By David McNeill (Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan)
One autumn day five years ago, journalists at the Asahi Shimbun looked up from their desks to see their boss holding an impromptu press conference on the newsroom TV screens. For months, the newspaper had been taking flak over an article about the Fukushima nuclear accident. Now Tadakazu Kimura, its president, was apologizing to the nation and announcing that the article in question was being retracted.
Hideaki Kimura, who wrote the piece, and Makoto Watanabe, who ran the special investigative section that carried it, watched in astonishment as the president stood up, flanked by the paper’s heads of editorial affairs and public relations and bowed low for six seconds. Neither reporter knew what was coming. But then Kimura straightened up, and vowed strict punishment for “all concerned.”
For many, the humiliating mea culpa, coming on the heels of another Asahi retraction of articles on “comfort women” a month earlier, was a mortal wound to Japan’s flagship liberal newspaper. For Kimura and Watanabe, though, it was the end of the line, and both quit soon after.
But despite the slap in the face, both stayed in the journalism profession. Today, they can be found running the Waseda Chronicle, an online, non-profit investigative newspaper out of a small office in Tokyo.
When we met, Kimura had just returned from a reporting trip to the Philippines, source of most of the bananas consumed in Japan. Unknown to most consumers, the industry is a black hole for human rights, he says, with instances of strikebreaking, intimidation of workers, even murder. It’s exactly the sort of story the big media should be doing, he says. “But they ignore it.”
Sample reportage (computer translated below)
One of the most prominent places in the supermarket is the bananas from the Philippines (* 1). In the Philippines, there are a number of incidents such as violence, harassment, arson, and firing for people who work on the shipment and production of bananas to Japan. Last October, it finally developed into a murder.
Filipino bananas account for 86% of the Japanese banana market. Mindanao Island is the place where bananas are produced and shipped. Sumiful Japan (* 2) is handled. It is that Sumiful that handles “Ganjuku King Gold Premium”, which is the image character of the talented GACKT. Although it is now a subsidiary of Sumiflu Singapore in Singapore, its predecessor is Sumisho Fruit, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sumitomo Corporation. A major supermarket, Aeon, sells Sumiflu Bananas as part of the “Sweet Refreshing Bananas”.
The people who work at Sumiflu’s shipping factories have been fired at home, fired, and harassed themselves and their families. And finally it developed into a murder case.
The intensification came from the strike that began at October 1, 2018 by the people working at the Sumiflu shipping factory.
Eight shipping factories created the “Unified Labor Union Namasfa” (* 3) and demanded regular employment and collective bargaining on a strike. Participating in the strike were people from seven of the eight shipping factories. The strike lasted for more than 300 days and all 749 people were fired for participating in the strike (* 4).
A wage that is low enough to not support a family, a job that extends to midnight without standing. The background was low wages and long working hours (* 5).
Japanese people eat cheap bananas that are supported by low wages and long working hours.
What is happening behind the bananas that reach Japan? I visited Mindanao Island, where the martial law from 2017 is still unclear.