With the year winding down, the Yamaguchi-gumi yakuza group entertained 1,200 members of the Kobe community with food and gifts in an effort to convey a sense of civic goodwill, reports Shukan Shincho (Jan. 14).
The Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest mob, boasting an estimated membership of 40,000, is generally feared by the public but its upper echelon and underlings spent the morning of December 28 preparing mochi (rice cakes) — in a ritual where the rice is pounded with a wood mallet — and distributing toys, candies, and cash gifts to children.
One participant, who viewed the festivities, which took place inside the organization’s large compound in Nada Ward, explains, “Their 700 tsubo parking lot was used as the venue space. They had tents up in case of rain, tables were lined out, and they had stands offering gold-fish scooping, toy-rifle shooting, yakisoba (grilled noodles) and takoyaki (grilled octopus). It started at 9 a.m. and ended at around 1 p.m. in the afternoon.”
“Guides” were on hand to accompany arriving visitors. “They had a few dozen guides,” the same participant says, adding that each was overly nice to the children. “They were all senior-level members. Beer and sake were served to adults. Kids received tickets to play the various games, and ozoni and oshiruko soups were offered on an all-you-can-eat basis.”
The mob’s sixth and current leader, Shinobu Tsukasa, whose real name is Kenichi Shinoda, is serving prison time for illegal possession of weapons. As an honorific gesture, the article says, other members had arranged a display-only meal at his table. Kiyoshi Takayama, the number-two member, and other very senior figures were seen enjoying their time next to that seat.
A housewife who lives nearby tells Shukan Shincho, “I bought red and white mochi. Kids were receiving paper bags full of toys as well as some otoshidama (a traditional cash gift). When I said, ‘You must be happy” to a child with an envelope, the mother of that child responded gleefully, ‘It had 10,000 yen!'”
These envelopes came in two types, labeled either “Tsukasa” or “Takayama” and containing sums ranging between 10,000 and 30,000 yen.
The annual event started in 2005, the year Tsukasa became the top boss. In the early years, only a few dozen people turned up, but as the years went by attendance rose quickly.
A journalist with knowledge of Yamaguchi-gumi says, “The boss is trying to go back to basics by emphasizing ninkyo-do (the way of showing compassion) and developing a positive local image for the gang. It appears they have extended invitations to family members of the Yamaguchi-gumi, nearby residents, members of institutions, and kindergartens.”
When participants exited the venue, officers from the Hyogo Prefectural Police asked each visitor what they received. “Through these police reports,” the same journalist says, “newspapers reported these allowances given to kids, but this actually happens every year.”
The article also reports that some people attempted to have their kids re-enter the grounds for supplemental cash and even recruited uninvited kids of relatives to sneak inside. A person witnessing the event says, “A senior-level member of Yamaguchi-gumi was heard crying out, “This is not the kind of message we should be sending to children.'”
In a truly ironic twist, concludes Shukan Shincho, the gangsters may have this time been outfoxed by the locals.
Source: “Mochitsuki taikai Rokudai-me Yamaguchi-gumi ga kodomo ni kubatta otoshidama no omowaku,” Shukan Shincho (Jan. 14, pages 29-30)
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