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.”

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
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

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam