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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
  • Get to the point
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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living