THE JAPANESE YAKUZA: INFLUENCE ON
RELATIONS AND REGIONAL POLITICS (EAST ASIA AND LATIN
by Victoria Chemko
Japanese yakuza is a criminal network
that can be compared to many others; yet it involves a number of unique customs
that set it aside from the rest. The yakuza
take on family-like roles, similar to other criminal syndicates throughout
the world, but they do have some unique distinctions that set them apart. They were once known to be gamblers,
peddlers, warriors gone wrong, and bandits among many other things, and have
been alleged to be in existence for over three hundred years. Legend has it that the original yakuza had Robin Hood-like qualities and
served both shoguns and municipalities.
The Japanese gangsters are present in numerous places, and have been
said to be weaker and stronger at different points in history. Estimates are probably low, but some say that
from the period between 1945 and 1996, cycles have occurred where fluctuation
has ranged within 80,000 to up to 110,000 members.
The organization became as it is
today approximately during the late 1800s under Toyama Mitsuru, the son of a
Samurai. He was the founder of the Genyosha Society (Dark Ocean),
and shortly thereafter, his top aide, Ryohei Uchida,
founded the Amur River Society (Black
Dragons). These groups began to take
over enterprises in prostitution, gambling, liquor distribution, entertainment,
and also moved to the less traditional areas for gangs, such as to construction
and dockside labour. In the 1960s and
1970s, a significant move was made to the drug trade, and more recently,
firearms and other contraband trade has taken off.
The Japanese yakuza have been known to be connected with Chinese Triads, both
the Sicilian and American Mafia, Colombian drug cartels, Jamaican Posses, and
various other crime syndicates around the globe. These organizations retain a significant role
in the popular culture and history of Japan, and have been found useful
in many ways to a variety of citizens, being associated to many politicians,
bureaucrats, and corporate elite. As a
result, they seem to be somewhat accepted as a part of everyday life there. Importantly, they are active on the
international scene, and not just where Japanese people are present. They are beginning to infiltrate various
other regions of the world, becoming more and more sophisticated in the
process. As the world is undergoing the
process of globalization, the yakuza
have managed to adjust to the changes that are continually occurring and even
overcome them to a certain degree. While
many of their activities are known, there are certainly many more that have
been kept below the surface under the eyes of law enforcement officials. Also, their deep connections
with elite businesspeople and politicians throughout the world makes it
even more difficult to reduce their presence and authority over daily life in
various sectors. They must be dealt with
sufficiently to help reduce their influence over aspects of everyday life in
various regions of the world – specifically, where they have strong linkages
with the rest of East Asia and in Latin America.
A Historical Background
The word yakuza is derived from numerals in the Japanese language – ya represents eight, ku means 9, and za is three. When
added together, eight, nine, and three equals twenty, which is a number that
represents an instantaneous loss in the traditional Japanese card game called oicho-kabu. Oicho-kabu is similar to the American version of Black Jack,
but a player is hoping for a score of 19, not the more familiar 21. Therefore, if a gambler is dealt a hand that
equals 20, they are automatically out because they have gone over the desired
hand. That is where the name becomes symbolic,
since when broken down into its parts, the word represents someone who is an
outsider, or nobody, or a person that just does not belong. Thus, the yakuza includes anyone who is a
part of some type of Japanese organized crime, usually known to be an outcast
of society. They are generally from poor
and/or criminal backgrounds without any strong base of familial stability.
The yakuza have been rumoured to be in
existence since before even the Sicilian Mafia came to be. Hearsay of the origin of these Japanese
gangsters dates all the way back to 1612, with the Kabuki-mono, or ‘crazy ones.’
An individual of this nature usually wore clothing that stood out from
the average attire of citizens in Japan at the time, and they also
had hair cut in a long, unruly fashion, that complemented their poor behaviour. Kabuki-mono carried long swords that
legend has it were tested for sharpness when new by killing an innocent victim
without so much as a backward glance.
After becoming masterless samurai – better
known as ronin
– the warriors began to group together and work in unison to perform various
robberies and pilfer various villages and towns throughout the country. Because of extended times of peace, the
number of kabuki-mono increased when
shoguns and samurai underwent massive unemployment as a result. These small, organized groups were also known
for their vulgar slang and their groups also had highly unusual names, such as Taisho Jingi-gumi,
which is translated as the All-Gods Gang.
However, the yakuza claim to have their origins in a different group of
outsiders – the machi-yakko,
or city servant. In comparison to the kabuki-mono, these individuals were less
trained, not as well equipped, and weaker, but would help to protect the common
people from the earlier gangsters. As a
result of their enterprises, they considered themselves as a Robin Hood of
which was just exacerbated by legends passed along throughout the nation. Recently, an event that exemplified their
Robin Hood qualities was during the Kobe
earthquake on January 17, 1995 – the worst one to hit Japan in over
70 years. The Yamaguchi-gumi clan was witnessed acting to help out victims
before the Japanese government was even able.
Since the majority of men-turned-yakuza are initially from unstable,
poor, criminal backgrounds, obtaining membership into a criminal organization
which is structured like many other underworld syndicates, such as the Italian
Mafia, may be believed as greatly beneficial to the individual. Entering into such an organization allows for
an elevated sense of belonging and stability, where disturbed persons are able
to access help with their problems and gain safety and protection. The only condition for becoming an official yakuza clan member is to promise deep
loyalty to the head of the organization.
The current yakuza organization did not form until the middle of the
1600s. They were either gamblers (bakuto), or street venders (tekiya). Members protected one another no matter what
the circumstances. In fact, they would
do whatever necessary and asked for by their superiors even if it would be an
action taken directly against their own blood-related families.
industrialization commenced in Japan,
the yakuza followed along with the
trend and recruited extensively from sectors that were in line with industry,
such as from construction, dockside labourers, and
rickshaw workers. At that point in time,
gambling was on the decrease, so there was not much of a presence of bakuto. However, the tekiya thrived, since most of
their activity was seen to be perfectly legitimate, even though most of the
workings were occurring beneath the surface.
Slowly, a strong interest in policy followed, and as a result, various
associations were formed with politicians and bureaucrats. In addition, cooperation started between the yakuza and law enforcement officers in
the hopes of having the increased ability to get away with more illegal
activities with a reduced watch on any activities.
By 1925, a
more democratic system was adopted in Japan, which was a drastic change
from the Emperor-ruled history within the country. At this time, men were given the right to
vote and parties began to quickly spring up.
Ultra-nationalism resulted to counter the more liberal democratic
tendencies infiltrating the island nation originating from the Western
world. Some Japanese citizens faulted
these Western ideas for the persistent economic depression that lasted from the
late 1800s until the 1930s. To protest
the modern notions, various organizations were created where members were
trained in warfare, languages, assassination, blackmail, and other such
activities that were considered to possibly be advantageous to revert the situation to the way it was in the past. After this period, a number of prime
ministers and finance ministers were killed, and various politicians and
industrialists were attacked. The yakuza were responsible for providing
some of its members in order to help the organizations train and undertake
their activities. This type of
organization was called the unyoke, which means the political right.
During the US occupation of Japan following the Second World
War, American troops felt the yakuza
were their greatest threatening force.
Food rations were handed out to soldiers, and this action resulted in
the growth of the black market and increased resources and power for the
criminal organizations. At that point,
another type of yakuza called gurentai, or
street hustlers, began to flourish. They
were known to perform robberies within the black market that had emerged at the
thereafter, foreign influence from American movies and other such outside
sources had a hand in causing the yakuza
to begin wearing black suits, white shirts, black sunglasses, and have their
hair cut short. Instead of swords, they
started to carry firearms and became more violent and stronger. More and more innocent civilians were
becoming unfortunate victims of their activities.
It has been
estimated that around 5,200 gangs were in existence in Japan during
Infighting amongst gangs over struggles for power and territory ensued, but
they are rumoured to have ended by the hand of a man
named Yoshio Kodama – likely the most powerful crime boss of Japan, who has
been compared to Al Capone of the United States. He was hoping to unite all of the Japanese
gangs that were in existence into one organization that finally became known as
The organization of the yakuza is fairly simplistic. Anyone in the world is eligible to become a
member, where access to websites for online ‘application’ is currently becoming
increasingly easy with the advent of the Internet. The boss normally becomes the ‘father’ of the
group, and his fellow members become brothers.
Membership not only provides a feeling of belonging, but also provides
money, power, and status. No
prerequisites are required – a yakuza
must solely be loyal and strictly abide by the men in positions of senior
have traditionally viewed themselves as helpers, as mentioned earlier with the
allusion to Robin Hood of England.
Before the court system even existed in Japan, people were known to go to
the local yakuza to have disputes
resolved as long as they provided money for the services. However, the resolution was usually much
harsher than if one were to approach legal authorities instead.
two types of yakuza – the free
individuals and the clan members. The
so-called free yakuza are individuals
that are just outcasts in society and are not a part of any sort of group or
tied to any organizations. They do not
usually commit any serious criminal acts, but are instead just common thugs. Free yakuza
are not offered any sort of protection and cannot safely operate within clan
territory. The clan members, however,
are those men who have chosen to become a part of one of the most sinister and
successful criminal organizations in the world, second only to the likes of the
Italian Mafiosa according to some. Clan yakuza
are known to get rid of freelance individuals if they are suspicious or
understood to be causing somewhat of a threat.
At times, if the clan does not want to take on a criminal activity itself,
it will hire freelancers to do the dirty work instead. Sometimes, they are also used as
scapegoats. Some free yakuza can become part of the clan
organization later if not killed first.
The best freelance gangsters will form their own clans, but seeing the
strength of the opposition, this does not happen often, if at all.
The clan, more specifically, is
hierarchically structured, much like that of the traditional Japanese
family. The oyabun, or oyaji,
is likened to a father, with the wakashu as his children, and kyodai as his brothers. All members must give oyabun utmost obedience in return
for his protection. He is considered an
all-knowing ruler, like that of a tyrant that has complete control over a
society. The saiko-komon is the advisor of the
has a staff of advocates, accountants, secretaries, and advisors. The boss of the children, or wakashu, is the waka gashira who
is sort of a middleman who oversees that all of the orders given by the oyabun are being
fulfilled. In regards to level of
authority, he is considered second only to the father. Within the wakashu, there are sub-groupings
of gangs that they lead. In these
sub-groupings, it is possible to move up the ladder, as in comparison to
promotion within corporations. Thus,
the clan is like a large organization with several gangs subordinate to
it. The boss of the kyodai, or brothers, is called shatei gashira. He is of a higher ranking than the waka gashira, however, he does not have the same level of
authority. In turn, the kyodai have their own ‘children’ or younger brothers, known as shatei. Following that, the shatei also have sub gangs. Overall, the members of the sub gangs are
answerable to their immediate leaders, but the oyabun, of course, has ultimate
A table has been provided on the
following page for quick reference to the actual organizational structure of
the Japanese clan yakuza.
Chart 1: An Interpretation
of the Organizational Structure of the Clan Yakuza
mentioned earlier despite the above chart, various sub-groupings can continue
on, one underneath another, to an unlimited potential.
Another classification system has
been noted by Harry Johnson. His
interpretation of the organization of the clan yakuza is as follows:
1. Oyabun/Oyaji – godfather
2. Anego – wife
3. Nidaime – heir of oyaji
4. Kumin – member
5. Chinpira – hooligan
6. Teppoudama – bullet,
or one who risks his life by being in the front lines during a direct battle or
fight with the oyabun. A ‘bullet’ will also be known to incriminate himself at times to take the fall for his leaders.
Thus, it is difficult to say how exactly the Japanese
mafia is organized. However, these roles
that Harry Johnson has mentioned could be incorporated into the organizational
structure identified previously.
are several major syndicates that are currently thought to be in
operation. The largest of these
organizations is believed to be the Yamaguchi-gumi. It was ruled by Kazuo Taoka
for 35 years until his death of a heart attack in July 1981. He was a friend of Yoshio Kodama. After this occurred, the clan became chaotic
because there was no longer any official boss that could be decided upon and
there were over 12,000 members to maintain.
After Kazuo’s funeral, his wife, Fumiko,
surprisingly took over his role, temporarily, until future agreement on the
boss could be reached. This was quite
significant since women were never placed into key roles of the organization,
and even if in prominent positions they were kept behind the scenes
anyway. The expected permanent
successor, Yamaken, died of cirrhosis of the liver
after getting out of prison, so much disarray and confusion followed. At that point, there were more than 103
Yamaguchi bosses for the more than 500 gangs that existed. Much infighting continually occurred, and the
Japanese police arrested many top leaders as more of their activities were
revealed through all of the chaos.
Takenaka was then elected as the new boss in a
landslide victory, but his opposition, Hiroshi Yamamoto, would not cede to Fumiko’s request for his leadership to ensue. Fighting then followed with the Inagawa-kai syndicate, but the Yamaguchi-gumi has still remained the largest in Japan
today. The other main gangs in the country
that are currently operating are the Sumiyoshi-rengo,
the Motokyokuto Aioh, the Inagawa-kai, the Ichiwa-kai, the Matsuba-kai, the Nippon Kokusai-kai,
the Dai Nippon Heiwa-kai, and the Toa Yuai Jigyo Kumiai, among many
other less significant groups.
a customary practice familiar to the yakuza
They are usually made up of flowers, dragons, samurai warriors, and other such
emblems that signify the badge of the clan to which one belongs, and they run
from the neck all over the body to the calf.
Tattooing originates from the bakuto, or gamblers, who usually marked a black ring around
each arm to represent each crime that that person had committed. Over time, it began to symbolize strength in
that the practice takes a very long time and is very painful in the
process. Previously it was known to be a
symbol of rebellion, but currently it has become to just show clan
membership. More recently, the custom
has become less popular because of the time spent and pain incurred to obtain
tradition that makes the yakuza
unique with respect to other underworld organizations around the globe is
something called yubitsume. This custom is performed if a yakuza is searching for penance from his
apologize for an act of disrespect or disloyalty. It is also carried out by one who is willing
to sacrifice himself and spare one of his children from death or some other
type of harsh punishment. Yubitsume is the
act of cutting off the smallest finger to the joint – it is supposed to cause a
decreased ability to hold a sword well.
Traditionally, the deed was accomplished with the use of a very sharp
sword; however, in more recent times, yakuza
in this situation are increasingly beginning to use a hammer and chisel instead
to reduce the amount of pain induced.
The finger is then wrapped up in paper and sent to the leader in the
hope of receipt of forgiveness. If
disobedient acts continue, the next smallest finger is chopped off and so
on. Over time, if a yakuza carries out too many disloyal deeds, he will likely be
killed or taken care of somehow. Yubitsume
originated from the bakuto
gamblers who were not able to pay back their debts. It was also a way for others to visibly be
wary of the individual because of any missing digits representing failure to
carry out certain duties. Even today,
some men can be found to be missing at least one of their fingers as a result
of this process.
Effects on Domestic and International Relations
The Yakuza is a large criminal organization
that is well known for its links to both Japanese and international business,
as well as to influential politicians within the domestic sphere. Yakuza are known for their ties to many
other organizations throughout the world – both legal and illegal in
nature. There has been increasing
evidence that the underground syndicate originating in Japan has been
spreading its influence in various sectors of the economy to supplement the
organization’s income and adapt to the globalizing world.
A large scandal that occurred in Japan that
revealed the potential for connections between the Japanese mafia and
influential politicians of the island nation involved former Prime Minister
Takeshita passed away from respirator failure
on June 19, 2000, at the age of 76. Afterwards, his aide Shin Kanemaru admitted
that the yakuza were sought after for
help in keeping quiet an ultra-rightist group that was responsible for
harassment of Takeshita in 1987 during the election
resigned his position in June of 1989 when scandals of corruption involving
various businessmen and politicians were brought to light.
The yakuza have been hit hard by the recession that has fallen on Japan, as well
as by a law regarding tougher gangster control measures that was passed in
1992. The law resulted in making it more
difficult for gambling and corporate extortion practices – the organization’s
traditional sources of income – to occur. However, ironically, they have been a part of
the intricate web of the problems of the serious bank bad-debt crisis that is
currently contributing to the continuation of the recession that has persisted
since the end of the 1970s.
Last April, in 2001, during the
annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan,
a meeting took place in Tokyo
in the presence of an American economist and an American investment
banker. The economist was speaking with
utmost urgency, in that in the year 2000, a group of former FBI and other US law
enforcement agents uncovered a pattern of yakuza
and bank and corporate cooperation of domination over the Japanese
economy. The topic at hand during the
meeting was that of the yakuza as
constituting one of the most significant obstacles to the resolution of the
debt crisis, above and beyond their roles in various other illegal activities
that occur daily in the country. In
fact, retired police chief and a former head of the National Police Agency Raisuke Miyawaki coined the term
‘yakuza recession’ in 1992 to
describe the situation. Japan
has been undergoing economic stagnation for over a decade. While other factors
that would normally be assumed to have a role in the creation of the problem
have definitely contributed to the debt crisis, Miyawaki
has said that approximately “half of the bad debts held by banks in Japan may not
be recoverable because of involvement of yakuza
and political corruption.” It may be questionable whether or not these
allegations are credible because of the overwhelming nature that they
portray. However, there seems to be
quite a lot of evidence that supports that these statements actually retain
some value and are not just useless statistics.
Former American lawmen that are
currently working at US
financial institutions located in Japan are concerned that the yakuza might cross over into the global
arena with their dealings. Some say that
even now, around US$50 billion may have been pushed into the financial markets
of the United States
past couple of years, over six hundred investigations have been performed by
investigators for US investment banks in Japan that found the yakuza in nearly every sector of the
country, including in the construction, entertainment, and trucking industries,
even to operations involving anything from chemicals to hospitals. There have been indications that almost 50
percent of companies in Japan
are somehow either correlated to, working with, or even fully controlled by the
Japanese mafia. These corporations are
believed to have possibly been borrowing from banks and then funneling the
funds to the gangsters in amounts equivalent to an astounding $300 to $400
billion US dollars.
There were previously held
assumptions that the yakuza were the
ones to approach the bankers, but it really turned out that events happened the
other way around. After WWII, enormous
amounts of borrowing occurred so that industries could become competitive with
the West. However, by the 1980s, the financial
banking rates were poor, so banks were beginning to look elsewhere, namely to
international capital markets. There was
such a significant loss in loans, that banks were
pursuing new borrowers, and in particular, they went to the yakuza to increase their
portfolios. The son of a gangster boss
and author on various books on the subject, Manabu Miyazaki, said that as
activity spread through the grapevine, many illegitimate organizations joined
in so that they would be able to gain access to legal businesses. It became too late for the banks to reverse
this problem by the time they realized what was actually happening.
Often, the banks lent to front companies of the yakuza, which are also known as kigyo shatei.
Sometimes, they even lent directly to crime bosses – for around 10
years, until his death in 1991, Susumu Ishii, head of Inagawa-kai,
was able to borrow a lot of funding from financial institutions in Japan. The money was funneled into twelve different
companies, making up a total of 38.4 billion yen, or US$300 million. From there, it is possible that some of the
funds went to crime-free sectors, such as health care and hospitals; however,
the majority was likely invested in stocks and property. Miyazaki
said that banks encouraged the buying of stocks and property by yakuza at inflated prices by paying out
commissions and promising to find buyers who were willing to purchase some
goods at an even higher rate. As he
stated, “normal people wouldn’t get involved in such schemes, so the banks grew
reliant on the yakuza.” Overall, the lenders were happy, and the gangsters
were increasing their profits as a result of the schemes.
Next, though, came
the burst of the bubble economy. There
is an old underworld saying: okane wa nai, kubi wa nai,
meaning you have no money, you have no neck.
As a consequence, there were many suicides that followed. Also, several incidents have mysteriously
occurred following the trying times of bad-debt repayments. The Vice- President of bad-loan collection at
the Hanwa Bank in Wakayama Prefecture east of Osaka was shot by a gunman in 1993. Then, in 1994, the Vice-President at Sumitom Bank in Nagoya
was also shot and killed. Since 1997,
seven Japanese men investigating the problem and some who were near to
testifying also died under illegitimate circumstances. Next, in September 2000, Tadao
Honma, the former director of the Bank of Japan, was
found dead in an Osaka
hotel room. Two weeks previous, he had
become the president of Nippon Credit Bank, which became bankrupt and had lent
to the Japanese mafia. Police called it
a suicide and no autopsy was ordered ultimately, even though suspicious
circumstances were noted, along with a witness to the incident. Bankers do not know whom to turn to for
protection anymore. It has also been alleged that the Liberal Democratic Party
(LDP) is heavily involved in the situation.
usual underworld activity, there is also much corruption within the political
sphere. However, there are conflicts of
interest of politicians, bureaucrats, and other ruling elite that has made the
problem even more difficult to resolve.
Many are hesitant to confront yakuza
involvement because of heavy reliance on them for campaign funding and for
getting rid of rivals. For example, in
1999, Eichi Nakao of the
LDP was arrested for accepting bribes from Wakachiku Construction in Tokyo in order to receive
public-works contracts for the company in return. During questioning, he admitted to accepting
the money. This is not unusual, and
charges have been laid against many politicians during recent years.
interest also occur within individuals of the bureaucracy. They are poorly paid in comparison to those
in the private sector, and when promoted to top positions, will take over the
jobs from their seniors, causing many of them to be unemployed and searching
for work in their early 50s. Usually
they end up working for companies they oversaw previously, which is known as amakuduri, or
descent from heaven. This ends up
contributing to problems of corruption in Japan. Retired police officers are also poorly
compensated, so they will take work at companies that they had previously
investigated. Since this is a strong
possibility, these enforcement agents may not be as hard on organized crime and
have been involved in many bribery schemes.
This has also been seen among many prosecutors and judges. The Japanese media as well fear mentioning yakuza connections because of bribery
and protection for the establishments they represent.
to all of their other illegal activities, the import of foreign women into Japan has been
occurring since the beginning of the 1970s, in what is known as ‘white
slavery.’ The prostitutes are
acknowledged by the Japanese as Japayuki-san, and
are brought in from countries throughout Southeast Asia, and also allegedly from
various other regions of the world, including Western Europe and South America. The yakuza
do not mind being involved in such activities because the money is said to be
quite good, and if they are caught, the penalties are not nearly as bad as if
for gun or drug-related crimes. However,
the problem had gotten so bad in Japan that the police started a
specialized organization to deal with the Japayuki-san workers at the beginning of the 1980s.
By the late
1960s and early 1970s, the yakuza expanded
en masse beyond Japan. They started by going into the Pacific Rim to extend their daily operations that
resulted in fulfillment of extravagant incomes.
Even in the 1920s and 1930s, during the intense period of
ultra-nationalism, this trend was arising.
At this point in time, the yakuza
joined with rightist groups such as the Black Dragon Society, which cause many
problems throughout mainland Asia. Also, during the Second World War, they went
and “helped pillage the continent, paying special attention to the opium
trade.” In the early 1960s, the yakuza had not moved into the international scene in the
proportions that other underworld organizations seemed to be doing at the
time. They chose instead to remain
mostly within Japan,
which was then undergoing its major period of economic growth. As a result, the Japanese economy was seen as
sufficient for yakuza activities and
moneymaking processes to occur. By the
early 1970s, however, this all changed, when the gangsters made their first
external move into South
The Japanese invaded and occupied Korea for 40
years until they were defeated by allied forces in 1945. However, by that time, hundreds of thousands
of Koreans had already been transported into Japan to do forced labour. After the war, a large number of these
Koreans became members of their own organized gangs that later got absorbed
into the larger yakuza
syndicates. Unlike the majority of
Japanese institutions, the yakuza
have accepted Koreans into their ranks, acting in line with their traditional
practices of incorporating outsiders of society. The great amount of alienation that has
occurred over the years has created favourable
conditions for many Koreans to turn to the yakuza.
Later on, Hisayuki
Machii, alleged to be the most powerful Korean yakuza in Japan,
played a significant role in bringing the Japanese organization into South Korea. It was apparently difficult to establish the
connection between the gangsters in the regions because of the lack of any
prominent crime syndicates there that were in any way comparable to the
Japanese counterparts. The state has
been said to be too secure and has not allowed for such organizations to
evolve, so small crime rings have arisen instead. South Korea, considered an economic
leader in the Asian region, has been a prime location for yakuza connections to be formed.
is the center of their drug trafficking activities, especially in
methamphetamine, or what is known to the Japanese as shabu or white diamonds. Much of the drug manufacturing occurs in
shops set up there. There are many
amphetamine abusers in Japan, which is probably partly a byproduct of the
fast-paced lifestyle in Tokyo, and some citizens feel that it is necessary at
times in order to help them keep up with the pace and to prevent from any
lagging behind in the competitive city.
The sex slave trade was another
industry that began to flourish during the sixties and seventies. There was so much extra cash left in people’s
pockets from the economic boom that many Japanese men would go to large
prostitution centers “on prearranged three-day junkets whose sole purpose was
an orgy of drinking and whoring.” That is when the days of the sex tours really
began. The gangs soon became involved in
the sex slave trade that expanded quickly throughout the Pacific region. The yakuza
have played a role in “sex tourism, prostitution around military bases, traffic
in women and children, ‘mail-order’ marriages, and pornography” and have been
aided by local crime syndicates in the affected regions of the poorer countries
of East Asia. The problem was first seen in Taiwan and then followed in Korea in what
is known as Kisaeng houses. Also, the industry has increasingly expanded
into Thailand, the Philippines, and Western
Korea, the Philippines has
also become a home for the yakuza. Ties began as a result of the sex trade
industry, and then connections expanded into other areas over time. With a poor economy and an agreeable climate,
it makes for an ideal haven for younger gangsters. As in Japan,
links have been formed with the political and bureaucratic elite in the Philippines
where the yakuza have been able to
take advantage of the widespread corruption of the country. The Yamaguchi-gumi,
Inagawa-kai, and Sumiyoshi-rengo
have opened up offices in Makati, or what is
known as the Wall Street of the Philippines. In addition, various restaurants and
businesses in the red-light district of Emrita, to
serve as fronts for various criminal activities, have taken root. By the early 1980s, the knowledge of yakuza residents became more
commonplace. They began working together
with Filipino gangs and were able to broaden their reach into the areas of
gambling, fraud, and money laundering.
But to the yakuza, more
importantly, the thousands of islands making up the Philippines provide an ideal place
for smuggling and gun manufacturing operations.
Many law enforcement officials have attempted to crack down on the yakuza, dampening their activities by a
small degree. However, with so many deep
ties at present in the country, it will take a lot more to uproot the Japanese
criminal web there.
By the mid-1970s, reports of yakuza presence had been made from Indonesia, Malaysia,
Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Similar activities have been known to take
place in those countries as in South Korea
itself. In Thailand, yakuza have also maintained various operations with the sex trade,
gambling, prostitution, guns, and opium trade sectors. But in addition to those operations, the yakuza had been given the opportunity to
become linked with their rivals in the Chinese Triads. The Triads are the central organization that
retains linkages transnationally throughout the world,
and they are deeply involved in the heroin trade. Although this connection could create large
problems, with such different traditional practices within, a full merger is
highly unlikely. Cooperation probably
still occurs just as often as fighting amongst the two Asian underworld
associations. Police in Japan do not think that the yakuza will become too entrenched in the
heroin business anytime soon because of image considerations – they do not want
to be associated with such activities, especially being from a country that is
so concerned with how they are viewed by foreigners. However, noting the various changes that the yakuza have made in their activities
over the past century, their characteristic of adaptability may lead them into
a variety of new businesses to ensure that their lucrative organization remains
prosperous. It is likely that there will
be somewhat increased collaboration amongst the various Asian gangs in the
Activities have not just remained
within Asia, nonetheless. Yakuza
have moved on to various other regions of the world, including Western Europe, South America, and the Mid-Pacific. They have attempted to move into as many
non-Communist countries as possible, but have especially pushed for linkages to
areas where large ethnic Japanese populations are present. Such is the case with the nation of Brazil. Many Japanese left their homeland for South America beginning in the 1930s, with a large mass
movement following the Second World War, where people were hoping to find a
better life overseas. In South America
alone, there are around one million ethnic Japanese, and approximately 75
percent of those are in Brazil. About 80,000 are in Peru, 30,000 in Argentina,
and 10,000 in Bolivia.
As a result of the large Japanese
population in Brazil, it is
one of Japan’s
top three centers of foreign investment.
Specifically, the yakuza are
centrally located in the capital of São
Paulo. At the
end of the 1970s, awareness was made of yakuza
operating in Brazil
as the result of a large clash between them and Korean gangs in the capital
city. Operations in Brazil have
been similar to those elsewhere – businesses have been
set up as fronts, and smuggling, gambling, drugs, and prostitution rings are
popular activities. Also, they have been
alleged to have moved into the construction industry. Again, in 1979, the yakuza in Brazil
were brought up in the media over a scheme involving two gangsters and
insurance companies. The police were
informed about the murder-for-insurance operations and after various meetings
with Chen Quan, assumed Triad member, in Taiwan and Paraguay
over the situation, they managed passage back into São Paulo.
In a shoot-out with federal agents outside the city, the two involved yakuza were killed.
Various other countries in South America have also been affected by the yakuza.
In Colombia, as well
as Brazil, many women were
recruited into the sex industry in Japan. Also, gun smuggling activities have been
linked to Argentina. Apparently, there is also cocaine trafficking
occurring from Peru to Japan. As well, money laundering probably is in
occurrence throughout the entire continent.
have also been known to be stationed in Hawaii
after spending over 250 years in the Far East. It is a place with good conditions for crime
syndicates, with a penchant for prostitution, gambling, and drugs, as well as
the presence of a labour movement and strong party politics. The massive tourist industry and its ideal
geographic positioning mid-Pacific as a stopping point between East Asia and North America also make it very favourable. Some Japanese gangsters have been seen by
police in Honolulu,
participating in such activities as pornography, prostitution, extortion, and
gunrunning. In one particular case, a
man named Wataru “Jackson” Inada was found in his Honolulu apartment. He
was believed to come from one of Japan’s largest groups – the 6,000
member Sumiyoshi. The police believed
that he was murdered as a result of a heroin deal that had gone wrong with the
West Coast Mafiosi. Inada was
responsible for making many connections to the United States. He was believed to have brought in the yakuza to the area and was still able to
stay connected to the operation in Japan. By 1979, the yakuza became more widely known for operating in Hawaii.
While domestic politics is
definitely affected in Japan,
dangers to politicians from other areas of the world are also possible with the
existence of the yakuza. Ever since WWII, there have been numerous
Koreans in the crime organization. Kim Dae Jung, the South Korean President, was touring to speak
out for human rights and democracy for Korea
throughout the United States
and Japan. Along the way, an attack took place that
resulted in three deaths and a serious hip injury for Kim. It is alleged that this was an act of revenge
for Kim challenging Park Chung Hee in a 1971
presidential election that was later found to be highly manipulated. It was later discovered that the KCIA, or
Korean Central Intelligence Agency, was at fault for the assault. The KCIA basically was known to act to
prevent any opposition to the authoritarian rule of Park. Later on, Kim heard from some friends that
Korean yakuza members were out to
hurt him. The yakuza had strong connections to Mindan,
the South Korean Resident’s Association, and with the KCIA. KCIA officials then kidnapped Kim while in Japan. There has not been any information released
about exactly how the yakuza were
involved, if it is even known, because of the possibility of disclosure causing
too many problems. Hisayuki
Machii, who is believed to be the most powerful
Korean yakuza in Japan, was
under the most suspicion. It turned out
that he was likely mainly responsible for the kidnapping of Kim Dae Jung.
There are rumours
that a banking crisis is on its way in Japan, as discussed earlier, which
may cause problems for the rest of the globe.
In a recent US International Crime Threat Assessment, it was stated that
the yakuza is one of “the world’s
largest and most powerful criminal syndicates,” and it found that the Inagawa-kai was responsible for money laundering that was
occurring in the United
States. There are worries that since there is so much
yakuza investment in the US, if it is
withdrawn, it will create much larger problems.
The yakuza are always looking
for other ways to gather funding, as they are also being hit by the Japanese
recession. The financial global markets
give them more and more options that could create greater global dilemmas in the
future if something is not done as soon as possible.
The yakuza have been caught in illegal activities in other nations of
East Asia besides just Japan,
which may not have been a result of individual ties back to the homeland
gang. In Cambodia,
a man suspected of being part of the yakuza
was charged and arrested for possession of child pornography in Phnom Penh on June 14,
2000, under a newer Japanese law that allows for overseas convictions for child
pornography. The incident occurred after
a photography store worker disclosed to police that the man had been dropping
off several inappropriate rolls of film there for processing.
Another issue that the Southeast
Asian region has been faced with that has been a partial result of yakuza involvement has been the increase
of small arms and weapons trade and trafficking. It is leading to the heightened evolution of
transnational organized crime that has, in turn, resulted in the proliferation
of friction within the area. The
countries involved have been working on a way in which to join together to slow
down the problem. Various organizations
and governments that have been directly working on finding some resolution on
the issue have included Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United
Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Indonesian government, the
Japanese government, and the UN Regional Center for Peace and Disarmament in
Asia and Pacific.
From May 3rd
to 4th of 2000, ASEAN held a meeting regarding the problem in Jakarta, where China,
India, Japan, the Republic
of Korea, and Pakistan were
all in attendance as observers. At the
seminar, Lieutenant Colonel Gilberto Abanto from the Phillipines Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces gave a
speech, mentioning how the issue has the potential to affect national security
and economic development in Southeast Asia. The yakuza
are thought to be involved, and are believed to obtain the majority of their
firearms from illegal producers, which are exported from places such as Batangas, Ilocos Sur, and the Northern Philippines.
Abantos also said that the yakuza have been attempting to encourage
gun manufacturers from the Philippines
to go and make guns directly in Japan. The meeting did not result in any firm
solutions regarding the issue, but agreement was made that member nations would
need to fully cooperate in order to improve the situation.
Conclusions and Future Implications
Japanese yakuza criminal network has
prospered for so many years, it is hard to say whether or not their influence
is on the increase or they are just declining on the international scene. Since the activities of the organization are
so hidden and the crime statistics in Japan are difficult to assess and
access, no outside observers can really have the ability to prove that dominion
is shifting one way or the other.
However, what can be assumed
is the fact that the syndicate is involved in all sorts of illegal activities
to source funding of their members and to keep the organization
prosperous. These sectors may include
not just the traditional ones, such as gambling, prostitution, and drugs, but
have spread to various other more legitimate arenas, including international
businesses, political organizations, the construction
and shipping industries, and even to such areas as health care and chemical
As a result of the continually
globalizing world, the yakuza have
increased ability to affect not just domestic Japanese society, but also to
make increasing moves into the international scene, possibly taking over even
more areas of the global economy that could have an influence on more and more
lives. National and international
security, as well as personal security could be affected. Therefore, actions must be taken both
domestically within Japan
and through various organizations of transnational influence to allow for the
curbing of the yakuza’s
activities. Actions must be pursued as
soon as possible to prevent any further infiltration into the world economy
before it becomes an even more difficult force to oppose.
things are changing within the organization itself. The more traditional
elderly members are aging, making it more and more difficult to enforce the
long-rooted customs of the yakuza in
a modernizing world. The individuals are
beginning to kill more for fun than what they would call for respectful and
moral purposes – now it is more for the motivation of pure profit. There is also perhaps the tendency for less
loyalty between members. As well as
these problems, there are increased possibilities for the Japanese mafia
connecting with other mob organizations throughout the world that do not follow
similar structures and practices. Thus,
while they will still exist, they will be changing into an increasingly
different form, becoming less like the legends about them that exist in
Japanese popular culture, and more like criminal gangsters of the American and
Sicilian Mafia type. One thing is for
certain though – something must still be done to curb the activities and the
connections of the yakuza with
various other legitimate businesses and people within the world, before they
become a part of too many more areas in the world.
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For more Internet links
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