scandal from US-led mainstream media outlets is evidence, in itself, of US concerns about their main partner in their Indo-Pacific foreign policy.

In mid-December an announcement that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was planning to sack four of his cabinet ministers, who, within hours, tendered their resignations, escaped the attention of most mainstream media outlets despite being senior government members. The resignations were also accompanied by a special advisor to the PM and five deputy ministers also quietly leaving office. Diplomatic silence, on the part of the US, however, would appear to have been the order of the day; all the Australian newspaper, the mouthpiece of Canberra, could manage was 75 column centimetres over two days. They were also evasive about the main reasons for the political crisis.

While the stated explanation for the resignations was financial corruption of an estimated $5.26 million, the real reason was the ongoing investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year; for example, 'media reports suggested prosecutors were about to begin raiding offices and start interviewing dozens of M.P.s'. (1)

The LDP is known to be bitterly divided into factions and the fact those allegedly receiving the corruption were from the largest faction which was formerly headed by Shinzo Abe has thrown light on the shadowy nature of the inner workings of the Japanese political system and culture. (2) The LDP has ruled Japan, effectively, for decades; political opposition is largely ignored.

In recent years the US has upgraded its diplomatic relations with Japan to that of a fully-fledged global alliance: the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) is now a central feature of US regional and global foreign policy. (3) Japan, together with the US, India and Australia, form the 'quad', effectively hemming in China on all sides, with other countries, including South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, China’s breakaway province of Taiwan, and others as lower-level partners. (4) Under such circumstances the US, clearly, does not want any unfavourable publicity about Japan.

Japan, however, has had a troubled history which continues to hang like a shackle: many countries in Asia have difficulty forgetting the period of Imperial Japan, militarism and its horrific human rights abuses. Soon after the Second World War, however, the US quickly developed Japan as a major player in their foreign policy. Those associated with Imperial Japan were allowed to slip away, as if unnoticed.

The far-right figures also quickly re-grouped.

It was noted that, 'just as they did with the Nazis in Europe, the American occupation authorities had a change of heart about Japan's war criminals. As the Cold War began, the enemy was no longer the fascists but the communists … war criminals were quietly released from prison in 1948 and became some of the prime movers, organisers, and funders of the LDP, a conservative pro-American party that has controlled the political life of Japan ever since'. (5) The LDP soon emerged as the 'respectable' party of the Japanese middle-classes.

The nature of the recent corruption investigation threw light upon the inner workings of the LPD and the prevailing long-engrained political culture of their supporters and associates: party members were required to sell tickets for fund-raising, if they exceeded their quota the extra money was retained as a personal 'kick-back'. (6) The method of operation revealed a compliant power-base of supporters who, 'had their M.P. to look after their interests', along the lines of the 'big man at the top'; an almost tribal political culture. Tax evasion would appear another side of the political corruption; it was noted in the inquiry, for example, even the faction of the LDP until recently headed by Fumio Kishida was suspected of failing to declare more than 20 million yen between 2017 and 2020. (7) No wonder Fumio Kishida became P.M.; those in the know wanted a compliant leader to serve their interests!   

Another organisation they used for more covert operations was the Asian People's Anti-Communist League (APACL), established in 1954, which later merged to become the World Anti-Communist League (WACL) in 1966. Studies of the organisation have concluded that it was, 'the most sinister of all the internationally active extreme right-wing organisations … and the … main conduit for funds for extreme right-wing organisations throughout the world'. (8) It later became a dominant player in the Iran-Contra scandal. (9)

The Japanese APACL/WACL league chapter was also controlled by the shadowy Unification Church or 'moonies' led by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon; a seemingly pseudo 'front-type' organisation based on devoted followers. (10) It 'has kept close to its Yakusa origins', that of organised crime. (11)

The fact that a recent parliamentary inquiry found that nearly half of the LDP's M.P.s, 'had some connection with the Moonies', has raised serious questions about their credibility. (12) Reference to the, 'deep, historical ties between Japan's ruling LDP and the Unification Church … and … the groups alleged predatory fund-raising practices', has serious implications for the ongoing corruption inquiry in Japan. (13)

Studies of the Yakusa have proved particularly revealing and throw light upon a turf-war type mentality where organised crime has been able to control large sections of the Japanese economy. During the 1980s, for example, the Yakusa moved into real estate to launder 'their ill-gotten profits from drug sales, prostitution, gambling and extortion. Yakusa's annual income is estimated at $10 billion'. (14) Japan is a centre of the global pornography industry.

Later studies, in 2020, revealed the Yakusa had increased their wealth to an estimated US$50-100 billion a year, with legislation passed in the Japanese parliament merely forcing the criminal organs underground, where they operated with relative impunity. (15) A further study conducted in 2023, likewise, revealed the organised crime body had increased its wealth still further with an annual income of an estimated $200 billion. (16)

The increased wealth amassed by the Yakusa has revealed they have been able to control their own turf very effectively; and they also evade detection. They form part of a relatively closed political system and a culture whereby questions are not asked and items pushed to the bottom of government agendas to avoid lifting the lid on non-legitimate business practices, in fear of creating widespread political turmoil. 'Yes, Minister', write large.

Japan, nevertheless, is a country in relative decline: only criminals appear in ascendency and prospering, the rest of Japan's population appear to be paying a high price for little.

Domestically Japan used to have a high standard of living: recent studies, however, have revealed many grievances with falling living standards and inflation; recent tax cuts appear to have fallen on deaf ears with 'real wages are still in decline'. (17) As a regional player for US foreign policy, Japan used to be the, 'biggest supporter of ASEAN's economic growth and industrialisation'. (18) In recent years its position has been eclipsed by China, which also pushed Japan into third place as an important part of the global economy.

In conclusion, the recent corruption inquiry in Japan has produced evidence of a political system under strain, although commentary about the forthcoming general election has already stated, that, 'there is no realistic proposition it … the LDP … could actually lose power', despite the fact the Kishida government has approval ratings of less than thirty per cent. (19)

The LDP has become a permanent feature of Japan's political culture, and is also Australia's partner in US-led regional military and security provision:

                                    We, therefore, need an independent foreign policy!

1.     Four Japanese ministers quit, Australian, 15 December 2023.
2.     Japanese PM tipped to sack four ministers, Australian, 14 December 2023.
3.     The reasons behind Washington's push for GSOMIA.,Hankyoreh, 12 November 2019.
4.     Ibid.
5.     Inside the League, Scott Anderson and Jon Lee Anderson, (New York, 1986), pp. 62-63.
6.     Australian, op.cit., 14 December 2023.
7.     Australian, op.cit., 15 December 2023.
8.     Website: In Latin America, - 38025
9.     See: The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History, Edited by Peter Kornbluh and Malcolm Byrne, (New York, 1993), reference – Retired Major-General and former Commander of US Forces in South Korea, John K. Singlaub, Chair of WACL., page xxx.
10.   See: Inside the League, Scott Anderson and Jon Lee Anderson, op.cit., pp. 124-25.
11.   Ibid., page 125.
12.   Fumio Kishida orders probe of Moonies, The Financial Times, 17 October 2022.
13.   Could former P.M.s assassination end the Moonies in Japan?, CBC News, 7 December 2022.
14.   The family that preys together, Jack Colhoun, Covert Action, Edited by Ellen Ray and William H Schaap, (Victoria, 2003), pp. 192-205.
15.   Yakusa alive, The Asia Times, 3 December 2020.
16.   How rich is the Yakusa?, NAVI / 33 Square, 28 October 2023.
17.   See: Kishida's popularity in free fall, The Japan Times, 16 October 2023; and,     Kishida is so unpopular, The Japan Times, 7 November 2023.
18.   Missile test 'threat to region's stability', Australian, 19 December 2023.
19.   Japan Times, op.cit., 7 November 2023.






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