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.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
These photographs released by the University of Maryland Medical Center show images of full face transplant recipient 37-year-old Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville, Virginia
mediaGQ front page features man who underwent full face transplant
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Sport
Moeen Ali wearing the 'Save Gaza' and 'Free Palestine' wristbands on his left arm
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Business Analyst - London - Banking - £400-£450

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Banking - London...

Application Engineer - Flow Metering

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Application ...

Chemical Engineer/Project Coordinator

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Chemical Eng...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on