New York Residents Call ‘Yellow Cab’ Author a Fraud

By Brian Covert and Hiroaki Wada
Staff Writers

Author Shoko Ieda is renowned in Japan for her nonfiction writing on AIDS patients as well as for her interviews of yakuza women and the wives of Diet members, her accounts even having been dramatized on the silver screen in Japan.

But Ieda’s journalistic credibility is now coming under fire by residents of New York City over the contents of her 1991 bestseller “Yellow Cab,” a supposedly nonfiction book featuring the exploits of drug-using, sexually promiscuous Japanese women there.

About 350,000 copies of the book have been sold since its publication a year and a half ago.

The sources of the most serious charges being leveled against her — ranging from accusations of racial discrimination to
yarase, or outright media fraud — are longtime New Yorkers, some of whom claim to have directly cooperated with Ieda in the putting together of “Yellow Cab.”

One of them is Alan E. Murakami, 56, owner of a travel agency on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

“Her book ‘Yellow Cab’ is dead words, especially among the Japanese,” Murakami, a resident of the U.S. for 32 years, said in a telephone interview. “I question why that book has come out now. (Ieda) talks about ‘yellow cab’-type of people — I don’t know who they are.”

Ieda, whose real name is Kyoko Alexander, purports the term “yellow cab” to be a popular New York expression describing Japanese women, who, like the infamous New York taxi, are an “easy ride” for any willing passengers, most of whom she documents in her book as being African-American men. Several critics counter that the term “yellow cab” was virtually unknown in New York before Ieda’s book came out.

Murakami says that he had verbally outlined to Ieda at least six of the 11 people she took the credit for interviewing in her book, including a 31-year-old boutique worker, a 24-year-old freelance writer/drug dealer, a 35-year-old housewife, a 23-year-old media coordinator, a 21-year-old drug-addicted jobless woman who was in the hospital after attempting suicide, and a 35-year-old ex-fashion stylist — the latter two characterizations apparently modified to some extent, according to Murakami.

Those stories, he said, stem from actual past cases he has handled as vice president of the Japanese Affairs Council, a New York-based nonprofit organization that provides guidance for Japanese residents and tourists there who find themselves in need of help.

From his own contact, Murakami estimates that the number of serious cases involving Japanese women in New York who get into trouble with drugs or sex is “about one in a hundred.” Murakami dismisses both “Yellow Cab” and a later book by Ieda on “resort lovers” in Hawaii as glorified “porno writing.” “It’s very insulting to the Japanese who are staying abroad,” he said.

Murakami says Ieda never mentioned she was writing a book on the subject and she never again contacted him after their first and only meeting on June 27, 1991 — a period when African-American freelance writer George Sarratt Jr. alleges he began gathering information for “Yellow Cab” on Ieda’s behalf in New York City.

“Together we fabricated a false story, and she was satisfied with it,” Sarratt stated in a press release last Dec. 16. “She paid remuneration for my cooperation, and introduced me to the manager of a publishing company and the staff of a TV broadcasting company.”

The 32-year-old Sarratt later had his own Japanese-language book,
New York no Kagai Jugyo (New York Extracurricular Lessons), a story of his experiences with Japanese women, published through the Tokyo-based Koyu Shuppan — the publisher of Ieda’s “Yellow Cab.” It was on Ieda’s promise to help him get published that he originally got involved with the [“Yellow Cab”] project, Sarratt says.

When his relationship with the publisher later went sour over the sensationalizing of his own book, said Sarratt, he decided to go public. He has dismissed the accuracy of at least 28 separate parts of “Yellow Cab,” insists that he was the one who did most of the legwork for the book, and significantly lowers the number of 90 persons Ieda said she initially surveyed. Sarratt has recently declined to elaborate further on his role in the “Yellow Cab” controversy.

Also declining to comment is Ieda’s management company, the Tokyo-based Hiro Production Co. Ltd. A spokeswoman for Ieda instead referred all questions to a 150-member grassroots group in New York City’s Japanese community, the
Yellow Cab o Kangaeru Kai (Association to Think Over the Yellow Cab Issue).

It is this group that has been most doggedly pursuing and publicizing the matter in both the U.S. and Japan.

Surprised at Ieda’s usage of “yellow cab,” the group carried out its own survey in April through May. The poll selected 200 people from a Manhattan telephone directory and asked them if they had “ever heard the expression ‘yellow cab’ used for anything besides a taxi.”

How many of them replied “yes”? None, according to the group.

Masayoshi Toyoda, one of the group’s organizers, said Ieda, responding to his inquiry, vaguely answered that she had heard the phrase being used in a negative way in Japan, failing to give details such as from whom she had heard the expression.

The group also said the book contains several other false statements, including “The East Village (in New York) is called the ‘Japanese Harlem.’”

Such fabrications have caused strong prejudice against the Japanese living in New York, the group says. According to the group, the prejudice in turn has also resulted in some unfortunate cases, such as one Japanese student giving up going to New York to study after her parents, who had read “Yellow Cab,” opposed her plan.

But despite the group’s protests, Shigeto Saito, president of Ieda’s publishing company, Koyu Shuppan, stands by her work — some minor revisions notwithstanding.

“The plot of ‘Yellow Cab’ has been in my mind for the past 10 years,” Saito said in an interview at his office. He says he has no doubt Ieda carried out her job of writing “Yellow Cab” honestly and professionally.

He underscored Ieda’s reputation as recipient of the esteemed Oya Soichi Nonfiction Award in 1991 for her nonfiction book
Watashi o Daite Soshite Kisu-shite (Hug Me and Kiss Me), the story of her volunteer work with American AIDS patients that has been made into a motion picture in Japan.

“Fabrication would be suicidal for a nonfiction writer (like Ieda),” Saito said. “I believe in her.” But despite such faith, later editions of “Yellow Cab” were in fact altered in a few critical places, in effect softening the book’s initial shock value.

In the 27th printing of the book, for example, this new qualifying statement by Ieda was inserted: “I would like to reconfirm that this is a story about some of the Japanese women living in New York — certainly not all of them.” Saito says that other unspecified revisions in the book are to come in an effort to eliminate any future misunderstandings.

Back in New York, the
Yellow Cab o Kangaeru Kai is pushing ahead with its protest, and members say they are prepared to keep the heat on the bestselling author until they get satisfactory answers. The group sent a written inquiry to Shoko Ieda on May 14, but has received no reply.