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Crackdown on Tokyo’s yakuza gangs may be futile

Shukan Post June 26
Shukan Post June 26

In looking back at the origin of the yakuza, one finds two distinct types of gangster: the tekiya (a stall holder) and bakuto (a gambler).

Last month, Tokyo Metropolitan Police arrested the top bosses of two venerable Tokyo gangs involved in both of these rackets. The crackdown on these syndicates, however, may be futile as new criminal elements are now marking out their own turf and establishing a broader scope of operations, reports weekly tabloid Shukan Post (June 26).

Based in Tokyo’s Nishi Ikebukuro area, the Kyokuto-kai specializes in the organization of food stalls often seen at festivals and on the grounds of shrines during holidays.

The boss of the gang is 87-year-old Shinichi Matsuyama. On June 2, Tokyo Metropolitan Police accused Matsuyama of providing fraudulent information in opening a bank account.

“Matsuyama is a legendary boss who put together the tekiya network in Kanto,” a former Kyokuto-kai member tells the magazine. “In the past, the police had ways to deal with the top figures (of such organizations) in order to resolve issues related to organized crimes. Now, it seems that such consideration is not necessary. By targeting those at the top, the aim is to disable organizations.”

As of the end of last year, the gang had approximately 800 members and offices in 15 administrative districts nationwide. The gang is currently aligned with the Yamaguchi-gumi and Sumiyoshi-kai.

During the early 1980s, however, the latter group, which relies on gambling for revenue, was hardly an ally.

The had Kyokuto-kai ran afoul of the Sumiyoshi-kai, then known as the Sumiyoshi Rengo-kai, over the control of turf. By 1983, an all-out war was underway. The following year, Matsuyama was behind the resolution, which involved a merger of forces between the two gangs.

A person working for a front company of the Yamaguchi-gumi member tells the magazine that the resolution coincided with the emergence of the asset-inflated “bubble” economy, the halcyon days for yakuza in Japan. Since then, organized crime has been all down hill.

“After the enactment of the Anti-Organized Crime Law in 1992, there was a complete reversal,” says the employee. “Until then, a great amount of legal work could be done in debt collection, bankruptcy liquidation, land speculation, the collection of money from companies using racketeers and the management of singers and athletes in martial arts. Now, everything is illegal. If one makes even the slightest move, an arrest will follow immediately.”

Like the Kyokuto-kai’s Matsuyama, the current head of the Sumiyoshi-kai knows this all too well.

On June 7, Isao Seki, 69, was arrested by Chiba Prefectural Police for arranging a meeting at a “snack” hostess club in Isumi City in early March for supporters and voters of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Masakazu Koji. The meeting had been held prior to that allowed by election laws.

Shinichi Matsuyama
Shinichi Matsuyama

In some ways, the gangs have adapted to the increased scrutiny. The Yamaguchi-gumi, for example, supposedly no longer deals in stimulant drugs. Meanwhile, the Sumiyoshi-kai enacted a ban on bank transfer scams in the fall of last year.

The moves are significant. Though blackmail, prostitution, bookmaking and the management of underground casinos are crucial for any gang’s bottom line, drug dealing and bank scams are traditionally the top forms of revenue.

As this crackdown continues, a new type of gangster spawned from bosozoku motorcycle groups is filling this void.

Collectively, these cast-offs come under the hangure categorization. The term is an amalgamation of Japanese words that roughly mean a clam shell that does not close snugly.

Primary participants include former and current members of bosozoku groups Kanto Rengo and Dragon, which is composed of second- and third-generation returnees from China who came to Japan after the end of World War II.

In 2013, the National Police Agency began classifying bosozoku gangs as “pseudo-yakuza” groups to better reflect the true state of their activities.

But police have yet to figure out a way to crack down on these new gangsters. “Since formal communication and ceremonial gatherings are not conducted, the police are powerless in tracking the members,” says a former Kanto Rengo member. “They are, therefore, able to take up work, on the surface, at fuzoku (sex-related) businesses and restaurants.”

Behind the scenes, however, they are ignoring traditional yakuza rackets and instead profiting from insider trading and game software and application development.

“We are capable of using violence to deal with a problem,” says the former Kanto Rengo member. “A yakuza can’t enter this kind of industry. Nowadays, becoming a gangster is considered foolish.”

Source: “Sumiyoshi-kai to Kyokuto-kai ‘toppu taiho’ de ubugoe o ageta ‘Kanto shinboku-kai’ ni shogeki hashiru,” Shukan Post (June 26, pages 54-57)