The graying of Japan’s gangsters

The Yamaguchi-gumi faces a demographic challenge as well as the recent loss of key allies

Shinobu Tsukasa (center) is the top boss of the Yamaguchi-gumi
Shinobu Tsukasa (center) is the top boss of the Yamaguchi-gumi

KOBE (TR) – It’s been a tough year for the Yamaguchi-gumi — and 2016 will likely not be any easier.

Not only did Japan’s largest organized crime group lose key affiliate organizations in a mutiny over the summer but the Kobe-based gang also faces a demographic issue. A white paper released by the National Police Agency this year reveals that yakuza gangs are rapidly aging, reports the Kobe Shimbun (Dec. 22).

In 2014, approximately 26 percent of gangsters and affiliate members were in their 40s, a decrease from the 40-percent figure in 2006. Meanwhile, one in five gangsters is over the age of 60. (For the record, the Yamaguchi-gumi’s top boss, Shinobu Tsukasa, is 73 years old.)

The report concludes that a reduction in young recruits is causing the overall yakuza population to age. This is reflected in the total number of individuals with ties to yakuza gangs, which has dropped from around 86,300 in 2005 to 53,500 last year.

The report credits the recent passage of anti-gang legislation for the reduction in membership. Revisions to laws across the country have reduced the abilities of gangs to participate in money-making activities, such as extortion.

In September, 13 affiliate gangs of the Yamaguchi-gumi bolted to form a rival, the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi. The loss of allies continued thereafter. Since the split, the total number of top bosses in the Yamaguchi-gumi has fallen from 72 to 55.

Crime journalist Atsushi Mizoguchi says that things are not going to get any easier. “Young recruits are down and new ways of making money are losing steam,” he says.

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