Category Archives: Tyler McPeek

18
Apr

Train Sailors

Story by Tyler McPeek

Artwork by Dean Christ

 

     Kumiko and Fumie always worked as a team, just like they always entered the teachers’ room at the vocational high school they attended hand-in-hand between bell periods, and just like they dated two boys who both belonged to the same local gang.  They were both seventeen, both died their hair a dull orange and both wore loose white socks to the top of their milk tea calves and rolled the skirts of their school uniforms to tortuously short levels.  Today, before school, in uniform, they were working N― Station.

     The idea had been thought up by Kumiko’s boyfriend, a tall 22-year-old named Yuuske.  Yusuke, leaning against the railing of a river bridge in the shopping district, in his baggy, purple construction worker outfit, white towel around his head, holding his long golden hair out of his face, had explained that there was really no risk for the girls, as they could simply walk away if the scheme fell through.  “Pick a shy, lonely looking loser,” he had explained, “but make sure he looks like he’s got money.  Better to do it when he’s tired and on his way home from work, or else early in the morning when he’s thinking about the day ahead and doesn’t know what the fuck is going on.  Pick a slob who’s standing, a real ugly, loser type.  Somebody nobody would believe, probably never been laid by anybody but his ugly wife in his whole life.  You know the type.”  Yusuke pulled at his crotch, then lit a cigarette.  “One of you girls sit down nearby, and one of you move in.  Get close to the guy.  If you can, try to get him to make a grab for real.  Let your skirt brush against the back of his hand.  If you think he’s a good fish, confront him even if he doesn’t make a grab.  Wait till he makes a move to get off the train, then follow him.  As soon as the doors to the train close behind all three of you, grab onto his arm.  Then, lay it out for him—either he pays, or you take the matter to the police.  Make sure you grab on tight, and don’t let him pull away.  If he refuses, then the other one of you should say that she saw him do it.  Call him a pervert, a groper; use the word chi痴漢kan.”  If he coughs up the money, get out of there quick.  If you know he’s not going to give it up, get of there.  I’d say you’ve got an 80% percent chance of hitting pay dirt, if you pick the right guy.  You know… not too old, not too young—glasses, suit, the kind of guy you’d make fun of at school…”

     “How much should we ask for?” inquired Kumiko.  The new Louis Vuitton purse she wanted was 50,000 yen.

18
Apr

Warm Hands

Story by Tyler McPeek

Artwork by Dean Christ

 

“Excuse me for being rude Oda-san, may I give you the report you wanted now?”  The lips of the young worker were pressed tightly together, and his eyes were fixed as he waited for Mr. Oda to respond.  Standing before Oda-sempai, a man some 25 years his senior, the young man’s frame was stiff, portraying a protocol and formality that made him appear tight and rigid beyond his years.

     “What?  Excuse me, what?”  Blurted Junichiro Oda.  Then, without pause, “Oh, that.  Right.  I’ll take that now.  Thanks.”  Oda wore a discerning face, but his mind was elsewhere as he feigned interest in the recently acquired finance report.  The report contained pages and pages of rhetoric and fluff, which accounted for vast stretches of logged hours by a group of younger associates in the company, sadly padding three pages of essential, yet depressing debt figures accrued by the agency during the last quarter.  Still, to present these figures in any other fashion would have been inappropriate, considering Oda’s superior position in the company’s corporate structure.

     It was nearing 7:30pm, and Oda desperately wanted to leave the office.  He knew of at least 3 of his underlings who would stay all night if necessary, but would never leave before him.  Still, certain procedures had to be observed, appearances had to be maintained, so Oda-san gazed at the report, slowly flipping through the first few pages.

     Through the glass partition that surrounded his cubicle-office-hybrid, he could see the majime associates busying themselves with the task of looking busy, but as soon as he looked away, he could feel their anxious eyes focusing on the curves of his meaty face, the sag in his tired composure, the blue reflection of the computer screen in the thick lenses of his bifocals.

18
Apr

Gray on White

Story by Tyler McPeek

Artwork by Dean Christ

 

“Hello, everyone.  My name is John Kilks.  I am from Toronto, Canada.  Please look at this map.  Does anyone know where Toronto is?”

The students in the front row looked hard into his face, then slowly toward the map.  An older man of 60 or so spoke out without raising his hand.  “Pahhapsu, I sink zhato Toronto izu in Ontario Probinsu.”  He leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest.

“That’s right Mr.… What is your name?”

“My name is Takahiro Yamagishi.  I habu been to Canada.”

“Oh, really.. where have—“

“Aah you Johnny on zha spot?”

John scanned the faces of the other 7 students in the room.  Four of their faces looked blank and worried.  One girl in her twenties and another middle-aged man seemed to be following most of it.  “Johnny on the Spot…well, I don’t know what—“

 

7
Jan

The Future of the English Language as a Global Lingua Franca

-by Tyler McPeek

This post was originally published on floridalinguistics.com on Feb. 20, 2012. -TM

In some of my classes, students tell me that their professors in non-linguistics classes often wax-philosophical about the inevitability of Chinese as the next global lingua franca. Sometimes they even present it as an imminent development that has already started to take a foothold, due to the rising economic power of the PRC and the increasing frequency of successful Mandarin speaking students matriculating in American and other Western universities.

I’ve been troubled by this assumption, and its lack of scientific grounding. In fact, it reminds me very much of other non-scientifically-based assertions about language that were profligate in years gone by, such as the “Eskimos having a hundred words for ‘snow’ in their language” as evidence for how ones environment and culture shapes ones perspective on the world. Language scientists, namely Geoffrey Pullum, have been crusading ever since, in vein, to try and dispel this fallacy about West Greenlandic Eskimo (which in fact has only 2 root words for the “snow”) ever since. Still, non-linguistically trained academics of otherwise excellent intellectual quality continue to profligate the fallacy, as it makes for a nice opener to a lecture, talk, or speech.

29
Dec

The Importance of Linguistics to Students of Japanese

-by Tyler McPeek

Below is a blog post that I wrote for “Polyglossia” (the group blog for floridalinguistics.com), originally titled, "The Mainstreaming of the Linguistic Sciences."  The content is something important to consider for all students of Japanese, literature, and other foreign languages.  Please give it a read and give me your thoughts. -T

For awhile now, I’ve been working on a site that deals with issues related to Japan, Japanology, and the Japanese language.  What originally started as a kind of “Japan Fan” site, assisting and entertaining people who study Japanese, enjoy “things Japanese,” have lived in Japan, or hope to live in Japan, took on new meaning for me when I started studying linguistics.  I realized that I was doing a disservice to my visitors, especially those who are studying the Japanese language, if I don’t provide a scientific view of the Japanese language that is geared to the mainstream and literary student of Japanese.  In fact, the mainstreaming of the linguistics discipline for literature and foreign language discipline-based students of language generally has become a very important issue and goal for me.

When talking to a friend from Taiwan, I was somewhat surprised to hear that Taiwan has not a single undergraduate linguistics department, although they do have graduate programs.  What was even more surprising was the fact that all students of English, and presumably other foreign languages, in Taiwan are required to take at least an intro course in linguistics.  So, while Taiwan does not have any universities who have reached the level of offering an undergraduate program in linguistics, they appear to understand the importance of linguistics and the scientific study of language to the average language learner even better than Americans, though we have many undergraduate programs in the US.  We are missing something here in The Sates.

24
Dec

Christmas in Japan

-by Tyler McPeek

Do the Japanese celebrate Christmas?  The simplest and most accurate answer to this question is “yes.”  The question is really, “How do the Japanese celebrate Christmas?”  Well, essentially the Japanese have reversed the holidays of Christmas and New Years, in terms of cultural significance.  In the West, New Years is a party holiday, for friends and lovers, and Christmas is a “quiet” (in theory at least) family holiday at home.  In Japan, by contrast, New Years is a holiday for family.  It includes a special menu of home cooked food, a trip to the local Shinto Shrine to pray for a good new year, and some of the best television programming of the year, enjoyed at home with one’s family.


Christmas, on the other hand, is a dating holiday.  If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, Christmas is probably the most important date holiday of the year.  It is, therefore, possibly the loneliest holiday for the “lover-less.”  Those without a significant other may be confined to sitting at home and watching some romantic television drama, featuring a couple going on a Christmas date–to add insult to injury.  This all assumes, of course, that we are not talking about Christian Japanese, which are very few in number.  They undoubtedly observe some semblance of a religious Christmas, but likely still go on a date to observe the holiday on a native cultural level.  Neighboring South Korea, on the other hand, has oodles of Christians and celebrates Christmas in a more traditional, western manner.

27
Apr

The Yakuza Night World, Business and Pleasure

-by Tyler McPeek

Drinking out in Japan’s Nightlight Wonderland

The Yakuza Night World, Business and Pleasure:
Levels, Systems, Workers, and Management of Japanese “Mizushobai,” a First Look

This is the sixth article in my yakuza series.  These works should be considered as "fictional memoir" in nature.  Please read disclaimers in the first and subsequent articles for more information on the fictional nature of the characters described in this series.  Due to previous mention of the industry and details here and there, and especially after my last article on “Yakuza Women,” I’ve been asked to attempt a comprehensive explanation and taxonomy of the Japanese mizushobai, or “water trade.”  I can tell you this is a herculean task.  The system is so layered, so complex, and so massive that I fear it requires a series of articles.  Anyhow, I’ll try my best to simplify it into a manageable strata, in one post, without repeating information outlined in earlier posts on the yakuza’s many money making and social activities—which weave in and out of the night drinking world, sometimes inseparably so.  I’ve worked at a number of “bars” (though the word doesn’t do the diaspora justice), owned and managed my own place, known countless owners of various establishments, seen the world through at the side of yakuza partiers and businessmen/protection racketeers, and drank my way across the country in all variety of different watering holes.  Take my word for it, I’ve drank in many countries, and Japan has the most complex array of different places to drink in the world, bar none.  In this article, I’ll cover: shot bars, restaurants, izakaya, hostess bars (standard, kabakura, high end, etc—this is the biggest category), host clubs, Russian/Eastern European show pubs, foreigner bars, dance clubs, theme bars, public drinking party events, karaoke bars and boxes, soft prostitution clubs, geisha clubs, and ryokan.  Some of these are broad categories, but taken as a whole, this is a fairly good representation of the drinking options available in Japan.  Due to the bulk, I’ll have to explain each of them briefly.

18
Nov

Yakuza Women

-by Tyler McPeek

This is the fifth article in my yakuza series.  I’ve decided to address the issue of yakuza women.  As always, I’m speaking from my personal experiences, but I’m also trying to dispel some of the misconceptions as best I can and to address the topic honestly and have fun with it if possible.  See earlier articles for further disclaimer on this article series being best regarded as "fictional memoir."


An account of women in the yakuza, at this point in time and form my point of view (see earlier articles in the yakuza series for caveats on the non-research oriented and personal nature of my accountings), can only be composed of individual case studies, as the path to being a woman who runs with the yakuza is not standardized or usually membership oriented.  It’s an informal and organic process that lands a woman in a yakuza pack.  A woman’s status with the yakuza can be girlfriend, wife, prostitute, mistress, near member, any various sort of employee, a member of a female counterpart gang, groupie, or victim.  Though honor and faux notions of bushido chivalry can be deeply engrained in the psyche and creed of various gangs, their bosses, and their senior members, respect for women generally is very low.  Women are tools, subordinates, possessions, mothers, daughters, homemakers, and slaves.  It’s a paradox of course, but when you are among the yakuza, the women that you encounter are subservient, yet tough, compelling, and powerful.  Sometimes they are sad and obviously victimized, but others seem to have a taste for the debauchery, the lifestyle, the organization, and the ceremony.  Being successful as a mama-san (chief, possibly part owner of a hostess club) or chi-mama (manager or head hostess of a club) almost always routinely involves some business and personal relationship with the local organizations.  It can be a shortcut to funding, protection, security, and solid financial management.  To run a stable of hostesses is to be part of the night life that is the yakuza’s playground.  For prostitutes or clubs that run soft prostitution (sanctioned and priced menus, verbal or written, of sexual touching, feel-ups, fingering, hand jobs, and oral sex) or for full-blown soapland or other all-the-way brothels, nearly always means the women and management are owned to a degree by the yakuza.  The same can be true for host bars or male prostitutes, but the numbers are dwarfed by the female sex and companionship trade.  In any case, the male trade is not the focus of this article.

23
May

How the Yakuza Make Money: Extortion and Strong Arm Tactics

-by Tyler McPeek

This is my fourth blog post about the Japanese mafia (yakuza) and the third about yakuza money making efforts.  For disclaimers about the sources of my knowledge being personal, rather than research-based, and information that is left out of these posts for purposes of loyalty and safety, see the introductions to the earlier posts on this topic.  These posts are based on “field research” and not on academic expertise; they are local and not national in their focus.  They are best regarded as "fictional memoir."  This time I’m talking about the bread and butter of the yakuza way of life as a profession, and here’s where I’m going to have to ruin some of the mafia mystique and romanticism surrounding its membership exclusivity.  Sometimes one can be a yakuza just by acting the part of a yakuza.  At the end of the day, it is more of a state of mind and an attitude, a way of living on the edge of an otherwise highly structured and inescapable societal structure, than it is about an official membership to a particular family or any sort of ideology about what it means to be Japanese (which they have been trying to sell to the public for years).  So, if you don’t give a fuck and you don’t give a fuck who knows you don’t give a fuck, and if you can handle your business and take what you want from life, regardless of the law and right out in the open for the world to see; if you don’t mind intimidating people and you never break character… you just might be a yakuza, at least to the general public—which is what really matters.  Being recognized by the corporate yakuza structure that is “yamaguchi-gumi” or “sumiyoshi-kai” or one of the other national organizations is not the most important thing for an individual who wants to live the life of a Japanese outlaw and be regarded as a yakuza–being able to manipulate others and be recognized by non-yakuza as being yakuza-like is far more important, in my humble opinion.  Having rank within the structure is just something that happens eventually to those who find themselves on the outside of the society.  It’s the last job option or the first for most people, never in between.  “Yakuza” tends to be something you know you are, or one day you realize you are and always were, it’s not something you leave a career in hotel management or airplane maintenance for.  Intimidation and extortion is the essence of making money with the “yak” attitude.  It’s nasty, to be sure, but it’s brute force of will, to take money from people and offer (usually) nothing in return.  To just walk up to someone and say “give it to me” is so un-Japanese that it can be very effective, but only if you have the right attitude.  It’s rarely about a gun or violence, it’s just the threat of “or else.”  I’m choosing extortion to discuss here, because it is something that almost anyone might be able to do, at any level, and it seems to exemplify the ugly and strong essence of what it means to be a mobster in Japan.  You need to 1) speak the right way, that means not like anyone else in Japan, but rather like only yakuza speak 2) have the right look, mostly in the face and eyes, but clothes and the right vehicle don’t hurt and 3) have absolute confidence that can only come from nothing to lose and nowhere else to turn.  I’ll illustrate with a few strong-arm tactics that I’ve notice for getting money from people.  Drunk salarymen, middle-aged women, the elderly, and small business owners are all fair game, let alone anyone stupid enough to borrow money or get involved in gambling debts at the back room mahjong parlors (see the “cheating pachinko” post for a fine example of how bad an idea that can be).

16
May

How the Yakuza Make Money: Drug Smuggling and Sales

-by Tyler McPeek

This is the third installment of my blog posts about the Japanese mafia (yakuza).  For disclaimers about the sources of my knowledge being personal, rather than research-based, and information that is left out of these posts for purposes of loyalty and safety, see the introductions to the earlier posts.  These posts should be regarded as "fictional memoir."


Drug smuggling is, predictably, a major business in Japan.  Still, compared to other developed nations, drug use is not as widespread among the general public, so it would be fair to call it a sub-culture activity.  Most of the yakuza I’ve known don’t do drugs as adults, but most of them tried everything from huffing chemical vapors to whatever else they had access to in high school.  Drug dealing and use in Japan is a very serious crime with a very bad reputation.  Compared with the United States, for example, it’s regarded to be a much more taboo activity.  Also, little distinction is drawn between drugs like marijuana and heroine or experimentation and addiction.  This has resulted in a rather nasty consequence, that those who partake of illegal drugs take a kind of reasoning that if they are willing to smoke marijuana, they might as well try more serious and more addictive drugs, since they see little distinction in terms of risk and public shame.  While marijuana and hallucinogens (mostly mushrooms, but also some other LSD/ecstasy-type stuff have been legally sold in specialty shops—though they are still hard to find) have a fair popularity, a type of crystal methamphetamine called “syabu” / シャブ is probably the most popular drug in Japan.  In my estimation, the reasons for this are three: easy to smuggle with no odor and only small quantities required to get high for long periods, easier than other drugs to manufacture, and highly addictive.   The profit margin for syabu is high, and the availability to criminals looking to profit from it is also high (I will get to the reasons for this shortly).  Syabu can be smoked with a glass pipe or aluminum can or it can be injected using small, insulin needles.  It is easier to inject than heroine, because it dissolves in normal purified water easily and doesn’t require any heating, thus a thinner needle can be used, such as disposable insulin injection needles.  Smoking it is usually done by beginners or casual users.  Regular users will be more concerned with the quality (which is not as relevant for smoking) and will invariably prefer injection, as the effect is quicker, stronger, more efficient, and requires less syabu to achieve the desired effect.  While it all looks pretty much the same, quality can be tested by dropping a small crystal in a glass of water and watching the degree of violence with which the crystal swirls around in the glass.  For these varied reasons, syabu is the Japanese drug of choice for both sales and consumption.  I’ll focus on syabu in this post, though there are a lot interesting things to say about use and sales of other drugs in Japan.  Also, the sale of marijuana and hallucinogens in Japan is not as much the realm of the yakuza as syabu is, and therefore not as relevant to the current topic.

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