Modern Hoaxes & Frauds from Japan

One thing that seems to happen all over the world, are hoaxes and frauds, like Piltdown Man, crop circles and Justin Bieber being a lizard, to name but three. Some have been subtle,  and yet others were put on display almost as challenge hoaxes, such as those by entrepreneur P.T. Barnum.  Many fall somewhere in the middle.

Is there a difference between a hoax and a fraud? I’m going to say a fraud is pretty much a hoax in these situations, but where someone has intentionally benefited either financially or through reputation. Let’s say that shall we? Here then, are four hoaxes/frauds from Japan over the last couple of decades.

When is a stem cell not a stem cell?

Early 2014 was an interesting time in Japan with the rollercoaster scientific ride which was RIKEN and Obokata-san’s announcement they could re-program adult cells to become stem cells in a process called STAP (Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency). This was an exciting announcement, given with great fanfare in January 2014, making Obokata a celebrity in Japan, right down the apron she claimed to get from her grandmother which she wore during the experiments (and later proved to be largely untrue).

This news of a simple way to create stem cells was published in Nature magazine in fact – not a lightweight outfit in itself. The Japanese media lapped it up.

Quickly though, many peers became unimpressed, initially citing doctored images, and by April 2014, these doubts had made Obokata quite irritated, and so the press rallied to support her, given the pressure being put on their allegedly photogenic star scientist.

However, it was all for naught. In July, Nature retracted the paper as Obokata could not recreate the results she claimed to have been able to do 200 times, neither could any other lab;  her mentor – Yoshiki Sasai  – tragically committed suicide just a few months later,  in August. It all came to a close in December when Obokata resigned, after six months working with an independent team and still not managing to recreate her results.

Like most hoaxes/frauds, this one took a lot of time in the checking and unraveling which could have been better spent researching in what is a very worthy field, so I label this one a fraud, and given allegations Obokata hadn’t been entirely honest on her doctorate submission, we await if she can make a comeback in the field.


Not The New Beethoven-san

It seemed that for years a man called Mamoru Samuragochi had been earning a fairly tidy living being known as a deaf composer, indeed a modern day Beethoven – except that he wasn’t actually writing the music. Also, he might not even be deaf.

The music was actually being written by another composer, a music teacher named Takashi Niigaki, who effectively was ghostwriting for the rather more flamboyant and charismatic Samuragochi.

This all came out in February 2014 (a good time for these things in Japan it seems), when the composition “Hiroshima Symphony #1” was about to be used by one of Japan’s Olympic skaters at the Sochi Olympics. In fact the truth was outed by none other than Niigaki himself. I expect since this was on an international stage, Niigaki decided it was time to get some personal credit for his work.

Incidentally, the New York Times called Samuragochi ‘beloved’, and referred to the incident as a hoax, but I’m going to have to call fraud on this one. The two were in cahoots for 18 years, and whilst I don’t doubt either of them had talent, they needed each other – would Niigaki’s work have received the same attention it had done if it was he doing the PR for it, or does it get more attention to have a hippy looking, deaf  ‘composer’ fronting the works?

Sadly I can’t find any details of how it works under copyright, but Niigaki claims he’s received 70,000USD for his work with Samuragochi, and with his tune soon to be getting massive exposure in Japan with the popular skater Daisuke Takahashi, I have to assume the timing was related financially.

That Samuragochi may not be totally deaf is just another twist on this, as claimed by Niigaki and others, and even the man himself admitted, “The truth is that recently I have begun to hear a little again.”

The proof in this one is the calibre of future works by either of them.


I’m Your Biggest Fan!

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that may not be the case when the other person doesn’t know you’re doing it, you’re claiming it as your own, and accepting awards and money for it.

In 2006, Yoshihiko Wada received a fairly prestigious award in Japan – the “Education, Science and Technology Minister’s Art Encouragement Prize”, except that, following an anonymous tip, it was alleged that Wada had in fact copied some of ‘his’ works from an Italian artist, Alberto Sughi.

If you look at two of the items side by side, they do look a little more than similar more than similar – that’s assuming you can find images as they seem a little scarce nowadays.

Sughi vs. Wada
Sughi vs. Wada (from

It’s not as if Wada had just randomly found the images either – he’d met Sughi whilst in Italy, studying, and claims to have worked with him, which might be stretching it a little, since that’s not how Sughi remembers it – he thought Wada was a fan and remembers he took a lot of photos of his work.

“I never knew he was producing works like this. They’re stolen” – Sughi

This then, has the added wrinkle of plagiarism to it, making this the only one here most definitely not a hoax. Wada also lost the award – and the tidy sum of money associated with it, and given his defence argument, it’s not difficult to see how:

“I borrow others’ compositions and add my own ideas,” he insisted. “Only artists who’ve studied abroad can understand the subtle differences in nuance.” – Wada via BBC

I’m not sure where he’s going with that, and neither it seemed, did his peers. It seems like he thinks it’s OK because it was outside Japan, so no one inside Japan would notice? Perhaps he underestimated the global nature of modern art.

The sad thing here, like most artistic frauds,  is that Wada seems to be a fair painter in his own right, a body of work which is now likely to be discredited or even ignored after this.

Making up History

I’ve saved one of the older hoaxes till last, because for some reason, I find this one the most annoying.

Shunichi Fujimura was an amateur archaeologist who participated in over 180 digs around Japan, and was responsible for making incredible finds which raised huge questions about when humans had first arrived in the archipelago, and thus how and from where they had come. At each dig it seemed he’d find stone objects in ground strata which suggested they were much older than expected.

In late 2000, he and a team had been working at a site near Tsukidate in Miyagi Prefecture, and after a few decent finds, Fujimura announced they’d found proof of human dwellings almost 600,000 years old. That’s a significant difference to what was then believed – most estimates put it at around 40,000 years ago that people had arrived in modern day Japan, via land bridges from mainland Asia.

It seemed almost unbelievable – and indeed, it was. The man had his doubters, and it seems they were correct when Mainichi Shimbun released photos of him actually burying the finds before they were excavated. They then did an interview with him, and he tearfully confessed that pretty much all of his most impressive finds were fraudulent, some going back to the 1970s.

That someone would do this to aggrandize their standing in a community may be understandable, for it did gain Fujimura a great deal of respect and drew admiration from peers, with the Japan Archaeological Association [JAA] and even local and national governments, some of which themed tourism campaigns around the finds.

It’s not clear though as an ‘amateur’ archaeologist, how much this financially benefited Fujimura, or whether it was just the adulation he craved. The man himself, by way of explanation said something along the lines of ‘being tempted by the devil’. This perhaps parallels that he was sometimes referred to as having ‘divine hands’ when it came to finding exciting artifacts.

Eventually, when he was outed by the Mainichi, he seemed to come clean as to the scale and duration of the lies, meaning much of his work could be quickly debunked, and updates were made in many textbooks to reflect that various sections they contained were now known to simply not be true.

So why does this one annoy me? Mainly because some scholars based years – decades – of research on his findings, trying to figure out and piece together the history Fujimura’s finds suggested, and the generation of archaeologists who would have to unlearn his findings from their textbooks. That’s a lot of other people’s time wasted for an ego boost. Some suggested he did it for vague nationalistic reasons, but I think was just an average man who got  swept up by fame and forced himself to make the next ‘find’ even more incredible than the last, perhaps not appreciating the knock-on effects these finds had internationally. A review by peers found that the JAA was also somewhat at fault, in not checking for tell-tale staining and other environmental effects on the finds, which should’ve raised questions earlier.


So there are four hoaxes from the Japanese archipelago over the last few years, which join the thousands of others from around the world. Some hoaxes are sometimes started as a bit of fun, such as the crop circles, but as with many things, many seem to have more serious intent, either for fame or simply money. Having looked at these four, I came away at least thinking they should have taken a leaf out of P.T. Barnum‘s book and managed to put on a bit of a show with some of these!


The Fee Jee Mermaid




Tax, Alcohol and Radiation?

It’s a new year, so in a fit of preparation, I decided to go and make sure my tax links were all correct before next month when I sit down, watch Black Books Series 1, Episode 1, then figure out how much money I owe the Japanese government.

My first stop for this is always The National Tax Agency website. The English page may look a little 1998-esque, but importantly:

1) There is an English page;
2) It provides a link to the English language summary guide for filling in your tax forms (2013 .pdf here, if you’re interested).

I might write this up next month when I do the taxes, but I have to say that doing your own taxes isn’t so bad. It’s easier than some other things here for sure, and the people involved are actually usually very helpful.

Back to my original point. I was looking around the page and much of it is quite dry, with very dull sounding links like, “Commissioner’s Directive on the Mutual Agreement Procedures (Administrative Guidelines)“, and “Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States issue internal guidance to improve the Mutual Agreement Procedure and Bilateral Advance Pricing Arrangement processes“. Thrilling stuff.

Then, you find links like, “The results of Sake Awards”. I have no idea where that fits on any governments tax pages, but there is a very decent page outlining the winners out of various sake (rice wine) breweries in their pursuit of excellence.

However, the winner of the “Links I Don’t Expect to Find on a Government Tax Page” award goes to:

The results of radiation examination of alcoholic beverages (Last updated on January. 9)

For the purpose of providing consumers with safe and good quality alcoholic beverages, the NTA conducts radioactive examination for alcoholic beverages including those for exports.

So basically, the tax men and women of Japan have managed to get a gig where they have to spend lots of time with alcohol in order to … er … test for radiation safety. And to ensure good quality! The health and foods ministries must be upset they missed out on that job, especially since they seem to have issued the testing guidelines.

Yes, this post is very tongue in cheek.

Boundary Conditions

I mentioned in the last post about ‘boundary conditions’ and a quote from the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. Here it is. It’s in the fifth installment, where Arthur Dent is looking for information from an old man who lives up poles (and can seemingly teleport between them). He points out he only lives up poles in Spring, Summer and Autumn, as he goes south in the winter, to his beach house. He then explains why he bought the beach house:

A beach house doesn’t even have to be on the beach, though the best ones are. We all like to congregate at boundary conditions … where land meets water, where earth meets air, where body meets mind, where space meets time, we like to be on one side and look at the other.

The boundary condition part just stuck in my mind as another truism from THHGTTG – I think people are attracted to them, myself included. If you haven’t listened to Hitchikers you really need to do so – it’s a masterpiece of wit and observation.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Complete Radio Series

Movember 2013

It’s November again, which means it’s Movember again! Basic premise: grow a moustache, raise money for men’s health organizations. Simple enough?

I did this last year and found it surprisingly more involving than I expected. That furry top lip becomes a talking point, and people – men and women – are genuinely interested if they haven’t heard it before. Take a look, and maybe make a donation here.

MO13 Primary Logo Stacked POS

This is my first post in a while. I’ve just been busy.

Invasion of the Mushrooms

I must admit to not usually feeling that a vegetable (or fungi) is worth a comment on, but I was fairly impressed, bordering of blown away, when I saw that in the two flower pots near the front door had over ten huge mushrooms in them yesterday night, where only three days earlier there had been none.

I’ve removed them for fear they may be undesirable, and assume they got in there via spores from somewhere, perhaps in the soil. I have weighed LH’s opinion that they may have grown from the marrow of some massive insect which has been buried in the bowl, but the whole concept frightens me too much. I must have cut an odd figure, stood outside my house doing some gardening, in the dark, with a headlamp on, and effectively harvesting mushrooms.

Anyway, there we have it, I’ve managed to achieve a blog post about mushrooms, and not a single hallucinogen oriented comment.

Comic Touch for iPhone

This app – adding mindless commentary to photos on my iPhone is actually something I could actually get into.


It’s by the same people who did Comic Life on Mac and PC which I remember I got bundled with my MacBook a few years back. Nice app.

Chicken Genocide?

So a collection of us, a congregation, maybe even a brood so to speak, had a night out, dining at Zest in Kyobashi, where, for some reason, a couple of us decided to feast for the entirety of our pre-defined two hour stay on chicken wings, served in one of four ways. I can’t name those four due to the three hours of karaoke in the intervening period, but rest assured, there were four kinds.

I think what attracted us was the fact that they advertised several batches – from ten pieces, to one hundred. One hundred chicken wings. That’s fifty chickens as far as I can tell, but served on four plates. Anyway, long story short, the two of us took about half of that order, and just kept going. The final tally will never be known, but there were a few.

Anyway, fast forward to after the karaoke, tired, covered in various beverages and heading to the lift, but before two of our depleted number fall through the lift doors on the wrong floor, and LH comes up with the correct term for the evening’s gorging: Chicken Genocide.

Maybe I should take up the offer of Vegetarian Week at the end of the month.

pile o bones

Aptitude Tests

Right now, I’m doing lessons towards my 400cc motorbike license test, currently booked for the end of May.

One part of the procedure is to do an ‘aptitude test‘, which is a combination of several test sections. The first few are based on spotting patterns and odd ones out, with each section only taking a couple of minutes, and speed/number of responses also being a factor.

For example, in a left side column there may be the numbers 25367, on the right 25637, and you quickly see they’re different, so you put an ‘X’ between them; the next question may be two strings of kanji which are the same, so you put a circle next to them to say they’re ‘correct’.

This fits a test of speed of recognition and decision making. Most of the sections are based on this concept, such as one which tests mental arithmetic, and one which (odd as it may seem) measures how quickly and repeatably you can draw triangles within a square.

The last section is a personality profile section, with just over 50 questions you can answer true, not true, or ‘?‘.

Fortunately for me, for this last section, I was given English translations of the questions, as I’d still be sat there looking up kanji in my WordTank an hour later otherwise. Some of these questions were easy enough to see where the test was going: Have you ever fainted? Do you have problems sleeping away from home? Do you suffer from anxiety easily?

However, some of the questions had me a bit bemused:

Do you often hate the world and want to die?

Do you hear voices?

Even stranger (in some ways), the next question was:

Do you like children?

I have to say, if I was going to kill myself, would I a) write it down, and b) take the trouble to do my 400cc motorbike license first? I wonder what responses they get to this quiz, and what kind of students are in some of these classes.