Japan’s gangsters esteem tradition and prefer to do things by the book. As a result, they appear to love manuals — they have manuals for committing certain crimes as well as guides on how to avoid punishment for carrying out those crimes. Lately, however, gangsters don’t appear to be paying as much attention to the manuals as they used to.
The Yamaguchi-gumi, the country’s largest crime syndicate, celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2015. On Aug. 27 that same year, however, a number of powerful factions broke away from the syndicate and formed a new group called the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi.
On April 30, a charismatic executive of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, Yoshinori Oda, left the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi to form a splinter group that called itself Ninkyo Dantai (Humanitarian Group) Yamaguchi-gumi. Members of the new syndicate held a news conference in which they criticized the other factions for being old-fashioned and violent.
The response of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi to that criticism appears to have been a traditional gangland-style assassination. According to the police department in Hyogo, three cars left Oda’s residence in Kobe’s Nagata Ward at 10:05 a.m. on Sept. 12. As the cars left the property, a vehicle containing members of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi crashed into one of the cars, approximately 100 meters from the gates.
Yuhiro Kusumoto, Oda’s 44-year-old bodyguard, got out of his vehicle and got into a shouting match with gang members from the rival syndicate. At one point, Kusumoto reportedly challenged the men saying, “If you’re going to shoot, then do it.”
He was shot in the head and killed. The members of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi then fled the scene, abandoning the car and taking the gun. There was also reportedly a man on a motorcycle in the area who was allegedly scouting for the shooters and a motorcycle helmet was later found near the scene of the crime.
It was a textbook assassination — carried out in broad daylight, using a motorcycle for surveillance — but it was sloppy. Within a few hours, the police had identified one of the participants. and they issued a wanted notice within a few days.
This was all a far cry from the Tokyo shooting of Ryoichi Sugiura, a leader of the Sumiyoshi-kai, on Feb. 5 in 2007. At the time, the Sumiyoshi-kai was in a territorial dispute with the Yamaguchi-gumi. At approximately 10 a.m., two men wearing motorcycle helmets approached his parked car on a motorbike and fired three shots through the back window, killing the 43-year-old. The perpetrators fled the scene, ditching the handgun and motorbike nearby. It took months for the police to catch them.
On the other hand, the now-defunct Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi led by criminal genius Tadamasa Goto excelled at these types of crimes, according to a National Police Agency report.
“The division of roles is clear from the start,” the report says. “There is a preliminary inspection of the premises. The hit man, the lookout and the getaway driver come from different areas and don’t know each other. No one is apprised of who is actually in charge of the hit, making investigation impossible. They use passenger vehicles with plates taken from outside the prefecture when perpetrating crimes, thus making investigation difficult.”
It took the Metropolitan Police Department more than five years to arrest most of the members of a syndicate involved in a 2006 hit on a real-estate agent. The Goto-gumi boss escaped punishment. The Goto-gumi manual of crime clearly wasn’t passed on the rest of the Yamaguchi-gumi when his organization fell apart.
These days most gangsters are more focused on not getting caught for crimes rather than committing them effectively.
The recent introduction of the conspiracy law has put the fear of God into gangsters, as they are becoming aware of how it could be used to prosecute them fairly — and unfairly — for any crime they commit.
The Kodo-kai syndicate has even made a manual that advises gangsters how to avoid prosecution. Its manual does not pretend that crime syndicates don’t commit crimes. However, it does warn gangsters that they could be prosecuted for conspiring in a crime they had nothing to do with.
Here’s some highlights from the manual:
• “If a murder is discussed, or someone prepares a knife or other weapon, that could be sufficient grounds for being arrested. Even a person who withdraws money from an ATM could be arrested as a conspirator.”
• “‘Liking’ a post on social media could be taken as evidence of approving of a criminal act and thus being involved in it. From now on, you should remember that emails and phone calls are monitored.”
• “If you read a Line message about a criminal plan and don’t reply, you may still be regarded as a suspect.”
• “When a gangster is arrested, give them notes from the lawyer and make sure they keep good memos on their interrogation.”
Everybody needs guidelines to follow — even gangsters.
The most frightening thing about all of this, however, is that upon reading the manual on how to avoid being arrested for criminal conspiracy, you realize just how easy it is for anyone to be arrested and detained for 23 days under the new law.
Maybe we can learn from crime syndicates about how precarious our civil liberties can be. It’s a strange new world.
Dark Side of the Rising Sun is a monthly column that takes a behind-the-scenes look at news in Japan.