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Pachinko Mogul Accused of Racism by Own Daughter

This is the first article in our monthly series “Racism in Corporate Japan,” funded through the generosity of our SNA Patrons.

SNA (Tokyo) — An ugly legal battle has broken out in recent months between one of the biggest names in Japan’s multi-billion dollar pachinko industry and his own daughter, who accuses him of trying to pressure her financially to divorce her husband because he is black.

Han Chang-Woo is not just the founder of any pachinko business, but rather the biggest of them all. His family-owned enterprise Maruhan pulls in an annual operating income of about US$330 million, making it the largest of all pachinko firms measured in financial terms, and the second-largest measured by the number pachinko parlors that it owns and operates across the country.

Having just turned 90 years old, the Maruhan patriarch is a billionaire several times over. Born on the Korean Peninsula in 1931, he has lived in Japan since late 1945, finally taking Japanese citizenship in 2001 after spending most of his life as a permanent resident.

The recent controversy relates to the eldest of his six children, Marina Haba, who unlike her siblings has become estranged from her powerful father. Her four brothers are, in fact, senior executives at Maruhan.

The other key actor in the family drama is Joe Wallace, an American former professional basketball player, who first became romantically involved with Haba in the early 1990s. After several years together, they both went on to marry, and to later divorce, other people, but finally reconnected in 2011. Three years later, Haba and Wallace got married.

The old patriarch of the family, by then in his 80s, did not approve of this marriage and, according to multiple accounts, waged a campaign of financial pressure on his daughter seeking to force her to leave Wallace.

The main public source for what occurred is Haba’s testimony as presented to the United States District Court of Guam. Maruhan has a US subsidiary on this island territory, and Haba launched a lawsuit against her father in this particular court—and not initially in Japan—because US law has robust “discovery” processes that allow plaintiffs to receive more complete information from defendants.

In her account, Haba cites her father’s alleged racism as his only motive for pressuring her. The documents state, “Although he has to this day never met Mr. Wallace, Mr. Han did not approve of the marriage, just as he did not approve of their earlier relationship. Mr. Han has made it plain that he does not approve of Ms. Haba’s relationship with a black man.”

Han himself has not stated racist views in public, but his daughter contends that he has “made it plain” in private conversations that they shared.

Some sources, which have so far refused to go on the record, have suggested that Han may have grounds other than racism for opposing the marriage between his daughter and Wallace, but these sources have yet to break their public silence.

The SNA’s repeated efforts to hear the father’s side of the story were ultimately met with an email from a Maruhan spokesperson stating, “we refuse cooperation with your media request.”

Haba’s lawyers in Guam have also portrayed this case as “a timeworn tale,” arguing that “a domineering father seeks to exert his control and force his daughter to abandon the man she loves… Mr. Han has demanded that Ms. Haba make a wrenching choice: her husband or her livelihood.”

The father’s pressure campaign on his daughter did, in fact, provoke the couple to file for divorce in California in 2019. However, this is said to have been an unsuccessful ruse intended by the couple to throw Han off the track.

Haba has been vulnerable to her father’s pressure because her income over the past three decades has largely been provided by dividends on Maruhan stock.

In the early 1990s, Han provided shares in the company to all six of his children, and Haba, until recently, controlled 1.5 million shares, which had provided her with “a healthy income,” as the court documents put it.

The account continues, “Mr. Han began to take actions to interfere with her regular dividend payments contrary to her rights. This was clearly done at Mr. Han’s direction to eliminate Ms. Haba’s sole source of financial independence, to impose his dominion and control over Ms. Haba, and to force her to accede to his demands.”

Matters came to a head in September 2019 when Haba, by this time in desperate financial straits, went to meet her father in Kyoto.

According, once again, to the plaintiff documents in Guam, “Her father agreed to give her a loan, but he insisted that she leave her husband. He also made other outrageous demands, such as that she hand over all of her jewelry and cash to him, that she turn over her passport to him so that she would have to ask his permission to leave Japan, and that she agree not to go out for ‘unnecessary’ social engagements.”

Feeling that she had no other choice, and under extreme financial duress,” Haba agreed with these terms, and she received a loan of ¥480 million (US$4.6 million) from her father.

However, Haba did not fully abide by the terms, and in some manner her father soon discovered that she had been seen in public with her husband in the Roppongi district of Tokyo.

This development “infuriated her father” and he soon launched a lawsuit against his own daughter in the Kyoto District Court, demanding the immediate return of the money that he had loaned her, plus 14% annual interest. The court obliged by seizing some of Haba’s properties in Japan.

It was in an effort to defend herself against these actions that Haba launched her own lawsuit in the Guam court, thus providing the only publicly accessible account of what has occurred—at least until her father or other stakeholders choose to offer their own accounts.

Litigation in the dispute between father and daughter continues, and there may be additional lawsuits that emerge from the case.

Be that as it may, to the extent that one core issue in this dispute may be Han Chang-Woo’s alleged racism towards a black man, some observers have noted the irony that Han himself has been a target of racism in Japan all of his life.

Prominent in the promotion of Japan-South Korea relations, Han has received several honors, a fact which angers some rightwing Japanese.

To take one example of many from social media, “Mr. Han Chang-Woo, chairman of the Maruhan pachinko group, was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure Third Class by the Japanese government in 1999; and he was awarded the Medal with Dark Blue Ribbon by the Japanese government in 2016. It is sheer lunacy for the Japanese government to honor a foreigner who secretly entered the country” (referring to the fact that Han first entered Japan secretly back in 1945 and calling him a “foreigner” in spite of his Japanese nationality).

The Maruhan case represents an instance in which one of the most successful business magnates in Japan—who otherwise possesses a true rags-to-riches story and who overcame his own struggles against discrimination—is seeing his legacy rocked by allegations of racism in the twilight of his career.

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