Part I: Sawanobori, or, basically, river climbing, is a very old Japanese pastime. It involves following a river or stream, up a mountain, to its source.  The climber ascends a tributary of a river, negotiates its features (swimming gorges, and climbing walls and waterfalls), and seeks to run that tributary until they have reached the river’s source.  That source is, generally, near the originating mountain peak.

This pastime is old. And, rife with spiritual metaphors, is connected to the native Japanese wilderness ascetic discipline Shugendo (The Way of Training and Testing).  Though sawanobori is still somewhat practiced today, the spiritual anchors have been cut loose, and the traditional straw flip-flops (waraji) and robes have been replaced by state-of-the-art gear and equipment.

(As an aside, this was one of my personal pastimes while I lived in Japan. I have followed a number of Japan’s 33,000 rivers from saltwater to summit.  And in no case has a steep-water route ceased to completely amaze me.)

Benzaiten is a Japanese Buddhist goddess. She originated as the Hindu goddess Saraswatî Devî. Benzaiten is the goddess of everything that flows: water, words, speech, eloquence, music, and knowledge.  She is also connected to military prowess, as traditional martial knowledge in Japan is passed down through schools known as ryu (“to flow; flowing from”, or in this case, “system or school [of knowledge]”; Linguistics, fuck yeah). Comparative mythologists will tell you that Benzaiten is directly connected to the Hellenic Athena, Roman Minerva, and Etruscan Menrva, from Saraswatî. I wouldn’t argue against that.


So this is where this particular journey begins. Standing before a shrine to Benzaiten. From here, I aimed to move upriver. Follow against the flow. Climb. Find the source.

In no small coincidence, I was also on a small island. This start-point was deliberate. From there I went to other shrines and temples, spoke with priests. I checked into the MoD headquarters to sip tea and chat with SOF staff. I hunted down dive bars near certain posts to drink and bullshit with men from the units. I bowed into a backstreet dojo to interview and get old-schooled by various octogenarian sensei. I found quiet libraries filled with the studying saplings of the modern Japanese intelligence machine.

All this to try to understand how and where Japan ended up, militarily, where it is today. No small undertaking. No shortage of twists, turns, shit-ditches, dick-draggers, and dead-ends. But I would make it to the source.

I’ve mentioned before the concepts of omote and ura. This idea that everything and everyone has a “demeanor” you can see, and a “nature” you may or may not be able to see. Well, this river climbing could be considered the omote of its analog activity, investigation. Seeking out information, and its source, is perfectly analogous, as the ura-action, to the omote of actually physically following a flow to its headwaters. Also, no small coincidence. I conduct, and excel in, both activities and operations as flipsides of the same coin; double edges of the same blade.

I take my chances. I sometimes get cut (literally).

So, here we are at sea level. Today. Nearly 70 years after the Japanese unconditional surrender to the U.S. Recently, Japan established a new outlook on Article 9 of its Constitution. Article 9 is the bit that says that Japan can only have “self-defense” forces, and can’t conduct aggressive or international operations involving bearing arms and bringing violence outside of its own sovereign territories. Article 9 also essentially established that the U.S. would be the sole proprietor of aggressive violence, in the name of Japan, should the need arise. Sidebar here is that the U.S. also held the go/no-go leash with regards to any nat-level Japanese military action.

This “new interpretation” they have developed was motivated (Ah! The ‘why’!) by two basic fuck-ups in how Article 9 managed to manifest itself in and around modern Japan. First, Japan’s territory was not exactly set in stone by everyone it was at war with that last go-round. The treaties that Japan signed with the U.S. congealing exactly what “territory” would be “defended” didn’t get blessed by some of the other folks in Northeast Asia after the dust and radiation settled. Barely a decade had passed before Russia was pressing itself onto Japan’s northern territories like a salaryman on a schoolgirl. The U.S. responded by doing precisely two things about those incursions:

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  1. Jack.
  2. Shit.

As a result, Japan lost land and people. No biggie. That was back when the U.S. economy was worth a shit, people worked for a living, and even though the U.S. began a decades-long military engagement in the middle of the region during all this, the shit continued. Additionally, it wasn’t just Russia showing up for the gangbang.

So, after six decades, effectively zero U.S. defense, continued loss of land (some very strategic), and a protracted, molasses-like removal of U.S. forces from both the Japanese Home Islands (to Okinawa) and from Okinawa (to Guam and elsewhere), Japan decided to try to go this on its own. With full U.S. backing.

With the perception management that Japan just pulled on Article 9, it can now (justifiably, legitimately) aggressively engage outside its sovereign territory. The geographic and situational limitations here are deliberately fuzzy.  And with all these new possibilities and special circumstances flooding into Japan’s overall strategy, so, too, are new and special operations and intelligence needs and units with new and special missions forming.

These units are divvied up amongst the Ministry of Defense proper, the three MoD branches of the JSDF, and a few internal ministries and agencies. Those branches, ministries, and agencies being:

  • Japanese Ministry of Defense
    • Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF)
      • Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF)
      • Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF)
      • Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF)
  • Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism
  • Japanese Cabinet Office
  • Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Japanese Ministry of Justice
  • Various non-National Police

Ministry of Defense Headquarters.

A list of current Japanese “special ‘operations’” commands, agencies, and units would include the following:

  • Ministry of Defense
  • JSDF
    • Central Readiness Force (CRF; which is actually a JGSDF command, but operationally skips the Ground high command and is gained by the JSDF high command, and the Minister of Defense)
      • HHC
      • 1st Airborne Brigade
      • Central Readiness Regiment
      • Special Forces Group
      • 1st Helicopter Brigade
      • Central NBC Protection Group
      • International Peace Activities Training and Education Unit
    • JGSDF
      • Western Army Infantry Regiment
        • Including a new adjacent or internal unit which specializes in island warfare (it’s pretty fucked how they are having to relearn this)
    • JMSDF
      • Special Boarding Unit
  • Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism
    • Japanese Coast Guard
      • Special Security Team
      • Special Rescue Team
  • Cabinet Office
    • National Public Safety Commission
      • National Police Agency
        • Special Assault Team

Special Forces Group Ninjas.

Although the status of this branch of the NatSec mechanism is far more fluid at this point, a list of current Japanese “special ‘intelligence’” commands, agencies, and units would include the following:

  • Ministry of Defense
    • Defense Intelligence Headquarters
      • HQ
      • Planning Division (HUMINT)
      • IMINT Division
      • SIGINT Division
      • Analysis Division
      • Joint Intelligence Division
    • Various JSDF units
      • JASDF
        • Air Intelligence Wing
      • JGSDF
        • Military Intelligence Command
      • JMSDF
        • Fleet Intelligence Command
  • Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism
    • Japanese Coast Guard
      • JCG Security and Intelligence Division
  • Cabinet Office
    • Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    • Intelligence and Analysis Service
  • Ministry of Justice
    • Public Security Intelligence Agency
  • Various non-National Police
    • Public Security Bureau

Western Army Infantry Regiment.  Amphib op prep.

That is, generally, how things stand presently with two of the Three Rivers. The ops community is fairly straightforward, by comparison. The intel community starts to get gray, but knowing the info ratlines keeps everything from going totally dark.  However, as we start treading up that third river, organized crime, Fingerspitzengefühl takes a complete fucking hike.

Although there are more than 100,000 *known* participants in the Japanese Organized Crime Community—the single largest organized crime group in the world–the majority of those “participants” are spliced out into three main “gangs” (gumi or kai).  There are dozens of individual gumi and kai, but the largest and most influential are:

  • Yamaguchi-gumi, based out of Kansai
  • Sumiyoshi-kai, based out of Kanto
  • Inagawa-kai, based out of Kanto

The “order of battle” here is very nearly non-existent; you just run the standard Yak model, which is very traditional and very codified, and therefore very available.

From here, we will identify and define where and how each of the above-mentioned elements fits into the modern scheme.  Beyond that, we will move back up the flow of time and up the downward flow of these Three Rivers. The further back and up we go, the more inextricably the Three become.  The various canyons and waterfalls we’ll pass as we go include Japan at the end of its last great economic dominance, the time between the Fall of Empire and the Rise of Keiretsu, and, finally, to the time when the leaders of Japanese martial, criminal, political, economic, intelligence, diplomatic, academic, and traditional systems fell—almost in their entirety—under the thumb and thrall of one single man.

This article was previously published by SOFREP 10.12.2014 written by The Odyssean