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Cash, sex, the mob? Weeklies seek clues in gyōza king’s killing

by Mark Schreiber

In September, the National Police Agency issued a provisional White Paper that included crime statistics for the first six months of 2013. The nationwide data included: 260 illegal handguns confiscated by police; seven cases of armed robbery committed with guns; 24 incidents in which firearms were discharged (so-called happō-jiken) but failed to hit a human target; two people wounded by gunfire (both of whom were members of designated criminal syndicates); and a remarkably low one homicide (also a gang member).

Japan’s annual body count from firearms has been decreasing for some years, and from 2011 fell to the single-digit level, with eight deaths. In 2012, the figure declined to four.

Reams of red tape and high costs for licensing have discouraged legal gun ownership, to the extent that the total number of legally owned shotguns and rifles (private ownership of handguns is prohibited) have dropped below 400,000. Even the sole wild cards in the gun equation, the yakuza, have been disarming. The Sankei Shimbun (Dec. 22) reported that following a major police crackdown in November 1995, the number of guns confiscated has continued to decline year on year.

The police have not rested on their laurels but have energetically continued to crack down on illegal guns. Anonymous informants are encouraged to dial a 0120 toll-free number, with the goroawase mnemonic 10-3774 (jū-mi-na-na-shi, meaning “nobody has guns”). They can receive a reward of up to ¥100,000 for each weapon seized.

Just when it was starting to look like 2013 would end with minimal gun violence, two socially prominent individuals were shot dead in the space of two days. The Dec. 20 murder of Tadayoshi Ueno (age 70), head of a fisheries cooperative in Kitakyushu city, was almost certainly mob-related.

More enigmatic, at least on the surface, was the slaying in Kyoto one day earlier of Takayuki Ohigashi, age 72. Ohigashi was the president of Ohsho Food Service Corp., the parent company of Gyoza no Osho, a budget restaurant chain specializing in gyōza (Chinese dumplings) with 661 outlets in Japan and four in China, and annual revenues of ¥74 billion.

An old-style business magnate who had worked his way up through the company’s ranks, Ohigashi upheld the work ethic through personal example. First to arrive at the headquarters every morning, usually before 6 a.m., he would sweep the entrance foyer with a broom and dustpan. He was found lying face down with four bullets from a small-caliber automatic in his torso. No one apparently heard the gunshots, and with no eyewitnesses to the crime, the tabloid media, as they are wont to do, speculated on possible motives for the killing.

Former cop turned journalist Taihei Ogawa told Yukan Fuji (Dec. 22) that the killer had almost certainly been observing Ohigashi closely to become familiarized with his activities, and that investigators were focusing on people “in his circle of business or personal acquaintances.” A failed competitor could not be ruled out.

“We’ve heard that the victim might have had trouble over real estate or a golf course, maybe involving an underworld group or a right-wing organization,” a police source confided to Shukan Asahi (Jan. 3-10).

Shukan Taishu (Jan. 9-16) concurred with this motive, suggesting the perpetrator may be an investor who lost money following Ohigashi’s company moving its listing to the first section of the Tokyo stock exchange, at which time a golf course and other unprofitable assets valued at ¥40 billion were sold off.

Josei Seven (Jan. 9-16) points out that Ohigashi’s firm had also been nominated as one of Japan’s “black companies,” i.e., a sweatshop that demands unpaid overtime and other labor violations. Might the killer, it asks, have been an overworked employee who snapped?

Shukan Bunshun (Jan. 2-9) was among several magazines that raised a mysterious international angle. Takashi Kato, eldest son of Kiyoshi Kato, Ohigashi’s predecessor, had married a woman from the Ukraine who had been working as a hostess in the “water trade,” or night entertainment business. Takashi and the couple’s 3-year-old son disappeared while on a trip to Egypt in 2008 and have not been seen since. Could this have had some connection to the killing?

One possible motive for the slaying, suggests Friday (Jan. 10-17), may be an unnamed businessman in Kanazawa city who sought to open a “show pub” but was passed over for the commercial space in favor of a branch of Gyoza no Osho. The man is believed to have ties with the Dragon biker gang, making him a so-called han-gure, or quasi-hoodlum, several of whom have been involved in a handful of sensational murders in the past year or so.

That same gyōza shop in Kanazawa was later obliged to close after a group of male “customers” took photos of themselves sitting naked at the counter and posted them on the Internet.

Will security camera footage taken on the morning of Ohigashi’s killing lead to an arrest? Shukan Gendai (Jan. 4-11) quotes a police source as speculating that if the shooter turns out to have been a pro, then “Even if we nab him, that won’t necessarily tell us who the ‘real’ killer was.”

The National Police Agency gun crime statistics for the first half of 2013 (in Japanese) can be viewed on page 12 of this document online.