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Yamaguchi-gumi looks back as problems loom

Friday Aug. 9

On July 23 at 10 a.m., the temperature is already 32 degrees Celsius as a man sporting a light grey suit arrives at Nagamine Reien Cemetery in Kobe.

He is Shinobu Tsukasa, 71, the 6th head of the Yamaguchi-gumi organized crime group. He is here on this day to commemorate the 32nd anniversary of the passing of Kazuo Taoka, the gang’s third Godfather.

After pouring water on Taoka’s tomb in a gesture of respect, Tsukasa, whose real name is Kenichi Shinoda, lowers his head in prayer.

The pilgrimage, reports weekly tabloid Friday (Aug. 9), comes during a very tumultuous period for Japan’s largest yakuza gang.

One week before, a woman who manages a hostess club in Nagoya sued Tsukasa for forcing her to pay protection money to Yoshitake Matsuyama, the head of a criminal group affiliated with the Kodo-kai, which is a subsidiary of the Yamaguchi-gumi.

The manager is seeking 17.35 million yen in repayment and compensation for being forced to pay 10.85 million yen between 1998 and 2010. A plaintiff seeking a refund for extortion is a first in Japan.

The magazine says that Aichi Prefectural Police have been increasingly working to protect citizens from yakuza groups. As a result, the woman is allegedly under 24-hour police protection.

The funds paid each month were deemed to be for the protection of the business — termed mikajimeryo — and ranged in value from 30,000 to 100,000 yen.

“In the Nagoya area alone, it is estimated that the Yamaguchi-gumi collects a couple hundred million yen monthly,” says a member of the Aichi Prefectural Police. “Should this end, the Yamaguchi-gumi will take a strong hit.”

Kiyotaka Tanaka, the lawyer for the restaurant manager, said at news conference that this could be a landmark case. “This woman showed great courage in standing up (to this injustice),” said the lawyer. “Once liability at the top is proven, it will continue downward (within the gang’s ranks). This trial will become a curtailment for these activities in the future.”

In another claim filed in May, the parents of a nightclub worker sued Tsukasa, number-two boss Kiyoshi Takayama, and three others for 150 million yen in compensation over a fire set inside hostess club Infinity on September 3, 2010 that killed their son.

The attack was related to a refusal by the club to pay protection money to the Kodo-kai. The year before, the owner of the club’s parent company was assaulted, whereby he received serious injuries.

In an effort improve communication within the gang, Tsukasa on July 5 distributed the eight-page Yamaguchi-gumi Shinpo (July 1) newsletter to its approximately 27,700 members.

The headline reads “Let’s march on through these challenges” and includes a message from Tsukasa about returning “back to the basics.” The boss says that a need to change in an effort to proactively advance in terms of business practices “is essential in survival.”

On pages two and three, the achievement of Taoka are outlined. It was during Taoka’s reign 38 years ago that the Yamaguchi-gumi issued a similar publication, the Yamaguchi-gumi Jiho.

“Taoka is the one who turned a 30-man group into the national syndicate, which made him a symbol of rejuvenation,” says Atsushi Hamaguchi, non-fiction writer. “Tsukasa seems to want to convey a message that they can learn something from Taoka, who restructured the organization during the tough times that followed World War II.”

But it will not be easy; the lawsuits pose a real threat. “With the government and the people uniting, it could run the Yamaguchi-gumi out of business,” says the writer.

Source: “Yamaguchi-gumi Shinobu Tsukasa kumicho ‘keisatsu hoi ami’ kachu no hakamairi sugata,” Friday (Aug. 9, page 27)