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Outlaw. Radical. Suspect. My Life in Japan's Underworld.
by Miyazaki Manabu

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February 2006


JAPANESE JOURNALISTS COME in two basic types: status quo-oriented mainstream media reporters who enjoy their privileged access to power, and independent freelancers who consider themselves outsiders, but who are, in fact, part of "respectable" Japanese society by birth. And then there is Manabu Miyazaki.The son of a Kyoto yakuza gang 1eader, Miyazaki is a born outsider.But an early exposure to Marxist ideology, and a gifted mind, led him to Waseda University in the mid-1960s where he became a radical leftist who never hesitated to resort to force when it came time to confront authority.

Today, Miyazaki is a noted author and "outlaw" journalist, perhaps the closest thing Japan has to the late Hunter S. Thompson. Feted by veterans of the student movement who became respectable members of the media establishment, Miyazaki is a regular on serious talk shows like Tahara Soichiro's "Asa Made Nama Terebi," where his eloquent speaking voice stands in stark contrast to his hard-hitting, groundbreaking reporting. For Miyazaki was writing about issues like the yakuza world and po1ice corruption long before anyone else in the tabloid, and certainly the mainstream media.

Ten years ago, Miyazaki released Toppamono, his autobiography. The book was a cult classic, especially among Kansai-area reporters, and gave readers a view of Japan that was as alien to their imagination as any foreign country.Happily, somebody at Kotan Publishing decided the book would attract an enthusiastic foreign readership, and the English translation is now available.

Miyazaki grew up in Kyoto's Fushimi district, where his house was the headquarters for a local independent yakuza gang.It was a colorful household, with all sorts of characters coming and going at all hours.As the favored son, Miyazaki was treated with utmost respect(and fear)in Fushimi, but that didn't stop him from getting into fights.At the same time, through a friend of his father who was a committed Communist, the young Miyazaki developed a strong sense of justice and of defending the ordinary worker and those who are outsiders.

Miyazaki's Kyoto is not one of temples, rock gardens, and quiet elegance, but of rough day laborers, foolish gamblers, tough prostitutes, pitiful drunks, shrewd con artists-a classes dangereuses that respectable Kyoto wanted, and still wants, no part of.This is the Kyoto Miyazaki loves, but he doesn't hesitate to head to Tokyo to study at Waseda when given the chance. Here, his radicalism is developed further, and he spends his time organizing po1itical rallies and getting into fights.

From 1965 to 1969, Miyazaki and his fellow student-activists battled the system, which culminated in a bloody showdown on the campus of Tokyo University in 1969. But once the dust settled, Miyazaki saw that many of his friends were simply "playing activist." The son of a yakuza had become fed up with spoiled Todai and Waseda students who fought battles totally divorced from "real world" concerns. The perennial outsider realized that, in the end, his fellow students had no interest in revolution because they were the ultimate insiders who would benefit the most from the status quo.

Afterwards, Miyazaki drifted into journalism,becoming a financial reporter for Shukan Gendai, a weekly tabloid. The job offered him a close-up view on how Japan Inc. really worked and would serve him well years later during the bubble economy period of the late 1980s. However, a family crisis in Kyoto forced Miyazaki to abandon Old Edo and return to Miyako.While his brother handled the "respectable" side of the family business, Miyazaki conned and hustled whoever he could to keep creditors at bay.

It was the Glico-Morinaga Affair that gave Miyazaki his greatest notoriety. In March 1984,the president of chocolate maker Glico was kidnapped in his Nishinomiya home by two men wearing ski masks, who demanded one billion yen in ransom. The president managed to escape unharmed, but the kidnappers were never found.Glico then received letters from persons unknown saying its products had been laced with potassium cyanide and the company was forced to pull its products from the shelves. Over the following months and despite a nationwide manhunt, the group eluded police even as it continued to blackmail Glico-related companies.

But by the summer of 1984, police were closing in on the alleged ringleader of the group, identified as the "Fox-Eyed Man." This mysterious figure was spotted near the area in Kyoto where the blackmailers had told Glico to drop off bags of ransom money. Police released a sketch which looked remarkably like Miyazaki.In 1985, police and the media named him as the culprit, despite s solid alibi and lack of evidence. But in the end, Miyazakiwas never charged for the crime and today, he laughs about the incompetence of the police investigators.

Miyazaki, by his own admission, is hardly a noble figure. But readers looking for some sort of a mea culpa will, thankfully, be disappointed. For Toppamono is neither an apologetic confessional nor a blatant self-promotional tool.It is, rather, the story of one of Japan's most interesting characters of the last half century, and a story of Kansai over the past few decades that will utterly captivate those who live in the area, especially long-term foreign residents whom may have thought they would never buy another Japan-related book again.

Eric Johnston

By courtesy of Kansai Time Out.