< HOME  Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Working in Tokyo for the Israeli Mafia

Note - I lived in Japan for almost a decade. The Israelis have had a strong presence there for at least 2 decades. On the cover of the Japan Times, circa 1990, there was a small article stating that the Israeli Mafia and the Japanese Mafia had formed a pact.

I knew an Iranian who sold drugs for the Japanese mob (Yakuza). He said some Iranian Jews he knew were selling jewelry in Tokyo and making $2000 a day - in actuality, they were selling hash and meth to the Japanese. Some (not all) of these Israeli street hawkers are really in the drug trade. More than a few of them get jobs in Tokyo through connections in Bangkok at Israeli run guest houses, like the ones on Khao San Road.

There are better ways to make a living.

It’s said that a fool and his money are soon parted. And that’s exactly why there are so many Israelis selling jewelry on the streets of Japan – they’re making it even easier. But the good news for the traveller in search of a buck is that you don’t have to be Israeli to hawk fake Rolexes and silver rings to the Japanese. I did it and I’m as uncircumcised as the next goy.

The boss once asked me: “Tom, are you Jewish?”


“Well, nobody’s perfect.”

Yes, you will be working for the Israeli mafia and they’ll suck all the work they can out of you. They’re lying, corrupt sleazebags but at least you won’t have to kow-tow to some nerdy Japanese boss. The Israelis have all the pitches on the streets sewn up these days so there’s no choice but to work for them. At least you don’t have to bring any stock yourself and they take care of all the practical stuff for you. All you’ve got to do is sell.

The set-up is like this: You get yourself to Japan and the Israelis will find some cheap accommodation for you. If you’re hard up they might even lend you a bit of money for the first week or two. Then after a few days of hanging around the stalls of the other sellers, learning the tricks of hard sell and some basic Japanese, you’ll be given a pitch of your own. You’ll be driven to work every day and set up four boards of jewelery and one table for the fake watches. For every item there is a minimum price, but you get 40% of the gross so you sell them for whatever you can get away with.

And then you’re on your own. For the next 10 hours you do your best to lie, flirt, bully and manipulate by any means possible anyone and everyone who passes by into buying something. “Please, sir! Come and look at my shop! Looking is free only! I make you good price! Buy something for your girlfriend!” Sound familiar? Yes, you have to become just like all those merchants and hawkers who drove you crazy all across Asia. Believe me, you’ll feel more sympathy for them in the future.

You’ll fleece drunken salary men returning from a night out at a blowjob bar, bimbos looking for a new Gucci accessory, and naive teenagers who want to buy their first Rolex. And if you can’t agree about the price? Well, this is a society of Samurai, after all. Looking some defiant student in the eye, I’d draw back my shoulders and say:

“Are you a man?”

“Yes, of course!”

“Then let’s play junken!”

Also known as scissors, paper, and stone, this ancient game is sacred and few lacked the honour to pay your asking price if they lost.

But whatever you do, don’t convert the prices into dollars in your head because you’ll die laughing. You can sell pieces of purple string to put around the wrist for $15. It all depends on your confidence. Once, my friend told me, our boss was hanging around his stall and he set down on the table some lighter that he’d bought at 7-11 for two dollars. Some drunken businessman came along and fell in love with the thing. He was talked into buying it for $100.

Of course, the business is not exactly legal. I was working on a busy shopping street over Christmas, and in 10 days the police closed me down 35 times. They’d march up to my stall and shout angrily in Japanese I would pretend not to understand. They’d make me sign some form in Japanese, then I’d turn off the lights and look sorry. When they were out of sight, I’d open up again. They couldn’t believe I kept coming back.

“He’s a real tough cookie, this one,” they must have mumbled.

And if it wasn’t the boys in blue wearing me down with their clipboard and forms, it was the Yakuza. They’re paid off by the Israelis of course, but there’s always some drunk criminal who wants to scare a gaijin ( any foreigner.) Usually it was just some young, Mafia wannabe punk out to prove himself, but once I was fooling around with some pissed old guy who came to me on a quiet night.

“I am businessman!” He told me and held up his left hand with the missing little finger. When the Yakuza fuck up, honour demands that they cut off one of their finger segments to atone. As a guitarist, it was a horrific sight. All I could say was: “Yes, sir! No, sir! How many bags full, sir?”

On a good day, selling silver in Tokyo was like stealing food from a paraplegic, and I couldn’t believe how a nation of such hopeless suckers ever got so rich in the first place. On the bad days, though, when rain came with the cold and random street aggravation, I hated the work as much as my own corrupted soul for sinking so low as to take such a job.

Still, I was lucky. Over three months I managed to save about US$3,000, but others I met only managed to cover their costs. This is definitely a job best suited to pretty girls and good liars.



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