In the outfield seating areas of baseball games in Japan, there is usually an oendan (or cheering section), which consists of fans chanting, pounding drums, blowing horns and waving flags, primarily when the team they support is at bat.
For the Central League’s Chunichi Dragons, their cheering sections at their home stadium of Nagoya Dome and elsewhere on the road have had little to shout about — and that is not due to the team’s current fourth-place position in the standings.
On July 24, Chunichi announced that it was accepting applications for membership in a new cheering section in an effort to comply with the policies of Nippon Pro Baseball (NPB) regarding connections to organized crime.
The application for the Chunichi Dragons Cheering Section includes the submission of a form and a performance review, ostensibly an evaluation of the applicant’s musical ability. The team, which is seeking 20 suitable candidates, hopes to have the new section up and running before the year is out.
The move follows the failure on the part of four existing groups that support Chunichi nationwide to change their upper members by the first All-Star Games on July 18. Up to this point in the season, the fans in the outfield had been required to cheer individually and without musical accompaniment, as mandated by NPB.
“Generally, a team cannot have organized cheering with instruments without permission,” says a reporter at a sports newspaper.
According to Shukan Asahi Geino (Aug. 14-21), Chunichi has a long, complicated relationship with one yakuza group in particular, the Nagoya-based Kodo-kai, an affiliate gang of Japan’s largest criminal syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi.
“NPB has been showing an attitude whereby ties to organized crime are not allowed,” says a person affiliated with NPB. “But in the oendan sections of Chunichi, the upper members are yakuza, particularly the Kodo-kai.”
In 2006, NPB issued a special mandate to exclude boryokudan, or organized crime groups. As a result, all 12 teams were required to submit the names and portrait photographs of the members of its oendan groups.
One year later, the Nagoya Hakuryu-kai (名古屋白龍會) and Zenkoku Ryushin Rengo (全国竜心連合) oendan groups for Chunichi had already been rejected by NPB for not submitting a list of their members. The groups filed a claim against NPB four years later in the High Court of Nagoya but lost. In 2013, an appeal reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of NPB.
In the three-page application to join the Chunichi Dragons Cheering Section, the ninth question asks whether the applicant is a member of an organized crime group.
This raises a very logical question: Why is Chunichi protecting organized crime members?
“Since the days of Nagoya Stadium” — the facility used by Chunichi before it moved to Nagoya Dome in 1997 — “there has been a problem with ticket scalping,” says the aforementioned sports reporter. “Teams can supply the oendan sections with around 100 tickets, and those tickets can get into the hands of organized crime members who scalp them.”
Then there are the direct connections yakuza can have with the players themselves.
“So-called ‘player seats’ are provided to team members with the intention being that they invite people to the games,” says the previously mentioned NPB source. “All teams allocate two tickets per player per game.”
A problem arises when the players become close to members of the oendan sections — and the tickets are funneled to gangsters.
In illustrating the friendly ties that can exist, the magazine mentions an alleged rape committed in 2003 by Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, a slugging third baseman with Chunichi between 1988 and 2009. Weekly tabloid Shukan Post said that Tatsunami hired gang members to threaten the victim and her fiance in an effort to intimidate them into not revealing the crime.
These problems, however, are not limited to Chunichi. The magazine mentions an unnamed player on another Central League team.
“He collects tickets from other players and passes them on to the oendan sections,” continues the NPB source. “These then wind up in the hands of yakuza, who scalp them to fund their gang.” (K.N.)
Source: “Chunichi Ochiai GM vs. Yamaguchi-gumi Kodo-kai,” Shukan Asahi Geino (Aug. 14-21, pages 202-204)