Freed journalist Jumpei Yasuda expresses gratitude, apologizes over Syria ordeal

BY  MAGDALENA OSUMI                           The Japan Times  NOV 2, 2018

Journalist Jumpei Yasuda, who returned to Japan last month after being held by militants in Syria for more than three years, said Thursday that he did not hold any grudge toward the Japanese government over his ordeal.

“I believe the government officials did everything they could,” given their stance of not paying ransoms to terrorists and that gathering information on the situation in that region is difficult.

“I owe an apology to all those who did their utmost to secure my release, and I’d also like to say that I’m deeply grateful for all the efforts” that led to the release, he told a jam-packed news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

“I’m really sorry for involving, and thus endangering, the government.”

Addressing a recent barrage of criticism, mostly online, which claimed that Yasuda should take personal responsibility for entering a war zone, the journalist said that he deserved it.

“You enter conflict-stressed zones on your own responsibility, and you can blame yourself if something happens to you,” he said.

Yasuda, who after returning to Japan spent several days in a hospital, said he was still recovering from the traumatic events.

Yasuda was abducted soon after he entered Syria from Turkey via a mountainous route on June 22, 2015. He believes he may have been deceived by people who were meant to be helping him cross the border.

Yasuda said he did not know for certain the name of the group that held him.

However, based on conversations he was part of or heard while in captivity, he concluded that the group may be the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or the Levant Liberation Committee.

The group was formed from a merger of the Nusra Front and other militant groups.

He said he could keep track of the events because he was allowed to keep records in a diary.

Yasuda said that in late July 2015, the militants informed him that they had demanded the Japanese government pay a ransom. The group was reported to have been seeking $10 million (¥1.1 billion).

Apparently the militants had high hopes that Tokyo would respond to their demand, and they allowed Yasuda to watch television and treated him to sweets and local delicacies while keeping him under surveillance during the first months of his ordeal.

Yasuda said the militants informed him that the government was willing to pay. But in the closing days of December that year, they told him that Tokyo had ceased negotiations.

“During that time, I clung to the idea that the government was trying to buy time,” he said.

Yasuda, who was transferred to various locations over the period of his 40-month detention, was held alongside other hostages. They included Pakistanis and an Italian man, who like Yasuda appeared in a video wearing orange jumpsuits begging for help.

Yasuda said that to scare him and prevent him from leaking information about his whereabouts or the militant group, he wasoften forced to listen to other hostages being tortured. He mentioned that Uighurs were among the militants keeping him under surveillance in the last months of his ordeal.

Militants suspected him of spying, and later played with his emotions by keeping him in a room where he wasn’t able to move, he added.

He said he was given script for most of the videos that militants released for negotiations, some of which were disclosed by media in Japan.

Before filming, he said, he was often required to eat chili peppers because the militants wanted him to appear tearful.

“They assured me they wouldn’t kill me,” he said. He also said his captors repeated promises of a prompt release numerous times, but in the last weeks he felt desperate and told the guards to “either let me go or kill me.”

Looking ahead, Yasuda said he had no idea whether he would return to Syria or neighboring countries to report.

“I go to such places when I want to get information, when I have questions,” he said.

He also stressed that “the role of journalists reporting from conflict-stressed zones is indispensable,” as they observe events impossible to cover and hard to comprehend from the outside.

For example, he said that in Syria he was hoping to obtain documents concerning members and the structure of the Islamic State group, which in 2015 wielded power in the nation and posed a significant threat to the world.

“At that time I wanted to see how the world of Islam works there, whether an outsider can grasp how it works and what problems exist in that society,” he said.

“I still want to learn more about Syria and convey the voices of people living there.”


Canadian held captive in Syria says Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda doesn’t deserve criticism

KYODO                                          The Japan Times  NOV 3, 2018

Journalist Jumpei Yasuda
, press conference, at Japan NationalPress Club, Uchi saiwai cho on Nov. 2, 2018. Hodo-bu Maguda reports, YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

NEW YORK – A Canadian also held captive in Syria has said that freed Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda should not be criticized for doing his job.

Yasuda, 44, who returned to Japan late last month after 40 months of captivity, has been criticized by some for putting himself in harm’s way by entering Syria alone. He was almost immediately taken hostage by a warring faction that then demanded a ransom for his release.

“I think it is very important for journalists and humanitarians to go to areas where a lot of people don’t or can’t get to,” Sean Moore said in a telephone interview Thursday. “The truth has to be told somehow, and that is a journalist’s job.”

“He (Yasuda) wasn’t carrying a handgun or an AK-47. He was there with a pen, and his punishment for carrying a pen was absolutely brutal and unnecessary,” Moore said.

“Anybody that criticizes him truly doesn’t understand the situation,” said Moore, 48, a resident of Ontario who was freed in February after being held captive for about a month.

Moore also faced criticism when he returned home.

“Many said, ‘Sean Moore deserved it and should have been left to rot in hell.’ I was told I took the risk and now I should pay the price,” he said. “It is difficult to read and hear these comments.”

Moore was taken hostage while trying to help a Canadian woman bring her two sons home from her ex-husband in Lebanon by taking them through Syria and to Turkey.

“He (Yasuda) has been through literal hell. It is easy to put blinders on and walk away,” Moore said.

Yasuda has said he and Moore were held at the same location, and Moore said Yasuda may have remembered his name because he said it every time guards threw food into his cell.

The captivity was “a living hell,” including beatings, Moore said. He was confined in a 90-cm by 1.5 meter cell which was sometimes flooded, and he was fed rotting food.

Moore said he did not see Yasuda at the facility since he was blindfolded and handcuffed any time his captors took him out of the cell.

He also said his captors told him on the day of his release that they were Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. That group formed through a merger of several groups including the Nusra Front.

North Korea says Japan must adapt to join diplomatic fray

North Korea says Japan must adapt to join diplomatic fray

KYODO 2018.5.8              The Japan Times

BEIJING – Japan must change its tune and adopt a new approach toward North Korea if it really wants to join the diplomatic fray in affecting rapidly evolving developments on the Korean Peninsula, the Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary on Sunday.

“What it (Japan) has to remember is that it can never evade the fate of the left-out person if it behaves disgusting while repeating the old cliche of ‘sanctions’ and ‘pressure’ as now,” said the official newspaper of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party.

It said the Japanese government was resorting to “flattering the American master, neighboring big powers and even the south Korean authorities, but it will never step on the sacred land of the Republic unless it drops its inveterate repugnancy and bad habit.”

No Looting in Japan

3月27日のJapan Timesからの引用です。

Amy Chavez.Columnist, The Japan Times
Posted: March 27, 2011 11:05 PM

People around the world have marveled at the lack of mass-looting in Japan among the survivors of the recent earthquake and tsunami. Many people are still asking: Why was there no mass-looting?

People are undoubtedly comparing the incident in Japan with other natural disasters in the world when people under similar circumstances did loot. And they didn’t just loot food or necessities, but big screen TVs and other “must have” household appliances.

Some plausible reasons for looting are: panic, greed, and because everyone else is doing it. Looting has become the norm, the expected.

One person suggested the Japanese didn’t loot because they had more faith in their government to provide for them during a crisis. Hmmm. I doubt it.

Others suggested it is the “wa” mentality, where harmony of the group is put above the individual. Hmmm.

Another person suggested it was somehow related to the fact that the Japanese return lost items — giving an expose on how lost things are most always returned to their owners in Japan, including wallets, cash and umbrellas. I might add that there is an incentive in Japan to turn things in — if no one claims the item, you have the rights to it. Thus, you get to feel like a hero for turning it in and have a chance to keeping it legally. When I turned in a wallet one time, the policeman told me that I was entitled to a reward from the owner if he came in to claim it. Unfortunately, the owner was a high school student who didn’t have any money in his wallet anyway. Just notes passed in class and girls’ phone numbers.

But, I’d like to offer a more plausible, politically incorrect answer as to why the Japanese didn’t participate in mass looting: integrity.

One common experience among foreigners coming to work in Japan for a year or more is that when they leave Japan, they leave a more polite person. As a foreigner, you learn that certain things that may be accepted back home are just not tolerated here. Petty crime (Who stole my plastic gnome lawn ornament?!), verbal assaults on store clerks, and anger in the form furrowed brows, pursed lips and the occasional disgruntled snort, are not accepted here. So while in my society, an angry, gnome-stealing person may be normal, in Japan such people are thought to be selfish and dishonest. And, by God, you don’t just take things because they’re not chained down! Once you know the rules of a society, however, it’s surprisingly easy to adjust your own behavior to fit into that society.

Two adjectives that immediately come to mind when describing the Japanese: polite and harmonious. Which makes me wonder, if you are not polite or harmonious, what are you?

While Japan has a group-oriented society, in the U.S. we like to describe ourselves as focusing on the individual. Our society teaches us cognitive thinking: look, evaluate, then decide whether to loot or not (often times justifying our actions with, “If I don’t take it, someone else will anyway”). The Japanese, on the other hand, look, evaluate and still don’t loot. The point is, “That item doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the store owner.” This is selfless, which, I hate to point out, is the opposite of selfish. Sniffle.

There is an easy way to expose the flaws in our own thinking, just in case you’re wondering what yours are. All you have to do is rearrange your way of thinking in much the same way you rearrange the furniture in your house. For example, I once met an angry, exasperated tourist who had just come out of the post office. “Why is it,” he wanted to know, “that in Japan the trains are so exact but they can’t even run an efficient post office?” After mentally moving the couch from one side of the room to the other, and replacing it with the dog’s armchair, you could say, “Why are the post offices so efficient in my country but the trains always so late?”

Is it the presence of “wa” that prevents people from looting, or is it the power of the individual that allows them to loot? “Selfishness” is a word societies need to think about.

An honest society is not unique to the Japanese. Ask your own parents or grandparents and they will surely tell you how it used to be, when there was more respect, less crime and no road rage. But whereas we have slowly lost our integrity, the Japanese have not lost theirs.

Although an individual-based society can also be a good society, when it comes to a crisis, you can only hope that people will be less selfish, and more selfless.