In late June, Japan’s powerhouse talent agency Yoshimoto Kogyo suspended 13 comedians after the tabloid Friday revealed that they had performed at a party for yakuza gangsters in December 2014. The hosts, who at one point defrauded some elderly people out of an estimated $19 million, according to the Asia Times, paid the ring of comedians for an “underground job.” Entertaining mobsters is not illegal in Japan. The comedians’ real crime—or so their agents believed—was that they booked the gigs by cutting them out, in order not to pay the high commission fees. As one comic confided to The Japan Times, “I can’t make a living without underground operations.” Hiroshi Osaki, chairman of Yoshimoto Kogyo, replied, “It’s outrageous to swindle people in weak positions out of money.”
Yakuza Yuk It Up
The hottest drink among French wine-and-food freaks this summer? It’s not an Aperol spritz or a rosé. Instead, it’s a wine long seen as fit for peasants only: rhubarb wine, such as Michel Moine’s, which is currently being served for 60 euros a bottle at the Hôtel de Crillon bar.
Forty years ago, Moine, who owns a pig-and-cattle farm in the Vosges Mountains, east of Paris, was looking for a way to diversify his crops. He tried to buy endive from a dealer in Belgium, but he was sold out; instead, Moine bought 400 rhubarb plants from a farmer looking to get out of the business.
Four years later, he decided to make wine with it, using his grandmother’s recipe. Created as an inexpensive alternative to grape wine, the rhubarb varietal has been popular with farmers and laborers for centuries.
“We made two barrels in 1989, but it was too much for [our family], so we tried selling it.”
At first Moine took his bottles to local wine fairs, but before long he was invited to tastings and wine exhibitions in France and abroad.
“The experts say our wine is magnificent,” the 70-year-old Moine says. His sons and grandsons now run the business and produce six varieties of their vin de rhubarbe, including a dry white to be paired with fish, and a sweet white to be paired with foie gras.
And while the crowd at the Crillon isn’t likely to care, rhubarb wine has one other advantage over grape wine: an open bottle can last three weeks in your refrigerator.
Small Fortune, No Cookie
The Upper East Side–ification of Beijing marches on: it’s come to light that a father there, desperate to guarantee his child would get into one of the city’s top-tier, elite schools, paid $525,000 for a 130-square-foot storage room that had no running water or drainage simply so he could claim it as his official mailing address.
Last year, in order to democratize school enrollment and address the effects of rising wealth on education inequality, Beijing revised school admission policies. Districts for school zones were expanded, but homeowners still have priority over renters.
Can Sunken Treasures Save Fish?
Each year, divers pull Greco-Roman bronze artifacts—arms, helmets, an effigy of an ancient god—from the Mediterranean, a seemingly ceaseless source of ancient relics. But these same waters are increasingly unable to sustain coral eco-systems. Emily Young—“Britain’s greatest living stone sculptor”—intends to change that with her latest project, an artistic revitalization of the sea.
Young, who has relocated to Tuscany, carves marble heads—worth nearly $600,000 each on the commercial-art market—to drop them in the waters surrounding the coast, where the stone sculptures then catch nets cast by illegal fishers.
“It’s heartbreaking to see how barren the sea floor has become,” the artist has said. “But with our sculptures the boats’ nets get snagged and can’t be used.”
Paolo Fanciulli, a local fisherman, has lured several artists to Tuscany to stop overfishing. Fanciulli started depositing concrete blocks into the sea in 2006. But he invited artists to take over his sea-saving mission after receiving a gift of 300 chunks of marble from the proprietor of a local quarry.
The marble comes from Carrara and carries with it an artistic legacy—Michelangelo drew from the same quarry. But Young reaches toward ancient times for inspiration. Her colossal pieces—anchored by aquiline noses—have the look of a slightly sea-faded Greco-Roman bust.
Young has said that she hopes her work will one day be discovered by future art historians, the sculptures acting as “a voice from now to the future.” But this possibility depends in part on the planet’s eventual health, which is increasingly threatened by climate change and overfishing.
The project in Tuscany, however, has already helped reverse the effects of overfishing. Dolphins and lobsters have returned; starfish, crabs, and coral decorate Young’s first submerged sculpture. Soon, it will be covered in sea life. One day it may be dredged up, an artifact of an ocean on the brink of collapse.