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
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower