Out of Japan: Honour among thieves ends 'six-day war'

TOKYO - It was just a regular Friday night last month in the mah-jong parlour in Sapporo, northern Japan. Yakuza gangsters were playing as usual for high stakes, clacking down the tiles in smokey rooms where the windows are closed and screened from the outside because their gambling is illegal. The police, who of course knew about the parlour, rarely interfered as long as no trouble occurred.

But as the night wore on tempers began to fray. Two men from different yakuza gangs were playing. One was from an affiliate of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's largest yakuza syndicate, which is based in Kobe in central Japan and has 23,000 members. The other was from the Kyokuto-kai, a 4,000-strong gang based in Tokyo. After midnight a dispute at the mah-jong table turned into an argument, which turned into a fight, and suddenly the Yamaguchi-gumi man was lying on the floor in a pool of blood, a samurai sword stuck in his stomach.

The police were quickly on the scene, and the Kyokuto-kai sword artist was arrested along with the owner of the mah-jong parlour. The death started vicious reprisals throughout Japan between the two gangs. Gunfire echoed even along streets in central Tokyo in the early hours of the morning, and police started to get worried.

Japan, in theory, is a gun-free society. In practice this is generally true. But the exceptions are the yakuza syndicates which run prostitution, gambling, loan- sharking and other seamy enterprises and who are all known to have arms. When a feud between two gangs breaks out, the normally safe streets of Japan can turn into a film set for shoot-outs between black-suited thugs with tinted-glass Mercedes and Uzi sub-machine-guns. Except the bullets are real.

Within hours of the mah-jong killing, a member of the Kyokuto-kai gang had been shot dead and three others injured in a reprisal. The Kyokuto-kai hit back, and the violence spread around the country. Bullets were fired into gang offices, cars were being shot up, and every morning the media would report on the tally of incidents from the night before.

Finally the violent conflict was ended in a very Japanese way - a third yakuza group, the Inagawa-kai, acted as mediators and both sides agreed to call off their battle-eager gorillas. The police, by contrast, seemed powerless. They threatened to close down the gangs' headquarters but did not even do that: apparently it would have taken a lot of time-consuming paperwork. Better to rely on the honour among thieves.

It came to be known as the 'six-day war'. At the end four people were dead, many more injured, and serious questions were being asked about the effectiveness of the new anti-yakuza laws which came into effect last year. Wasn't the new legislation meant to put an end to this kind of lawlessness?

The laws gave the police the power to close yakuza offices - why did they not do so? And should the laws not have been expanded to allow police to confiscate gangsters' illegally- obtained assets, as anti-racketeering laws in other countries permit? The police had no comments in the aftermath of the 'six-day war'.

Meanwhile the type of weekly magazines that include investigative reporting about mobsters along with their tales of pornographic actresses and politicians' secrets, probed deeper into the causes of the war. It has emerged that the mah-jong parlour killing was little more than a pretext for the show-down which had been brewing for some months over territory.

The Yamaguchi-gumi has been benefiting from the anti-yakuza laws to absorb smaller, more vulnerable gangs, thereby increasing its power throughout the country. But its main ambition is to penetrate Tokyo, since up to now the gang has been concentrated in the Kobe-Osaka area in central Japan. As they foraged through Tokyo's entertainment quarters of Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, they were increasingly stepping on the toes of the Kyokuto-kai. Both sides were spoiling for a fight.

According to the yakuza 'experts', the Yamaguchi-gumi's demonstration of its firepower during the 'six-day war' probably made it the winner. For the police, the most important thing was that the war had ended, and Japan could once again revert to being a safe, gun-free society. For the time being.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
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

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links