Why One Of Japan’s Largest Organized Crime Groups Is Looking For Legitimate Work

Why One Of Japan’s Largest Organized Crime Groups Is Looking For Legitimate Work

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In this picture taken on May 20, 2017, men pose for photographs showing their ‘Irezumi’ Japanese traditional tattoos related to the Yakuza’s universe, during the Sanja Matsuri festival in Tokyo. (FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Japan’s organized crime groups (aka the yakuza) are still big business. The National Police Agency estimates that they still collect 5% of all revenue from construction work; yakuza front companies are involved in waste disposal, entertainment and labor dispatch. They operate both legitimate and illegal businesses. Now one group is considering going into the private security racket.

The Yamaguchi-gumi, still Japan’s largest organized crime group, was founded in 1915 and after 100 years in business split apart on August 27, 2015, into two groups, the original organization, and the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi. This April, there was a third split, with Yoshinori Oda, an underboss of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, creating the Ninkyo (Dantai) Yamaguchi-gumi or loosely translated, “The Humanitarian Yamaguchi-gumi.”  His new group with its low association fees is drawing recruits from all over the underworld.

Japan currently has over 22 designated separate organized crime groups with office buildings, corporate logos (代紋), and some even have pension plans; they are collectively referred to as “the yakuza”. The groups are regulated by Japanese law but not banned.

What makes the new group so different is that the leader Oda want to break free from the anti-social practices and illegal activities of the past.

Police officers raid the headquarters of the ‘yakuza’ crime syndicate, the ‘Yamaken-gumi’, in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, in western Japan on September 9, 2015. (JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

According to an interview published in the weekly magazine, FLASH, he wants to use his fearless yakuza soldiers as real soldiers–yakuza mercenaries and/or security police who can protect Japanese citizens working overseas.  He feels the yakuza must go legit to survive. The loyalty, fearlessness and legendary toughness of the yakuza makes this seem like a plausible idea. Traditional yakuza are heavily tattooed in a painful process using an awl and ink that scars the skin so badly that the old name of tattoos in the yakuza world is “gaman” (我慢)meaning “endurance.” Before the invention of the electric needle, the more densely tattooed a yakuza was, the more it showed he could endure great pain.

Also, when a yakuza failed in his duties or one of his subordinates failed, they would chop off part of their finger and offer it up in atonement. In short, the old-school yakuza are tough dudes. The groups are structured liked all-male families, with the oyabun (father-figure) at the top and the kobun (child-figures) swearing absolute allegiance to him and their “older brothers”, even at the cost of their own life. This Spartan and almost military structure would seem to make them the ideal private security force.

However, experts on Japanese organized crime are less than enthused by this idea.  “They won’t do anything that seems like real work. They lack discipline.”

A former Marine Colonel with extensive time in Japan working in the corporate security sector had an even dimmer view of the Yakuza Private Army plan.

“Do business with the yakuza and they’ll always come along someday with a business offer you would rather not do,” he said. “It’s not as if you’ve got a choice at that point. Yakuza really can’t help themselves. Sort of like how a tiger really can’t help itself and one day decides to eat its master in Las Vegas.”

Police officers also agree that a lack of training firearms makes the prospect of a yakuza army unlikely without overseas training and investment.

In video games, movies, and comics the yakuza are well-trained shooters but in real life most have no skill in handling firearms. This makes them poor candidates for private security forces.

Japan has some of the most stringent gun-control laws in the world. It is a crime to own a gun, or a bullet, an aggravated charge to own both, and firing a gun can get a yakuza (or civilian) more than twenty years in prison. This is why in a nation of over 122 million people, there was only one murder with a gun for 2016. (The victim was a yakuza). Yakuza don’t know how to use guns, for the most part. There’s no place to practice.

So if private security isn’t an option for our tattooed friends looking to go straight, what should they do?

Robert Feldman, a respected economist, once said that the Yamaguchi-gumi were Japan’s second largest private equity group. Some yakuza operated firms have generated millions of dollars in profit. Expanding on this, the former Colonel had some words of advice for the Ninkyo Yamaguchi-gumi.

“The yakuza are Japan’s best entrepreneurs by far, but if this Yamaguchi boss was really smart, he’d expand overseas — but into the ramen shop business. That’s where the real money is. And it doesn’t matter if you can’t hit a target with a pistol from two feet away.”

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