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Members of the 100,000 strong yakuza crime syndicate in Japan are better known for their elaborate tattoos and lurid sex trafficking business than they are for their philanthropic efforts. That's why reporters perked up their ears when they heard that Japan's underworld were among the first to hand out supplies and offer aid to survivors of this year's devastating earthquake. In the last three months, however, ulterior motives became clear. The yakuza, who happen to depend on the construction industry for a decent amount of their cash flow, have been cozying up to local governments in an effort to score the lion's share of the multitrillion yen recovery effort planned in Japan over the next three years.

The underground maneuvering revolves around the nexus of lucrative construction contractions, government bureaucrats and feigned good will that makes organized crime work so well in certain parts of the world. Citing a June article in the political affairs magazine Sentaku, The Guardian reports that Japanese police are fighting a losing battle to keep the syndicates from winning contracts as their centuries old network of influence. "If they help citizens, it's hard for the police to say anything bad," journalist and yakuza expert Tomohiko Suzuki told the paper. "The yakuza are trying to position themselves to gain contracts for their construction companies for the massive rebuilding that will come." 

So far, Japanese officials are struggling to keep the cleanup efforts under the government's control, but they're already strides behind the yakuza. With nearly 80 percent of the debris yet to be cleared, the race to rebuild the country has already begun. We asked our favorite expert on Japan's underworld, Tokyo Vice author Jake Adelstein, about the situation:

The yakuza have already moved into the reconstruction. Kanto based organized crime groups are moving rubble in Fukushima and Ibaragi. Fukuoka based front companies for the Kudokai are supplying TEPCO with laborers (homeless people, debtors, ex-yakuza) for the Fukushima reactor. Whether TEPCO is aware of it or not is uncertain. They don't as a rule have organized crime exclusionary clauses embedded in their contracts for outsourced labor. The yakuza have always been part of the construction business and continue to have a huge hand in the industry. They will take a bite out of the reconstruction money and efforts to prevent them from doing so will probably only slow down the reconstruction process with limited effect.

The parallel to recent disasters in America is almost impossible to avoid. We've got our eye on you Joplin.

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