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A message from Japan’s underworld: Beware the ides of March

The Kabukicho red-light district
The Kabukicho red-light district

Immediately following the split of the Yamaguchi-gumi last summer, speculation swirled about turf battles erupting between the gang and its newly formed rival, the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi.

Tokyo, especially the Kabukicho red-light district, was considered a prime location for conflicts between the Hyogo Prefecture-based gangs. But activity has been minimal, at least in light of initial predictions for a full-blown gang war.

Chances of escalation in violence, however, appear to be increasing in the capital — and a coffee shop in Kabukicho may well turn out to be the powder keg, says evening tabloid Nikkan Gendai (Mar. 3).

“Thus far, the Yamaguchi-gumi has utilized restraint,” says journalist Kazuo Kashima. “With the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi not yet recognized as a gang (by the police), it would be pointless for them to clash.”

However, a shift in sentiments may be underway. On January 15, a kissaten located near the Shinjuku Ward Office hosted a monthly meeting for 30 members of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi.

But their presence was not exactly a secret.

“About 30 members of the Yamaguchi-gumi gathered outside,” says Kashima. “It was a potentially explosive situation, but soon after around 80 police officers arrived to break it up.”

Tempers eventually subsided, and the Tokyo-based Sumiyoshi-kai, which has a keen interest in Kabukicho, intervened in the matter, telling the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi to stay out. But the warning was not heeded, and exactly one month later another meeting was held — and this time it got ugly.

On this occasion, up to 50 members from 10 affiliates of the gang, including the Yamaken-gumi and Takumi-gumi, were in attendance. About an hour after arriving at the coffee shop, about 30 members moved on to a nearby restaurant. But they were met by an equal number of gangsters from the Kodo-kai, an affiliate gang of the Yamaguchi-gumi.

As to what transpired — no mainstream media covered the incident — there are few known details. But a report appearing in a February issue of Nikkan Gendai made it clear that blood was shed in a fracas involving about 50 people, including police officers and civilians. In the end, there were no arrests.

The pot continues to boil. Over the past few weeks, conflicts between the rivals have unfolded. On February 23, police arrested a Yamaguchi-gumi member for firing shots at an office of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi in Fukui Prefecture. Four days later, skirmishes between the rivals, including a shooting, took place in Tokyo and Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures on Saturday.

Further, gang-related offices and residences in Osaka, Tochigi and Hokkaido prefectures were rammed by vehicles this month.

“The Yamaguchi-gumi has to this point had a ‘do not provoke’ policy, but the young members are tough to control,” says a person with knowledge of investigative matters.

The source acknowledges that, given precedent, the next meeting at the coffee shop would be on March 15.

“Law enforcement is on alert,” says the investigator. “If something happens, it will be tough to stop a rampage by young members.”

Indeed, just as the soothsayer told Caesar, beware the ides of March. (K.N)

Source: “Yamaguchi-gumi 3gatsu 15nichi zenmen senso totsunyu,” Nikkan Gendai (Mar. 3, page 3)