Home GRASP GRASP/Japan Japan’s yakuza aren’t disappearing. They’re getting smarter.

Japan’s yakuza aren’t disappearing. They’re getting smarter.


Japan’s notorious crime syndicates are finding new ways to go underground.
Jake Adelstein is a journalist and author of “Tokyo Vice.”
Contrary to recent news reports, Japan’s organized crimes groups, “ the yakuza ” aren’t vanishing — they’re transforming. They are finding ways to morph from honor-bound tribal outlaws into common criminals who will do anything for money. The shrewder ones are simply turning less visible. That isn’t necessarily a plus for Japan or the world.
The longest existing yakuza group is the Aizu Kotetsu-Kai in Kyoto, which was founded around 1870. The Yamaguchi-gumi celebrated 100 years in business in 2015 and then split apart the same year. Their traditional revenue came from gambling, racketeering and labor dispatch. For a long time, the goal  of the Japanese government has not been the elimination of the yakuza but rather keeping the some 22 organized-crime groups under control and out of sight. It’s all about “balance.” Even as the United States deemed the yakuza as a threat, issuing sanctions  last year against the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate.
The yakuza are not secret societies, and aren’t banned by the government. In fact,  you can find the address of each group’s headquarters on the National Police Agency website. They are regulated. They have offices, business cards and corporate emblems. There are two monthly yakuza fan magazines reporting on the groups.. One of them, Jitsuwa Document, announced their “final issue” this month, despite still operating in the black. The publishers won’t say why. Comic books about their exploits are sold in convenience stores.
The National Police Agency, which gives guidance to Japan’s prefecture police forces but has no powers of investigation or arrest, has trumpeted the fall of full-fledged yakuza members to below 20,000 as evidence of successful law enforcement. Certainly, yakuza membership will never again reach the peak of 1963 (184,100). People are leaving the groups, but are they really leaving the underworld?
What has changed is how the yakuza earn their money — what they call “shinogi.” They are moving into cybercrime and are diversifying their revenue streams.

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