Japan’s underworld, namely the “boryokudan” (gangster organizations) better known as yakuza, have been targeted with crackdowns in recent years focused on cutting their funding and expanding their criminal liability. But a new type of thug appears to be acting with impunity by operating in a legal void.

Not being card-carrying members of the yakuza or other crime syndicates, “jun boryokudan” (quasi-gangsters), are immune from the October 2011 ordinances launched to target mob funds or the December revision of the 1992 Organized Crime Group Countermeasures Law that gave police greater authority to combat organized crime.

Coined by police in March, the term jun boryokudan refers to a less-organized type of gangster that is no less a menace to society. Jun boryokudan were involved in last September’s fatal beating of a bar owner by bat-wielding thugs at a club in Tokyo’s Roppongi district.

In March, the National Police Agency announced plans to crack down on jun boryokudan.

Who are the jun boryokudan and how do they differ from boryokudan?

The NPA says jun boryokudan include hooligans who habitually engage in illegal and violent activities but whose crimes are more random and less organized compared with those committed by yakuza.

The police and the media also call them “hangure” — a combination of “hanbun” (semi) and “gureru” (turned delinquent).

Many such toughs apparently used to run with “bosozoku,” or biker gangs, who occasionally reunite with their former cohorts to engage in crime.

But because jun boryokudan are unaffiliated with dedicated underworld groups, they are regarded as more unpredictable and harder to contain, given the sporadic nature of their crimes.

Who are the most notorious of these quasi-gangsters?

Media reports say the police are particularly interested in former members of the now-disbanded Kanto Rengo biker gang and the still active Dragon biker gang, based in Tokyo.

Notorious for its ferocity, Kanto Rengo counted among its ranks several Kanto-based bosozoku that proliferated in the 1970s but disbanded in 2003.

In an interview with Web magazine Digital Taishu, Taichi Ishimoto, a former Kanto Rengo leader, likened the bikers to guerilla units, habitually “armed with knives and metal baseball bats so they can assail rival bosozoku clans the moment they are spotted.”

Although the gang has disbanded, former members still engage in organized crimes similar to those blamed on the yakuza.

Dragon, which counts among its ranks the offspring of Japanese left behind in China at the end of the war who later resettled in Japan, was established in 1988 and has become one of the most powerful gangs of armed hoodlums in Kanto.

Dragon’s members are believed to have strong connections with the Chinese underworld and sometimes clash with the yakuza. Some have gone on to smuggle drugs or engage in protection rackets.

The police also suspect Dragon members are involved in online phishing scams, news reports say.

Why are jun boryokudan now on the police radar?

The police are hoping to nip a potential successor to the yakuza in the bud, now that organized crime syndicates are being beaten back by the ever-increasing crackdowns.

According to an NPA report, established yakuza members had fallen to an all-time low of 63,200 at the end of last year, pointing to the success of the new crackdown. But since jun boryokudan are apparently immune to the new ordinances, they have flourished both financially and criminally.

Quasi-gangsters are highly suspected of being involved in the ongoing “furikome” or “It’s me” bank transfer scams, which are growing to the point where police fear the financial clout of the jun boryokudan will soon approach parity with yakuza, reports say.

When did jun boryokudan grab the public spotlight?

Although thugs of this stripe had engaged in various acts of heinous violence before, the high-profile Roppongi bar beating in September that accidentally killed 31-year-old Ryosuke Fujimoto got people’s attention.

As of January this year, the police had arrested 15 men for their alleged involvement in the homicide, including many who used to run with Kanto Rengo.

There was also a 2011 pub brawl that left kabuki actor Ichikawa Ebizo severely injured after his drunken antics apparently provoked former Kanto Rengo member Lion Ito into beating him up. It is said that Ishimoto, the ex-Kanto Rengo boss, was also with the two when the fight broke out.

So Ebizo’s beating threw Ito and Kanto Rengo into the nationwide spotlight as well.

How do the police plan to curb these quasi-gangsters?

No legal action directly targeting jun boryokudan is in the offing at this point. All the police have said so far is that they plan to intensify their clampdown on the thugs’ illegal activities to cut their financial connections with the yakuza.

The police also said they will bolster intelligence-gathering efforts and check the backgrounds of any hoods collared to determine if they are part of a larger, more organized force, whether that be yakuza or overseas mobs with foreign members in Japan. Such information will be compiled on a database, the NPA said.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp

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