On March 3rd of this year, ultra-mega pop star Utada Hikaru‘s mother — ’60s folk singer Fuji Keiko (aka “Junko Utada”) — was detained in New York’s Kennedy airport for possessing over $420,000 in one-hundred dollar bills. She also had two boxes of checks from an ex-assistant who had recently been embroiled in troubles related to Australian “currency violations.” Fuji did not adequately explain any of the mysterious circumstances of her belongings in the questioning. The money was “won from gambling,” but all her casino receipts showed her magically receiving large amounts of chips without ever buying in and then cashing them all out when she left. She also claimed to be going to Las Vegas to give it all the money to a “foster home,” but she could not provide the smallest detail about the organization.
Paying off gambling debts? Laundering money like a good Japanese music manager? International drug smuggling? The report opens up way more questions than it answers, and I had awaited further inquires by the Japanese media to see what was going on. The Japanese media, however, cannot be bothered to look into the leads. (Even a Mainichi Daily News English story on the subject was pulled down immediately.)
If it were not for the internet site The Smoking Gun, none of this would have come to light at all. The very low-profile Japanese coverage of the incident does little more than quote from the Smoking Gun report — adding either the obsequious and fictional compliment 「米国でも人気のポップス歌手、宇多田ヒカルさん」 “Pop star Utada Hikaru — who is even popular in the United States” or questionable assertions of total innocence 「結果的に、違法性はなかったと判断され、今月に入って現金の返却手続きが始まっているもようだ。」”Consequently, it was judged that there was no illegality, and this month, procedures for the return of the money have apparently begun.”
This story strikes me as one the Japanese press will not touch with a stick. Way too many taboos involved: mention of the incident will piss off Utada’s iron-fisted father and toy with the dangerously-accurate idea that the Japanese music industry is fundamentally built upon a base of tax-evasion and money laundering. And the mom herself, being a beloved pop star from the late ’60s, would likely have ties to the traditional “strongmen” of music management who can pull some strings with the media world.
Will any of the financial mysteries of Fuji Keiko’s arrest be solved? We will have to wait for the next Smoking Gun release, no doubt. The Japanese media can report on the TSG report, but going any further would perhaps open Pandora’s Box.
Update 10/4: The weeklies have taken up the story. Shukan Bunshun offers: “Fuji Keiko — her marriage separation and casino-insanity — discovered from the forfeited ¥50,000,000.” Shukan Shincho goes with: “The mysterious ¥49,000,000 incident: Fuji Keiko is lying.” Isn’t it nice to be a media organization without links to television channels dependent upon talent so that you can write freely about whatever you want?