Lots of gangster violence in this film The yakuza has traditional managed to avoid violence in it resolutions of conflicts but over the last few years, the gangs have been involved in increasingly violent activities, such as killing bankers who owed the yakuza large sums of money, assaulting reporters and editors who have investigated their financial dealings and engaging in deadly turf battles with rival groups. Sometimes there are stories in the newspapers about shot being fired at 3:00am at the offices of gang organizations.
On yakuza member who didn't have enough money to pay the require tribute to his bosses tried to earn cash by kidnapping members from other branches of his own gang and holding them for ransom. When his gang grew became suspicious he reportedly kidnapped himself, severed his own pinkie and sent it to his bosses with a ransom note. The episode ended up with the gangster in prison on kidnapping charges.
Among other incidents involving gang members have been the pummeling of an ambulance crew member by a gang member who though the ambulance crew was rude to him and the intimation of an official by a gangster who showed up at a public office window, telling the official “I’ll kill you”---to get even or informing him. In 2000, there were a number of firebomb attacks against telephone dating clubs that were the result to battles between rival gangs related to Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate.
In May 1992, film maker Juzo Itami was attacked and slashed in the face and neck outside his Tokyo home by gangsters, who were apparently upset over his portrayal of their creed in The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion, which had been released the week before. Five years later Itami committed suicide. Some say he was forced by the yakuza to jump off a building (See Below).
In the 1990s, there were dozens of yakuza-related violent attacks, assaults and arsons. In a five year period from 1990 to 1994, gangland violence killed 34 and injured 69.
If a yakuza member rats on those above him in the chain of command he not only endangers himself but also puts family members at risk. The same applies to anyone who crosses the yakuza. Jake Adelstein said he was threatened by the gang lead by Tadamasa Goto after word got out that Adelstein was going to run a story about Goto’s deal to inform to the FBI in return for a liver transplant. “A few days later his underlings obliquely threatened me,” Adelestein wrote in the Washington Post. Then came a formal meeting. The offer was straight forward. “Erase the story or be erased,” one of them said. “Your family too.” Afterwards Adelstein’s family was watched over by the FBI in the United States while Adelstein was watched by police in Japan.
There were a number of gang attacks in the early 1990s, according to the Asahi Shimbun, after the asset-inflated economy that ruled the 80s collapsed, leaving many mobsters previously flush with cash in a desperate and violent scramble for money. Among such attacks were a shooting at the home of the president of a department store and the killings of a bank executive and a photo company executive. Police at the time suspected that associates of criminal syndicates were responsible for the attacks as retribution because the businesses severed their mob ties after years of association. [Source: Kenji Ogata, Asahi Shimbun, September 8, 2011]
Yakuza Death Threats and Suicides
Madeline Earp wrote in Press Freedom News and Views: A polite man in a suit gave investigative reporter Jake Adelstein the message from a leader of one of Japan’s organized crime groups when he was first working on the story back in 2005: “Erase it, or be erased.” Adelstein backed off, but he didn’t stop researching Tadamasa Goto, a yakuza leader. The second time, there was no message. In 2008, it was Adelstein’s sources who informed him his relentless inquiries had crossed a line. Don’t go home, they told him. America would not be far enough. [Source: Madeline Earp, Press Freedom News and Views, February 24, 2010]
During our meeting, Adelstein frequently made references to hard-hitting yakuza journalist Mizoguchi Atsushi, whose son was stabbed in 2006 following a series of his father’s unpopular investigative reports. (Two men were tried and convicted in the case but refused to reveal the mastermind behind the nonfatal attack, according to reports on Mizoguchi’s Web site.) Mizoguchi’s own warning from a mob source came in the guise of reassurance when he most feared for his life, Adelstein tells me. This was the gist of it: Don’t start worrying for at least the next five years---we won’t even try to kill you until then.
Indirect threats, vulnerable sources and family members, and inadequate support from law enforcement in the form of programs like witness protection, are all factors that make the yakuza danger intangible and hard to combat. Adelstein identifies the yakuza’s preferred form of retaliation, which, he says, is usually a disappearance or apparent suicide. He tells me of his survival strategy: “You make it clear you won’t kill yourself.”
In Tokyo Vice, Adelstein’s source tells him the story of Japanese director Juzo Itami, whose 1992 film Minbo no onna satirized organized crime. Itami was apparently planning a new movie about Goto's yakuza faction and its relationship with the religious group Soka Gakkai. “Goto wasn’t happy about that,” Adelstein’s source told him. “A gang of five of his people grabbed Itami and made him jump off a rooftop at gunpoint. That’s how he committed suicide.”
Yakuza Attacks on Businesses More than Double in 2011
In September 2011, Kenji Ogata wrote in the Asahi Shimbun: Violent attacks against businesses in Japan have more than doubled compared to last year, indicating the involvement of gangs as crime syndicates look for new ways to gets their hands on cold hard cash. According to the National Police Agency, there were 20 incidents between January and June in which offices were attacked or a hand grenade was hurled at a corporate executive's home. The figure for the same period last year was nine. Police believe that gang members were involved in these assaults, but have not arrested any suspects. Ten attacks occurred in Fukuoka Prefecture, eight in Tokyo and two in Saga Prefecture. [Source: Kenji Ogata, Asahi Shimbun, September 8, 2011]
In Fukuoka Prefecture, two people were injured when gang members started shooting. In Fukuoka city, a grenade exploded in the garage of the home of the chairman of the Kyushu Electric Power Co. in March, destroying the structure. The same month, an unexploded grenade was discovered in front of the entrance of the home of the president of Saibugas Co. In Tokyo, an entertainment production company received an empty cartridge case and a threatening letter in February.
In October 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: Many of the attacks were apparently retaliatory, as they occurred shortly after the business firms severed their ties with crime groups. Only one person has been arrested in connection with the cases, for an attack in Fukuoka Prefecture.
Apart from the mounting urgency to arrest suspects, police are increasingly required to take steps to protect top business executives. Officers patrol their neighborhoods and arrange for security cameras and emergency call units to be set up. "They (gangs) are trying to exploit the most vulnerable part of their targets," said a senior police official. "It would be desirable to patrol all the potential targets around the clock, but we don't have enough manpower and equipment to do so."
In February 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: A number of crimes committed by organized crime syndicates have involved harm to ordinary citizens. In November 2011, a senior member of a construction industry association was shot to death in Kitakyushu. Two months later, a construction company president was shot and seriously injured in Nakama, Fukuoka Prefecture. In February 2011, a hand grenade was thrown into a construction company building in Kurume of the prefecture. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 28, 2012]
These incidents all took place in residential areas or near schools. In Fukuoka Prefecture, seven cases involving hand grenades have been reported since last year. The seriousness of the situation is reflected on the Fukuoka prefectural police's website--police call on residents not to touch a hand grenade if they find one. Residents' trust in public order has been shaken. To make matters worse, many crimes related to crime syndicates remain unsolved. The police must make every effort to investigate and arrest the perpetrators.
Construction Executive Shot Dead in Kyushu
In December 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: A construction company executive was shot in front of his house at about 9 p.m. in Kitakyushu and was confirmed dead at a hospital about an hour later. Toshihiro Uchino, 72, chairman of a construction company in Kitakyushu, was shot multiple times when he returned home with his wife by car. Two men riding double on motorcycle fled the scene, according to Kokura-Kita Police Station. The police are investigating the case to determine if there is any link to organized crime. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 28, 2011]
According to the police, Uchino was shot in the chest immediately after he got out of a car in a residential area about three kilometers southeast of JR Kokura Station. Neighbors heard multiple shots, the police said. Uchino served as a vice chairman of the Japan Form-Work Carpenters Industry Association. Formwork refers to the molds into which cement is poured during construction projects.
So far this year, there have been 18 shootings in Fukuoka Prefecture, the largest number among prefectures this year. Many of the cases are believed to have occurred between gangster groups, but some involved general contractors.
Yakuza murder documentary The NPA said there were 45 shooting incidents in Japan in 2011, up 10 from the previous year, of which 32 involved associates of organized crime groups, an increase of 15. Police seized 426 guns last year, taking 121 of them from gangsters, the agency said. [Source: Kyodo, March 1, 2012]
Between 1991 and 1998, there were 21 shooting attacks against cooperate executives believed to be yakuza-related .In 1993 a bank official with a now bankrupt Hanwa bank in Osaka bank was gunned down outside his home. A year later an official with Sumitomo was found with a gunshot wound in his head in an apartment. The fatal shooting of the Nagoya branch manager of Sumitomo Bank in September 1994 and many other cases remain unsolved.Even in cases in which suspects were arrested, police could not pin the crimes on anyone. The failure of law enforcement officials to solve the cases has fueled a fear that people who go against gangs must do so at their own peril.
In 1997, the second most powerful man in the yakuza, Masuru Takumi, was murdered in a Kobe hotel café. The same year, the head of a 800-member subsidiary within the Yamaguchi-gumi was gunned down in a crowded hotel café in Tokyo. A bystander sitting at the next table was also killed.
According to the National Police Agency, armed crime committed by organized crime members peaked with 112 cases in 2002, with 104 cases in 2003, 85 in 2004, 51 in 2006 and 36 in 2007. The number of handguns seized from places linked with gangs has also declined after 2002. In 2007, there were 42 shooting incidents involving gangsters, killing 13, an increase from 11 a year earlier, The police seized 231 hand guns from gang members in 2007, up 27 from a year earlier. There were three reported gang wars in 2007, with 12 shootings relate to them, up from no wars in 2006.
Yakuza Murders in the Early 2000s
Gang fight In August 2000, a shoot-out between members of the Sumiyoshi-kai gang and members of a right wing group took place after 15-knife-wielding gangsters showed up at the offices of the right-wing group Sofusha, demanding the payment of money that was owed them. Two gang members were killed, five people were wounded and six gang members were arrested.
In March 2001, a member if the Kyokuto-kai gang was shot to death shortly after noon on busy street in Shinjuku in Tokyo in an apparent gangland attack, and the deputy head of the Shirado-ka gang was shot in the head and chest in front of his gang’s office in Tochigi Prefecture.
In February 2003, Takashi Ishizuka, an influential member of the Sumiyoshi-kai yakuza, was murdered in his hospital bed where he was recovering from gunshot wounds that he sustained a few day before while on the streets of Tokyo. Two policemen were posted outside of the door of the victim’s room. The attacker outwitted by emerged from some shrubbery and breaking a window to the room, firing five shots and fleeing on foot. The shooting was ordered the same Sumiyoshi-kai leader that ordered the bar killing below.
In December 2003, Kaichi Yamamoto, a 56-year-old leader of the Yamamoto-gumi, an affiliate of the Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate, turned himself in 20 minutes after fatally shooting five members of Sumiyoshi-kai affiliated gangs in Iruma. The target was Genichi Hosada, the 69-year-old head of Hosodo-gumi, an affiliate of the Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate. They were all killed at Hosada’s houses.
In February 2004, three people were short dead or stabbed to death and two others were injured on a single day in a series of incidents in the Tokyo area. One of the men died after being stabbed on the street in Koto Ward in Tokyo by three men. The crimes were believed to be retaliation for the stabbing death in Obihito, Hokkaido of a mobster belong to the Yamaguchi-guma group by a gangster in the rival Ijia group.
Yakuza Bar Shooting
Osaka fight In January 2003, two masked gunmen entered a bar in Mitsumatacho, Maebashi in Tokyo and opened fire in apparent attempt to assassinate Kumio Goto, a 57-year-old former boss of a gang affiliated with the Inagawa-kai syndicate. Goto was seriously injured but escaped with his life while five others were killed---his bodyguard and three bystanders were one person who was seriously injured and died later. Goto had survived an earlier attempt on his life. The attack was believed to have been ordered by the Sumiyoshi-kai yakuza in retaliation for an attack on senior members by Inagawa-kai affiliated gang at a funeral hall in Tokyo in August 2001.
The gunmen and the gang leader of Sumiyoshi-kai that ordered the 2003 bar shooting were sentenced to death and ordered to pay ¥88 million in compensation to the family of one of the victims who filed a suit against them. Sumiyoshi-kai leaders acknowledged “employer’s liability” for the shooting in court-mediated settlements for a separate suit filed by the family members of the same victim and agreed to pay the family ¥97.5 million in compensation. The eldest daughter of the victim said, “Since we sued gangsters, we’ve been fearful that we may lose more family members. We’ll continue o be terrified, but now I’ll tell my [late] father at the home altar that the Sumiyoshi-kai bosses acknowledged their responsibility.”
Yakuza Murders in the Late 2000s
In July 2007, Takashi Tsuchiya, a member of the Yamaguchi syndicate, was shot in the head and chest while playing mah-jongg in his house in Kukui, Saitama Prefecture. Three other that were playing mah-jongg with Tsuchiya were unhurt, The killer was a 29-year-old street vendor who gave himself up to police said he shot Tsuchiya because Tsuchiya made fun of him.
In August 2007, Bunji Nakamura, a 55-year-old leader of the Chushin-kai crime syndicate, was found and shot and seriously injured---with wound to his face and abdomen---in a condominium parking lot in Kumamoto. The shooting is believed to have been retaliation for the fatal shooting hours earlier of the leader of a rival group---Yoshihisa Matsuo of the Dojin-kai crime syndicate---in another city, Kurume. The Kumamoto killing was carried out by two men in their 20s. The 38-year-old man who murdered Matsuo---who was shot on the head as he got out of car---turned himself into police and was sentenced to 30 year in prison.
In November 2007, a patient in a hospital in Saga Prefecture was shot to death in a case of mistaken identity. The victim, Hiroshi Miyamoto, a 34-year-old sheet metal worker in the hospital for a rugby injury, was shot several times in the left side of his chest and other parts of his body in his private room by a gun man who forced his way into Miyamoto’s room and fled by car. The target was a gangster from the Seido-kai group who had recently been released from the hospital. A month or so later, a 61-year-old gangster from the Dojin-kai organization---a rival of the Seido-kai group---admitted shooting the wrong man in the hospital. He was sentenced to 24 years in jail.
In November 2007, Shegeko Koga, leader of the Koga-gumi gang, was shot dead, with several shots fired at point blank range, at a hospital in Fukuoka by a man who covered his face with a cap and sunglasses.
In April 2008, two members of a gang affiliated with Sumiyoshi-kai were arrested on suspicion of fatally stabbing a 35-year-old man in a parking lot of a family restaurant in Yashio, Saitama, Prefecture in March. The victim was stabbed in the chest and other parts of the body after getting into an argument with the gangsters at around 1:00am.
Yakuza Gang War
In 2006 and 2007 there were a number of clashes between the Yamaguchi-gumi and Sumiyoshi-kai gangs that were thought to part of a large turf war triggered by the fatal shooting of a senior gang member in Minato Ward in Tokyo and were the result of Yamaguchi-gumi trying to increase its in presence in Tokyo, a city long dominated by Sumiyoshi-kai. One gang member told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “For gang organizations, territory must be protected at any cost so a clash was bound to take place.”
In February 2007, Ryoichi Sugiura, a member of the Kobayashika group, was killed while sitting in a parked car on a street in Minato Ward in Tokyo waiting to meet his group’s 62-year-old chairman. The killing was believed to be part of a gang war between Kobayashika---a Sumiyoshi-kai affiliate---and Kokusui-kai---a Yamaguchi-gumi affiliate---over interests in the Roppongi entertainment district in Tokyo. Afterwards there were several gun battles between Yamaguchi-gumi and Sumiyoshi-kai members in Shibuya and Toshima ward that were believed to be connected with the Minato killing.
A few days later the chairman of Kokusaui-kai, 70-year-old Kazuyoshi Kudo, was found dead at his house, apparently from shooting himself in the head, with a pistol. Kokusaui-kai is believed to have been involved in Sugiura’s death. Kudo may have committed suicide as part of an agreement worked out a meeting between Yamaguchi-gumi and Sumiyoshi-kai after the Sugiura shooting.
In April 2011, a car explosion in Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture killed a former gang leader’sueharu Matsunga, former head of the Kyushu Seido-kai gang---and his brother Seiji Oka. The explosion was caused by grenades. According to police a passerby called an ambulance after finding injured men in a car with smoke rising from it. After police arrived the car collided with a light, police said, and caught fire. Because exploded grenade parts were found with unexploded grenades police theorized the grenades might have been accidently detonated as the brothers prepared to launch an attack on the headquarter of the Seido-kai gang
Police Stand Off with Yakuza Member
In April 2007, Yuji Takeshita, a gangster with the Kanehara-gumi group, an affiliate of the Kyokuto-kai crime syndicate shot another gangster, Madoka Yokoyama, also a member of Kaehara in Machida, Tokyo and then shot himself in the head after a 15-hour standoff with police that ended with a tear gas raid. During the stand off Takeshita barricaded himself in his apartment and fired a couple shots at police.
In May 2007, a former gangster, 50-year-old Hisato Obayashi, took several hostages during a 30-hour stand-off. in Nagakute, near Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture that left one police officer dead. Obayashi was a member of a yakuza gang affiliated with Yamaguchi-gumi and said by police to be a habitual tranquilizer user. Among his hostages were his wife and daughter.
Obayashi sought to retaliate after his attempted reconciliation with former wife was rebuffed,. He was sentenced to life in prison for killing the police officer. He shot and injured three other people: his 23-year-old daughter and 27-year-old son and another police officer.
The police officer who was killed was shot in the chest as he approached the house alone. Witnesses said he negotiated with Obayashi and was shot after Obayashi told him “to kneel down on the ground.” The officer was left lying on the ground for about five hours, while the whole incident was shown on live television, before he was taken away.
Image Sources: Amazon, Japan Zone
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated January 2013