Not far from JR Sendai Station is a hotel that was used as an evacuation center after the Great East Japan Earthquake in March. Yet even now, seven months later, the mood inside its cafe is still rather dark.
Three groups of men in suits are seated, facing one another. One member casts a stern glance over at a reporter for weekly tabloid Shukan Post (Oct. 14). “Don’t make eye contact as they will likely start something,” says a local construction company employee. “This place is becoming a yakuza hangout.”
The commissioner general of the National Police Agency, Takaharu Ando, has stepped up measures to eliminate boryokudan activities, but he will have his work cut out for him in Tohoku, where gang groups are flocking to the area and the estimated 23-trillion yen in reconstruction work set to take place over the next decade.
“For many years, yakuza groups have been involved in reconstruction projects that follow disasters,” explains the same construction company employee. “They will have companies they back join the bids or rip off the contractors that get the work.”
But those groups seen staying at this hotel are not local, the source adds, rather they are from Nagoya.
Nagoya is the base for Kodo-kai, an affiliate of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest criminal organization. The Aichi prefectural police are currently collecting information and monitoring Kodo-kai activities.
After the earthquake, there were cases of unidentified groups distributing envelopes containing cash totaling 30,000 yen to evacuees at centers in Minami Sanriku and Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. To prevent inequality, evacuation centers asked that donations be made to the center and distributed thereafter. That idea was refused, but the total amount reached around 50,000,000 yen.
“The police looked into the case and found that the Kodo-kai was involved,” says a local newspaper reporter. “By providing money, yakuza gangs are seeking to gain trust. While the enforcement has become more strict, the money for rebuilding is appealing. As a matter of fact, it is said that the company that won the bid to clean up the mess in the Sanriku area is said to be a front company of a yakuza group.”
The police appear to be taking the situation seriously. During a meeting in May with various chiefs of detectives from around the country, Ando said, “Yakuza involvement in the rebuilding process cannot be permitted.”
However, a crackdown has not begun. What they can do, according to a reporter from a local paper, is “disclose the names of companies that have relationships with yakuza.”
Yet it won’t be easy. Yakuza advances in business go beyond infrastructure work. It is said that they are also after the no-interest loans, which can reach a maximum of 200,000 yen, that the government has extended to victims who lost their homes. The sex shops shops that reopened right after the earthquake were allegedly due to such lending.
The article concludes on an ominous note, citing a reason for the lack of action to this point being due to the mixed relationship between the police and yakuza. “These are small communities, and they tend to hang out together,” says the previously quoted construction company employee. “Just because the police chief suddenly initiates an anti-yakuza crackdown it doesn’t necessarily mean that much.” (A.T.)
Source: “Shinsai fukko jigyo 23-cho yen ni muragaru boryokudan tachi,” Shukan Post (Oct. 14, page 54)