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So you wanna be a yakuza reporter: Rags busy after Yamaguchi-gumi split

Flash Dec. 22
Flash Dec. 22

One of the biggest stories in Japan this year was the split of the Yamaguchi-gumi.

As the story unfolded at the end of the summer, newspapers like the Sankei Shimbun and Kobe Shimbun provided quotations leaked from investigative sources who were privy — to some degree, anyway — on just what was going on.

But for those seeking to understand what the landmark event really means to Japan’s largest organized crime group more in-depth coverage is necessary.

For years, Shukan Jitsuwa, Shukan Asahi Geino and Shukan Taishu (ostensibly known as the “Big Three”) have provided extensive coverage on organized crime in Japan. Following the breakup of the Yamaguchi-gumi, it has not been surprising then to see each tabloid consistently dedicating roughly a dozen pages each week to the latest news and look-back features on the Kobe-based gang’s century-long history.

By all impressions, the tabloids have enjoyed a chummy relationship with the gang over the years — to wit, an editor of Asagei wrote most of the screenplay for the 1973 Toei film “The Third-Generation of the Yamaguchi-gumi”— but, according to Flash (Dec. 22), being a yakuza reporter is tireless task — and the split has made it even more challenging.

An editor at the Tokyo-based Jitsuwa says that sales have risen by 20 percent since the dissolution, which took place after 13 affiliate syndicates left the gang in September. The formation of the rival Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi followed.

Shukan Jitsuwa Sep. 17
The top of the cover of the Sept. 17 issue of Shukan Jitsuwa screams ‘Yamaguchi-gumi Split!’

“Things have calmed down a little but we still dedicate a lot of words to articles covering incidents related to the split,” says the editor.

During less anxious times, Jitsuwa provides a mix of photos of women, perverted manga, gambling tips, sex parlor recommendations, gossip on female announcers and crime news to go along with the gangster coverage, which is typically buried in the back of each issue.

Since the split, the Yamaguchi-gumi content has been pushed to the front, positioned just after the glossy multi-page spreads of (nearly nude) gravure idols and (fully nude) adult video actresses with egregious reader-grabbing headlines, such as “29 arrests, at least 20 locations searched in 1 month,” “The shocking content of the surprise ‘confidential’ visit by the Aizukotetsu-kai to the Yamaken-gumi headquarters” and “The yakuza world defies conventional wisdom! The changing ways of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi!”

One writer describes the current thirst for gang news as “frantic.”

“Due to the uproar that has followed the split, the number of business trips I take to Kansai now averages two or three a week,” says the writer, “and I carry around a book of tickets for the Shinkansen.”

To get scoops, writers are always on alert, monitoring police busts, regular gang meetings, dinner events and grave visits. On the surface, the Yamaguchi-gumi and the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi prohibit interviews. A reporter, however, can foster key relationships on the sly.

“It starts with getting your face recognized,” a Jitsuwa reporter tells the magazine. “Though it depends on the gang, if I am, say, allowed to photograph an event, it could then be possible to talk with an upper-level member directly.”

A meal with a gangster could lead to learning inside information. It can also be an interesting experience.

Shukan Asahi Geino Dec. 17
The Dec. 17 issue of Shukan Asahi Geino announces the resignation of number-3 boss Hirofumi Hashimoto

“I get a bit worried about my wallet when I go to a high-end restaurant,” says another reporter. “As to yakuza, there are a lot of lively types, and I had one say to me, ‘If you pay, I won’t talk.’ He then took me to a club, and, in front of the lineup of hostesses, he said, ‘Take whichever one you like home with you.'”

But one must be careful.

Yakuza members tie the bonds of the family with the sakazuki (sake cup),” continues the aforementioned reporter. “Just like a parent and child, this sworn-brother relationship is an important matter. It is the basis for determining one’s rank (in the gang). If a writer doesn’t have that hammered firmly into his head, he won’t be able to keep up.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the job can be rewarding.

“With the magazines getting circulated among the gang members, I am happy when my name is mentioned,” says a writer affiliated with Jitsuwa. “While in prison, they are for sure reading the Big Three because it is an easy way to stay updated on the latest gang trends.”

With a yakuza expert telling Flash that the fallout from the split will likely continue for years, the magazine suggests that journalists for the Big Three take care of themselves.

Source: “Yamaguchi-gumi bunretsu kakkyo jitsuwa-shi kei shukanshi no sozetsu shuzai genba,” Flash (Dec. 22, page 15)