Upon his death four years ago, Yoshinori Watanabe, the fifth Godfather of the Yamaguchi-gumi organized crime group, was likely most remembered for the gang’s relief activities following the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995, when it provided 20,000 meals to survivors in Kobe.
Since the disasters struck, gangsters with the Daimon-kai, an affiliate syndicate of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, have been distributing emergency goods to local citizens from its headquarters and the home of the gang’s boss, Tatsuya Kiyosaki.
“I don’t think of the volunteering I’m doing as a huge deal,” says Kiyosaki. “A lot of stuff is coming in via our contacts throughout Japan, and I’m distributing it to our neighbors. I’m just doing what’s normal.”
On the evening of April 14, a magnitude-6.5 tremor struck Kumamoto, located on the island of Kyushu.
The second quake, an even stronger temblor (magnitude-7.3), hit two days later. “After that, concerned voices from all through our network across Japan came pouring in,” continues the gangster.
Thus far, the quakes have resulted in approximately 50 deaths and the destruction of more than 1,500 residences, according to the latest government figures.
Both the gang’s office and Kiyosaki’s residence were heavily damaged. For Kiyosaki, there is no water service at his residence, and he is unable to take a bath. But he has other things on his mind.
The relief items being distributed by the gang are the basics, with water, cup noodles, milk, diapers, juice and canned coffee being among them. “The organizational capability is amazing,” says the gang member of the logistics carried out in trucking in so many goods from around the nation. In front of the gang’s office, a sign written on a cardboard box reads, “Drinking water available for free.”
The process has been assisted by social media: Local residents have used Twitter to learn about the availability of goods via the Daimon-kai.
Such an endeavor is not exactly new territory for Kiyosaki; he was a volunteer for the Yamaguchi-gumi along with Watanabe following the Hanshin earthquake. Through that experience, one of the things he learned was the value of a motorbike in times of disaster.
“You can’t just line up goods in the street,” Kiyosaki said while packing goods into backpack and zooming off on a delivery.
This time around, however, things are a bit different for Kiyosaki. Last summer, the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi formed following the breakup of the Yamaguchi-gumi, which is the nation’s largest gang. Since then, the two syndicates have been feuding, with attacks on offices connected to both gangs having taken place nationwide.
The aforementioned Daimon-kai member says there are times when hostilities should be set aside.
“I heard an old lady say on the telephone, ‘Water is being distributed in front of the gang office,’ and I think that’s great,” says the gangster. “This is not a time to talk about fighting; it is a matter of whether there will be water tomorrow.” (A.T.)
Source: “Hisai to yakuza to Nihonjin,'” Flash (May 10-17, pages 14-15)