The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo should be a cause for celebration but this may depend on who you talk to.

Takajima Publishing released a book by Yoshinari Ichinomiya in June 2014 titled “2020 Black Money and the Tokyo Olympics” that portrays the event as an underworld party.

In a chapter titled “The Yakuza Olympics,” Ichinomiya discusses the alleged ties that Hidetoshi Tanaka, vice president of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), has had to organized crime in the past. It references a September 1998 photograph of Tanaka with the former head of the Sumiyoshi-kai, the second-largest yakuza group in the country, at Hotel New Otani Tokyo. The Shukan Bunshun was the first to publish the photo in February 2014.

With the author estimating that total spending on the games may reach ¥1 trillion, there’s going to be plenty of money floating around for anyone interested in a cut — including the Yamaguchi-gumi.

The Yamaguchi-gumi isn’t just an organized crime syndicate, it’s an international corporation that has been in business for 100 years. The organization is the largest yakuza syndicate in the country, counting more than 25,000 registered members at the start of 2014, according to the National Police Agency.

The syndicate owns myriad auditing firms, oversees hundreds of front operations and, more recently, even appears to be moving into the IT sector. In 2007, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the head of a Kodo-kai faction took over Yubitoma, the equivalent of Japan’s “classmates.com,” gaining access to the personal data of 3.5 million people.

The syndicate is also politically connected. As I noted in my April column, “Learning valuable lessons from the yakuza?”, the Shukan Bunshun reported that education minister Hakubun Shimomura had received donations from a Yamaguchi-gumi Kodo-kai front company. The magazine also claimed that Masahiro Toyokawa, a longtime associate member of the Yamaguchi-gumi, founded one of Shimomura’s political support groups. Shimomura denied the allegations.

Politicians, however, aren’t the only ones who appear to benefit from the underworld payouts. The Yamaguchi-gumi offers their employees a few perks when they retire in exchange for loyalty. One former senior gangster, Kenji Seiriki, says that a retiring executive could expect to be paid out ¥50 million or more.

While government officials in Japan appear reluctant to confront issues relating to organized crime, the U.S. government is taking a more proactive approach.

The U.S. Treasury Department froze American-owned assets controlled by the Yamaguchi-gumi and the syndicate’s top two leaders in February 2012. On April 21, U.S. officials went one step further and announced similar measures against the Kodo-kai, the same faction linked with Shimomura.

“The Kodo-kai is known to be the most violent faction within the Yamaguchi-gumi and is headquartered in Nagoya, Japan, with about 4,000 members,” the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement announcing the sanctions. “Among other criminal activities, the Kodo-kai has conducted extortion and engaged in bribery on behalf of the Yamaguchi-gumi and has gained prominence in part for its financial muscle.”

The financial sanctions also apply to Teruaki Takeuchi, chairman of the Kodo-kai.

“Takeuchi is also linked to the Inagawa-kai syndicate, the third-largest Yakuza syndicate in Japan, through a symbolic brotherhood he shares with Kazuo Uchibori, the second-in-command of the Inagawa-kai,” the Treasury statement said. “Such brotherhoods have the power to signify alliances among yakuza syndicates.”

Takeuchi and Uchibori are both expected to take over their organizations by this time next year, police sources say. The Inagawa-kai (Tokyo) will effectively be under the Yamaguchi-gumi umbrella — just in time for 2020.

It isn’t the first time an administration has attempted to confront the Kodo-kai. In 2009, the National Police Agency declared war on the Nagoya-based syndicate, directing all departments to utilize whatever resources they had at their disposal to arrest gangsters and destroy revenue sources. Shinobu Tsukasa was head of the Kodo-kai at the time; he is now the sixth and current head of the Yamaguchi-gumi.

Tsukasa has already attracted some attention in official circles this year after a photograph mysteriously surfaced that features the Yamaguchi-gumi leader sitting alongside JOC Vice President Tanaka at a club in Nagoya in the mid-2000s. The photo was sent to a number of media outlets by an individual claiming to be an unhappy Nihon University employee. On April 23, Gendai Business reported that a right-wing newspaper had tried to publish the photograph but the publisher’s employees were assaulted after they contacted Nihon University for clarification. According to a report in the Sankei Shimbun, Tanaka claims the photo is a fake.

Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) lawmaker Yoshio Maki has recently been looking into possible links between the yakuza and the Olympics.

In education committee meetings in April, he held up several newspaper and magazine articles that included the photo of Tsukasa apparently with Tanaka, and demanded an explanation.

Maki asked Shimomura, the education minister who is also in charge of overseeing preparations for the Tokyo Games, why the government has yet to investigate the olympic committee’s possible ties to organized crime.

Shimomura pledged to investigate the claims personally and, given his alleged connections, just might be the right man for the job.

“Shimomura’s reply is just a formality,” Maki later told me. “Asking the JOC and Nihon University to investigate on their own will only produce an answer that is expected.”

We can only wait and see if Shimomura is able to get some results and keep the yakuza out of the Olympics but perhaps, as they say, “don’t hold your breath.”

Dark Side of the Rising Sun is a monthly column that takes a behind-the-scenes look at news in Japan.

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