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Comedian Shimada quits show business over reported ties to yakuza

Aug. 24, 2011 - 01:49PM JST

TOKYO —

TV personality Shinsuke Shimada, one of the most familiar faces on variety programs, shocked the entertainment world on Tuesday when he announced that he would be retiring from show business due to his reported close ties to a yakuza gang member. At a hastily arranged news conference in Tokyo at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Shimada, 55, along with the president of his talent management agency, Yoshimoto Kogyo, Nobuhiro Mizutani, personally made the announcement.

According to Yoshimoto, an email exchange between Shimada and a gang member had been uncovered and its existence subsequently confirmed by Shimada. Shimada claimed that a friend of 10 years or so, with whom he still had regular contact, became part of a gang. It has also been alleged that this gang-member friend visited Shimada’s restaurant.

On his blog, Japan Subculture Research Center, yakuza expert and author Jake Adelstein claims that for several years Shimada was close to Tadamasa Goto, the former head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, until he was forced to retire in October 2008. He also alleges that Shimada subsequently became close to a senior member of the Yamaguchi-gumi Kyokushinrengo. He reports a rumor that several months ago, Shimada made the mistake of making derogatory remarks and referred to Goto without any honorifics at all, an act in Japanese society referred to as “yobisute” (dispensing with honorifics). Adelstein claims that this so offended Goto that he leaked information to the press about Shimada’s friendly relations with organized crime.

If evidence of Shimada’s yakuza ties did surface out of revenge for his disrespectful language, it would be especially ironic. Shimada himself has been in trouble before, after a female employee tried to speak to him without showing the proper deference in 2004. Shimada allegedly locked the woman in a room, beat her and spat on her for her perceived insolence. Shimada admitted the charge, was fined an estimated 10 million yen and was put on a 2-month probation. It is one of several assault cases in which Shimada has been embroiled.

Responding to his reported ties with a yakuza member, Shimada commented, “I didn’t think that I was doing anything wrong. Personally I thought it was fine, but I found out the day before yesterday that it was considered unacceptable.”

Yoshimoto Kogyo has released a statement saying that Shimada’s ties with the yakuza had not involved any illegal activity and there was no evidence of financial involvement. But the statement added: “Regardless of the reason, it is not permissible for a performer who exerts such a strong social influence on mainstream TV to have these ties.”

Shimada himself is believed to have brought up the idea of retiring from the industry. On behalf of his agency, Mizutani stated, “I deeply apologize to fans and members of the media for this betrayal of trust.”

Shimada is currently involved with several variety programs on different TV networks, such as “Gyoretsu no Dekiru Horitsu Soudanjo” (Nihon TV), “Quiz Hexagon II” (Fuji TV), “Kaiun! Nandemo Kantei-dan” (TV Tokyo), “Shinsuke Shacho no Produce Daisakusen” (TBS), and “Quiz! Shinsuke-kun” (ABC TV). It is yet to be confirmed how the networks will respond to the sudden absence of a man seen almost nightly on prime-time Japanese TV for decades.

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