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Sunday, June 29, 2003

MEDIA MIX

The party is over for 'Super Free' sex gang


The hormone-fueled stupidity that characterizes the behavior of your average college student is a fact of life, and people who are bothered by the unsafe sex, nonstop boozing and mindless pranks that typify spring break in the United States usually advocate moderation rather than outright prohibition. They know there's little they can do, especially when you've got MTV glorifying this kind of knuckleheaded behavior every April.

News photo
Students stroll around Waseda University. (Yoshiaki Miura Photo)

In Japan, college students are no less hedonistic, and if there's a difference it's mainly in the way the public looks upon their misbehavior. Americans generally accept it as a rite of passage, while the Japanese see one's student years as a four-year break in an otherwise drudgery-filled life.

Traditionally, young Japanese worked very hard, starting in early childhood, in order to gain entrance to a good university. The reward was membership of the college-going elite and the perks included a winking acknowledgment that, unless you were a technology major or on track for an academic career, you didn't have to sweat the studying part, because the bureaucracies and name companies that eventually hired you didn't care what you studied since they were going to retrain you anyway. They only cared about the pedigree, and for that reason it was beholden to the universities themselves not to make too much of scholastic achievement, since dropouts and poor performance would somehow reflect badly on their image.

College is a four-year vacation, which means there are elements who will try to make money out of it. One such person is Shinichiro Wada, the head of a now-defunct Waseda "circle" (extra-curricular club) called Super Free, who, along with four other male college students, was arrested two weeks ago for gang-raping a 20-year-old female college student following one of Super Free's parties in May.

Circles are normally athletic, artistic or academic, but Super Free was a social club, and, from all reports, a money-making one. Wada's purpose, according to a report on Nippon TV's evening news show, was to provide college students with a social outlet so that their "campus life" could be more enjoyable. Some of Wada's colleagues said he was making 10 million yen a year with the circle, which is operated along the lines of a pyramid scheme, with employees selling tickets to the circle's functions.

The reason for Super Free's success was that it was registered with Waseda, one of the most elite private universities in Japan. Students from other Tokyo schools bought tickets to Wada's parties to bathe in the Waseda aura. Women were attracted because they wanted to meet Waseda men, and men -- whether Waseda students or not -- joined because they knew lots of women would be there to meet Waseda men.

Super Free depended on its Waseda connection to make money. Wada, who is 28, transferred to the school after attending Chuo University for one year. He spent seven years in Waseda's prestigious politics and economics department before being expelled for failure to pay his tuition, and then entered Waseda's lower track "second division" school, where he's now been for two years.

According to Nippon TV, the rape was not an isolated occurrence. Many male students who joined the circle did so with the expectation of sex, which, if it happens, follows the inevitable nijikai (second party) that follows the main party and which is held at a smaller restaurant and involves heavy drinking. Wada reportedly encouraged this expectation and has allegedly committed other assaults in the past.

The announcement of the arrest came right on the heels of another scandal involving the elite school. Several days before, a team of young extortionists was arrested and one of them happened to be a Waseda student.

In fact, the reason the extortion group made it into the news was because of that student's involvement. The kind of extortion they practiced involves teenage girls who sleep with older men they meet through "telephone clubs." The men are then blackmailed by young men who force them to make accounts at consumer-loan companies that the group then taps into whenever it needs spending money.

According to Aera, this sort of extortion has been on the rise for more than a year, but received little media coverage until this particular group was caught and found to include an "elite."

The accused "Super Free" rapists have said that the sex was consensual, a claim that most people will find less than believable in a case involving five men and one woman, but the "elite" factor has made it more of a bombshell than the usual rape incidents, which are rarely covered in the media unless they involve celebrities or U.S. servicemen. Some TV stations have broadcast head shots of the five alleged rapists, which is very strange since the media usually don't even reveal names. Documentary filmmaker Tatsuya Mori, in his Asahi Shimbun column, speculated that the press is being especially harsh on the five because they are connected to Waseda, even if only three of them are actually enrolled at the prestigious university (one is from Nihon University and the other from Gakushuin).

Is the media punishing those students because they want to give Waseda its comeuppance or because they think that, since Waseda students are on a higher plane than the rest of us, they have to be pulled down a little? Mori doesn't say, but there's another possibility. Media people are usually graduates of elite universities themselves. They could simply be punishing members of their brotherhood who were stupid enough to get caught.



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