/ |

Average Joe could be collateral damage in war against yakuza

by Geoff Botting

The war against the yakuza was raised a notch higher at the start of the month, but not everyone is happy about it.

Oct. 1 saw the enactment of ordinances by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Okinawa Prefecture aimed at depriving organized crime groups, or bōryokudan, of their sources of income. The hope is that as its revenue runs dry, the mob will eventually be forced to cease operations.

Obviously, the organized crime groups, the targets of the tough new ordinances, aren’t happy about all this. But they’re not alone. Many law-abiding citizens — mainly the people who run small and midsize companies — are fretting they’ll become collateral damage in the latest battle between the police and the mob.

Their worry stems from how the ordinances, particularly the one in Tokyo, appears to be wide open to interpretation.

Essentially, the mob-exclusion measures make it a crime to share profits with the yakuza or to make payments to them. On the surface, that may sound straightforward, but Yukan Fuji (Oct. 1) strikes an almost hysterical note on its front page. “From what point, and to what point, is a violation committed?” it wants to know.

For instance, if a pizza-delivery restaurant takes an order from the home of a yakuza member, and then receives due payment from the customer, does that make the payment illegal? Strictly speaking, it would.

That being the case, the owner of the pizza shop would be a criminal and basically have his or her life ruined. Under the measures, his or her name and the name of the business would be disclosed to the public, and he or she would be fined or even imprisoned.

Bankruptcy and eviction would follow. Those deemed to have yakuza ties would find themselves unable to get loans from financial institutions or sign rental contracts.

“Regular citizens are under more strain than the bōryokudan themselves, it seems,” Shinichiro Suda, a journalist with extensive knowledge of the yazuka, tells Yukan Fuji. “This measure is probably going to be thoroughly implemented, not just in the financial industry, but throughout all sorts of other businesses.”

The tabloid also questions the measures’ end effectiveness. Many yakuza activities can be more stealthy and sophisticated than most people — including the authorities — imagine, it claims.

To give just one example, hoods have been known to get directly involved in social and community causes that oppose their vested interests, such as construction projects or roadway extensions. How? By forming a sham citizens’ group and then pretending to join the cause, only to commit subterfuge on their opponents later on. No one, often even the authorities themselves, is the wiser.

Shukan Taishu (Oct. 24) is equally alarmed over the ordinances. Focusing on the Tokyo measure, it complains its provisions are hard for the layman to understand, and are thus spreading fear throughout the population. The weekly’s article is aimed at clearing up some of the confusion.

On the technical issue of whether restaurants that serve yakuza as customers could find themselves labeled as kinsetsusha (those in close proximity) of the mob, it talks with a member of the Metropolitan Police Force’s antiorganized-crime division.

“It wouldn’t be a problem if an organized criminal were offered a place to eat at the individual level,” the cop explains. “However, it’s possible it would constitute a violation if (the restaurant) were to have known about a gathering (of mobsters) and then offers them its space.”

Well, so much for clearing things up. The magazine, not happy with the answer, notes that the definition of a “gathering” is not specified in the ordinance.

So what do the yakuza themselves have to say? Sankei Shimbun (Oct. 2) ran an exclusive interview with Kenichi Shinoda, boss of the biggest organized crime group of them all, the Yamaguchi-gumi.

As Shinoda sees it, the ordinance is a massive mistake that will create a lot more damage than it will ever solve. Organized crime, he argues, is at least organized. A measure like this, aimed at destroying the livelihoods of large numbers of mobsters, is sure to inflict plenty of havoc on society.

“If the Yamaguchi-gumi were to be disbanded, public order would immediately get worse,” he argues.

The roughly 30,000 to 40,000 members, many of them young men with families to support, would find themselves in dire financial straits, he says. Many might turn to crimes of a more messy and violent nature, like armed robbery, as opposed to their current duties of, say, collecting protection money.

“There’s an amazing gentlemanliness within the bōryokudan,” Shinoda tells the newspaper. “Like the discipline between young and old: those kinds of things are adhered to more so than with ordinary people.”

In the meantime, he and his colleagues clearly have a lot to worry about.

In the leadup to the ordinance coming into effect, show business was rocked by the resignation of one of the nation’s most popular TV entertainers, Shinsuke Shimada, after he acknowledged socializing with a mobster.

A similar scandal erupted in the horse-racing world, when the Japan Racing Association suspended the license of prominent trainer Michifumi Kono. The reason: his reported ties to a mobster.

Clearly, organized crime is feeling the pressure coming down upon it. Whether the ordinance will be an effective tool in making Japan a safer place for us all should become clear in the coming months.