Last month, a husband and wife team provided the tabloid talk shows with a juicy "scoop" that titillated the minds of even the most veteran listeners. Isao and Kyoko Ima, a couple in their 50's first appeared on the Tsukuba scene about a year and a half ago and began making the rounds to gain contacts posing as members of a Unesco sponsored think tank. They claimed to have lived in New York and Paris, and their high level of English proficiency and seeming sincerity certainly lent credence to their claims.
The newspaper and television reports indicated that last October, they approached a Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida who lived in the Sakura Danchi behind the Mitsui Building in central Tsukuba. After gaining their confidence, they led on with a story about needing a place they could entertain a foreign guest for an evening home-cooked meal, and asked if they could borrow their apartment for a few hours. As the Yoshida's were going to be away for a day or two, they naively, as it turned out, lent them their apartment.
The supposed "few hours", however, turned into eight months of unwelcomed squatters refusing to leave! Upon gaining access to the Yoshida's apartment, the Imas took over and literally made it their own. They used everything in the apartment, and simply refused to leave. The TV reports showed how they had chained the doors so they couldn't be opened from the outside. Likewise, the two arranged things so that they were rarely if ever out of the apartment together at the same time. It was reported that which ever one was out at the time would use a cellular phone to call into the one remaining in the apartment after making sure it was safe to enter. Meanwhile, the Yoshidas still continued to pay the rent and utilities, which they faithfully kept up for eight incredible months. One wonders why they didn't have the electricity, gas and water turned off to flush the freeloaders out, but for some reason, that was never done.
Repeated requests to the police to do something about the problem didn't get anywhere at first, as the Imas simply refused to answer the door. Finally, however, the police got enough evidence on them to arrest them and forcibly evict them from the apartment. It was reported that as a final desperate effort to avoid arrest, Mrs. Ima took all of her clothes off so that the forced entry had to be delayed until a female officer could come to the scene! Thus ended a truly bizarre episode, and the Imas are now awaiting trial, where it appears that they will get their heart's desire of free housing for quite sometime.
In fact, it is now apparent that before coming to Tsukuba, they were involved in similar fraudulent activities in other places as well, always trying to stay just one step ahead of the law. One witness who went with them to their former apartment in Tokyo found that the door of the apartment had literally been welded shut so that they could not enter. This was apparently done in retribution by the apartment owner for their refusal to keep up their rent payments. Prior to conning the Yoshidas out of their apartment, however, one local foreign resident likewise fell victim to their scheming.
With their good English and the idealistic projects they were promoting (who wouldn't be for world peace fostered through economic empowerment of poor countries?), they approached several foreigners including myself. One, unfortunately, fell victim to their advances, and since it seemes that it would be a mutually benefiting arrangement, he ended up sharing his 6-mat apartment for about 5 months. As they were being kicked out of the Daiichi Hotel and seemingly being treated unfairly, he also agreed to sign a guarantee for about three weeks of room charge (to the tune of 280,000 yen!) with the understanding that the money from New York would soon be coming to cover their expenses. Needless to say, it didn't, and on top of that they even withdrew 150,000 yen from his bank account without his permission or knowledge!
During this time, Mr. Ima had also approached the YMCA attempting to get them to cooperate with his wonderful sounding plans for world peace and to lend him office space there. He claimed to be a Christian and even attended the English Bible Study at the Tsukuba Christian Center 3 or 4 times in an effort to win credibility. As part of his "wonderful civic spirit", he offered to help the international school raise badly needed finances through the sale by volunteers of special alkalizing water filters that could be purchased at half price and sold at full price (90,000 yen) with the margin supposedly going to the school. Fortunately, that offer was declined as something the school didn't want to get involved in, but it was seriously considered. As it turns out, however, Mr. Ima had conned the Ricoh Company into turning over two units as demonstration models, which they never received back. Having listed me as the recepient of one of the units, Ricoh called me to ask if I knew why they couldn't get ahold of him. They had no idea what had been going on and were astounded to find out the truth.
That seems to sum up the reactions of a number of people who came in contact with this smooth-talking pair. The lesson to be learned, of course, is to avoid being too gullible without at the same time being overly suspicious of every person claiming to want to do good. As with everything, we should "look before we leap" and confirm that what is being proposed is really legitimate.
In previous editorial comments, I have mentioned some of the fraudulent fund raising activities of the cults such as the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon, whose members often pose as fund raisers for worthy causes. The funds they collect for "the orphans", "refugees" or 101 other causes all decent people would want to support are, however, directly funnelled into Moon's coffers. They thus poison the atmosphere for volunteers who are actually try to raise funds for legitimate charities. Thus, the reality of today's world is that when you want to do good or help someone else do good, at least do a minimal amount of checking to confirm that it is legitimate. There are, unfortunately, numerous "wolves in sheep's clothing" preying on the unsuspecting, utilizing people's natural desire to what to help people less fortunate than themselves for their own gain. "Let the buyer (contributer) beware!"
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