Thomas the Yak Engine? Publisher alleged to host gangster front company

Shukan Shincho Sep. 9
Shukan Shincho Sep. 9

Children’s books and criminal organizations go together like water and oil. However, reports weekly tabloid Shukan Shincho (Sep. 9), the pair is apparently coexisting under the same roof at the Tokyo headquarters of the well-known publisher Poplar Publishing, which prints Japanese language editions of the “Thomas the Tank Engine” series of books.

Established in 1947, Poplar began its shift in tenants last autumn. “In September, a company joined as a tenant on the 6th floor of the publisher’s headquarters in Shinjuku Ward’s Yotsuya district,” says an individual associated with the publisher who does not name the company in question. “This tenant joined under the direct referral of Hiroyoshi Usuda, the chairperson. The company is said to sell devices that eradicates pollutants from water.”

The website of the company — for which a Google search reveals to be NIBM — features actor Hiroki Matsukata, known for his macho roles in mafia and samurai films, extolling: “I was shocked when I used it!” The site also provides details on the product’s efficacy in purifying water. The tabloid also reports that this firm is recognized by law enforcement as a front for a Yamaguchi-gumi affiliate.

“The company’s managing director serves an intermediator for a geino production company under a boss from within the entertainment industry and the head of a group affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi,” an individual associated with investigations says. “This managing director has coordinated geinojin (entertainers) to attend private gatherings for this gang boss as well as reconciling any issues any of them may have had. Post-retirement of that boss, the managing director maintained his solid relationship with the gang-affiliated organization.”

So, wonders Shukan Shincho, how does this fit into the publishing of children’s books?

“Usuda is known as an entrepreneur,” says a person with knowledge of the situation. “He has a solid record of working with companies. He is also the owner of Special Week, the horse that won the Japan Derby in 1998.”

In 2003, Usuda was involved in the founding of an affiliate company to Poplar — a move that helped him to establish himself as a chairperson. He is also the majority shareholder of the company in question.

When the managing director of the company in question was asked about Usuda’s involvement, he said, “I am not involved at all with Poplar or the yakuza.” He added, “While searching for a sponsor, we consulted with Matsukata-san, with whom I’ve had a 40-year relationship. He then referred us to Usuda-san. Usuda-san said, ‘Move into here,’ and thus we moved into the current location.”

The tabloid has also found that documents have recently been circulating with a sender’s name indicated to be “A Group of Employees Wishing for the Return of a Clean Poplar.”

The same individual associated with Poplar says that about a year ago another company whose business has no association with publishing as well moved into the building. “People appearing to be not exactly professional began to surface and employees started to feel uncomfortable,” the source adds.

What does Usuda say about all this?

“I was introduced to the managing director of the company in question by Matsukata-san, whom I know well,” Usuda told the tabloid. “I am bearing 104 million yen in monthly rent. There is no way whatsoever that the company in question is a fronting firm. If that’s true, Poplar will go down.”

Whatever the case, Shukan Shincho concludes, this is no longer child’s play.

Note: Poplar offers a response to Shukan Shincho’s assertions here. As well, NIBM has modified its front page to respond to the allegations. (A.T.)

Source: “Kikansha Tomasu ‘Popura sha’ ni boryokudan furonto ga kisei shita,” Shukan Shincho (Sep. 9, pages 45-46)

Note: Brief extracts from Japanese vernacular media in the public domain that appear here were translated and summarized under the principle of “fair use.” Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy of the translations. However, we are not responsible for the veracity of their contents. The activities of individuals described herein should not be construed as “typical” behavior of Japanese people nor reflect the intention to portray the country in a negative manner. Our sole aim is to provide examples of various types of reading matter enjoyed by Japanese.

Comment On This Article