I had only been in the city of Fukui for a short time when I realized that something wasn’t right with the company I was engaged as an employee. JALI, or the Japanese American Language Institute was owned, and operated by a man named Edward Miller. I had been working for Miller for about a month, and when it was time to get paid, hadn’t received any money. I confronted him, and he said the Japanese government allowed him to withhold a workers salary for up to sixty days. I knew his statement was false, and he knew, that I knew it was bullshit. Red flag! Despite this, I said, I don’t care what the Japanese government permitted, two months was an unreasonable time to wait until getting paid. I demanded to get paid for the work that I had performed. Further, I had thoroughly read, and was already familiar with the Japanese labor code prior to entering the country. The Japanese Labor Code is quite clear regarding the limitations placed on when an employee may receive their salary.
Japan Labor Standards Law; Article 24 § 2, states that wages must be paid at least once a month, and at a definite set date.
I quoted the exact text of the law to Miller, and demanded to be compensated for the work that I had performed. I returned home bitter, and decided to take a drive along the coastline of the Japan Sea. Tojinbo has many tales, one legend is about a corrupt Buddhist priest from Heisen-ji, a local temple, who so enraged the populace that they dragged him from the temple, and to the sea and, threw him off the cliffs of Tojinbo. His ghost is said to haunt the area to this day, so many Japanese people won’t venture onto Oshima Island for fear of “manifest ghosts.” An alternate legend says that the name Tojinbo comes from a dissolute Buddhist monk. According to the legend, a Buddhist monk named Tojinbo, who was disliked by everyone, fell in love with a beautiful princess named Aya. Tojinbo was tricked by another admirer of Princess Aya, and was pushed off the cliffs. The legend says that after that time Tojinbo vengeful ghost would go on a rampage around the same time every year, causing strong winds, and rain. Some decades later, an itinerant priest took pity on Tojinbo, and held a memorial service for him. After that, the storms ceased. Unfortunately, the true tales of Tojinbo is not awash in folklore. Tojinbo is in fact a well-known place to commit suicide. According to statistics, as many as twenty-five people (usually unemployed young men, or high school students that failed the college entrance exam) commit suicide by jumping off the 70′ high cliffs each year. The number has risen, and fallen with Japan’s national economic hardships, and unemployment rates. Recently, a retired police officer, Yukio Shige, frustrated at having fished so many bodies out of the sea, began patrolling the cliffs for potential jumpers. He claims to have convinced more than two hundred people to not jump. Shige keeps in touch with every one of those people to this day.
Suicide in Japan has become a significant problem nationally. Factors in suicide include unemployment due to economic recession, depression, and social pressures. Suicide is predominately the result of a combination of factors such as healthcare provision, social attitudes, cultural influences, and economic distress. In 2007, the National Police Agency revised the categorization of motives for suicide into a division of fifty reasons with up to three reasons listed for each suicide. Suicides traced to losing jobs surged 65.3 percent while those attributed to hardships in life increased 34.3 percent. Depression remained at the top of the list for the third year in a row, rising 7.1 percent from the previous year. The rapid increase in suicides since the 1990s has raised concerns. For example, 1998 saw a 34.7% increase over the previous year. Japan has one of the world’s highest suicide rates, especially amongst industrialized nations, and the Japanese government reported the rate for 2006 as being the ninth highest in the world. In 2009, the number of suicides rose two percent to 32,845 exceeding 30,000 for the twelfth straight year, and equating to nearly 26 suicides per 100,000 people. This amounts to approximately one suicide every fifteen minutes. However, this figure is somewhat disputed since it is arguably capped by the conservative definition of “suicide” that has been adopted by the Japanese authorities, which differs from the WHO’s definition. Some experts suggest a rather larger figure of 100,000 suicide deaths annually. Currently, the conservative per year estimate is still significantly higher than for any other OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) country. In comparison, the UK rate is about 9 of 100,000, and the U.S. rate about 11 of100,000. In 2007, Japan ranked first among G8 countries for female suicides and second, behind Russia, for male suicides.
Typically most suicides are men; over 71% of suicide victims in 2007 were male. In 2009, the number of suicides among men rose 641 to 23,472 (with those age 40–69 accounting for 40.8% of the total). Suicide was the leading cause of death among men age 20-44. Males are two times more likely to cause their own deaths after a divorce than females. Nevertheless, suicide is still the leading cause of death for women age 15-34 in Japan. The rate of suicides has also increased among those in their 20s, and in 2009 was at an all-time high in that age group for the second straight year reaching 24.1 per 100,000 people. The NPA likewise reported a record for the third consecutive year among those in their thirties. The rate among the over-60 population is also high, although people in their thirties are still more likely to commit suicide.
Common methods of suicide are jumping in front of trains, leaping off high places, hanging, or overdosing on medication. Rail companies have been known to charge the families of those who commit suicide a fee depending on the severity of damage, and disrupted schedules. A newer method, gaining in popularity partly due to publicity from Internet suicide websites, is to use household products to make the poisonous gas hydrogen sulfide. In 2007, only 29 suicides used this gas, but in a span from January to September 2008, 867 suicides resulted from gas poisoning.
Historically, Japan has been a male-dominated society with strong family ties, and correlating social expectations. However, the bursting of the bubble, which brought about the end of the “jobs-for-life” culture, has left the heads of families unexpectedly struggling with job insecurity, or the stigma of unemployment. Japan’s economy, the world’s third-largest, experienced its worst recession since World War II in early 2009, propelling the nation’s jobless rate to a record high of 5.7 percent in July 2009. The unemployed accounted for 57 percent of all suicides, the highest rate of any other occupation group. As a result of job losses, social inequality has also increased which has been shown in studies to have affected the suicide rates in Japan proportionately more than in other OECD countries. A contributing factor to the suicide statistics among those who were employed was the increasing pressure of retaining jobs by putting in more hours of overtime, and taking fewer holidays, and sick days. According to government figures, fatigue from work, and health problems, including work-related depression, were prime motives for suicides, adversely affecting the social wellbeing of salary men, and accounting for 47 per cent of the suicides in 2008. Out of 2,207 work-related suicides in 2007, the most common reason (672 suicides) was overwork. Furthermore, the void experienced after being forced to retire from the workplace is said to be partly responsible for the large number of elderly suicides every year. In response to these deaths, many companies, communities, and local governments have begun to offer activities and classes for recently retired senior citizens who are at risk of feeling isolated, lonely, and without purpose or identity.
Consumer loan companies have much to do with the suicide rate. The National Police Agency states that one fourth of all suicides are financially motivated. Many deaths every year are described as being inseki-jisatsu (responsibility-driven suicides). Japanese banks set extremely tough conditions for loans, forcing borrowers to use relatives, and friends as guarantors who become liable for the defaulted loans, producing extreme guilt, and despair in the borrower. Rather than placing the burden on their guarantors, many have been attempting to take responsibility for their unpaid loans, and outstanding debts through life insurance payouts. In fiscal year 2005, seventeen consumer loan firms received a combined 4.3 billion yen in suicide policy payouts on 4,908 borrowers, or some 15% of the 32,552 suicides in 2005. Lawyers, and other experts allege that, in some cases, collectors harass debtors to the point they take this route. Japanese nonbank lenders, starting about a decade before 2006, began taking out life insurance policies, which include suicide payouts on borrowers that included suicide coverage, and borrowers are not required to be notified.
Oddly, suicide has never been criminalized in Japan. Japanese society’s attitude toward suicide has been termed tolerant, and on many occasions a suicide is seen as a morally responsible action. Public discussion of the high rate of suicide also focuses on blaming the economic hardship faced by middle-aged men (sarakin). However, the rise of Internet suicide websites, and increasing rate of suicide pacts (shinju) has raised concern from the public, and media, which consider the pacts thoughtless.
In 1703, Chikamatsu Monzaemon wrote a puppet play entitled Sonezaki Shinjuu (The Love Suicides at Sonezaki), which was later reengineered for the kabuki theatre. The inspiration for the play was an actual double suicide, which had recently occurred between two forbidden lovers. Several more double suicide plays followed, which were eventually outlawed by the governing authorities for emboldening more couples to romantically end their lives. During Japan’s imperial years, suicide was common within the military. This included kamikaze, kaiten, and suicide when a battle was lost. The samurai way of glory was through death, and ritual suicide was seen as something honorable. Writer Yukio Mishima is famous for his ritual suicide while taking over a Japanese army base.
The cultural heritage of suicide as a noble tradition still has some resonance. While being investigated for an expenses scandal, Cabinet minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka took his life in 2007. The governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, described him as a true samurai for preserving his honor. Ishihara is also the author of the film, I Go To Die For You, which glorifies the memory, and bravery of the kamikaze pilots in WW II.
Despite an economic upturn in 2007, suicide rates have continued to be high, prompting concern by the Japanese government. Describing the situation as very serious, they have called on municipalities to implement measures based on the differing realities. In 2007, the government released a nine-step plan, a counter-suicide White Paper, which it hopes will curb suicide by 20% by 2017. The goals of the White Paper are to encourage investigation of the root causes of suicide in order to prevent it, change cultural attitude toward suicide, and improve treatment of unsuccessful suicides. In 2009, the Japanese government committed 15.8 billion yen towards suicide prevention strategies. Naoto Kan, the current prime minister, has spoken of his desire to minimize unhappiness in the country and has repeatedly spoken about the need to reduce Japan’s high suicide rate. Japan has allotted 12.4 billion yen (133 million) in suicide prevention assets for the 2010 fiscal year ending March 2011, with plans to fund public counseling for those with overwhelming debts, and those needing treatment for depression. Amid the overall increase in self-inflicted death for 2009, the government claims there have been encouraging signs since September. The Cabinet Office said the number of monthly suicides declined year-on-year between September 2009 and April 2010. According to preliminary figures compiled by the NPA, the number of suicides fell 9.0 percent from the year before. Unfortunately, suicide is part of the Japanese One Way system.
After visiting Tojinbo, I returned home, and took a run through the rice fields. Jogging through the fields, and watching the elderly farmers toil away, always made me feel magnificent (genki)! I put in four kilometers, and decided to wash my car before showering.
One of my greatest enjoyments is when the neighborhood children attempt to engage in some form of communication with a foreigner. Even if they can’t speak a word of English, and most cannot, they still want to have some type of connection with the outsider. In my neighborhood many young girls in the age range of six to ten would often come by my home, knock on my door, giggle, smile brightly, meander in pure shyness, and attempt to speak the strange foreign sounding words they were trying to absorb at school. (Japanese words end in vowels – a, e, i, o, u, where most English words end in consonants). Unknowingly, they would get real close, and stare into my blue eyes, as this was probably the first encounter with someone that looked like me. I think what made visits to my home extra-special was the fact that I always had a bag of chocolate, or candy ready to reward them for their efforts. Japanese are very conservative in things such as small gifts. I never am! I would let the children take as much as they wanted. And they often did.
Tojinbo located in Fukui Prefecture is one of Japan’s major suicide destinations. Photo credit Stack Jones.
The idea of young children going to a stranger’s home in the states would strike fear in the hearts of parents. Not so in Japan, as there is a near zero crime rate. The idea of anyone harming a child, especially a teacher is unheard of. Not that this mindset isn’t beginning to change as the crime rate is beginning to rise slightly.
Nevertheless, being a foreigner, I took extra precautions to make sure there could never be any false interpretations of my intentions. First, I never allowed any child to enter my home. When the children knocked on the door, I would exit, close the door behind me, and step out into the sidewalk area. Second, all communications took place out in the open, never past the ginkan (entryway) of my front door. Setting that aside, I have had few joys in my life that compare to a wall of happy face, excited foreign children vying for position to engage in conversation with me. One of the usual questions Japanese children like to answer, because they are familiar with the question is, “What’s your favorite (skinano) color? Almost every little girl will proclaim, “I like pink!” I can’t help feeling that the large amount of candy I gave them may have also had something to do with these visits. Ya think? The large bags of candy that I was purchasing weren’t lasting very long as a result of these numerous visits.
Whenever these kid conversations took place, which by now were almost daily occurrences, two children that lived across the street from me, who lived in a tiny apartment with their single mother would never approach. However, they would always watch attentively while keeping their distance. One was a rough looking young girl about the age of six (imoto). Her older brother (oto oto) was probably about nine-years-old. I would always make an attempt to engage the little girl, but she always hid herself from me. Although they wouldn’t communicate with me, I would always see them riding up, and down the block without the other children, but together as brother, and sister. They didn’t seem to interact with other children at all. The boy had a decent bike, but the little girl’s was in poor condition. One of the sad things in Japanese culture is that when parents divorce, the mother usually takes custody, an agreement is made for payment by the father to care for the children, but the father generally has nothing ever to do with those children ever again. I found this to be a shocking part of this culture that is entirely family, and community oriented. Emphatically, every culture has a dark side, and why would Japan be any different?
On this particular day, I was brooding about not being paid, as there was a new Canon EF Telephoto Zoom Lens, 70-200mm, F/2.8 IS lens that I wanted to purchase. Now, it appeared I had to wait another month. After my run, I decided to wash my car. The two kids across the street were riding their bicycles up, and down the street as I gave my car a good scrubbing. Suddenly, the boy zoomed past, and his younger sister tried to catch up. As she quickly passed me, her bicycle chain came off its mechanism, and she lost her balance, she tried to gain control but panicked, and slammed on the only break she had, which was the front tire break. The break grabbed, and she was tossed over the handlebar, and then slammed to the ground. Her bicycle toppled on top of her. She began to cry immediately. I looked around, but there was nobody to help her. This was a tough situation, as she had always hid from me. Yes, she was curious, and had always watched me from afar, but whenever I waived hello, she’d duck behind a wall, or run away. I had to find out if she was OK. So, I walked up to her, as she sat on the ground in a crumpled ball. She continued wailing, and was bleeding from both knees, and other minor cuts. I didn’t want to pick her up, but knew that she needed consoling. I simply reached out my arms, with my hands opened to see if she would respond. She did. She took my arms, and pulled herself into them. I picked her up, as she continued to cry. She put her arms around me as if I was caring a sleepy child off to bed. I carried her over to a chair that was by my car, and sat her in it. I got some paper towels, and some water, and cleaned her bloody knees. I asked her if she was OK in Japanese. (Dai jobu?). She kept crying, and staring at me. I walked over to a vending machine, and got both her, and her brother an orange drink. While she sat in the chair, I went over and inspected her bicycle. I was surprised as to the terrible condition it was in. There was no way a six-year-old child should be riding a bicycle in such dangerous condition. There was no bolt to tighten down the seat. There was no bell. There was no rear brake, and the chain was extremely loose, and could easily fall off at any moment. I carried the bike over to the child’s side, and returned to washing my car as she began to calm down. She didn’t get up from that seat for more than an hour. She kept looking at me, and I kept asking her if she was OK. After a great amount of time, she got up and returned to her home. The bike remained where I had put it. I looked at it, and thought of her riding it, and getting injured again, and then decided to go to the local supermarket (supa), and see if I could locate a cheap bike to replace the piece of garbage (gomi) she had been riding.
I tried to find a bike that was under ichi mahn en (one hundred U.S. dollars). The choices were slim, but there was this one pink bicycle with a white tires, a white seat, and white grips with long ruffles flowing that looked pretty cool. I thought, well, if I were a little girl about six or seven that would be the bike I’d want to be riding. It was a little more money than I was willing to pay, but I decided to get it anyway. The idea of buying a cute little kid, a cute little bike was more enticing than having the few extra bucks remain in my wallet. I paid for the bike, tossed it in the back of my car, and headed home. I had planned to wait until nightfall, and put the bike by the child’s front door, knock on the door, and then run home quickly, and watch through the window to witness the reaction. I was thinking about this as I approached the final stop sign, with the kid’s apartment in plain view. Wham! A van suddenly appeared before me, and nailed the entire front of my car. The front bumper was immediately ripped off, and the entire front hood, and fenders were crumpled badly. Shit! No good deed goes unpunished.
The fan stopped, and a ratty looking toothless man exited. I got out of my car, and asked the guy if he was OK. (Dai jobu?) He was a construction worker who was still wearing his oddly designed construction outfit. The teeth (ha) that were missing from his mouth had not been knocked loose from the accident. They had been gone for quite some time. The teeth that remained in his head were badly stained from tobacco, and rotting away. By this time, people started to exit their homes, standing on their front lawns, and becoming front row spectators in the chaos, and confusion that would ensue. The man stuck his head in my face, and laughed loudly. His comments were interspersed with insults, and obvious accusations. I had insurance, so I wasn’t too concerned, but I surely felt uncomfortable as I couldn’t communicate with anyone, and nobody stepped forward to communicate with me. The man kept shouting and acting like he was on stage. He asked me in Japan, “Anata was Nihongo ga wakari masuka?” At the time I didn’t understand what he said, but what he had said was, “Do you speak Japanese”? When it was clear that I couldn’t he began to insult me, and shouted things like, stupid foreigner (baka gaijin). I wanted to punch the guy out, but instead I contacted the secretary of the company I had worked for. She said she would notify the insurer, and the police, and she, and the insurance company representative would be there as soon as they could. While I was in this conversation, another car pulled up, and two buddies of the guy who was driving the van got out, and began conversing with the man. The car drove away, and they shared many cigarettes, while we waited for assistance to arrive. I tried to move my car, but I couldn’t. It was a total wreck. The second to arrive on the scene was the secretary, and the insurer. Then the police (keisatsu), arrived, followed by an ambulance. Everybody was speaking Japanese, and I couldn’t understand anything that was being said. I was stunned to see the van driver, and his two buddies getting neck braces put on, and being treated gingerly by the paramedics. I became livid! I was trying to tell the police that the other guys were not in the van. Nobody was listening to me. The three men were placed on stretchers and one by one, placed into the ambulance. Before it drove off I approached it and threw open the door. The van driver looked up at me from the gurney, and gave me a crazy smile. One of the ambulance assistants closed the door, and it drove away sirens blaring, and red lights blazing.
I was told that there would be a hearing date, and that I would probably have to pay a fine in the amount of roku mahn en, (around 600.00 USD). A temporary replacement car had already arrived. I was given the keys, and was free to return home. I watched as the police painstakingly took measurement, engaged in conversation, and filled out reports. I frowned at each one of them if they glanced my way. Realizing this, they stopped looking at me. I watched as the tow truck driver collected, and swept up the debris. I pulled the pink bicycle out of the back of my destroyed car. I must have looked ridiculous walking home with a brand new pink bicycle with white tires, a white seat, and white handgrips, and the ruffles swaying in the breeze. I watched as the tow truck drove off with my totally destroyed car.
The next day the insurance company man arrived at the office with papers for me to sign. All documents were written in Japanese. They were settlement papers for the van owner, and the three men. I absolutely refused to sign anything. The following day the insurance man returned to the office with two other men. One looked like a thick, squat pit bull. They had prepared the final documents for me to sign regarding the settlement to be paid to the three “injured” men, and to cover the cost of repair for the van. Again, I refused to sign any documents. They calmly communicated that they just wanted to settle the matter. However, they had a glaring issue. They could not settle the case without my signature, and I continued to refuse to sign any of the documents they placed before me. The secretary entered the room with green tea, which is customary when people are having a meeting. I told the original representative that he was too weak, and that I didn’t want to talk to him any longer. I looked at the pit bull, and told the secretary to translate my words. She agreed. I made it clear that I would continue to refuse to settle the matter because two of those men had not been in the van. I’m sure they didn’t believe me, but I said until they look into that, they were wasting their time. Second, I stated that the van had one small scratch, and that the majority of the damage was to my car, and if they were so terribly injured, then why wasn’t I? That question seemed to have some affect on the three agents. I also stated that the damage to my car was the result of the vans rear bumper catching the front of my car, and ripping it open. Despite a tiny little scratch, that van’s bumper didn’t have any sign of damage. I reiterated that I would not be signing any documents until they investigate the matter further. I told the pit bull that he looked like a tough guy. I told them to wait this out, and don’t rush to settle. Threaten the men with court, and further proceedings for fraud. They felt like I was a foreigner interfering with their job, but I didn’t give a shit what they thought. If I was going to get fined, and drag through traffic court, then I was going to fight them all the way. After all, I was already aware of the worse case scenario that I was facing, which was a mere 600.00 fine. Realizing they were getting nowhere with me, the men left. Over the next several days the office secretary persisted in trying pressure me to sign the documents. Her words fell on my deaf ears. This went on for about two weeks.
The insurance company representatives returned for another meeting. All three had a smile on their face. I inquired into the change in their demeanor. I was told the insurance company did an investigation into their own records, and that the three men had another similar accident only one month earlier. In that case they had already thought the accident was staged. All three men, complained of neck pain, and drove off in an ambulance. This information was forwarded to the police, who started their own investigation, discovering that merely one week earlier the same three men had been in another similar accident. Coincidence? Could the same three men, be in three different accidents, with similar injuries in a one-month period? The insurance company refused to settle with those men in either of those incidents, as well did the other insurer who was notified. The police dropped their case against me, and sent me a letter of apology for not listening to me. I took this as a sign that Japan’s One-Way system had been damaged by a stubborn gaijin that failed to accept settlement in an unjust matter.
That evening I put aside my anger about the accident, and quietly crept toward the front door of the little girls apartment. The windows were closed, and the curtain drawn. I placed the bicycle along side the front door, making sure it couldn’t be spotted when the door was opened. I rang the bell, and hauled ass home. I peered through from my front window curtains, and watched as the boy opened the door. He looked out, but saw nothing, and closed the door. I waited to see what happened, but nothing did. Apparently, he didn’t see the bike. Damn! I waited a while, crept back over to the door, and rang the bell again. The door began to open, so I leaped behind some nearby bushes, and hoped they hadn’t seen me. They didn’t! This time the boy stepped out, and saw the bicycle. He called to his sister, and I learned of her name for the first time. Kariri! Mite! Mite! (Look, look). The little girl walked outside, and the cuts on her knees were already turning into purple bruises. Her face, and eyes widened in astonishment. Neither child knew what to do. They ran back inside, and locked the door. Soon they both peaked out the front window, and looked down to where the pink bike was located. The curtains shut as quickly as they had been opened. A moment later the front door opened, and the boy stuck his head out looking first to his left, and then to his right. They both stepped outside, and cautiously looked around again. Finding nothing unusual, except a brand spanking new pink bicycle with white tires, a white seat, and gleaming white grips they turned their attention toward the bike. They both studied it carefully, speaking quietly, as they surely did not want to be overheard by anyone. Kariri touched the bicycle, and the front wheel turned a little. Both children ran back inside. I could hear familiar scraping sounds inside the apartment. The children were dragging chairs across the living room toward the window. They opened the curtain, then the window, and stood on either of the two chairs staring down below at the pink bicycle. Those few extra bucks were well worth the investment. I have seen many children’s faces when they get excited, but this incident topped the list. I pined for my camera. I didn’t want anyone to see my hanging around, and creeping behind some bushes, so I slowly backed away. I headed back to where the accident had occurred, and looked down at the large pile of cigarette butts those three guys had smoked while they contemplated their scheme. I then went to the nearest Sunkust convenient store (konvini) and bought a beer. I headed home, sat on the front porch, twisted off the lid to the bottle, and took a swig. I uncontrollably spit out the beer in laughter as the thought occurred to me; I had washed my car inside and out, vacuuming it and drying it off with a towel before completely destroying it.
Miller decided to stop by, and discuss the car accident with me. As I sat with him, drinking my beer, the door of the kid’s apartment opened. It was the kid’s mother. She looked at the pink bicycle, and then began walking over toward where we were sitting. I couldn’t speak Japanese, so I told Miller to handle it. I told him that if she inquired into the matter, that I had no knowledge of the bike, or its origin. When she got within a few feet of us, it was apparent that she had apprehensions about communicating with two foreign men. She began thanking me for taking care of her daughter regarding the bike accident. She bowed deeply, again, and again. She then said that she couldn’t accept the bike as a gift for her child, but then began sobbing profusely, and apologized for being a terrible mother. She stated that she was single, and their father had nothing to do with his children, which is a great shame. She apologized that she had to leave her children home alone all day, (and often well into the evening), as she worked long hours to support her children. She apologized for her daughter’s terrible bicycle condition, and for causing me so much trouble. I told Miller to tell her that I had no idea what she was talking about, and that I hadn’t given any child any bicycle. Miller added that while we were sitting on the porch, some fellow drove up in a car, put a pink bicycle by their front door, rang the bell, ran to the car, and then drove off. By this time the woman was wiping away tears from her wet face with a white cloth. She knew our story was bogus. I added that perhaps it was the children’s father that had left the bicycle. In Japanese culture when one gives a gift to another, they are then indebted to the donor, and must repay that debt in some way. This was the main reason for denying knowing anything about the pink bicycle. This may be odd behavior in western culture, but in Japan this is the way it is done. She took a long deep bow, in such a manner that I have never experienced before. There were no more words that needed to be said. She thanked me again, and apologized for taking up my valuable time. The woman said she believed her daughter would really appreciate the bike, as her daughter already stated that it was the most beautiful bike she had ever seen. After all, her favorite color is pink.
The next morning I awoke to the jangle of children laughing, and the bright sound of a bell, ching-a-ling-linging, again and again. I pulled myself out of bed, and stood at my front window, and peered out the closed curtain. I watched as Kariri rode her new bike up, and down the street. Most of the children in the neighborhood had little to do with Kariri prior to that morning, but on this sunny day, many of the neighborhood girls were riding with her. Kariri was riding hard, and ringing her bell, as the handle grips plastic white sashes fluttered in the wind. Kariri’s smile was brighter than a thousand suns. Of all the children who were riding bicycles that morning, Kariri bike the prettiest of them all.
Strangely, the children stopped coming to my door to engage in conversation, and to get their fill of candy, and chocolate. I thought parents had ordered their children to stop coming to my home because of the car accident that I had been in. But, one of my elderly neighbors, a farmer, and retired businessman from Tokyo told me that one of the children had told their grandmother about the foreign neighbor that had been giving them candy whenever they stopped by. The parents were told, and they grew angry with their child. Other parents were told about this, and the children were ordered to stop pestering their foreign neighbor. The children never stopped by again, although I often saw them during my runs, or as they rode by my rented home. We always waived hello when we saw each other, but I would grow to miss those children, and those wonderful chocolate, and sugary encounters.
Miller was an expat who had lived in Japan for the past twenty-five years. He operated. At one point the business he owned was the premier education center for the entire prefecture of Fukui. What went wrong?
On that same date on the following month, I checked my bank account, as Japan companies generally make salary payments through direct deposit, my bank showed a payment of ¥ 80,000. I had been working for the past two months, and received the equivalent of 800.00 USD. I was furious. Miller was clearly avoiding me, but when I managed to confront him, he claimed that, that was the salary he owed me for my first month of work. A bitter argument ensued. From that point on I began to investigate Miller, and the Japanese American Language Institute. I was surprised to find several complaints posted on the Internet about Miller, and his organization. One site titled, http://j-ali.blogspot.com, had the following statement:
THE JAPANESE-AMERICAN LANGUAGE INSTITUTE LOCATED IN FUKUI JAPAN HAS BEEN HARMING TRUSTING TEACHERS FOR MORE THAN 10 YRS. THIS BLOG SERVES AS A COMMENTARY TO ADDRESS THIS AND OTHER FACTS REGARDING THIS EXTREMELY HARMFUL ORGANIZATION WHICH IS RUN BY EDWARD MILLER. ANYONE THINKING ABOUT WORKING FOR JALI BEWARE. CALL OTHER FUKUI SCHOOLS AND ASK TEACHERS… JALI IS INFAMOUS IN THAT CITY. BEWARE!
I left my job, and great life in Shizuoka to relocate to Fukui so I could explore the Japan Sea. Instead, I find a man with a terrible past. Miller originated from the Boston area of Massachusetts. He had been a heroin addict, and personally admitted to me that he was the first to stick a needle in his younger brothers arm. His younger brother became an addict as well, but eventually died of a heroin overdose. Miller then became a “born again” Mormon, married, had four kids, and relocated to Japan, where he began “preaching the gospel” of Joseph Smith, and the Mormon Church. Soon Miller started his own business, and at one point had twenty-five instructors working for him. This would have been a successful business netting at least 80,000.00 USD each month. I thought it strange that Miller didn’t drive a nice car, or live in a beautiful home. In fact, Miller’s personal appearance was terrible. His clothing looked to be several years old. His shoes were all in terrible condition, and he rented a dilapidated old house. When I arrived in Fukui, the only people working for Miller were his secretary, and myself. JALI went from a staff of thirty to a meager three. What was going on?
I had to admit I enjoyed living in Fukui, and did a lot of surfing, exploring, and I was shooting a lot of photography. I had a car by this time, and was able to travel to some of the major cities in the area, such as Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe. So, instead of quitting my job, I simply filed a complaint of non-payment to the Fukui Labor Board Standards Office thinking they would be able to resolve the matter. I also went to the local Fukui International Friendship Association, and inquired into other issues that might be known about this company. To my great surprise the staff said, “Are you here to file a complaint against Ed Miller?” I said, “How did you know that?” I was told that Miller had a long history of non-compliance with the labor board, and for not paying employee salaries. I was handed a folder of former instructors that had worked for Miller who had not been paid their full salary. They had all signed a document that was given to the labor board, and backed by a toothless, and useless organization known as the National Union of General Workers. Twenty-two former teachers signed the list. Each one had a number placed by their names, in the amount of money that was owed to them. One particular name stood out, a K. Taylor who was owed more than a year’s salary. One of the persons that signed the document was the current secretary. This current secretary claimed that Miller had not paid her salary in several months, and was owed several thousands of dollars. Her signature on the document really surprised me. Why would she participate in a public battle over unpaid wages with her current employer, yet still remain working with him?
I began to delve into a full investigate into the matter. I went to the Fukui Police Department, and filed a complaint. I learned that Miller’s wife had relocated to Utah with their four children. The wife kept making demands for Miller to send her more, and more money. It wasn’t long before the company’s business funds began to disappear. Miller had an accountant at the time, which was responsible for paying employee salaries. He claimed she had been embezzling JALI’s funds, and as a result he was unable to pay his instructors. An employee labor battle ensued. Sadly, most instructors had to leave the city as a result of not being able to continue working for free. Now Miller was trying to pull the same bullshit on me. Again, I confronted him about the non-payment of my salary. He kept talking about how his former account had destroyed his business. But, that was more than two-years earlier. My response to that was, “I have ninety-nine problems of my own, and [Miller] isn’t one of them. I demanded my pay. I also began to contact each person on that list of non-paid instructors to find out their story. Each person had worked for several months without being paid. The scam started by withholding teacher salaries for two months, and they when the employee fell on economic hardship, they would immediately seek other work, and leave. Never following up on the money they had lost. I decided to contact the former office manager, who had worked for JALI, and Miller for fifteen years. K. Taylor revealed a lot of information, and we decided to go to the media.
Taylor agreed that the accountant may have embezzled some funds, but not to the extent Miller had claimed. Records showed that Miller was sending large chunks of money to his wife. When he ran out of money, and was unable to send her any more, she filed for divorce. Eventually, Miller’s wife got all the money, and by the time I was employed at the company she had sent him a restraining order, and a notice of divorce. Miller’s wife’s attorney had demanded Miller to undergo a psychological evaluation before he could see his children again. Sadly, each child wrote Miller a letter telling him they wanted nothing to do with him any longer. Here, Miller had destroyed his own business funneling all the money he had in an effort to try and save his marriage. In the process he destroyed the business that he took twenty-five years to make. When there was nothing left to give, his wife simply left. The woman found a new man in the congregation of contradiction known as the Mormon faith. She used the money Miller had sent her to build a home in Salt Lake City.
Unfortunately for Miller, the matter surrounding non-payment of my salary was far from over. For several months I had pressured the labor board to get paid. On some level this worked. I began receiving monthly payments but I was still owed about 8200.00 USD. I also had the General Union represent me at the labor hearings, and that was a farce, as they had about as much knowledge of the Japanese labor codes as I did. They had fought Miller in the past, and had won, but little money was actually paid. So, who really won? I figured that I wasn’t going to get paid, but I was going to make Miller suffer. Eventually, we decided to go to the media. We held a press conference, and I was surprised to see every major radio, magazine, and TV station present at the conference. K. Taylor attended the conference, and told of the history of the company, and their non-compliance with Japanese labor laws, and the salary issues. My story found its way in many Japanese newspapers, and magazines as well as the local evening news. By this time Miller had anticipated that I was leaving, and hired another instructor. I contacted the instructor who stated that he had not been paid. This teacher was working at Alcoa, Howmet about an hours drive north of Fukui. I had worked there, and this was one of Miller’s best contracts. Somehow through all Miller’s deceit, he managed to hold onto this client. I notified the company’s manager, who was an English speaking Britain that Miller had not paid the other teacher. I gave the Howmet manager copies of the documents I received from the International Friendship Association, and copies of the General Labor Union findings, and the Fukui Labor Board rulings. As a result Howmet hired the instructor on to work full-time, and Miller lost a large portion of that contract.
In my case the labor board managed to collect some of my non-paid salary. In my investigation, what I learned was there are many foreign owned businesses in Japan that have ruined the educational industry. They prey on young men, and women that want to work in a foreign country, but are unfamiliar with the language, culture and laws. One of the most common scams is to withhold an instructor’s salary for sixty days, which is illegal. When the instructor eventually leaves due to lack of payment, and even if they had filed a grievance with the labor bureau, they almost never get paid. Once the duped employee returns home, it is very difficult to collect on unpaid salaries.
After nearly a year of battling Miller, I was offered a job in the northeastern region of Japan, which was an area I knew nothing about. I really didn’t want to head to the colder territories of Japan, where summers were shorter, and winters longer. Despite that, I was running low on funds, and had a long list of photography equipment I was interested in purchasing, so my priority now shifted to actually being paid for the work I was performing. The last I heard about Miller was that he was sleeping in Internet cafes, many months overdue on the office he was renting, and doing the best he could to hang on to the last couple of clients he had left. I left Fukui, and headed north to the coastal region of Miyagi Prefecture, and Sendai City. I had no idea what the future would hold. I had no idea that soon enough 3.11.11., would become a date locked into infamy, and the town I would move to would be 100% wiped off the maps by the largest ever recorded earthquake, and tsunami.