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Arrest for Kobe murder ends a yakuza’s 16 years on the run

Shukan Asahi Mar. 28
Shukan Asahi Mar. 28

“A gang order is absolute. There is no choice but to carry it out.”

On the afternoon of August 28, 1997, four gunmen entered a coffee shop in the New Kobe Oriental Hotel and opened fire on three men seated at a table having lunch.

The target was Masaru Takumi, a potential successor to Yoshinori Watanabe, the fifth Godfather of the Yamaguchi-gumi.

Takumi, 61, was shot seven times. He was confirmed dead an hour later at a nearby hospital. A 69-year-old dentist seated at a neighboring table was hit by a stray bullet. He died six days later after receiving medical attention.

The other two men, one of whom was top boss Saizo Kishimoto, were unharmed. The perpetrators, all members of the Nakano-kai, a renegade group of the Yamaguchi-gumi, fled the scene.

On March 14, the Kobe District Court handed down a sentence of life in prison to Harutoshi Zaitsu, 57, who was arrested for murder and violations related to the Swords and Firearms Control Law by Hyogo Prefectural Police in front of an apartment in Sayama City, Saitama Prefecture on the morning of June 5 of last year.

Zaitsu, who orchestrated the attack, was the final member of the six people involved in the attack to either be arrested or die.

According to Shukan Asahi (Mar. 28), the verdict ends a long, troubling life on the run for the former gangster.

In appearing in court, the magazine describes him as being rundown, hardly resembling the image of him in his wanted poster.

The opening statement from the prosecutor said that Zaitsu entered an affiliate group of the Nakano-kai as a lower-ranking member in 1980. He was later promoted to executive level.

Prior to the shooting, he received money and pistols from the gang. He subsequently purchased clothes needed for the job.

Prior to the attack, the group waited on standby on the second and third floors of the hotel. “In watching from the safe area, I didn’t want to let the hitmen go crazy,” he is quoted.

Masaru Takumi
Masaru Takumi

At 3:20 p.m., Zaitsu led the gunmen into the fourth-floor lounge, which was crowded at the time. But one member lagged behind. “What are you doing!” Zaitsu yelled at the tardy shooter just before Kiyoteru Toriyabara opened fire.

According to a report appearing in Yukan Fuji (June 20, 2013), Takumi raised his left hand in self defense and attempted to stand up.

Yamaguchi-gumi and Nakano-kai

The motive for the shooting was a dispute between the Yamaguchi-gumi and the Nakano-kai that took began the year before.

Zaitsu was reluctant to carry out the crime, says a report in the Sankei Shimbun (Mar. 21), but, as he told the court, it is not possible to disobey an order from the top.

After the shooting, he fled to Tokyo, where he met Toriyabara. The pair moved around continually. Zaitsu received between one million and three million yen per month from the gang to cover expenses.

The condition of Toriyabara, who suffered from diabetes, became a problem. “We almost got caught getting medicine at a hospital,” Zaitsu said. “So we were reluctant to go out after that and stayed in Sagamihara (Kanagawa Prefecture).”

But Toriyabara’s condition worsened, and he began suffering from gangrene on his feet. “Everyday I gave him a nutrition drink and changed the bandages,” Zaitsu said.

Toriyabara died at the age of 56 in June of 2006. His frail, 34-kilogram corpse was later found stuffed in a suitcase placed inside a warehouse in Kobe. The cause of death was diabetes and hepatitis.

“I felt miserable in imagining what it would like to die like him without anyone watching over,” Zaitsu said.

In the years following the attack, three of the other perpetrators were arrested. The final member, Kazutoshi Yoshino, 45, the upper-level Nakano-kai member who ordered the shooting, was found dead in apartment in Seoul in July of 1998. The cause of death was ruled a stroke but police believe he was poisoned.

“I feel a sense of relief in being arrested”

For Zaitsu, his life on the run continued until that day in June when the police arrived at his apartment building near the tracks of the Seibu Shinjuku Line.

The police waited downstairs for for Zaitsu to exit his unit, which he did at 1:45 p.m.

“Are you Zaitsu,” one of the investigators asked, dismissing with honorifics.

The former gangster, dressed in a long-sleeve shirt, blue pants and a cap, did not attempt to flee or put up a fight. He simply answered in the affirmative.

“The last three years have been very tough,” he said. “Honestly, I feel a sense of relief in being arrested.”

Source: “Yamaguchi-gumi Takumi Masaru kumicho shugeki hittoman ga kataru 16nen no tobo geki,” Shukan Asahi (Mar. 28, page 23)