Why The Crackdown
National Police Agency sources on background explain that it was a number of factors that caused the intensive crackdown but the final straw was the ruling faction of the Yamaguchi-gumi, known as the Kodo-kai, parading themselves in front of the television cameras at the Nagoya Sumo Tournament in the summer of 2009. “There has always been an understanding between the police and the yakuza that the yakuza would keep to the shadows, that they’d cooperate with investigations, that certain rules would be followed. When we saw 50 members of the Kodo-kai brazenly prancing in front of the NHK broadcast cameras on a nationwide telecast—it was like a slap in the face. It was as if they were saying, hey, we can do whatever we want—we’re not afraid of anything. That was unacceptable. ”
On September 29th, 2009, Ando Takaharu, the head of Japan’s National Police Agency directed all police departments in Japan to devote their energies to arresting Kodo-kai members, crippling their businesses and front companies, destroying their revenue sources, removing their spheres of influence, and inflicting as much damage to the group as possible, by any means possible. In his speech, he noted, “The Kodo-kai is belligerent, they antagonize the police, and we can longer turn a blind eye to their money making operations using a network of front companies. They are a serious threat to Japanese society.”
Of course, the economic threat the yakuza posed to the nation have been known for years. The National Police Agency 2008 Special Report on the Yakuza concluded, “they have made such inroads into the Japanese financial markets that they threaten the very foundations of our economy.”
The Unwritten Rules Were Broken
Sources at the Center For The Elimination Of Yakuza (Boryokudan) notes that the crackdown also stems from violations of long existing unwritten rules. “In the old days, cops would go to yakuza offices and have tea with the bosses, exchange information, relations were cordial. If a serious crime were committed in a gang war, the yaks would cough up the criminal. When the Kodo-kai took over control of the Yamaguchi-gumi in 2005, they didn’t follow the rules. They don’t cooperate with the police, their members never confess to crimes, and in fact they gather intelligence on police officers and their families and try to intimidate them. Detectives have raided their offices to find photos of their own family members pinned to the wall, illegal copies of their car registration, and other personal information in the Yamaguchi-gumi hands. When the mafia challenges the authority of the police, they are clearly out of control.” Even former organized members agree. Masato Yamanaka*, a former yakuza boss, says, “We have always existed with the tacit recognition of the police and the government. When we challenged the cops, we really did become outlaws. The Kodo-kai ruined it for us all.”
Akihiko Saruda, a noted organized crime expert, author, and former detective now retired from the Hyogo Prefecture Police Department also points out that the crackdown has been spurred by the Yamaguchi-gumi take over of the organized crime market. The Yamaguchi-gumi based in Hyogo Prefecture has been expanding for years, gaining a huge foothold in Tokyo when they merged with the local crime group, the Kokusuikai, in 2005. The group, often called the Wal-Mart of organized crime has kept expanding. “Early this year, the head of the Inagawa-kai, the third largest crime group passed away and his successor was hand-picked by Uchibori Kazuo, the number 2 in the Inagawakai. Uchibori is a blood brother to the second in command of the Yamaguchi-gumi Kodo-kai. In other words, the Inagawakai is now under the control of the Yamaguchi-gumi That gives the Yamaguchi-gumi a de facto 50,000 members—more than half of all the yakuza in Japan; they have a yakuza monopoly. That makes them too powerful. It’s no longer possible for the police to play one yakuza group off another, to pit A against B to find out about C. It’s quickly becoming an all Yamaguchi-gumi world.”
Saruda believes that the police by cracking down on the Yamaguchi-gumi and sowing dissent against the ruling faction, the Kodo-kai, are attempting to break up the group and the monopoly the Yamaguchi-gumi has on organized crime. In essence, “the Japanese police are applying the organized crime control laws in place of an anti-monopoly law. If they break apart the Yamaguchi-gumi monopoly and the group, it’ll be easier to keep organized crime under control. They’re not ready to eradicate them yet.”
The Korean Card
And there is one more factor behind the push, one that is taboo to discuss in Japan. The Kodo-kai, the ruling faction of the Yamaguchi-gumi is heavily composed of Korean-Japanese members and from the police viewpoint that makes them a foreign menace. Police estimate that 30% of the yakuza are of Korean-Japanese origin. The Korean Japanese, many of them brought over as slave labor during Japan’s imperial period are a minority group in Japan that have consistently been discriminated against and thus have found the meritocracy of yakuza life attractive. Takayama Kiyoshi, the former acting chief of the Yamaguchi-gumi, is Korean-Japanese, with relatives in North Korea. From the Japanese police perspective, that makes him all the more dangerous. And it is no secret that North Korea has long supplied the Yamaguchi-gumi with methamphetamines, guns, women and other illicit goods needed for their moneymaking operations.
The Future of Organized Crime in Japan
It is unlikely that a law will soon be passed in Japan that is the equivalent of the US RICO (Racketeer Influenced And Corrupt Organizations) act–the same laws which contributed to the near obliteration of the Italian mafia. Japan still lacks the essential components to decimate organized crime. Wiretapping is allowed but strictly limited and impractical. There are no witness protection or relocation programs; no plea-bargaining allowed. Therefore, there is no incentive for organized crime members to rat out the bosses who give them their orders and many demerits for cooperating with the prosecutors, the possibility of lethal retaliation being chief among them. In fact, since the yakuza traditionally look after the families of a member in prison and bump them up the yakuza corporate ladder after getting out of jail–along with a hefty bonus–there are great incentives for the lower ranking yakuza to be uncooperative. It severely hampers any investigation.
Yet, slowly, and painstakingly, Japan makes it harder for the yakuza to exist as they have. The new ordinances that penalize those who pay off the yakuza or use their services will cost them huge losses in revenue. Organized crime exclusionary clauses are becoming part of every contract in Japan. These are clauses to any contract in which the individual signing has to clarify whether or not they are a yakuza, and if they are, the establishment reserves the right to unilaterally nullify the contract. It’s now part of almost any standard contract in Japan, for any service, even Sports Clubs. A yakuza boss opening a bank account this year was later arrested for fraud because he lied about his yakuza affiliation on the contractual agreement. It has become another weapon in the police arsenal, one that they don’t hesitate to use. In recent years, legislation has also been enacted that makes yakuza bosses financially responsible for any damages inflicted by their underlings—including skipping out on a cheeseburger bill at McDonald’s. It has made even the most hot-blooded yakuza reluctant to use violence against ordinary citizens, because they can be reasonably sure that there boss will have to pay the hospital bills. The boss won’t be happy about it.
The yakuza aren’t going to be chased out of Japan easily or very quickly but this year’s wave of arrests, the flood of new legislation, and the standardization of organized crime exclusionary clauses into contracts has made one thing very clear: the yakuza are no longer welcome in Japan. The questions that remain are these: where will the 80,000 members that make up the yakuza go when there is nowhere left to go. What will they do? Who will hire them? That’s a problem that Japan hasn’t even begun to consider. They probably should.