The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

WHITING’S WORLD | POST-WAR JAPAN

May 2014
A Little Bit of Home
Jack Dinken was one of the first Americans to conduct business here after WWII
By Robert Whiting

One of the very first American businessmen to set up his shingle in Tokyo after the war was a congenial East Side New Yorker named Jack Dinken (1904–1995).

Dinken had initially traveled to China at the end of World War II to buy a human hairnet factory but, after stopping off in Tokyo in the fall of 1947 and noting the great potential for economic growth and opportunity here, he decided to relocate his business.

He came in on a commercial entrant visa, one of the very few that the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP) allowed at the time because of MacArthur’s desire to keep carpetbaggers to a minimum.

Dinken established an import-export company, Dinken Sangyo K.K., and moved into a small office a few blocks from the Dai-Ichi Seimei Building, which served as SCAP headquarters.

Dinken’s first big break came in late 1947, when communist demonstrations became so much of a problem that the authorities decided to outfit the Japanese police with modern weapons. General Headquarters (GHQ) had initially disarmed the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and stored the weapons in securely locked storage crates in a military warehouse in Yokohama. A year later, when the crates were reopened, the firearms were all missing.

Dinken, as chance would have it, was representing the firm Western Ammunition and Colt, among many other North American clients. He was awarded the contract by GHQ to sell weapons to the MDP and provided Japanese law enforcement with Colt .45s.

Since the long six-inch barrel was nearly half the length of the Japanese firearm used at the time, he also sold them Grip-Rite devices to steady the weapon as it was aimed and fired. So far, so good.

The chief of police then asked Dinken for some tear-gas grenades. After extensive research, Dinken selected something called Nauseous Gas Grenades made by Lake Erie Chemical Company
The grenade was a gas-emitting device that caused instant vomiting and/or diarrhea when fired. Dinken arranged for a demonstration to be conducted on an island in eastern Tokyo’s Sumida River. This exercise proved absolutely disastrous.

With 500 policemen from all over Japan watching, Dinken had stray dogs brought in and tied to stakes at a spot in the middle of the island where the gas bombs were to be set off. It was his idea to use the dogs in the experiment to demonstrate the harmful effects of the grenades.
He planned to detonate the drugs, thus causing the dogs to immediately become sick to their stomachs and impressing everyone with the efficacy of his product. However, Mother Nature refused to cooperate.

When Dinken set off the grenades, the wind suddenly changed direction, blowing the deadly gas toward the onlookers. The disastrous consequence was that many of the visitors developed sudden gastro-intestinal problems.

The incident left the island in a terrible odiferous mess and Dinken with a lot of apologizing to do.

Despite the calamity, the MPD decided to purchase the grenades as well as the Colt .45s. Dinken went on to have a successful 50-year career in the import-export business. He made huge profits selling Japanese transistors in the United States, while his wife, Anne—also from New York—opened a small hat shop.

Jack and Anne divorced in the early 1960s, but his ex-wife made her own peculiar mark on the city when in 1965 she opened Anne Dinken’s Jewish Kosher Deli, the first of its kind in Japan. There were German restaurants such as Ketel and Lohmeyer in Ginza, Italian restaurants such as Antonio’s in Shibuya, and Nicola’s in Roppongi, as well as a lot of French restaurants such as the one in the Imperial Hotel. But there were no kosher delicatessens.

The deli had on its menu corned beef, pastrami, rye bread, mustard, and other delicacies.

Brash and sassy, Anne bullied the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to allow the import of pastrami, even though MITI clerks had no idea what it was. She wound up with the exclusive rights to sell it in Japan.

Japanese waiters were hired and trained to be just like their Carnegie Deli, New York counterparts: surly and sarcastic. Dinken’s wife taught them to say oy vey (a Yiddish exclamation of annoyance) and to slam your pastrami and rye on the table in front of you. The eccentric lady proprietor would berate customers for not finishing their food (I know I was once berated for not eating fast enough).

Anne Dinken was sui generis. A young Japanese thug dressed in black leather once came into the shop and tried to rob the cash register. Anne Dinken slapped him in the face and he ran off.

Japanese went there for the one-of-a-kind experience of a real New York deli. Americans, particularly those from New York, went there for the nostalgia and the insults. It reminded them of home.

Anne eventually returned to New York and died in 1980, while Jack died in 1995. Both are buried in Mount Arat Cemetery in Suffolk County, New York.

Whiting

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Robert Whiting, 71, is an author and journalist who has written several books on modern Japanese culture, including You Gotta Have Wa and Tokyo Underworld.

Whiting first came to Japan in 1962 with the US Air Force Intelligence, where he worked for the National Security Agency in the U-2 program. He graduated from Tokyo’s Sophia University in 1969 with a degree in Japanese politics.

He went on to became an informal advisor with the Higashi Nakano wing of Tokyo’s second-largest criminal gang, the Sumiyoshi-kai, and worked for Encyclopedia Britannica Japan as an editor until 1972.

His first book was The Chrysanthemum and the Bat.

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