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Trouble is their business: Kabukicho braces for Yamaguchi-gumi battle

The formation of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, lead by Kunio Inoue (above), could result in conflicts in Kabukicho
The formation of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, lead by Kunio Inoue (above), could cause conflicts in Kabukicho

Gangsters and Kabukicho, the notorious red-light district in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, go together like gin and tonic.

It is not surprising then that concerns would be raised about the future of Kabukicho following the recent split of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest organized crime group.

On September 1, the Kobe-based gang chose to finalize the excommunication of 13 affiliate gangs, including the Yamaken-gumi and Takumi-gumi.

That night, reports evening tabloid Nikkan Gendai (Sep. 4), nerves in Kabukicho were frazzled.

“Patrol cars were out, and pedestrians were scarce,” says a salaryman who was in the quarter at the time. “Taxi drivers were grumbling about people spreading rumors about a coming gang war. Restaurants and bars are petrified that a (local) recession looms just around the corner.”

The “coming gang war” would be between the remainder of the Yamaguchi-gumi and its new rival.

On September 5, law enforcement sources confirmed the formation of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, which will be headed by Kunio Inoue, the 67-year-old boss of the Yamaken-gumi.

Prior to the split, the Yamaguchi-gumi consisted of more than 70 affiliate gangs. According to journalist Kazuo Kashima, approximately 50 of those affiliates have offices in Tokyo. Kashima says this makes Kabukicho — which offers such revenue staples as prostitution, illegal gambling and drugs — ripe for conflicts over territory.

“Even in the best of times there have been problems due to uprisings,” says Kashima “It is a volatile situation.”

The scribe says that right now the gangs are taking a wait-and-see approach while the eyes of law enforcement is directly upon them.

“But once the police presence drops, I think there will be an explosion in violent uprisings,” says Kashima. “There will be shootings at gang offices that will result in full-on conflicts in the street. After all, violence is the business of yakuza.”

Since Japan’s “bubble economy” period, the Yamaguchi-gumi has made inroads in Tokyo. There are approximately 1,000 gangsters working in Kabukicho. Of them, approximately half are members of the Yamaguchi-gumi. One significant means of making money from clubs and parlors is the extortion practice known as mikajimeryo, or the payment of protection money.

Kashima says that turf battles over mikajimeryo are certain to unfold, with different gangs approaching clubs.

“(The trouble) could be a matter of, perhaps, a Kobe faction that has been charging 100,000 yen per month to a particular club being undercut by a 70,000-yen price from another faction,” he says.

Perhaps most ominous, however, is Kashima’s concern for how the violence could be meted out.

“Nowadays, a yakuza will not carry around a firearm or knife as the police are always on the lookout,” he says. “But from now on, I don’t know. (Gangs) maintain access routes to weapons from Russia. A concealed weapon could be carried outside the gang’s office as an added precaution. If there is a shooting incident, there is a chance that a pedestrian could be caught in the crossfire.”

And that will certainly put a damper on a salaryman’s night out in Kabukicho — or anywhere else in Tokyo for that matter. (A.T.)

Source: “Yamaguchi-gumi bunretsu de Kabukicho ha genju keikai,” Nikkan Gendai (Sep. 4, page 9)