TOKYO (TR) – Given Tokyo’s well-earned reputation as a metropolis of concrete, vacant lots typically do not stay empty for long. But the 3,800-square-meter site in Roppongi, halfway between Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, might remain fenced off and covered with dirt for some time.
The infamous TSK.CCC Terminal building formerly occupied the property until its demolition was complete in April — just one chapter in a bizarre case involving gangsters, property rights, and fraud whose roots can be traced back to Korean mobster Hisayuki Machii (“the Ginza Tiger”), who made his fortune in real estate and operated a ferry service between Japan and South Korea.
Machii headed the company Toa Sogo Kigyo (TSK), a front for the Tosei-kai yakuza gang, which dominated Tokyo’s glitzy Ginza district in the early 1960s. He opened the company’s “Celebrity Choice Club” (CCC) in Roppongi in 1973. The then lavish complex, which rose seven floors above ground and three below, boasted night clubs, a beauty salon, a spa, the headquarters of Toa Sogo Kigyo, a rooftop garden and a tennis court — all just seconds from the bustling Roppongi crossing. A gala opening that summer featured appearances by entertainers, politicians, and sports stars, such as Yomiuri Giants legend Shigeo Nagashima — it was truly the Roppongi Hills of its day.
The trusted associate of the Korean-born Machii was Yoshio Kodama, the notorious political fixer, power broker, and Class-A war criminal. The boxy, maze-like TSK building was their Camelot.
Upon Machii’s death in September 2002, at the age of 79, ownership of the structure, which had fallen into a state of disrepair, became unclear. “The property rights became extremely complicated,” says Yuzuru Goto, administrative director of the Roppongi Shopkeepers Promotion Association.
Creditors, who over the decades had found getting payments from mobsters highly challenging, seized the majority of the building. Complicating matters were building registration irregularities and multiple parties claiming ownership to other various bits of the structure. Another gang group wound up squatting on the premises.
For years, establishments operated in some areas while others remained chained shut. Most recently TSK housed the club Vanilla, the bar Tokyo Sports Cafe, and the hostess club Private Eyes. Roppongi denizens probably will recall its gaudy, Porsche-inspired shield emblem that hung outside.
Robert Whiting included Machii in his 2000 book “Tokyo Underworld,” a chronicle of organized crime in Japan in the years following World War II. After the book’s publication, Machii wrote to Whiting to voice his displeasure at being labeled a gangster when in fact Machii viewed himself as a patriot.
Whiting agrees with this assertion but emphasizes that the mobster tag was also appropriate. “I knew from a former Honolulu police officer,” Whiting says, “that he carried a letter from MacArthur thanking him for fighting communists in Japan during the immediate postwar era. But the other part was true as well. I had police records and other documents that demonstrated that. We were all going to have a meeting — Machii, his son, his mother, his secretary — to discuss the matter, if my safety could be guaranteed. But in the middle of negotiations about how and when and where to meet, his wife became ill. That delayed things. Then Machii died, so that was the end of that.”
But a new era was just beginning. With land prices in central Tokyo having risen substantially in recent years, the TSK plot has been seen as highly valuable with news reports referring to it as “sweet honey.” In July 2006, a real estate company today known as Toshi Urban Kaihatsu purchased the majority of the site for 25.2 billion yen at auction from the creditors.
The arrest last year of former intelligence chief Shigetake Ogata brought the TSK situation into the public’s view. He is presently on trial for conspiring to defraud Chongryon (pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan) out of 484 million yen while simultaneously attempting to purchase two (non-auction) condominium units within TSK. The purchase of the units fell through when an agreement on price could not be reached.
It was around this time that Japanese bloggers picked up on the story. Attempts were made to link characters appearing in photographs taken inside rooms of TSK to stabbings that took place between members of gang groups in Kyushu.
By August of last year, Toshi Urban Kaihatsu had bought up the remaining pieces of TSK, including the condominiums which Ogata attempted to purchase. Osaka-based contractor Daito started the demolition work soon after.
A television documentary last year reported Toshi Urban Kaihatsu as being a Chiyoda Ward-based limited liability company capitalized at 3 million yen, operating out of a one-room apartment, and receiving its funding offshore. Given these facts, the documentary implied that the company was a rather questionable candidate to be raising such large sums of money.
What will happen next is unclear. Toshi Urban Kaihatsu might like to resell the property as soon as possible to make a profit but observers are not sanguine about such a scenario transpiring.
The Roppongi association’s Goto hopes that a big developer, like Sumitomo or Mitsui, will purchase the land, but he believes that for now they will stay on the sidelines. “The rumor that yakuza money still ‘sleeps’ inside TSK will keep everyone away,” he says. “They know that the price will mysteriously rise once the negotiations start.”
Indeed, the tiger still roars from the grave.
Note: This article originally appeared in the September issue of Japan Inc. magazine.