Feb 10 2024

Palestinian Ambassador to Japan

Ambassador Waleed Siam

This is just an upload test, not a political statement.

Jun 9 2022

PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf: Who has the moral high ground?

By Fred Varcoe

As a former resident of Saudi Arabia (1980-1985) and a big golf fan, news of the Saudi Golf League really grabbed my attention. Except there is no Saudi Golf League. The knee-jerk Western media insist on calling the LIV Golf Invitational Series that because it is being financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which the West believes is blood money controlled solely by murderers.

In fact, it was set up by King Faisal – who some say was the most benevolent of Saudi monarchs – 50 years ago to aid projects within the Kingdom. In the last decade, it has expanded its influence in the international sphere and is now headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the son of the current monarch, King Salman. Its most high-profile recent investment was the purchase of Newcastle United football club in England.

The Crown Prince has been condemned by many in the West who hold him responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Those responsible for the murder had ties to the Crown Prince, so the West believes he has blood on his hands and anything he touches – such as investment funds – is tainted by this blood.

Once the connection is made, it’s hard to unmake, at least when it comes to Saudi Arabia. When it’s Israel, murders are done in self-defense.

On May 11, Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while she was covering raids by the occupying Israeli army. She was wearing a “press” vest and was not in a conflict zone. Her fellow journalists at the scene believe she was targeted and the Israeli military reportedly continued firing at the group of journalists she was with even after Abu Akleh and her colleague had been hit. To add insult to injury, Israeli police then attacked mourners at her funeral.

So, will the West try and stop investment from Israeli institutions? What will be the consequences for Israel? Well, we all know the answer to that. Israel operates with impunity in the Occupied Territories and beyond. Unlike Saudi Arabia, it will be free to sponsor any golf tournament it wants to without consequences or criticism. There were the usual pro-forma condemnations from the West and calls for an investigation, which, of course, will whitewash the whole affair. In truth, the killing has already been forgotten. But the LIV Golf Invitational Series is still blackballed for being a “Saudi” event. This is unbelievable hypocrisy.

Whiter than white?

Do you think the PGA Tour’s sponsors are whiter than white? Let’s look at some of them:

AFLAC: Irony of ironies, AFLAC was accused of misclassifying employees as “independent contractors” and was said to have “exploited workers, manipulated its accounting, and deceived shareholders and customers” by a number of former employees.
ASTELLAS: In 2016, Astellas UK was suspended from the U.K.’s pharmaceutical trade body as a result of “shocking” institutional failures, lies and “deception on a grand scale” in what was described as one of the worst cases ever considered by industry regulators. In 2019, the company in the U.S. agreed to pay $100 million over allegations that they violated the False Claims Act.
AVIS: In 2021, Avis Budget Group agreed to pay $10.1 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act.
BRIDGESTONE: Bridgestone subsidiary Firestone produced defective tires that resulted in up to 192 deaths in the United States and paid Ford $240 million in compensation and had to settle many other lawsuits.
CITI: In 2018, Citibank reached a settlement to pay $100 million in the Libor scandal. It was also in bed with the Japanese mafia and lost their private banking license because of their mob connections.
COCA-COLA: Where to start? Wikipedia has a whole page on “Criticism of Coca-Cola,” ranging from carrying on business with Russia during the war in Ukraine, carrying on business with apartheid South Africa, racial discrimination (for which they had to pay $192.5 million) and allegations their partners were involved with murdering union reps.
FEDEX: FedEx previously partnered with the National Rifle Association, only breaking things off after coming under pressure from activists (i.e., when it hurt their bottom line).
MASTERCARD: According to Wikipedia, in 1996, “about 4 million merchants sued Mastercard in federal court for making them accept debit cards if they wanted to accept credit cards and dramatically increasing credit card swipe fees. This case was settled with a multibillion-dollar payment in 2003. This was the largest antitrust award in history.”
METLIFE: MetLife only recently decided to cut ties with Assault Weapon Investments, Controversial Weapon Investments and Tobacco Investments. It was fined $3.2 million in 2012 for “loan service and disclosure practices” and $10 million in 2019 for “internal control failures.”
MITSUBISHI ELECTRIC: CEO Takeshi Sugiyama resigned in 2021 after it transpired the company had been falsifying data for air conditioners and brake compressors for trains for over 35 years. It was also guilty of selling substandard rubber products. It also tried to subvert an inquiry into other malpractices, leading to the disciplining of 12 executives in December 2021.
PRICEWATERHOUSECOOPERS: PWC has a long list of dodgy practices, including a $229 million settlement over a multibillion-dollar accounting fraud with Tyco International, being paid to set up a tax avoidance scheme and gender discrimination. In January 2018, it was banned in India and fined $2.1 million over its involvement in a fraud case and was accused of conflict of interest in Angola.
SHELL OIL: Shell has been involved in Saudi Arabia for over 70 years and currently works with Al Jomaih and Shell Lubricating Oil Company in Saudi Arabia. Friends of the Earth says that Shell has a “long history of contempt for people and planet,” is “jointly responsible for murders in Nigeria,” “avoids taxes” and is “involved in bribing a former petroleum minister to achieve an offshore oil field.”
STRYKER: Who are they? Well, Stryker provides the “Official Joint Replacement Products of the PGA Tour and Champions Tour,” despite having to pay out $1.5 billion for defective hip implants and a further $80 million for unauthorized devices used in knee surgery.
MORGAN STANLEY: Even a condensed list of violations and dubious practices by Morgan Stanley would require a small book. Check out the Corporate Research Project page on Morgan Stanley. Highlights include racial and gender discrimination, a $2.6 billion settlement for selling “toxic securities” in 2015, $1.25 billion for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charges, and millions of dollars in other penalties for transgressions such as fraud and misleading practices.
The PGA also has FIVE “Official Betting Operators” (not including Phil Mickelson, who is alleged to have lost $40 million gambling). All legal, of course, but certainly not designed to improve people’s lives.
UPS is not a PGA Tour sponsor, but has recently divorced itself from two top golfers – Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen – because of their connection to LIV. While they could claim it’s a commercial decision, it’s clear that they’re also trying to stay away from being associated with “blood money.” Like other golf sponsors, UPS finds it difficult to stay away from controversy. It lost a class-action lawsuit for racial discrimination in the late 1990s, had to pull an ad making false claims in 2009, had to pay $40 million “to end a federal criminal probe connected to deliveries it made for illicit online pharmacies,” had to pay “more than $25 million to settle charges it submitted false claims to the federal government” and had to pay $5.3 million to settle False Claims Act allegations earlier this year. Wait, there’s more….
In 2019, according to The Washington Post, “a group of United Parcel Service employees allegedly helped to import and traffic massive amounts of drugs and counterfeit vaping oils from Mexico, part of a scheme that exploited a vulnerability in the company’s distribution system, according to police. The lucrative operation at times involved moving thousands of pounds of marijuana and narcotics each week from narco-traffickers into the United States to destinations across the country, using standard cardboard boxes that were carefully routed through the private mail carrier’s trucking and delivery systems.”
According to a CNN report in 2019, a “white female [UPS] driver refused to deliver a package to a predominantly black neighborhood she referred to as ‘Nigger City’ and ‘NiggerVille’.”

This is not an in-depth dig into companies that sponsor the PGA Tour and golfers; it’s a quick flip through the internet.


And where does Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment fund put the rest of its money? Well, $43 billion is invested in the United States. So, if you go to Disneyland, ride an Uber, bank at Bank of America, use Facebook, play a Nintendo game or fly on a Boeing plane, you are taking advantage of Saudi “blood money.”

How about golf in Saudi Arabia? The DP World Tour established the Saudi International in 2019 – the year after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi – and a number of top golfers have taken Saudi money by playing in tournaments there.

Saudi Arabia’s policy of executing criminals and terrorists also came under scrutiny, especially after 81 people were executed in a single day in March 2022. Full details of the crimes weren’t available, but it was revealed that many were for terrorism, murder or conspiracy to murder. The PGA is based in the United States, which executes criminals. It also has events in Japan, which executes criminals (including 13 in a single month in July 2018). And in China, which arbitrarily executes so many people Amnesty International has lost count. It certainly outstrips Saudi Arabia.

The usual memes about people in Saudi Arabia being executed for being gay were dragged out, but these have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Although my time in Saudi Arabia was many years ago, the country I lived in for five years bore no resemblance to the country portrayed in the British media, which at the time were astonishingly racist in their depictions of Arabs. There was a gay clique in the building I lived in and it seemed to be party central for that crowd. None of them were executed.

What about other “crimes?” A number of foreigners where I worked were arrested for drinking alcohol, but they weren’t locked up in a hole for years on end; they were just deported. A lot of them had drinking problems before they went to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis knew people produced and drank alcohol; they just wanted to keep it under control. Once when I went to buy a car, the young guy I was dealing with thought I might walk away from the deal. He told me his father wanted to meet me. He took me to his father’s office and left me. His father opened a draw in his desk and pulled out a bottle of whisky and two glasses. Deal sealed. (I was also arrested twice in Saudi Arabia but forgiven for my transgressions and allowed to stay in the country.)

Independence day

There’s also hypocrisy in the PGA Tour (and DP Tour) terming golfers “independent contractors,” yet severely restricting their trade by demanding permission to play in any non-PGA Tour event without permission. Yes, the golfers did agree to this, but did they have much choice? This stinks of monopoly and restriction of trade is illegal.

In the U.S., “restraint of trade covers a broad range of activities, including:
Creating a monopoly
Coercing someone to stop doing business
Forcing someone to change their business so it isn’t as competitive
Using non-compete clauses or other contract provisions to prevent someone from conducting business
Negatively affecting someone’s ability to conduct business freely.”

I’m not a lawyer, but how does the PGA Tour reconcile this with their designation of golfers as “independent contractors?”

Let’s face it, the PGA Tour is just one competition, effectively in one country. Why is it so scared of the LIV events? The obvious reason is that it might lessen the value of its own tour, but that’s highly unlikely. We already have three of the four majors in the U.S., as well as strong tours in Europe, Japan, Canada, Asia, etc., and they co-exist with the PGA Tour. And there are even times when the PGA Tour competes with itself, holding two events at the same time, so surely there’s room for alternative events. On top of that, not all the top players play every week, so if they’re not playing in a PGA event, why should they need permission to play elsewhere?

The truth is the PGA Tour is scared of competition. Three years ago, it increased the number of tournaments golfers must play every year for them to be able to keep feeding off the golden goose. As a result of LIV, it has gone even further by targeting college players. On May 11, the PGA Tour announced the following, according to the Golf Channel website:

“For college players hoping to both earn status through PGA Tour University and compete in the LIV Golf Invitational Series, they will now have to pick one or the other. PGA Tour U announced on Wednesday an amendment to its rules of regulations. Effective immediately, players will forfeit their PGA Tour eligibility if they tee it up in a professional tournament that is unranked by the Official World Golf Ranking and not otherwise approved by the PGA Tour. This news comes after last week’s report that LIV Golf had extended membership to the top six players in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, a group that includes several players currently in the PGA Tour U Velocity Global Ranking.”

A different experience

The LIV events are offering a different experience and what can only be described as silly money, even sillier than the PGA’s massive purses. In fact, the top PGA golfers earn so much money they really don’t need to look elsewhere. But to earn that money, they have to play a 72-hole stroke-play tournament and make the cut. LIV is proposing, no-cut, 48-member, three-round tournaments. It’s a different format (there’s also a team element to add spice to the results). The sad part of this is that the PGA, one of the most conservative organizations in sport, believes it has the perfect product and can’t even see a need for change. Sometimes, sports organizations need a good kick to get them moving. Cricket famously changed when outsider Kerry Packer tried to buy it. Cricket still has its five-day tests, but the rest of the game has been transformed with different formats and leagues around the world. Volleyball is another sport that has reinvented itself over the years with radically different rules and new tournaments. Golf, like football, seems to wallow in its own self-importance. It’s a great sport, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change and in recent weeks, a number of top golfers have said that there’s “room for improvement” in golf.

Greg Norman, LIV’s front man, has been trying to change the PGA-centric view of the sport for years. LIV is not his first attempt at shaking up the sport. Whether or not he’s got his tactics right remains to be seen. Perhaps going head-on against the PGA wasn’t the best move. Buying the Asian Tour could have given him more legitimacy (of course, I don’t know if it wants to be bought but it agreed to sanction the LIV events after a $300 million investment) and less conflict, and he could have grown his product from there. Swooping down from above with a billion dollars to spend was a bit crass and his “we’ve all made mistakes” quote concerning the murder of Jamal Khashoggi should have stayed in his overactive mouth.

However, it doesn’t mean that Saudi Arabia has to concede the moral high ground to America, its snooty golf tour or its pampered, hypocritical golfers. I’m sure they feel morally just when they fill their environmentally unfriendly cars and jets with gas from Saudi Arabia and play games on their Made-in-China electrical goods.

The LIV Series is just another series of golf tournaments. If golfers sponsored by racist and criminal companies think they have the moral high ground, fine; they can stay where they are. But if you want to live your life on hyper-ethical grounds, you’d better clean up your act to vegan levels. “Blood money” hides in the strangest places.

Jan 21 2022

Ethiopian Airlines plane breaks down before an invasion of little old ladies with bundles of qat

By Fred Varcoe

We were due to set off from Jeddah in the morning but the incoming aircraft failed to arrive. And it kept on failing to arrive. Weather was a problem, apparently. It eventually arrived late in the afternoon and took off in darkness after we had waited for around 10 hours.
The Boeing 720 was hardly new and I was surprised when the pilot said they would be flying at an altitude of 41,000 feet! Weather, apparently.
As we crossed the Red Sea and approached Ethiopia, we could see the weather: massive cumulus nimbus clouds rising even higher than the plane’s 41,000 feet.
And all filled with spectacular lightning. The pilot worked his way around the clouds and managed to get us down in Addis without incident.
Getting out of Addis a week later was even stranger.
For a start, check-in time for the flight was 04:30, not good because the overnight curfew at the time didn’t finish until 05:00. On the plus side, we’d rented a Volkswagen Beetle, which just about managed to get us to the airport in a truly biblical rainstorm.
Exit procedures were normal, except all foreigners were thoroughly searched for contraband or money. Unfortunately, I hadn’t changed one of the $100 notes I had before leaving and the man found it and, naturally, took it.
Then we had to wait to board our plane. It took some time, but after a long delay we were on board. Then we were hurtling down the runway.
Then we stopped suddenly and went back to the gate. Something was wrong with the plane.
We disembarked and waited. Another plane was flying in, we were told, and we could go on that one. It flew in and we waited. It had hit birds on the way in, so we couldn’t use it, we were told. A few hours later, it suddenly filled up with passengers and took off for somewhere else.
No problem, we were told, there was a Boeing 720 in the workshop we could use. We’d probably been at the airport for about seven hours at this point and it wasn’t exactly a well-appointed airport. But we managed to get on the plane, nervously, and were pleasantly surprised when it actually took off.
Our destination was the small newly independent country of Djibouti on the Red Sea, but we were scheduled to stopover in Dire Dawa, a desert town in the middle of nowhere.
The pilot landed well, some passengers got off and we waited. Then, we waited some more. The doors were open and it was quite hot.
Then they took the stairs away. Hooray! We’re going somewh…. no we’re not.
“We can’t start the plane,” the captain told us. “And they can’t fix it here, so they’re flying in a mechanic from Addis.”
They gave us a bag of nuts and a Pepsi. It was hot. Dire Dawa’s a desert town.
We were probably on the plane for three or four hours, but the mechanic flew in with his jump leads and started the plane.
The stairs came back. Passengers.
Suddenly a rampaging troop of little old Dire Dawa ladies surged onto the plane, all holding massive bunches of leafy twigs. It was chaos. One sat next to me and smiled, wondering what the belt thing was on her seat. She had no idea how to do it up, so I did it for her. She held on to one of her massive bunches of twigs; the other two were in the overhead locker. The inside of the plane looked like a tree nursery.
It was qat, the narcotic twig that blokes in that region chew on all day to get stoned. It fetched a high price in Djibouti, a former French colony with Western prices.


We got no more Pepsi as the plane had turned into an arborium. Everywhere you looked there were twigs. My little old lady probably asked me if I wanted to buy any qat, but I found it hard trying to converse with a tree.
The plane started to descend. Tension spread throughout the cabin, not because we didn’t know if the plane would survive the landing, but mainly because the little old ladies were gearing up for qat fever. As soon as the wheels touched the tarmac, they were up out of their seats, grabbing their twigs and demanding the door be opened. The Ethiopian cabin crew never stood a chance. The doors flew open and the little old ladies rushed down the steps toward the terminal. Getting through immigration and customs was almost impossible as the ladies negotiated their way through with qat. When we finally opened the doors to the outside world, we entered into chaos as hundreds of Djiboutians negotiated prices with their little old lady dealers, who offloaded their stuff and jumped back on the plane to Dire Dawa.
We managed to get a taxi into town, only to find that five of the six hotels there were full. The sixth – the Hotel de France, if my memory is correct – was probably empty for a reason: no working air conditioners and no running water.

The next day, it was 50 C…..

Jul 23 2021

The Cursed Olympics

By Fred Varcoe

When bones were discovered during construction on the new Olympic stadium in Tokyo, people said the Games could be cursed. It’s been a tough journey to 2021 and the cursed Olympics continue to suffer problems even as the 2020 Games start in 2021.

It’s not even Tokyo’s first cursed Olympics. There were also the 1940 Games that never happened. At the Nazi-led Berlin Olympics in 1936, the IOC in their wisdom decided to award the next Games to another militaristic, expansionist host: Tokyo. As with 2020, part of the selling point of the Japanese was to showcase Tokyo’s recovery from a devastating earthquake – the 1923 quake that levelled half the city. But, similar to 2020, the real reason was vanity and self-serving. Japan wanted to be accepted as a “first world” nation.

To this end, it figured it had to “reach out” to its neighboring countries, by attacking and colonizing them, starting with Korea. Japan’s much coveted men’s marathon gold medal in 1936 was won by a colonized Korean — Sohn Kee-chung — reluctantly representing his oppressors. In 1937, Japan initiated a war with China and this proved costly, literally. The government decided it couldn’t afford to wage war and host the Olympics, so it went with the choice it thought it would do better in – war – and informed the IOC that it no longer wanted to host the 1940 Olympic Games – but would be interested at a later date when it had finished subjugating East Asia. The Games were handed to Helsinki but were eventually cancelled due to the war in Europe.


Korean Sohn Kee-chung running the marathon for Japan at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Getting the 1964 Olympics so soon after waging an inhumane war against the world was, perhaps, another odd decision by the IOC, but it satisfied the organization’s remit to spread the Games around the world and enabled Japan to believe it was, or could be, a first-tier nation. Japan embarked on a massive modernization program, hoping to impress the world. In the end, Japan hosted a splendid and successful Games and achieved its goals. For the 2020 Games of 2021, the best Tokyo can hope for is survival.

While there was an inevitable wave of excitement after Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Games, a bumbling, incoherent government led by a bumbling, incoherent prime minister and a dithering, out-of-touch Games Organizing Committee led by a dithering, out-of-touch ex-prime minister led to a series of incomprehensible and almost comical decisions.

Arguably, the most egregious decision was made by then-Prime Minister and Olympic cheerleader Shinzo Abe when he scrapped the design of the new Olympic Stadium. Tokyo had chosen to go with a stunning design by world-famous and award-winning architect Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi-born British woman, to replace the 1964 Olympic Stadium, which was well past its sell-by date. Hadid’s design would have seen a beautiful, 21st-century stadium emerge in its place. It was the kind of stadium that Olympics are made for and it was perfect for Blade Runner Tokyo. Her design hit all the right buttons: spectacular, original, big, on budget. Well, on budget until it went out to tender to Japan’s extravagant construction companies. The costs ballooned, the media started to complain and Prime Minister Abe, sensing political capital, pulled the plug on the Hadid stadium. The job was handed to established Japanese architect Kengo Kuma – one of many who had complained about Hadid’s design – whose concept was so utilitarian, it has been likened to an oversized toilet.

Zaha Hadid’s fabulous, but rejected, design for Tokyo’s new Olympic Stadium.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Tokyo’s bid was based on a number of falsehoods. The first, famously spoken by Abe, was that the problems surrounding the Fukushima nuclear plant were under control and that the Tokyo Olympics would be the “Recovery and Reconstruction Games,” with a special emphasis on Fukushima. He knew the problems surrounding the devastated nuclear plant were ongoing and unresolved, and the residents of the prefecture were still suffering, with thousands living in temporary housing. The cleanup of the nuclear plant will take at least 50 years. In April this year the government approved the dumping of over a million tonnes of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean. Fukushima Prefecture got to host the first events of the 2020 Games, two days before the Opening Ceremony. As a sop to its years of suffering, it hosted a few baseball and softball matches at one of the most remote baseball stadiums in the country, in fact so remote there was a bear scare on the opening day.

The second major falsehood was that the climate in Tokyo in late July and August would be “moderate.” July, August and September are the hottest months of the year in Japan. And it’s very hot. In 2019, the temperature in Tokyo reached close to 41 celsius on July 23. In the six days before that, according to The Mainichi newspaper, 94 people died and tens of thousands had to be treated in hospital for heat-related problems. Such were the concerns of the organizers last year, they opted to move the marathon races – one of the premier events for Japanese sports fans – to Sapporo in Hokkaido, where they are hoping it will be cooler. But last year, Hokkaido, usually the coolest place in Japan, set a record temperature in May of 39.5 C, more than two degrees higher than the previous record. The 1964 Games took place in October for the simple reason that it is cooler then.

The actual bid and the budget were, unsurprisingly, wholly inaccurate. The initial estimate of costs was $7.5 billion. Last year’s postponement cost at least $3 billion and the official estimates now predict costs of $16 billion. Unofficially, the Games are likely to cost much more than that, possibly even double according to some estimates. Early on, Tokyo sought to cut costs by changing the bid outline and using existing or cheaper venues while obstinately refusing to trim the sports program. After initially considering an existing venue, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike agreed to build a new venue for volleyball, which is just around the corner from the new aquatics center. Other sports will use existing venues, some outside of Tokyo.

Due to COVID-19, spectators have been ruled out. A number of surveys in Japan have indicated that 60-80 percent of Japanese wanted the Games canceled or postponed, largely due to ongoing concerns over COVID-19. While Japan has suffered far less in the pandemic than other countries, this is seen by its citizens as more by luck than judgement. No one knows why the infection rate appears to be low in Japan, but with the Olympics approaching, that rate has risen sharply, putting pressure on a health system that isn’t designed to cope with a pandemic. Tokyo has been under a state of emergency for much of 2021, while in other parts of Japan, people were dying at home because of a lack of hospital beds. One hospital in western Tokyo put up posters demanding that the Games be canceled and these sentiments have grown stronger by the day. Japanese people are afraid the Olympics could turn into a super-spreader event and make a bad situation uncontrollable. To make matters worse, Japan’s vaccination program has been a disaster, with only 17 percent of the population getting fully vaccinated by July 7, compared to 48 percent in the United States and 52 percent in the United Kingdom.

The government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has been under constant fire for seemingly putting the Olympics ahead of the welfare of Japan’s people. Whether true or not, the perception remains that the government were going to hold the Games at any cost. It didn’t help that the main liaison between the government and the Games had to resign. Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori stepped down as president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee in February after making inappropriate remarks about women. Mori may have been idiotic but he was a smooth conduit for the Organizing Committee to reach the ears of government. His replacement, seven-time Olympian and current lawmaker Seiko Hashimoto, does at least have Olympic credentials and one of her first moves was to add 12 women to the Executive Board.

But Mori wasn’t the only victim of bad judgement. Hiroshi Sasaki, the executive creative director for all four 2020 ceremonies, was also forced out after floating the idea of dressing up a well-known, plus-size entertainer as a pig and calling her “Olympig.” The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Committee fired Kobayashi Kentaro as show director of the 2020 Opening and Closing Ceremonies two days before the Opening Ceremony for a joke about the Holocaust that he made 23 years ago. An early casualty in the Olympic process was the proposed logo for the Tokyo Games. Kenjiro Sano’s design turned out to be almost identical to that of the Théâtre de Liège in Belgium, so out went Sano and “his” design. Automaker Toyota announced it would not air TV commercials related to the Games in Japan. And in a follow-up to the stadium controversy, architect Kengo Kuma was accused of stealing the best bits from Zaha Hadid’s design, but the finished stadium was dull enough for people to realize that it was actually quite different.

Even nature wouldn’t cooperate with the Games. In August 2019, a Paralympic triathlon test event was canceled due to E. coli bacteria in the water, which was also close to the maximum allowable temperature. Triathletes who had managed to swim through Tokyo’s murky waters complained that it smelled like a toilet. Scientists and coaches suggested that the events should be relocated, but the Organizing Committee said measures would be taken to alleviate the problems before the Olympics.

While almost any major sporting event has problems – Rio, for example, had plenty – Tokyo has managed to shoot itself in the foot so often, it’s barely able to walk. Poor leadership and poor decisions have left the organizers with red faces on too many occasions. If the Tokyo Olympics are “cursed,” it’s been a self-inflicted curse.


Jul 18 2021

Japan’s shame: State-sanctioned child kidnapping

By Fred Varcoe 

The Olympic Games were meant to highlight what a fabulous place Japan is, how its economy is not really shit, how the streets are clean, the people friendly and life is just a fantasy.

Well, the reality is most of that is just a fantasy.

Just 100 meters from the new, unspectacular Olympic Stadium, a Frenchman is staging a hunger strike. Vincent Fichot’s wife stole their children and he hasn’t seen them for three years.

While Japan loves to promote its cuteness and fluffiness, the reality of life in Japan is that it has serious flaws, most notably in its judicial system. Carlos Ghosn fled not because he thought he might be found guilty of what was a minor crime, but because the judicial system sets out to pre-judge and pre-punish those who cross the invisible line of social wrong. If you are the nail that sticks up, you will be smacked down into submission.

To say the rulings on family matters are odd would be an insult to odd. They are inhumane.

Japan does not subscribe to the notion that divorced parents can jointly raise their kids. In most cases, one parent gets to keep the kids, the other is told to fuck off forever.

When former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s wife was pregnant with their third child, the slimeball politician decided to get a divorce. Usually, the mother gets to keep the kids, but as Koizumi is a slimeball politician, his sons were delivered to him. Then, slimeball that he is, he tried to grab son No. 3 as soon as it came out of the womb. This time, he was unsuccessful, so he cut off son No. 3 and has refused to meet him ever since.

As a married man, I can imagine the need for some parents to divorce, but as a father, I can’t ever imagine divorcing my child.

Vincent Fichot is not alone. Some 150,000 children are divorced from a parent every year in Japan. Australian Scott McIntyre was jailed for 45 days just for going to his in-laws’ apartment as he searched for his kids.

Fichot has sought help from French President Emanuel Macron, the EU and the United Nations. All have condemned Japan for its heartlessness. Japan’s response: “We don’t care.” The Justice Minister even refuses to acknowledge the issue.

When Japanese citizens were kidnapped by North Korea, it was a massive issue. How ironic that it was Father-of-the-Year and de facto child kidnapper Junichiro Koizumi who helped get some of Japan’s citizens returned. When two Americans helped free Carlos Ghosn from its penal hostage justice, Japan threw a tantrum and demanded Ghosn was returned. When that failed, it demanded the people who freed Ghosn be effectively kidnapped to Japan to face its unjust justice system.

When children are kidnapped against the law, Japan turns a blind eye to justice.

When I was young, comic books depicted Japanese soldiers as the most evil people on the planet. In Japan, old soldiers never die; my guess is they join the Justice Ministry.



Jun 3 2021

Naomi Osaka: Saint or Sinner?


By Fred Varcoe

Wouldn’t it be nice to sympathize with Naomi Osaka? At least then I’d be on a bandwagon with thousands of others. People unrelated to tennis or journalism are falling over themselves to give her a figurative hug – and a free pass for everything she says.

Let’s take law professor Scott Douglas Gerber writing possibly one of the worst sports opinion pieces ever in USA Today: “It is profoundly disturbing that Naomi Osaka felt compelled to withdraw from the French Open, one of tennis’ four Grand Slam tournaments. It is also illegal to make her feel like she needed to withdraw. Osaka had informed tournament officials that news conferences adversely impacted her mental health, and that she would be willing to be fined for not participating in them during the tournament. … Shockingly, the president of the French Tennis Federation did not agree to Osaka’s reasonable request for an accommodation.”

Let’s get one thing very clear here: The only person who says Naomi Osaka has mental health issues is Naomi Osaka herself. Not one shred of evidence has been made public that she is suffering from ongoing mental health issues. Osaka says she has suffered long “bouts of depression” since winning her first major three years ago, but they haven’t stopped her from winning three other majors since then, including the last two. I guess she usually times her bouts of depression well. This time, apparently, not so well.

Well, what is the nature of her depression? Gerber cites French law for the disabled as the reason for the organizers of the French Open breaking the law. Is Osaka a disabled person, unable to function normally? Was she disabled as she won her first-round match at Roland Garros? Did her disability prevent her from attending the press conference? Well, we don’t know because no one knows what her disability is or how bad it is. She’s probably attended a few hundred press conferences to date, so it’s strange how she’s managed to get through them during her bouts of depression.

The worry here is that she isn’t suffering from depression. I’ve know several women with severe clinical depression. Some self-harm; one was sectioned and doped up so much, she didn’t know who I was when she came out of hospital. They usually take drugs to maintain some kind of mental equilibrium. Is Osaka taking drugs for her depression?

The problem here is people have just taken Osaka’s word as gospel. She has “depression”; she has “mental health” problems. She’s disabled. She may be depressed in the more common usage of the word. Do you know anybody who’s never been depressed? And “mental health” is such a catch-all phrase. Everybody has mental health issues; it’s part of daily living. If Osaka is confusing having a bad day with mental disabilities, she is doing seriously ill people a disservice.

She blames journalists and press conferences for her anxiety. I find this very hard to believe. I have been a tennis journalist and attended hundreds of press conferences with the top players in the world. They are generally very benign affairs and usually tennis players are treated with kid gloves. As a rule, the tennis stars give us the routine answers to routine questions and everybody goes home happy. Miserable bastards like Jim Courier would say next to nothing and get out as quickly as possible. Martina Navratilova scared the pants off most journalists as she would crucify anyone who asked a dumb question.

And this gets to another point: The players are generally protected in these press conferences. The WTA are very protective of the players and players of the stature – or insecurity – of Osaka would almost always have a manager lurking in the background to make sure their client was OK. So I don’t see where Osaka’s problems are coming from. Yes, there are dumb journalists and there are dumb questions, but as Navratilova showed, the player is, or should be, in control of the press conference, not the journalists. Don’t like a question? Ram it down the throat of the journalist. No journalist wants to be shown up as an idiot. Or don’t answer or deflect questions you don’t like. You have to wonder who is advising Osaka. She’s represented by IMG, the biggest and most powerful sports agency in the world. Her dad and her sister often hold her hand at tournaments around the world. The WTA offers advice to all players on how to deal with the media. It’s not rocket science.

It’s also strange that Osaka consciously courted the media to promote Black Lives Matter at the U.S. Open, wearing face masks bearing the names of people killed by police officers in the United States. TIME magazine reported it like this: “After winning the U.S. Open’s singles tournament on Saturday, Osaka said the masks were her way of using her platform to protest this injustice and advocate that black lives matter. Asked by a reporter after the tournament what message she wanted to send, Osaka responded: ‘Well, what was the message that you got was more the question. I feel like the point is to make people start talking. I’m not sure what I would be able to do if I was in their position but I feel like I’m a vessel at this point, in order to spread awareness,’ ” So, she was saying that should be using the media for this and presumably she wasn’t anxious about doing it; she wanted to use her (media) platform. It’s also ironic that she used (social) media in Paris to announce that she didn’t want to engage with the media.

And getting back to Gerber and other Osaka apologists, she didn’t make a “reasonable request for an accommodation” regarding press conferences. She just complained about her media duties and said she wouldn’t agree to them. Effectively, she was challenging them. Not surprisingly, they challenged back. Presumably, they hadn’t been advised of Osaka’s mental health issues, so why should they believe her? She pulled back after their threat by saying: “I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans.” Well, OK, that does sound like IMG doing its job. If it’s Osaka talking, it sounds like bullshit. The WTA has an eight-person Players’ Council to take on grievances from the players and as a four-time major champion and the highest-paid female athlete in the world, if Osaka had taken her grievances to the Council, they would have listened.

I could be accused of making assumptions, but not as bad as those who blithely take Osaka’s side. If she has mental problems, she should be getting advice, help and treatment from friends, family, her extensive support staff and medical professionals. She shouldn’t be heaping pressure on herself by playing tennis. She’s taking a break and that makes sense. But she dug a deep hole for herself by making her claims on social media. The issues have to be raised and debated in public. Some sympathizers are saying athletes don’t need the media because they can say what they want to say on Instagram or Twitter. Well, Osaka tried that and it blew up in her face. The reason the traditional media exists is to ask questions that social media posts don’t answer and to debate issues in public. Osaka’s Paris blowup has raised more questions and that means us journalists want more answers, not less. Time for a press conference, Naomi….

Mar 25 2021

How Football Can Change

By Fred Varcoe

When Marco Van Basten was Technical Director at FIFA, he came up with a number of ideas to change the game. These included sinbins, no offsides and foul counts for individual players. He didn’t stay long at FIFA, probably because he knew that it is one of the least progressive sports organizations in the world. It still thinks penalties are a good way to decide a World Cup (more on that later).

FIFA is not alone. Many sports organizations are run by fusty old men with no imagination and a misplaced idea of sporting purity. “That’s not football” is probably their motto, but they can still come up with laughable handball rules. Some sports – rugby, volleyball, cricket – have changed with the times and recognized when rules, even the sport itself, had to change. FIFA is change averse, but many fans also have their heads stuck in the sand.

Football desperately needs to reform itself. Even the Premier League is becoming boring. Football has become too predictable and we can probably trace this to Spain and Barcelona, who believed that doing nothing for 85 minutes of a game was entertainment. You can’t argue with results, can you? Can you?

I don’t know, but when I think of great teams, I think of the Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan, Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and Bob Paisley’s Liverpool – winning teams who were great to watch over extended periods of time. Their free-flowing football made them fans around the world and fans of any club watched them with wonder. This was football.

Try watching Tottenham’s Ben Davies or Southampton’s Kyle Walker-Peters (ex-Tottenham) without gnawing your hands off in frustration. I would like to see their stats on passes played forward and passes played backwards. I’m sure backwards wins.

And they’re taking football backwards. In the old days, full backs would hoof the ball forward. Back passes on pitches in the ’70s were dangerous. But Route 1 was actually exciting. It brought an element of randomness and chaos to the game. Predictable, it wasn’t. And, statistically unproven though it is, I don’t believe teams lost possession any more playing football that way than they do with the brain-numbing taki tiki taki crap. Bring back chaos, I say.

The game needs an element of unpredictability and the rules need to change to help that. Other rules also need to change and the people who make the rules need to change. If you have no imagination, you’re not going to improve the game. The geniuses and innovators in our world didn’t succeed by making small adjustments to their products, they brought something new to the table. So let’s try and see what new things could be brought to football’s table. Some are practical, conservative even; others might seem a little strange, but they work for me, but probably because I haven’t wasted energy overthinking them.

The Changes

  1. No offside.

Van Basten says: “I think it can be very interesting watching a game without offside. Football now is already looking a lot like handball with nine or 10 defenders in front of the goal. It’s difficult for the opposition to score a goal as it’s very difficult to create something in the small pieces of space they give you. So, if you play without offside you get more possibilities to score a goal.”

It’s been tried before, but I don’t think anyone took it seriously. But why shouldn’t it work? When you see the amount of goals ruled out for marginal offsides, it is frustrating. Defenders should be marking players, not jumping in front of an invisible line on the pitch. How would it change the game? Defenders would still have to mark players and the most efficient way of marking them is to be goalside. Attackers would still be trying to get past the defender. Not having an invisible line to worry about would give the attacker an advantage and that’s what football wants. And it would, as Van Basten says, open up the pitch, make the game wider and more attack-minded. And it would allow referees’ assistants to monitor more important aspects of the game. Ditto for VAR. It would make life a lot easier and keep football flowing.

  1. No offside running into your own half

Bit of a dumb rule at the moment. You can’t be offside in your own half unless you run from an offside position in the opposition’s half. Pointless, isn’t it. If you are going to have offsides, this shouldn’t be part of it.

  1. No passing back over the halfway line

The horror of possession football is the pass back. Not a little pass to a guy behind you or lateral from you, but a series of pass backs that takes the ball from the corner flag all the way back to the keeper. This is my No. 1 choice for a rule change. It also gives the linespeople something to do. Cut out the safety-first pass back to your center-half or goalkeeper and the game will liven up. The attacking team will have to look forward instead of backward. It will make life more difficult for them, so adding danger/ chaos/ unpredictability to the game. It will also put Ben Davies and Kyle Walker-Peters out of a job. Next time you watch a match, think how the dynamic of that match would change if this rule was introduced. You know it makes sense.

  1. No penalties

After watching VAR disrupt football, this one’s a no-brainer for me. Again, there’s limited logic to the penalty area. You get penalized to the same degree for a little (sometimes accidental) trip or handball in the corner of the penalty area by the byline as you do for a deliberate goal-stopping handball. Even with VAR (especially with VAR?), the merit of a free goal is, more often than not, disproportionate to the offense. The penalty area should actually be the goal area with the side lines extending from the goalposts. If there’s a foul in there, you get a regular penalty. Outside of that, it’s just a free-kick as per the rest of the pitch. The penalty area will then just be the area where the goalkeeper can handle the ball. IF there are penalties in a game, as soon as the ref has awarded one, all players must exit the penalty area except the kicker and the goalkeeper, who must go directly to his goal and stand on the line.

  1. Three seconds for keepers to release the ball

And talking of goalkeepers handling the ball…. there’s a rule that’s crying out for change. The keeper is meant to release it within six seconds. Nowadays, nobody’s counting. When did you ever see a ref penalize a goalkeeper for holding on to the ball too long? You didn’t. So, the new rule is: three seconds. That’s three seconds from the point where the goalkeeper is in control of the ball and unimpeded and on his feet with the ball in his hands. Failure to release the ball will hand the opposition an indirect free-kick from any spot on the perimeter of the penalty area. I get the impression referees don’t want to count to six; I’m sure they can handle three.

  1. No goal kicks

They’ve become a bit of joke, but that’s partly because players aren’t as clever as they think they are. Simple answer: no goal kicks. The keeper merely has to get rid of the ball from anywhere in the penalty area to another player in any way he likes. We’re trying to get the game moving. This does it.

  1. Free throw-ins

Why do we have such a formalized method of throw-ins? I don’t think we need it. It would be far more exciting and probably less time-consuming if the thrower could just chuck the ball back into play any way he wants. The ball could go further and it would take less time. And it would be an advantage to the team in possession. Throw-ins now are often so heavily defended (often in a confined space), they are often a liability. Unrestricted throw-ins is the answer. As with the goalkeeper above, there should be a time limit. For throw-ins, four or five seconds once the thrower has the ball under control. And he’s not allowed to hand it to another player to waste time. And if no one moves to take the throw, the nearest player to the ball gets a yellow card.

  1. Corner kicks

The area from which corners are taken should be extended. One idea is to increase it from 1 meter to 2 meters and most of the ball should be within the line markings, not 1 millimeter inside the outside of the line. Personally, I would like to see time limits for taking corners: 20 seconds should be enough. The extremist in me would also limit the number of players who can be in the box when the corner is taken to four from each team plus the defending goalkeeper. Another idea, possibly a better idea, is for the corner area to be 10 meters, which is the limit for opposing players, and the corner can be taken anywhere within that 10-meter quadrant. In theory you could take it on the edge of the quadrant, but the opposition would be able to block it, so in practice players would take it nearer the sideline to give them more space.

  1. No penalty shootouts

OK, the purists will say I’m being extreme here, but actually, I’m the purist. The penalty shootout is a curse on the game. OK, it’s decisive and can be exciting in a masochistic kind of way, but it’s a terrible, terrible way of deciding a World Cup final or two-leg European Champions League semi. Football games should be decided by actual football or something very close. The fact that FIFA hasn’t even thought about changing from penalty shootouts shows their complete lack of imagination and sheer incompetence. So, how do you change it? I always liked the idea of sudden-death goals, but apparently TV companies didn’t because it left empty air time. And it still doesn’t guarantee a finish to the game. My solution will help, although it’s not guaranteed. If extra time is needed, the first session should be 20 minutes. The difference is each team has to lose two players. If there’s no result after 20 minutes, you play another 20 minutes. This 20 minutes is sudden-death – the first goal wins – AND there are no goalkeepers, although multiple substitutions can be made. That should get a result. If not, maybe I’ll allow penalties, but there is a better alternative….

  1. Corner shoot-outs

Van Basten has suggested the old American style shootout where a player dribbles the ball unopposed from outside the box and has to score within 10 seconds, but if you want to do away with extra time, there’s a better way: corner shoot-outs. Each team gets 10 corners from which they can score within 10 seconds after the kick is taken. Only four players from each team is allowed plus the kicker and the defending goalkeeper. The corners are taken in groups of five. If there’s no result after 10 corners, you just keep going until you get one. You could also reduce the number of players to three, two or even one from each team. My ideas involve much more real football than the penalty shootout, so the purists should be on my side, not FIFA’s.

  1. More cards

I believe it was before the 1994 World Cup when FIFA said they wanted more aggressive refereeing. So the refs got more aggressive and started dishing out lots of cards. Fans didn’t like it, so FIFA, spineless as ever, told the refs to stop showing cards so liberally. It was a golden opportunity to make the game better. If FIFA had had the courage of their convictions, football would have changed. They just had to stick with the program. One idea of strengthening the position of referees is for infractions to have a points system of one to four or five points. Sounds a little complicated, but it’s not. A bad foul is five points. If you get 10 points, you’re off. Kicking the ball away or swearing at the ref could be two points. Time wasting is one point (it’s not really much of an infringement as the ref can always add time on – more if he’s vindictive). It won’t be hard on the refs. All they have to do is put the points total on the card and show one to five fingers to the player. And it’s the responsibility of the player to check, not the responsibility of the referee. To help the referee, the fourth official should be allowed to advise on or even make decisions in the event that the referee misses something or makes a mistake.

Plan B is to have three cards: yellow, blue and red. Yellow would be for minor infractions, blue for fouls and deliberate handball and red for anything Roy Keane has done. Four yellows, two yellows and a blue or two blues results in a red.

  1. Rugby rules

Rugby has a pretty disciplined approach to the rules and football should have the same, so we need to adopt some of rugby’s rules.

a. Sinbin: I haven’t figured this out exactly, but sometimes two yellow cards is not equivalent to a red. Players are getting red-carded for treading on people’s feet, while Jordan Pickford gets nothing for turning the best defender in the world into a cripple. The good thing about the sinbin is that it is instant justice affecting the two teams as they play;

b. 10-yard rule: This has been mentioned but never seriously considered. If a team is awarded a free-kick against them, then the rule should be that no opposition player can touch the ball until the free-kick is taken so we can do away with this childish habit of not returning the ball to the team that gets the free-kick and play can resume quicker. Also, if a player fails to make an effort to retreat 10 yards from the ball, the attacking team can move the ball forward up to 10 yards. It should be the responsibility of the player to get away from the ball, not the responsibility of the referee. Penalty for not doing so: another 10 yards and a yellow card;

c. No complaining: Only the captains can question a decision by an official and all players must keep a distance of at least 2 meters from the referee when the ball is dead. Players swearing at the officials shall get a yellow card;

d. Bonus points: It’s about time teams were rewarded for scoring goals. I would prefer to see a system of, for example, 10 points for a win, five for a draw and a point for each goal scored. Hopefully, this would end the pathetic system of deciding a league on goal difference. No major league placings should be decided on goal difference. If two teams are equal on points, have a playoff.

e. Don’t stop for injuries or substitutions: Medical staff should be allowed to enter the field of play at their discretion, but play should not stop (except for certain extreme circumstances). Likewise, the fourth official can take care of substitutions instead of the referee. Again, play needn’t be held up.

  1. VAR

There are those who say that the offside rule is clearcut, so if your fingernail is in front of the defender’s toe, you’re off. But is the letter of the law defeating the spirit of the law? If you’re going to draw lines across the pitch to check for offside, then go all out. My answer is to draw lines from points on the head, chest, hip, knee and toe. If three of the points are offside, it’s offside. Otherwise, it’s OK. Can VAR handle this? I actually suspect VAR technology isn’t very good, but if it is good, then use it properly. Going the other way, perhaps there should be no lines at all and no slow motion (others have suggested having a player making the call as well as the VAR official). At least then you’re getting a more realistic on-pitch decision. But you’d still want VAR to determine the really big things, like did the ball go into the net.

  1. Stop clock

In the 2021/22 season, the average time the ball was in play was around 55 minutes but some games barely make 40 minutes, while others got close to 70. Time added on by referees often seems random and time-wasting is still a common practice. A time clock is a no-brainer


My image of the football that I love is that it is basically a non-stop game with a large helping of unpredictability combined with skill. My current view is that most teams are intent on playing by numbers and the backpass is now a tactic rather than an act of desperation. The chaos of my cherished football also led to more moments of inspiration. Football used to be an organic game; each match had a life and identity of its own, and players had identities, unlike the plug-and-play mercenaries of today. Football needs to move itself and its players out of the comfort zone and rediscover its imaginative qualities.


Sep 16 2020

New Nissan Z, a study in ugly

Aug 23 2020

The moustache that offended Korea

By Fred Varcoe

Korea, how can I offend thee?
Pretty easily, as it turns out. Just grow a moustache. The Guardian reported a few months ago that “Harry Harris’s facial hair is vying with denuclearisation as the defining theme of his tenure as U.S. ambassador to South Korea.” Seriously, Korea? I think you can do better than that.
Of course you can. In October last year, The Guardian reported, “South Korea is intensifying its campaign to ban the Japanese ‘rising sun’ flag from being displayed at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, in the latest diplomatic row linked to the countries’ bitter wartime history.”
Meanwhile, Japan Today reported that Seoul and Busan were to pass a bill to boycott Japanese companies they feel are guilty of “war crimes.”
And, of course, Korea is permanently mortified by the denials of wartime atrocities by Japanese right-leaning politicians such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and, well, all of them really.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to find a more odious bunch of war-crime apologists than Japan’s blinkered “conservatives,” but Korea’s knee-jerk reactions don’t do anything to resolve diplomatic tension or, indeed, practical issues such as compensation for Japan’s wartime sex slaves. And yes, you should be offended every time you hear them referred to as “Comfort Women.” Of course, Korea is not alone at being offended. In December, Kyodo News reported: “Japanese and South Korean lawmakers will cancel their annual meeting aimed at deepening bilateral ties this year following a controversial remark by a Korean lawmaker on Japan’s emperor.”
Japan objected to South Korea’s National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee Sang’s suggestion in February that it would be a nice idea if then-Emperor Akihito would apologize for the “sins” of his father, the sex slaves and any other thing that offended Korea in the previous 100 years or so.
Moon was 100 percent right to make his suggestion.
Those of us who have studied the guarded remarks of the Imperial family are convinced that the now Emperor Emeritus – he abdicated last year – would relish the chance.
In conversations with Korean Embassy officials in Japan, I have suggested many times that Japan’s Emperor should visit Korea. The government of Korea does not need to demand or even suggest that the Emperor Emeritus or the current Emperor, Naruhito, make an apology. That will happen simply because both emperors understand history and understand humanity.
Korea has to do one thing above all others: Get the current Emperor or the Emperor Emeritus to visit Korea.
The opportunity was missed in 2002 when it was suggested that Emperor Akihito visit Korea for the opening of the FIFA World Cup. With Akihito retired and a forward-thinking Naruhito in his place, now is as good a time for Korea to obtain an apology from someone who matters and who won’t withdraw it when political disputes arise.
Asking the government of Japan for an apology is a waste of time, partly because they are so easy to get and partly because they are absolutely meaningless. Wikipedia has a page titled, List of war apology statements issued by Japan, a sad indication of how facile they are.
The Emperor formerly known as Akihito has made a number of remarks that suggest he despises the likes of Abe, his right-wing ministers and the far right in Japan. Most astonishing of all was his declaration in 2001 when he said: “I, on my part, feel a certain kinship with Korea, given the fact that it is recorded in the Chronicles of Japan that the mother of Emperor Kammu was of the line of King Muryong of Paekche.”
In relation to Confucian and Buddhist teaching and cultural aspects, Akihito added: “I believe it was fortunate to see such culture and skills transmitted from Korea to Japan.”
You would think that would set off a genealogical and cultural bomb in Japan. But, of course, almost none of the media in Japan reported the remarks in detail.
Being offended by Japan’s refusal to acknowledge its war crimes is easy enough, but essentially futile. One alternative is just to ignore Japan and its haters. It would probably have as much effect. Many commentators in the West are frustrated by the ease with which Korea becomes offended, with the result that many think Korea is in the wrong to pursue claims against Japan when quite clearly it isn’t.
The hurt that Korea feels often results in damage to the relationship between the two countries at a human level. It’s quite shocking to see Korea cancel trips to Korea by Japanese schoolchildren, academics, etc., when this is the kind of interpersonal communication that can enlighten the Japanese and actually change people’s perspectives. Korea’s soft power – food, fashion, pop groups, TV, etc. – has had an extraordinarily positive effect on the way the people in Japan view Korea.
There is one wartime memory in the West that is inviolable and from which Korea can take a lesson: The Holocaust.
Let’s not equate the two. While Japan did carry out a form of ethnic cleansing, it was never as forensic as Germany and the Holocaust.
But who would deny the Holocaust?
In Europe, none but the most virulent of haters. And if they do, they face criminal prosecution. Most countries in Europe have laws making Holocaust denial a criminal offence.
So, my final suggestion to Korea is to take a leaf out of Europe’s book and make the denial of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery a criminal offence.
Ambassador Harris’s moustache may be no more – he recently shaved it off – but that won’t stop Koreans being offended by the memory of it.

Jan 20 2020

Japan’s brutal police state: 45 days in the hole for walking into a lobby


By Fred Varcoe

Prosecutors demanded that Australian Scott McIntyre be imprisoned for six months for walking into a lobby.

Much to their disgust, they had to be satisfied with torturing him for 45 days and giving him a suspended sentence. Because he walked into the lobby of the building where he believed his kidnapped children were being held. Two minutes of parental concern translated into 45 days of life on the chain gang.
Scott’s two children were born in Australia and spent the first half of their lives there. The family moved back to Japan, but Scott and his wife didn’t get along and she started divorce proceedings. The children were 10 and 7 at the time. In May 2019, Scott’s wife disappeared with the children after a visit to their in-laws who lived 100 meters down the street. He was unable to find them or see them. Child abduction is against the law in Japan and runs counter to a United Nations convention that Japan has signed. But in Japan, it’s a regular occurrence and one that rarely gets punished. And one the police don’t want to get involved … unless a foreign dad walks into a lobby.
After a couple of seriously violent typhoons, Scott wanted to make sure his kids were safe, so he went to his in-laws’ apartment building and gained access when a resident came out. He wasn’t able to find out anything about his kids and left the building after a couple of minutes. The police arrested him.
One. Month. Later.
Bad enough, you might think. But it gets much worse.
In a civilized country, the cops might have given Scott a warning. More likely, they wouldn’t have bothered. In fact, in a civilized country, the cops would have gone after the wife for abduction and the in-laws for conspiracy to kidnap children. Remember, the couple were still married and the wife had no right to abduct her children and prevent Scott from seeing them. What if she was a lunatic and child abuser? Apparently, that’s OK, just as long as she’s Japanese and doesn’t walk into a lobby. If you think having your children kidnapped is bad enough, then obviously you haven’t been arrested in Japan for walking into a lobby.
Scott McIntyre held a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan after his release. Reuters, the BBC and the Wall Street Journal showed up, but no Japanese media. Which was a shame because he had plenty to say.

The Ghosn treatment
‘I was subjected to the same treatment as Carlos Ghosn was with the use of 24-hour light, which is classified by both the United Nations and Amnesty International as a method of torture. On three separate occasions I asked to make a formal complaint that I was being tortured and I was told that nothing would be done and if I complained further, I would be placed in solitary confinement or a strait jacket. These are not the marks of a modern, civilized nation and also bring shame on the nation of Japan and should be immediately ended, not just for myself but for the 95 percent of detainees and prisoners who are Japanese and who also don’t have a voice in this issue.’
‘I did 45 days detention for a minute of just going into the lobby of my parents-in-law’s apartment to try and see if my children were safe after a natural disaster. I was handcuffed and put in a four-by-three tatami-mat cell. I shared a cell with several murderers, with a rapist, with a pedophile, with a violent armed robber, with various yakuza. This is unusual for someone on a trespassing charge to be put in these kinds of situations.’
‘This is the image that Japan is portraying to the world ahead of hosting the Olympics, that they’re allowing abductions of children to happen and what I believe and what Amnesty International believe is torture for people in detention. Their own people are being tortured in detention. You can understand why if I had $20 million and a private jet and a big drum case, I would be out to Lebanon as well, because why would you want to stay here and suffer under these conditions?’
‘I was not allowed to exercise daily and when I complained about that, I was threatened with isolation and with the strait jacket. In Kosuge, where Carlos Ghosn was held, we were not permitted to stand up in the cell, so you have to sit at a table. You were not allowed to lean against the wall. So that was 23 and a half hours a day of sitting on the floor. You could lie down for a two-hour nap period in the afternoon and you could lie down at night, but during the day you had to remain seated at the desk, and over the nine-day New Year period, there was no exercise. So, for nine days, it was either lying asleep or sitting on the floor either seizan style or with crossed legs on the tatami.’
‘I made three separate complaints about what I explained to them was torture and was not permitted under Amnesty International and U.N. regulations and, as I said before, I was told this is just my opinion that this is Japanese law and this is the way things are done in Japan and if I made any further complaints about it I was threatened with either being placed in an isolation cell or with a strait jacket. I complained about the use of 24-hour light. The lights remained on and it’s impossible to sleep. I haven’t slept properly since November. I was fortunate to only have 45 days. You can only sleep for maybe an hour at a time. What does that do to people mentally? It’s like the night of the Walking Dead. People are walking around like zombies. You can’t have clarity of thought.’
‘I met so many people, other detainees and prisoners, who openly said to me: ‘I didn’t do what they are accusing me of doing but I’ll confess because I’m told if I confess, I’ll get half the sentence. If I fight it, I’ll get 10 years. If I confess, I’ll get five years.’ As Carlos Ghosn mentioned in his press conference, Japan has a conviction rate of 99.4 percent. This is not normal. This is not normal in any country.’
‘Japan uses this as a way of showing how safe and how efficient their system is, but I know from my experience, because I was told directly by so many inmates, ‘We didn’t do what they said we did but we’re confessing just to get out and we were told by prosecutors if we confess we will get a substantially lower sentence.’ This I was told directly by multiple prisoners that I was being held with. During the interviews I had – I think it was three interviews with the police and three or four with the prosecutors – at not one of those interviews was a lawyer present at any point in time, which I think is also an accepted practice.’

The chain gang
Both inside and outside the detention center, things weren’t going well for Scott. ‘When you’re moved, you’re moved in handcuffs and you’re tethered with rope to other prisoners, anywhere up to a dozen other prisoners. This is unacceptable, but it’s certainly not acceptable for a father who is trying to ascertain if his children are alive or dead.’
Not content with messing up his life, the police were also complicit in messing up his apartment.
‘Three days after I was detained, I managed to pass the key to my apartment to a friend of mine. When she opened the door of the apartment, the apartment was completely trashed. There was rubbish and garbage all over the floor and multiple items had been removed from the house. She went back two days later and everything was gone. All of my children’s belongings were removed from the house, my children’s books, their desks, their chairs, their toys. All of their photographs were gone, boxes containing little memories of them were all gone, the vast majority of my property was gone. I’ve managed to borrow a suit from a friend and bought a T-shirt from UniQlo, but outside of this I have almost nothing. The fridge was taken, the washing machine was taken, the television was taken. Almost all of my property was taken from my apartment.’
‘I don’t know who came into my apartment but there’s only two people that had a key to that apartment, me and my wife, and there was no sign of forced entry. Someone came into my apartment three days after I was detained and I want to know how they knew I was detained. Who from the police is informing people that I was detained? I made a complaint immediately to the police that everything had been removed from my apartment and I want to make a complaint of theft. I was told they would do nothing. My children were taken, my children’s memories were taken and now everything has been taken from me.’

It’s a family affair
‘So, now this ordeal for me is over but it’s not over for the children. I have to start again. I have nothing. And this all for trying to find my children who were taken from me against my will. I was told we won’t do anything for you; this is a simple family matter and simple family dispute. So, if it’s a simple family matter and simple family dispute, why, when I go to the apartment of the parents-in-law who are family, why am I arrested? Why are they supporting one element of the family but they are not supporting the other element of the family? Things are not equal, things are not just and as you know, as with so many parents, we go to the police. I went with a copy of the law. ‘This is the law of Japan, you must investigate.’ They said, ‘Go away. We will not investigate. I went more than a dozen times. It’s not acceptable. The police are obliged to investigate.’
‘What I would like to see the police do is put in the amount of effort they put in to investigating a two-minute trespassing in which I didn’t talk to anybody, I didn’t touch anything, I didn’t damage anything. I went in to look if my children’s umbrellas or shoes were there and I immediately left. It was no more than one or two minutes. The amount of effort they put into that they could have put the same amount of effort and work into investigating the claims I’d made of kidnapping and abduction but which they refused. What I want them to do now is to investigate equally the theft and removal of all of my children’s and my property from my apartment. It’s now time for the police to show they treat everybody fairly and equally. If they are going to investigate trespassing, then I want them to investigate why 90 percent of the things from my house were removed.’
‘In many cases in my experience in Japan, children are viewed almost not as a human. In this case, they are almost viewed as a marital asset, as property to be removed and distributed. In Japan, as soon as divorce is finalized, one of the parents is removed from the family register. You’re obliterated. You’re not longer a parent. If the parent remarries, the new partner has the chance to officially become a father or mother of your children and you have no rights. It’s not normal in most countries and this is why we keep coming back to the same thing – just change the law to joint custody. We want the family court to move things quickly. It’s not good enough – nine months on average for someone to see their children. It’s not good enough for 70 percent of parents to never, ever, for the rest of their life, see their children. It’s an abuse. It’s a human rights abuse against children, 100,000 children a year, and in my opinion, it’s one of the biggest human rights abuses anywhere on the planet that 100,000 children are being denied basic fundamental human rights by multiple organs of the Japanese state.’

The dehumanizers

It should be completely embarrassing for Japan to have a Wikipedia page titled ‘International child abduction in Japan,’ and for there to be websites such as bachome.org and japanchildabduction.org dedicated to child kidnappings in Japan. Japan was horrified by the abduction of its citizens by North Korea, but it seems to have no qualms about its own citizens stealing children. The United States put Japan on a blacklist of countries showing non-compliance with the Hague Convention on parental abduction. It removed Japan from its blacklist in the same month that Scott McIntyre’s wife kidnapped his children, despite State Department concerns ‘about both the lack of effective mechanisms for the enforcement of Convention orders and the sizable number of pre-Convention abduction cases.’ The move was criticized by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, who stated: ‘It cannot be denied that the Japanese government has done little to help reunite those American children who have been separated from their left-behind parents.’

The police state of Japan fits right in with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s desire to relive the glories of its militarist past. The wartime and pre-war military ‘thought police,’ the Kempeitai, struck fear into the hearts of Japan’s ordinary men and women. The current judicial system, including its police and prosecutors, aims to do the same. It’s ironic that the West tried to dehumanize the Japanese for their savagery during the Pacific War, when in fact the Japanese – led by the Japanese state – are perfectly capable of dehumanizing themselves.