Alberto and Me: A Journalist and His Camera

The Sleuth Series > Detective Bar > Daido Moriyama > Alberto Fujimori

A good story always needs "grease," the Captain often says. He sees it as that special element that keeps the story moving, gives it the intrigue, the hook.

This week the grease is exile - more specifically, a life in exile. Tag along with the Captain as he roams Tokyo's streets with a Peruvian journalist on the lookout for former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori.

A high-end Ginza hostess club; a black four-door sedan; an apartment rent of 1.2 million yen per month.

Individually, these places and things might not hold much meaning. But when put together they encapsulate a life; in this case, the affluent Tokyo life of Alberto Fujimori, the former Peruvian president who came to Japan after resigning his post in 2000 amid accusations of murder, fraud, and treason.

At least, such a composite image is the one being shaped by Mario Castro, the 36-year old Japan correspondent with newspaper El Comercio, for his readers back in Peru.

"I try to think like Fujimori thinks, try to know or perceive what he does, where he goes," the tall and thin-framed journalist explains of his strategy in profiling Fujimori's existence in exile.

Of course, simply speaking with Fujimori, who is often reported mixing and mingling with Tokyo's upper crust and political elite, might be an easier approach. But with the exception of a few interviews for various media organizations, Fujimori has shown a preference for one-way communication via his Web site, a platform in which he is slowly assembling his political comeback.

"His actions, his contacts, his movements, tell me more about him than what he can tell me," Mario insists, undaunted by Fujimori's lack of access.

As a result, Mario works as a sleuth in search of basic information on his subject. But such work is not simple. It requires patience, smarts, and instincts - all things he carries with him, in addition to his trusty camera, as he lives the life of the only Peruvian journalist covering the activities of Fujimori in Japan.

His day might begin with a check of his sources: newspapers, Fujimori's web page, or associates at the Peruvian Embassy.

Any subsequent work will require the use of his camera, formerly an L-shaped, 5x zoom Sony with night-vision capability, but its conspicuous nature has caused him to turn to a more traditional-looking Nikon. "If I leave my home, I always carry my camera. I can forget my wallet but not my camera," he laughs.

One target was the Kioicho Building, one of Fujimori's seven Tokyo area residences. For three days, from morning to afternoon, Mario patrolled the Akasaka building that has apartments fetching 1.2 million yen a month. He used the elevators; he walked the parking garage; he scoped the shops in the nearby area. "If I worked for a real estate company, I could sell that building," Mario boasts.

He went through the same protocol for Meguro's Hotel Pricess Garden, another temporary domicile and owned by Fujimori's girlfriend Satomi Kataoka, an author of books romanticizing Japan's Imperial Army. "I try to feel the place," he says. "In my case I have to use my intuition a lot. I have no other way."

Friends can be a key as well. One female friend working as a hostess at a Ginza club, which charges a 50,000-yen entry fee, leaked to Mario that Fujimori had been a customer the night before. Mario went to the club the following day under the guise of retrieving his friend's handbag on her behalf. "Are you Mexican?" an employee asked casually. After Mario indicated that he is Peruvian, the manager replied, "Your former president was here last night."

These random anecdotes are then put into Mario's stories filed for El Comercio. The pieces are not an attempt to determine Fujimori's guilt or innocence; rather they merely provide information and perhaps raise questions and inconsistencies under the assumption that Fujimori has nothing to hide.

One puzzle: Why would Fujimori move from the secure Kiochio Building, complete with surveillance cameras, to an open residential home in Meguro Ward given that one reason that has been reported for his escape to Japan, as stated in an article in the Tokyo Weekender, was a death threat he received in November 2000? As well, why befriend Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, whose public remarks denigrating foreigners are more widely known than any of his political polices?

Mario estimates that he has officially made ten separate interview requests by fax, mail, or through chance meetings with Fujimori's brother-in-law Victor Aritomi Shinto. He simply wants a chance to clear the air. "Let me have the opportunity for you to show your point of view to my public," he implores to Fujimori. "I will not judge you."

The charges against Fujimori, who served as president for ten years, include robbing Peru of millions of dollars and ordering the murders, false imprisonment, and torture of thousands of Peruvians.

The Peruvian Government has requested Fujimori's extradition but Japan has resisted on the grounds that he was born in Japan, a point that is still not completely clear to this day.

Though Mario, who voted for Fujimori in both the 1990 and 1995 elections, has never received a threat or faced any physical harm - a reasonable concern given the accusations of his subject - conflicts have occurred.

A year and a half ago, he attended a Fujimori speaking engagement in Tokyo. After taking a picture of Fujimori standing at the lectern, as many Japanese journalists had already done, he was asked to leave by an event attendant. When later accosted in the hallway by a large group of attendants, he volunteered to erase the memory card in his camera, knowing full well that he had already snapped another picture using a different card resting safely in his pocket.

No detail is overlooked. Mario also keeps track of smaller, more random things: Fujimori has a driver's license and cruises the city in a black Toyota four-door sedan with polarized windows; he has a fondness for soba noodles; and his wheelchair-bound mother, also a Japan resident, enjoys a stroll through parks. It is all part of the picture, Mario says.

Given that Fujimori has been somewhat accommodating to other foreign journalists from outside Peru, Mario does feel frustrated at times. But it's part of the job. "If I have some rock in front of my way, I jump," he exclaims, slapping his palms together. "When I can write a good article, my good feeling is double. I know I am an underdog."

The general apathy expressed by the Peruvian community towards the severity of the charges against Fujimori is another troubling aspect of Mario's work. Through survey results and letters he has received in response to his articles, he has found that many Peruvians feel Fujimori is guilty of the charges against him yet they would vote for him in the 2006 election, a ballot in which Fujimori has publicly stated he plans to be on. Fujimori's relative popularity to this day, Mario rationalizes, is due to the lack of confidence in the current administration of Alejandro Toledo.

This month saw Mario publish the first issue of his monthly Spanish language magazine. As editor and main writer of Wakaranai ("I don't understand" in Japanese), Mario printed 6,000 copies for the initial 24-page issue, the cover of which includes a caricature of Fujimori (complete with spectacles and fat lips) as a tourist in Tokyo. The content focuses on the Latin community and Japanaese culture. One story featured the Japanese tradition of displaying small stones at temples to represent fetuses from abortions.

As to the future, Mario doesn't have a set schedule. "I don't decide my next move," he says. "Fujimori decides my next move.

Note: Photo of Alberto Fujimori provided by Mario Castro. Eric Prideaux contributed to this report from the Tokyo bureau. Wakaranai can be found at on the web at

The Sleuth Series > Detective Bar > Daido Moriyama > Alberto Fujimori

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