Goodbye to the Yakuza

Today, on October 1, new laws make all of Japan a lot less friendly for organized crime

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Jake Adelstein has previously written about the yakuza's involvement in supplying workers at Fukushima, how a top entertainer's involvement with organized crime forced him from the industry, and their presence in the broader Japanese entertainment industry. Today, he writes about the new laws that Japan has adopted to press the yakuza out of society.

TOKYO — Today on October 1st, both here in Tokyo and in Okinawa, the boryokudan haijojorei  (暴力団排除条例) or organized crime exclusionary laws, go into effect, thus making all of Japan a lot less yakuza friendly; it’s the start of the Big Chill. The laws vary in the details, but they all criminalize sharing profits with the yakuza (aka the Japanese mafia) or paying them off.

In other words, if you pay protection money to the yakuza, or use them to facilitate your business affairs, you will be treated as a criminal. You may be warned once, but if you persist in doing business with the yakuza, you may have your name released to the public, be fined, imprisoned, or all of the above.

What is particularly vexing to the yakuza, however, is that any payments to the yakuza are criminalized. For example, if the yakuza are blackmailing you or extorting cash from you and you pay them off, you are no longer a victim under the new laws--you are also a criminal. Thus, for most people the benefits of throwing yen at the yakuza to keep them quiet has faded. Blackmail and extortion are huge money makers for the mob in Japan. Last year roughly 45 percent of all the people arrested for the crime of kyokatsu (恐喝) in Japan were yakuza members.  But hush money can be a big business only when people will pay you to hush up. When they start going to the police as soon as you try to shake them down, the business model falls apart.

To explain the new laws, the Tokyo government has put together this illustrated guide. Click here to see it in full-size.

A retired police detective explains the law very simply: “The new laws will make the price of paying off the yakuza, in loss of face and in penalties, much more expensive than the actual cash payments to the yakuza. It highly incentives firms not to cooperate or collude with organized crime, much as the revisions to the commerce law in December 1997, made it unacceptable for large listed companies to pay off sokaiya (総会屋), a/k/a racketeers. After a few major company executives were arrested along with the bad guys for riekikyo (利益供与) the pay-offs drastically declined, as did the number of sokaiya.”

The price for being publicly linked to the yakuza are not only public humiliation, increased police scrutiny, and possible punishment, but for businesses it can mean a huge loss of revenue, cash flow problems when banks refuse to loan money, revocation of licenses, and possible termination of rental agreements for office space. For any small business, being outed as a yakuza front company is more than likely to result in bankruptcy or eviction. On an individual level, it means being fired or forced to resign from your occupation, as was the case of popular comedian and TV host Shimda Shinsuke in August.

The new ordinances do not have exceptions for foreign firms. They obligate all companies operating within Tokyo to follow the ordinance by inserting organized crime exclusionary clauses into their contracts,and making an effort not to do business with the yakuza and/or other anti-social forces. The Tokyo ordinance is unusual in that it includes, a “do tell, and we won’t ask” escape clause. If you go to the police, before they come to you, and tell them that you have been working with the yakuza, the police will exempt you from the ordinance and help you sever relations. (This does not apply if you have been using the yakuza to threaten people.)

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department has assembled a cross-divisional team of over 100 officers to put the new laws into effect. As one police source puts it, “There’s only one daimon that’s allowed in the Tokyo now. That’s the sakurada-mon (桜田紋)."

All yakuza groups have a coat of arms or crest known as a daimon(代紋) that represents the group. The Yamaguchi-gumi daimon is often called hishi-gata because of its shape. Cops in Tokyo who investigate oorganized crime, because of their similarity in appearance to the yakuza they arrest, sometimes jokingly refer to the flower-symbol of the TMPD, as their own daimon. Sakurada literally means, "field of cherry blossoms."

Both at home and abroad, times are getting tough for the yakuza. In July of this year, President Obama, in an executive order, declared the yakuza a threat to the national security of United States and the world, and authorized seizure and freezing of any related assets in the US. The autumn of the yakuza in Japan, starts today, on October 1. A cold winter is on the way. There is growing pressure to remove the yakuza from Japanese society. But they are unlikely to quietly walk away, and may go out with a bang. It remains to be seen how ready Japan is for that recoil.

Jake Adelstein is an investigative journalist, consultant, and the author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan. He is also a board member of the Washington, D.C.-based Polaris Project Japan, which combats human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children in the sex trade.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.