I’ve seen these slightly-creepy statues of a guy carrying his mother in various places in Japan, and always wondered what they were. They’re called kouyou no  zou (filial-piety statues), and it turns out they’re of a guy named Sasakawa Ryoichi, whose name will probably ring a bell if you’ve read David Kaplan’s book Yakuza.

He was a fascist and was arrested as a class A war criminal after WWII. Despite having run a huge fascist organization and recruited a 150,000 man army that plundered China, trafficked in opium, and committed war crimes, he was let go because there was not enough evidence against him (although some say it was because America wanted to use the right-wingers to fight communism).
He also had a lot of tie-ins with the yakuza, and was a drinking buddy of the head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Kazuo Taoka. Sasakawa was affiliated with the Moonies too, was one of the most powerful men in the LDP (even helping choose cabinet ministers), and once called himself “the world’s wealthiest fascist.”

So by now you’re probably asking yourself why there are statues of the guy all over Japan. Well, the reason is that after getting released from prison, he used his money and political influence to get motor boat racing legalized as a form of gambling. Motor boat racing (kyotei) is one of only four types of gambling that are legal in Japan, and earns billions of dollars every year. The money goes to the Nippon Foundation, and does do a lot of good charity work, supporting the United Nations and many important charities in the country.

Another thing it does, is put up these weird statues of Sasakawa and his mother all over the country. They’re outside every motor boat racing track, and also in front of a lot of the museums and cultural facilities that the the Nippon Foundation finances. This one is in front of the Maritime Museum in Tokyo’s Odaiba district.

The statues are just as odd as the man. Most of them were put up while Sasakawa was still alive, and he was present at the unveilings of many of them. Many Japanese people still remember the TV and newspaper ads he bought, ostensibly promoting family values, but many people got the impression he was more interested in promoting himself. The statues appear to be his idea, and all of them have a tear running down his face as he carries his mother up the 785 steps of a temple in Shikoku. If you look him up on the Internet, about half the information will be about his charitable work, featuring photos of him jogging with Jimmy Carter or chatting with the Pope. The other half will be his mug shots, or him having a good time with Mussolini.

Here’s a video of Sasakawa at the unveiling at one of his statues:

Wikipedia article on Sasakawa:

Sasakawa, a Respected War Criminal, an interesting article by a French journalist, who, despite being unable to spell ‘yakuza’ properly, has some interesting information about his life: