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Deflation hitting Japan’s yakuza ranks

Shukan Asahi Apr. 8
Shukan Asahi Apr. 8

On the evening of March 25, an upper-level member of the Yamaguchi-gumi telephoned a reporter for weekly tabloid Shukan Asahi. “The Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi is moving en masse to Yokohama,” the caller said before abruptly hanging up.

Not long thereafter, another Yamaguchi-gumi member telephoned the same reporter: “We are making the necessary preparations.”

Since the formation of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi last year as a rival to Japan’s biggest gang, the two groups have been battling over turf in Japan’s underworld — a fight that has escalated in recent weeks.

In the end, the victor in this feud may not be decided by strength. Rather, according to April 8 issue of Shukan Asahi, it could come down to which gang offers the lowest membership dues.

Five days before the magazine received the aforementioned telephone calls, a fight involving approximately 20 gang members erupted in the streets of Tokyo’s Adachi Ward. “A guy who got hit with a golf club was bleeding, it was an unbelievable scene,” an eyewitness is quoted by the magazine.

The day before, a dump truck rammed an office of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture.

This series of skirmishes began in earnest in the middle of the month, when a Yamaguchi-gumi member was interviewed by a television news crew. “Don’t recognize them, you idiots,” the gang member said, referring to the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, which is not yet officially tagged with the term boryokudan, or violent organization.

As a means of retaliation for the remark, the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi decided to make inroads in Yokohama, a stronghold of the Yamaguchi-gumi — and, as well, the Inagawa-kai, which is Japan’s fourth-biggest gang.

“With all three, it has become a potentially explosive situation,” an investigative source is quoted. “When the gang member was interviewed on television, he had a big-bodied police bodyguard. Now, I really wonder when something is going to happen.”

As with any successful organization, the recruitment of personnel is proving to be crucial as the battle lines are being set. As of now, the Yamaguchi-gumi (approximately 6,000 members) is much larger than the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi (3,000). But momentum is shifting. Since the split, the number of affiliate gangs tied to the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi has risen from an initial 13 to 20.

Why? Making a living as a gangster is no longer an easy prospect.

In the yakuza world, gangsters are expected to pay membership dues by funneling money upward within the gang, a process known as jonokin, and the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi has been having a sale.

Top bosses: Kunio Inoue of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi (L) and Shinobu Tsukasa of the Yamaguchi-gumi
Top bosses: Kunio Inoue of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi (L) and Shinobu Tsukasa of the Yamaguchi-gumi

An affiliate boss in the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi may be required to pay approximately 100,000 yen monthly, while an upper-level executive must outlay in the neighborhood of 300,000 yen.

Now its rival is hitting back.

“Starting in the spring, the Yamaguchi-gumi will cut its membership fees,” a Yamaguchi-gumi member tells the magazine, “with affiliate bosses paying 400,000 and top executives doling out 650,000 yen.”

In other words, deflation is hitting the underworld.

“With cheap fees, there are some gangsters who are being lured to the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi,” the gangster continues. “The Yamaguchi-gumi is re-evaluating its pricing in order to solidify its organization.”

What this portends in the battle for Yokohama remains to be seen. (A.T.)

Source: “Yamaguchi-gumi vs. Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi koso gekika de masakano ‘jonokin nesage gassen,’” Shukan Asahi (Apr. 8, pages 28-29)