The nation’s largest underworld syndicate, the Kobe-based Yamaguchi-gumi, is 97 years old.

Jumping the gun on the gang’s centennial by three years, Shukan Asahi Geino (Aug. 16-23) ran eight pages of historical photos under the title “Yamaguchi-gumi: A Turbulent First Century.”

The same magazine recently serialized the life story of Kazuo Taoka (1913-1981), the third head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, in a manga biography titled “The Last Father” (as in godfather). The Katsumi Ikebe-illustrated comic serial was later reissued in a six-volume set by Asahi Geino’s parent company, Tokuma Shoten.

The Yamaguchi-gumi was founded in 1915 by Harukichi Yamaguchi (1881-1938), a port worker from Awaji Island in Hyogo Prefecture; but it was Taoka who brought it to prominence.

While Taoka was serving an 8-year prison term for homicide, Harukichi’s son and heir apparent Noboru Yamaguchi died in October 1942, leaving the gang without an effective head. Taoka was released as part of an amnesty in July 1943 after serving 5½ years, got married and bided his time.

Within weeks following the war’s end, Taoka, then age 32, organized his own gang, the Taoka-gumi. Having effectively demonstrated his acumen as a leader he was named head of the Yamaguchi-gumi one year later. At that time, the gang numbered only 25 men. By the end of 2010, total membership in affiliates and sub-groups, based in 45 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, was estimated at 36,410.

“Taoka and his organization made coexistence with other groups impossible,” a member of the Hyogo prefectural police was once quoted as saying in a history of postwar crime in Japan. “He overpowered and absorbed them, leaving himself as a sole dictator.”

National Police Agency commissioner general Takaharu Ando was quoted in Shukan Taishu (Aug. 20-27) as saying, “Without weakening the [Nagoya-based] Kodokai, the Yamaguchi-gumi won’t be weakened; and without weakening the Yamaguchi-gumi, organized crime can’t be weakened.”

On July 26, the Diet passed the Organized Crime Group Countermeasures Law, the toughest anti-gang legislation ever. Shukan Taishu features a running dialog with the head of a Yamaguchi-gumi affiliate, who reviews the issues the gang must confront.

After a two-month wait, the Yamaguchi-gumi agreed to give Shukan Taishu’s reporter access to two of its gang heads, one of whom is quoted as saying, “We have to engage in self-reflection. For a long time the yakuza world has been seen as indulging in indolence, which made us conspicuous, and as a result led to criticism by the public.”

Tougher restrictions at home suggest the gangs are likely to increase their presence abroad. Tomohiko Suzuki’s two-part article in Sapio, titled “Yakuza Exportation” claims to have seen evidence of the presence of Japanese gangs throughout Asia — even in North Korea, where “a considerable” number (as he puts it) of fellow travelers (“effectively quasi members”) exist.

The gangs are also moving in on southeast Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. The gangs’ incursions, it would appear, follow in the wake of Japanese manufacturers that are setting up factories in the region.

A long-term Japanese resident of Cambodia is quoted as voicing “surprise” at the extent of incursions by the gangs in that country.

“Cambodia’s appeal is that everything is comparatively cheaper — particularly labor, which is ridiculously cheap … It’s a place where you can make easy money,” says a source who is planning to open a karaoke parlor in Siem Reap, the jump-off point for tourism to the famous Angkor Wat temple complex.

Operated in partnership with a Chinese, the parlor aims to attract male tourists to young females on its premises, who, for an outlay of $50 to $100 U.S. will accompany customers to their hotel room.

“The Japanese tourists who patronize such places are unaware of their ties to organized crime,” Suzuki writes.

Spa! (Aug. 14-21) features an article titled “The final battle without honor and humanity between the police and the yakuza.” This battle is gearing up since the Diet’s passing of the revised anti-gang law on July 26.

Spa! also hosts a roundtable discussion by three journalists who cover “antisocial activities” in the media, and they speculate on how the gangs, faced with the prospect of losing their traditional sources of revenues, are likely to develop new white-collar schemes. One of these is acting as middleman in so-called junkan torihiki (round-trip transactions), in which the accounts receivable on corporate balance sheets can be artificially embellished with auditors none the wiser. This is done by Company A reporting a sale to Company B, which then “sells” an identical amount to Company C. Eventually the same money returns to Company A, which treats its own money as a new transaction.

Another scam involves exploiting loopholes in the Small and Medium-size Enterprises Finance Facilitation Act, an economic stimulus measure that will expire in March of next year. And yet another is the submitting of the official invoice forms used by attorneys and other legal people, which can be utilized to obtain a client’s otherwise protected personal data, such as contents of a family register.

Economic journalist Kazuo Tatsuno (a pseudonym) tells Spa! that if new legislation being proposed by the Liberal-Democratic Party can be passed, regional governments will be accorded more autonomy in selecting infrastructural development projects. As the legislation would allocate as much as ¥200 trillion in pork over the next decade this is likely to result in considerable windfalls for the gangs, which enjoy cozy ties with local politicians and the construction industry.

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