New-look yakuza tries to become the friendly face of Japan

Tolerated for much of the postwar period, the mob is finally being brought to heel by the authorities

Tokyo

Japan’s largest organised crime syndicate has launched a website in an apparent bid to reverse its declining fortunes.

Instead of guns, molls and mayhem, the site is festooned with pictures of cheery blossoms and religious temples, and carries an anti-drug plea.

Yakuza-watchers say the site, run by the Alliance for Drug Eradication and National Land Purification, is a shop window for the Yamaguchi-gumi. A message says it was set up to help create a “beautiful, orderly Japan” where young people are protected, drugs are outlawed and the happiness of ordinary people is pursued.

Video clips and photos show hardened gangsters pounding sticky rice for a New Year festival, visiting Shinto shrines and acting as good Samaritans after the earthquake that devastated Kobe – home of the Yamaguchi-gumi – in 1995. A folk song unloads the burdens of mob life

Gangsters operate in plain sight. Crime syndicates have offices registered with local public safety commissions, and membership is legal. The Yamaguchi-gumi is based behind a high-walled compound in one of the wealthiest parts of Kobe. A large sign on the wall says the group promises to be neighbourly and law-abiding. Recent police estimates put the size of the gang at an all-time low of 27,000, well down from the 40,000 it boasted six years ago.

Tolerated for much of the postwar period, the mob is finally being brought to heel by the authorities. Yakuza-exclusion ordinances, introduced two years ago, stop companies from knowingly engaging in business with gangsters. Businesses from megabanks to corner shops are now obliged to confirm that customers are not related to organised crime.

Kenichi Shinoda, the boss of Japan's largest 'yakuza' gang, the Yamaguchi-gumi (Getty) Kenichi Shinoda, the boss of Japan's largest 'yakuza' gang, the Yamaguchi-gumi (Getty)
Alarmed mob bosses have discovered a new zeal for PR. The Yamaguchi-gumi recently produced an in-house tabloid with features on fishing, board games and a morale-boosting message from its godfather, Tsukasa Shinobu. An entertainment section contains accounts of fishing trips by its bosses, along with haiku poems and tips on how to play board games.

Shinobu reportedly dislikes drug use, reserving special disdain for amphetamines, the traditional drug of choice in the Japanese underworld. Drugged-up gangsters have committed hundreds of violent crimes over the years. But the anti-drug campaign is also a way for the yakuza to fight the police, who officially call them “anti-social forces”.

Experts say the Japanese mob is involved in a range of criminal or near-criminal activities, including loan-sharking, extortion, intimidation and fraud. “Their main businesses are basically the same as those of crime gangs everywhere: drug dealing, smuggling, prostitution, gambling, and protection rackets,” says a paper by Andrew Rankin, a researcher at Cambridge University, who also notes a recent shift to white-collar crime.

The website, however, illustrates the romantic self-image cultivated by yakuza members, who describe themselves as ninkyo-dan, roughly translated as “chivalrous groups”.

Jake Adelstein, an American journalist whose book about working the crime beat of Japan’s biggest newspaper is being made into a Hollywood movie, told The Japan Times: “The yakuza motto is ‘help the weak and fight the strong’. In practice, it’s usually the reverse.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all