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Yamaguchi-gumi gets its mojo back

Friday Jan. 27
Friday Jan. 27

The Yamaguchi-gumi is back.

In late December, Japan’s largest organized crime group held its annual mochitsuki event, in which rice cakes are made with a mallet, at its headquarters in Kobe. At one point during the proceedings, Shinobu Tsukasa, the gang’s top boss, declared, “This is how things should be.”

Likely the don was not referring to newly made mochi cakes — rather, he was talking about the status of the gang after two years of turmoil, reports Friday (Jan. 27).

“It wasn’t just the mochi-pounding,” non-fiction author Atsushi Mizoguchi says. “Last October, they opened the garage at the headquarters and handed out candy on Halloween. I think it means the Yamaguchi-gumi is regaining its confidence.”

In 2015, more than a dozen affiliate gangs of the Yamaguchi-gumi left to form a rival syndicate, the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi. Since then, the two gangs have been engaged in a sometimes violent dispute, one that has forced the Yamaguchi-gumi to cancel the aforementioned seasonal gatherings.

At the mochi event, Tsukasa instructed attendees on where to aim the mallet. Many heads of affiliate gangs and their members arrived from throughout the country to assemble around six mortars of thick rice batter. Sporting a casual look, including a burgundy turtleneck sweater and sneakers, the 74-year-old Tsukasa chatted cheerfully and appeared relaxed as he pounded in the presence of kindergarten students.

“He was in a good mood at the event, which was being held for the first time in two years. He picked up a wooden mallet and was pounding the mochi himself,” a source close to the Yamaguchi-gumi tells the magazine. “I heard that 700 kilograms of mochi were pounded at the event. It used to be around 1,000 kilograms, so it was somewhat reduced.”

Four days later, Tsukasa arrived at Gokoku Shrine, situated fairly close to the gang’s headquarters. In making his first shrine visit for the New Year, he was accompanied by Hirofumi Hashimoto, the head of Kyokushin Rengo-kai, an affiliate gang, and other bosses.

“The mood was tense at last year’s New Year worship, and the affiliate bosses had waited near their cars while Tsukasa [visited the shrine],” a reporter for a national daily says. “This year, there were dozens of Hyogo Prefectural Police officers standing on guard during the visit, but Tsukasa appeared unfazed as he and his underlings leisurely proceeded to the main shrine.”

A year and four months after the Yamaguchi-gumi split, there have not been any major clashes with the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi. For Tsukasa, he appears relaxed, almost as if he is saying that things are as they should be.

Could this mean the dispute is over?

“It’s probably what one might call an Indian Summer-type situation with the breakaway group,” Mizoguchi said, referring to the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi. “What both groups are worried about is an arrest of their leader. They’re bound to continue to have minor disputes in the time to come, but conditions will likely become such that a stalemate will be the norm.”

Source: “Rokudaime Yamaguchi-gumi Tsukasa Shinobu kumicho mochitsuki & hastumode ‘kore de ii no da,’” Friday (Jan. 27, pages 42-43)