Twenty-four organizations are designated by police as crime syndicates. They have a combined annual income of around $45 billion. The three largest organized crime groups in Japan are 1)Yamaguchi-gumi; 2) Sumiyoshi-kai and 3) Inagawa-kai. Together they have around 61,100 members, or 73 percent of Japan’s gangster population.

Organized crime groups operate out of offices. There around 3,000 of these offices nationwide with 400 to 500 such offices in Tokyo and 330 in Osaka. The large groups have subgroups. Yamaken-gumi is the largest affiliate of Yamaguchi-gumi. It has 7,000 members. Sumiyoshi-kai is the second largest yakuza group in Japan with roughly 12,000 members (20,000 by some estimates) divided into 277 clans. It has a well-known office in Tokyo’s Ginza District and operates under the banner Hama Enterprise. Sumiyoshi-kai, as it is sometimes called, is a confederation of smaller yakuza groups. Its current oyabun is Shigeo Nishiguchi. Structurally, Sumiyoshi-kai differs from its principal rival, the Yamaguchi-gumi, in that it functions like a federation. The chain of command is more lax, and although Shigeo Nishiguchi is always the supreme oyabun, its leadership is distributed among several other people.

The Inagawa-kai, the third largest organized crime group in Japan, with offices across from the Tokyo Ritz Carlton. It has roughly 15,000 members divided into 313 clans. It is based in the Tokyo-Yokohama area and was one of the first yakuza families to expand its operations to outside of Japan. Its current oyabun is Yoshio Tsunoda.

Designated Boryokudan

symbol for Kyodo-kai
A designated boryokudan is a "particularly harmful" yakuza group registered by the Prefectural Public Safety Commissions under the Organized Crime Countermeasures Law enacted in 1991. Under the Organized Crime Countermeasures Law, the Prefectural Public Safety Commissions have registered 22 syndicates as the designated boryokudan groups. Fukuoka Prefecture has the largest number of designated boryokudan groups among all of the prefectures, at 5; the Kudo-kai, the Taishu-kai, the Fukuhaku-kai, the Dojin-kai and the Kyushu Seido-kai.

Designated boryokudan groups are usually large, old-established organizations (mostly formed before the World War II, some even formed before the Meiji Revolution of the 19th century), however there are some exceptions such as the Kyushu Seido-kai which, with its blatant armed conflicts with the Dojin-kai, was registered only two years after its formation.

The numbers which follow the names of boryokudan groups refer to the group's leadership. For example, Yoshinori Watanabe headed the Yamaguchi-gumi fifth; on his retirement, Shinobu Tsukasa became head of the Yamaguchi-gumi sixth, and "Yamaguchi-gumi VI" is the group's formal name.


20111125-781px-Yamabishi 22.jpg
Yamabishi symbol
The Kobe-based Yamaguchi-gumi gang is the world's largest single crime organization. According to police estimates it had about 39,700 members and affiliate members(46 percent of Japan’s gangster population) at the end of 2006. The general headquarters for the Yamaguchi-gumi group is in Nada Ward, Kobe. Around 90 affiliate gang bosses directly report to the gang headquarters in Kobe.

Yamaguchi-gumi is a far-reaching organization comprised of 85 gangs across Japan with a track record of involvement in “drug trafficking, human trafficking, extortion, prostitution, fraud and money laundering,” according to the U.S. Treasury’s press release. It’s three times as large as the next biggest syndicate. Created in 1915, the Yamaguchi-gumi by some counts has more than 55,000 members divided into 850 clans. Despite more than one decade of police repression, the Yamaguchi-gumi has continued to grow. From its headquarters in Kobe, it directs criminal activities throughout Japan. It is also involved in operations in Asia and the United States. [Source: Daisuke Wakabayashi, Wall Street Journal, February 24, 2012, Wikiedia]

Yamaguchi-gumi has been called “the Wal-Mart of the yakuza” because of its size. According to police records Yamaguchi-gumi received ¥1 billion in dues from affiliate gangs in 2006, a ¥300 million increase from 2005, with most of it coming from the 90 affiliate gang bosses who pay between ¥800,000 and ¥1.2 million every month. The Yamaguchi family is successful to the point where its name has become synonymous with Japanese organized crime in many parts of Asia outside of Japan. Many Chinese or Korean persons who do not know the name "Yakuza" would know the name "Yamaguchi-gumi", which is frequently portrayed in gangster movies.

Yamaguchi-gumi has traditionally been most active in the Kansai area, which includes Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. Since Shinoda — the sixth head Yamaguchi-gumi took control in the summer of 2005 — the syndicate has been trying to increase its presence in Tokyo, has become much more hostile to police and has been more cautious about information of it activities leaking to outsiders.

Yamaguchi-gumi’s Annus Horribilis

In February 2012, Daisuke Wakabayashi wrote in the Wall Street Journal: It’s been a tough stretch for Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest organized crime syndicate. The yakuza group, which boasts about 35,000 registered members, had its number-two and number-three bosses arrested in 2010. Less than a year after its don, Kenichi Shinoda, was released from prison, the U.S. Treasury slapped economic sanctions on the yakuza leader and his organization.[Source: Daisuke Wakabayashi, Wall Street Journal, February 24, 2012]

The Yamaguchi-gumi’s recent bad run started when Kiyoshi Takayama was arrested on extortion charges in Nov. 2010 when he was acting as the de-facto boss of the group for the imprisoned Mr. Shinoda, who goes by his yakuza name of Shinobu Tsukasa. Mr. Takayama has been in and out of prison, where he is being held during his indictment, leaving periodically for hospital stays because of a chronic spinal problem, according to local media.

U.S. Freezes U.S. Assets of Yamaguchi-gumi Leaders

Yoshikazu Shirakawa wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “The United States has placed Japan's largest crime syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, and two of its leaders, on a sanctions list, which will freeze their assets in the United States. The two are Yamaguchi-gumi leader Kenichi Shinoda, 70, also known as Shinobu Tsukasa, and Kiyoshi Takayama, 64, leader of the criminal organization's subgroup, Kodokai, the U.S. Treasury Department. [Source: Yoshikazu Shirakawa , Yomiuri Shimbun, February 25, 2012]

The United States will also prohibit the Yamaguchi-gumi and the two men from doing any business with U.S. nationals. The move is aimed at preventing the circulation of money made from criminal activities, sources said. The department said the Yamaguchi-gumi is estimated to earn billions of dollars a year from illegal drugs, human trafficking, blackmail, prostitution, swindling and money laundering both in Japan and overseas.

The United States has not clarified the amount of assets the criminal organization has in the United States or how much it will freeze. After hearing the announcement, senior Japanese police officials were hopeful. "[The U.S. move] will be the first step to block access to criminal organizations' income hidden in foreign countries," a senior police official said.

The National Police Agency said it is also planning information exchanges with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was discovered that a Yamaguchi-gumi-affiliated black-market finance group, cracked down on in 2003, transferred a total of about 10 billion yen to banks in the United States and Switzerland as part of money laundering efforts.

However, it is difficult to know the amount of Yamaguchi-gumi's overseas assets. But police authorities believe Yamaguchi-gumi income is flowing to tax-haven countries with far lower tax rates than the United States, which carefully monitors foreign money transfers as part of antiterrorism measures.


Nagoya-based Kodo-kai and its affiliates have about 4,000 members. It is the gang that Kenichi Shinoda, head of Yamaguchi-gumi, got his start in. [Source: Yusuke Takahashi, Yomiuri Shimbun. November 2010]

Kodo-kai has shown it is not afraid of confronting police or going after ordinary citizens. It has monitored police investigator’s cars and homes. It has also attacked members of the general public. In October 2007, a member of the group attacked the Kagoshima citizens’ group that had been working to drive the yakuza out of its area.

Kodai-kai is known for having plentiful revenue sources. Its financial power gives it leverage over other Yamaguchi-affiliate gangs.

The National Policy Agency has instructed prefectural police to carry out an intensive crackdown of Kodo-kai. Several high-ranking gangsters, including the groups’s head Kiyoshi Takayama, have been arrested. The police now want to try to cut off the groups income.

Yakuza in Tokyo

Kudo-kai symbol
Sumiyoshi-kai, Tokyo's largest crime syndicate, operates out of Kabuki-cho, a neighborhood where many for the capital's massage parlors are located, in Minato Ward. Inagawa is another large group that is based in Manato in Tokyo.

Sumiyoshi-kai has dominated Tokyo’s crime scene for a long time. It has a strong presence in Roppongi, Ginza and other entertainment districts in Tokyo. Other groups are also active in these areas. The entertainment districts have traditionally been divided because many gangs operate there to take advantage of stable revenue sources such as protection rackets.

Sumiyoshi has the largest presence in the Roppongi entertainment district with 10 offices. Kokusui-kai — a Yamaguchi-gumi affiliate — and Inagawa-kai each have one office there. Owners of bars, restaurants and other businesses there typically pay thousands or millions of yen a month of protection money, Sex entertainment businesses and illegal casinos often pay the highest amounts. A typical owner of a small business like a talent agency pays ¥50,000 a month in protection money and is warned to move to another area if it is in someone else’s territory.

Yamaguchi-gumi membership in Tokyo doubled to 1,600 between 2001 and 2006 with a large push into the capital taking place after the sixth head of Yamaguchi-gumi took control in the summer of 2005. Tensions increased after Yamaguchi-gumi opened an office in Minato ward in Tokyo, a moved that led to a heated dispute with Sumiyoshi-kai

Some Sumiyoshi-kai locations have been rented for decades from the Kokusui-kai at low rents. A gang member told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “The power balance had been maintained for many years because this system meant Sumiyoshi-kai, as a tenant, would look after Kokusui-kai territory.” But arrangement was complicated when Kokusai-kai formed an alliance with Yamaguchi-gumi in September 2005. A police source told Yomiuri Shimbun, “Sumiyoshi-kai was snow effectively renting locations from Yamaguchi-gumi. If Yamaguchi-gumi demanded a rent rise or opened a new office [in Roppongi}, there was clear potential for a clash.”

Yoshio Kodama, Legendary Postwar Yakuza Godfather

Anthony Bruno wrote in TruTV Crime Library: The man who brought peace to the warring factions and unified the yakuza was the group’s first 20th-century godfather,Yoshio Kodama. Kodama’s gift was his ability to balance his affiliations to both right-wing political groups and criminal gangs, using each to keep the other in check. He was a political fixer who served his government through corruption, espionage and other dirty dealings, which the Japanese simply call kuroi kiri (black mist). [Source: Anthony Bruno, TruTV Crime Library]

In the 1930s and 1940s, he maintained an extensive network of spies in China, feeding information back to the Japanese government. He procured large shipments of materials, such as nickel, cobalt, copper, and radium, for the mounting war effort, sometimes bartering for these supplies with heroin. A grateful Japanese government awarded him the title of rear admiral for his patriotic efforts, and by the time the war was over in 1945, Kodama was worth the equivalent of $175 million.

After the Japanese surrendered to the Allied powers, he was classified a Class A war criminal — a distinction reserved only for cabinet ministers, ultra-nationalists and high-ranking military leaders — and served two years in prison before being released as part of a general amnesty. A fervent anti-Communist with access to valuable information regarding Communist movements in China and Japan and an army of street criminals at his disposal, Kodama became an attractive asset for the occupying forces. Just as Lucky Luciano provided the Mafia’s services to the invading Allied forces in Sicily during World War II, Kodama acted as go-between for the G-2 section of the occupational forces and the yakuza, and was able to mobilize battalions of gangsters to carry out his political will. The CIA paid him $150,000 in 1949 to use his underworld connections to smuggle a shipload of tungsten out of China, a shipment that never arrived, although Kodama kept his fee.

Kodama used the yakuza to suppress anything that might be considered a Communist initiative. In 1949 Kodama ordered one crime group, the Meiraki-gumi, to disrupt a labor movement at the Hokutan Coal Mine. A fervent nationalist, Kodama used his clout in the hope that the honor and glory of the Japanese empire could one day be restored. To that end he modernized the bickering and disorganized yakuza gangs and brokered coalitions between the larger factions, throwing their combined support to the conservative, anti-Communist Liberal Democratic Party. Personally Kodama detested warfare and abhorred street hoods, although they were an important part of his power base. Ironically his dream was to insure a peaceful Japan.

Kodama was a pivotal figure in the notorious Lockheed scandal that emerged in 1976 when it was revealed that the aircraft giant had paid the godfather more than two million dollars to influence the Japanese market away from McDonnell-Douglas and Boeing and toward Lockheed. To do this, Kodama sent a gang of sokaiya (shareholders — meeting men) to disrupt a meeting of All Nippon Airways stockholders. The sokaiya spread rumors of an illegal million-dollar loan made to the president of the company, Tetsuo Oba, who had rejected Lockheed’s bid for a new fleet of passenger aircraft. The pressure mounted on Oba, and he was soon forced to resign. His replacement was handpicked by Kodama, and the new president was more favorably disposed to purchasing Lockheed’s wide-bodied jets. In 1976 Carl Kotchian, Lockheed’s president, was called to testify before a United States Senate committee investigating the Lockheed scandal. The ripple effect of his shocking testimony reached back to Japan, spurring the national police to investigate Kodama’s participation in the scandal.

Though the police could not uncover enough proof to prosecute Kodama on charges stemming from the Lockheed incident, they found that he had evaded taxes on more than $6 million. The public was outraged by the enormity of Kodama’s tax-fraud scheme. In fact, a distraught young actor who had been a great admirer of Kodama’s attempted to crash a small airplane into Kodama’s suburban Tokyo house. Kodama survived the kamikaze mission, but his empire was crumbling. He was indicted for perjury, bribery and violation of the exchange laws, but was deemed too sick to stand trial. He suffered a stroke and died quietly on January 17, 1984.

Korean Yakuza Godfather Hisayuki Machii

Anthony Bruno wrote in TruTV Crime Library: The Korean yakuza are a powerful presence in Japan, despite the fact that Koreans suffer discrimination in Japanese society. Although Japanese-born people of Korean ancestry are a significant segment of the Japanese population, they are still considered resident aliens. But Koreans, who are often shunned in legitimate trades, are embraced by the Japanese yakuza precisely because they fit the group’s “outsider” image. The man who paved the way for Koreans in Japanese organized crime was the Korean yakuza godfather Hisayuki Machii. [Source: Anthony Bruno, TruTV Crime Library]

Born Chong Gwon Yong in 1923 in Japanese-occupied Korea, Machii was an ambitious street hood who saw opportunity in Japan and seized it. After the Japanese surrender, Machii worked with the United States Counter Intelligence Corps, which valued his staunch anticommunist beliefs. While leaders of the Japanese yakuza were imprisoned or under close scrutiny by the American occupying forces, the Korean yakuza were free to take over the lucrative black markets. But rather than trying to rival the Japanese godfathers, Machii made alliances with them, and throughout his career, he remained close to both Kodama and Taoka.

In 1948 Machii established the Tosei-kai (Voice of the East Gang) and soon took over Tokyo’s Ginza district, the Times Square of Japan’s capital. The Tosei-kai became so powerful in Tokyo that they were known as the “Ginza police,” and even the Yamaguchi-gumi’s all-powerful Taoka had to cut a deal with Machii to allow that group to operate in Tokyo. Machii’s vast empire included tourism, entertainment, bars and restaurants, prostitution, and oil importing. He and Kodama made a fortune on real estate investments alone. More importantly, he brokered deals between the Korean government and the yakuza that allowed Japanese criminals to set up rackets in Korea, a country that had been victimized by the Japanese for many years. Thanks to Machii, Korea became the yakuza’s home away from home. Befitting his role as fixer between the underworlds of both countries, Machii was allowed to acquire the largest ferry service between Shimanoseki, Japan, and Pusan, South Korea — the shortest route between the two countries.

In the mid-1960s, pressure from the police forced Machii to officially disband the Tosei-kai. He formed two supposedly legitimate organizations around this time, the Towa Sogo Kigyo (East Asia Enterprises Company) and Towa Yuai Jigyo Kumiai (East Asia Friendship Enterprises Association), which became fronts for his criminal activities. He was widely believed to have helped the Korean Central Intelligence Agency kidnap then-leading Korean opposition leader Kim Dae Jung from a Tokyo hotel. Kim was whisked out to sea where he was bound, gagged, blindfolded and fitted with weights so that his body would never surface. The execution by drowning was abruptly cancelled when aircraft buzzed the ship, and Kim was mysteriously delivered to his neighborhood in Seoul. American intervention is said to have saved his life. A police investigation revealed that Machii’s people had rented every other room on the floor of the hotel where Kim had been staying, but Machii was never charged with any crime in connection with kidnapping. Machii “retired” in his 80s and was frequently seen vacationing in Hawaii.

Kazuo Taoka, the Man Who Made Yamaguchi-gumi What It Is

Anthony Bruno wrote in TruTV Crime Library: The other legendary godfather of the yakuza was Kazuo Taoka, oyabun of Japan’s largest crime family, the Yamaguchi-gumi. His reign lasted 35 years, ending with his death in 1981. Under his leadership, the Yamaguchi-gumi membership grew to 13,000. Their presence was felt in 36 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, and they controlled more than 2,500 businesses, ran extensive gambling and loan-sharking enterprises, and invested heavily in sports and entertainment. [Source: Anthony Bruno, TruTV Crime Library]

Taoka first came to power in the port city of Kobe, where his gangs rounded up unskilled laborers and sold their services cheaply to shipping companies. Other yakuza clans competed for this lucrative racket, but under Taoka’s guidance, the Yamaguchi-gumi took the lion’s share of the labor business.

Unlike Yoshio Kodama, who disdained street-level violence, Taoka had lived with it all his life and had no problem using it to his advantage. Orphaned as a boy, Taoka was forced to work on the Kobe docks where he was taken in by a local gang leader named Noburu Yamaguchi. As a young man, Taoka proved to be a fierce street fighter. His signature move was to claw his opponents eyes with his fingers, which earned him the nickname Kuma (The Bear). In 1936, at the age of 23, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for murdering a gang rival.

Upon his release in 1943, he was welcomed back into his old gang, and in 1946, at the age of 33, he became the new oyabun after the death of Yamaguchi. Police arrests and the military draft had reduced the Yamaguchi-gumi to just 25 loyal kobun, but under Taoka the gang’s ranks would soon swell. His organizational genius and natural aggressiveness helped to make the Yamaguchi-gumi Japan’s premier yakuza clan. The cunning Bear made a pact with Kobe’s largest bakuto gang, the Honda-kai, but in fact he was uncomfortable with sharing power. The traditional gamblers were no match for his soldiers, and soon the Honda-kai was devoured by the Yamaguchi-gumi.

A Korean gang from Osaka, the Meiyu-kai, was Taoka’s next target, and its defeat gave the Yamaguchi-gumi a controlling share of the Osaka rackets. Operating like a wartime commanding general, Taoka moved in on the Miyamoto-gumi next and swallowed their ranks into his own. In the 1960s even the great Kodama had to negotiate with Taoka to keep the Yamaguchi-gumi from muscling into Yokohama.

In 1972 Kodama brokered a historic pact between the Yamaguchi-gumi and Tokyo’s powerful Inagawa-kai. The deal was sealed at Taoka’s home in a traditional sakazuki ceremony in which blood brotherhood was sworn over elaborately poured cups of sake. After the sake was consumed, the empty ceremonial cups were wrapped in paper and put away inside the representatives’ kimonos. The men then clasped one another’s hands, and a go-between declared the ceremony completed. The Yamaguchi-Inagawa alliance created a yakuza behemoth with only four of Japan’s prefectures free of their control.

In July 1978, at the age of 65, Taoka survived an attempt on his life. He was enjoying a limbo performance at the Bel Ami nightclub in historic Kyoto when a young man named Kiyoshi Narumi walked up to the godfather’s table, pulled out a .38-caliber pistol, and started shooting. Despite the presence of five bodyguards, Taoka was hit in the neck, and the assassin managed to escape. Taoka was rushed to the hospital in his bulletproof black Cadillac.

Narumi was a member of the Matsuda syndicate, whose boss had previously been killed in a skirmish with the Yamaguchi-gumi. Several members of the Matsuda gang, including Narumi, had eaten their oyabun’s ashes, vowing to avenge his murder. Taoka eventually recovered from his gunshot wound, but his attacker was found dead several weeks later in the woods near Kobe.

Three years later Taoka succumbed to a heart attack. His funeral was a grand affair attended by high-ranking Yamaguchi-gumi members from all over the country, as well as a number of well-known celebrity entertainers. Thirteen hundred police officers were on hand to maintain order. The National Police Agency took advantage of the customary three-month mourning period and arrested 900 Yamaguchi-gumi members in the hope of weakening the gang after the godfather’s death. Taoka had chosen a successor before he died, a man named Yakamen, but he was in prison at the time of Taoka’s death. In the chaos created by the power void, Taoka’s widow Fumiko grabbed the reigns and prevented a divisive power struggle within the gang. She was mainly a figurehead, as one would expect in a male-dominated society, but her strong presence nevertheless maintained order until a permanent successor was selected.

Yoshinori Watanabe and Kenichi Shinoda

20111125-top 10 crime shiobu.jpg
Shinobu Tsukasa
Yoshinori Watanabe headed Yamaguchi-gumi for 16 years, He retired in 2005, citing poor health in an emergency meeting at the groups headquarters, but was thought to have maintained a presence behind the scenes. Under Watanbe’s leadership the number of gangsters and quasi-members of the group increased from 20,000 to 39,200 and Yamaguchi-gumi began making its move into Tokyo, setting off several gang wars in the early 1990s that resulted in the merger of gangs and the strengthening of Yamaguchi-gumi in Tokyo. Watanabe’s retirement was accompanied by major restructuring not only in Yamaguchi-gumi but also in the Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa crime groups.

Jiji Press reported: Watanabe became the fifth head of the Yamaguchi-gumi in 1989 after years of fighting between the Kobe-based group and the now-defunct Ichiwa-kai, another organized crime group based in the city. In a civil lawsuit over a case in which a policeman was mistakenly shot dead in a conflict involving the Yamaguchi-gumi, the Supreme Court in 2004 upheld a lower court ruling ordering Watanabe to pay damages of about 80 million yen by recognizing "employer liability." Watanabe died in December 2012 at the age of 71, apparrently from natural causes. Watanabe was confirmed dead after his family found him collapsed at his home in Kobe. [Source: Jiji Press, December 3, 2012]

Watanabe was succeeded in 2005 by Kenichi Shinoda, commonly known as Shinobu Tsukasa, the former chairman of the Yamaguchi-affiliated, Nagoya-based Kodio-kai. He was formally given the position through a succession ceremony. The was some concern that the shake-up might lead to gang wars. Yamaguchi-gumi is still lead today by Shinoda. He was 70 years old in 2012. Shinobu is the Yamaguchi-gumi's current oyabun. He follows an expansionist policy, and has increased operations in Tokyo (which has not traditionally been the territory of the Yamaguchi-gumi.)

Kenichi Shinoda After His Released from Prison

In April Shinoda was released from prison. He had been jailed in Tokyo’s Fuchu prison since December 2005 after being found guilty of weapons possession charges. Daisuke Wakabayashi wrote in the Wall Street Journal: After being released from prison last April wearing a brown leather fedora, black trench coat and dark aviator sunglasses, Mr. Shinoda returned to Kobe on a bullet train. He rented out the train’s entire luxury “green” section for himself. [Source: Daisuke Wakabayashi, Wall Street Journal, February 24, 2012]

Mr. Shinoda did a rare media interview in October with the Sankei newspaper. In that, he pressed the case that if the Yamaguchi-gumi were to disband, that would leave 30,000 to 40,000 members without a way of earning a living. He predicted that this could lead to severe social unrest as many young members may form new gangs that do not adhere to the traditional values espoused by the yakuza.

He also insisted his organization was misunderstood. “Within this so-called boryokudan (organized crime) industry, we are actually very gentlemanly,” said Mr. Shinoda in the interview.

Tadamasa Goto

20111125-220px-Tatsuo_Deguchi in Inagawa-kai.jpg
Tatsuo Deguchi of Inagawa-kai
Tadamasa Goto has been called “the John Gotti of Japan.” In 2001, the FBI reportedly arranged for him to be flown to the United States for a life-saving liver transplant without consulting Japanese authorities. The FBI took the action in return for information on yakuza money laundering in the United States. An FBI agent who arranged the deal told writer Jake Adelstein, “You can’t monitor the activities of the yakuza in the United States if you don’t know who they are. Goto only gave us a fraction of what he promised, but is was better than nothing.”

Tadamasa Goto is regarded as the best example of the new kind of yakuza: ruthless, shamelessly violent and not a afraid to go after civilians. One policeman told the The New Yorker that as of January 2012, “We suspect Goto of being involved in killing of 17 people. Recent cases included a man shot dead in Thailand who had been involved in a murder of man who stood between Goto and a real estate deal.” [Source: Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, January 9, 2012]

In 2011,Goto published his autobiography “ Habakarinagara “ (“With All Due respect”), with all the royalties going to charities that support Buddhist temples in Cambodia and Myanmar. The books starts out with Goto describing his rough childhood with an alcoholic father , no shoes and eating barley instead of rice. He compared his recruitment into the yakuza when he was a juvenile delinquent to being recruited from “playing neighborhood baseball in a weedy field” to “suddenly getting scouted to play in the Major league.” As a young hoodlum he described throwing leaflets and excrements at a bank and chopping off a finger because he didn’t want to apologize and beg for forgiveness.

Goto controls his own faction of Yamahuchi-gumi. By some estimates he is worth $1 billion. For a long time he was one of the largest shareholders of Japan Airlines. But perhaps Goto is most famous for his attack on filmmaker Juzo Itami. In 1992 Itami released a film called “ Minbo, or the Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion “ that made of fun of the yakuza and portrayed them as fakes. Goto was so incensed by the depiction that he ordered five yakuza to attack Itami outside his home, slashing his face and neck with knives. This made Itami more outspoken. Five years later he committed suicide.

Itami left a note explaining that he distraught over an alleged love affair. In Tokyo Vice, a source told Adelstein that 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.” Adelstein said the yakuza made Itami sign the suicide note before he jumooed and said they yakuza have killers that specialize in making murders look like suicides.

In 2008, Goto was officially expelled from his gang and after that he trained to become a Buddhist priest, a step not unusual for ex-yakuza as it is considered bad karma to kill a priest. As of late 2011 his autobiography had sold over 200,000 copies in Japan. After the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami he donated royalties from the book to tsunami victims.

Jake Adelstein and Crime Boss Tadamasa Goto

Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker: At the Yomiuri, Adelstein started investigating the crime boss Tadamasa Goto. After a certain point, he says the paper balked at publishing more stories about Goto, and Adelstein quit. After leaving the Yomiuri, Adelstein kept investigating, until he discovered that Goto and three other yakuza had received liver transplants at the U.C.L.A. Medical Center in the U.S., after making a deal with the F.B.I. to rat out other yakuza. Adelstein broke the story in May 2008 in the Washington Post. He claims that Goto’s men contacted him before the story ran and warned him that he’d be killed if he published it. After that, Adelstein was placed under Tokyo police protection, and the F.B.I. monitored his wife, Sunao, and two children, who had moved to the U.S. [Source: Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, January 9, 2012]

Adelstein told Press Freedom News and Views: “There were two smart things I did.” The first was to ask a mob boss for comment. “You have to understand your enemy.” Hinting to a rival faction that he planned to expose Goto mobilized underworld as well as law enforcement interest in his survival. And the second? “I wrote the piece.” Looking back, however, he is quick to admit, “It could have gone very wrong.” [Source: Madeline Earp, Press Freedom News and Views, February 24, 2010]

20111125-Hideo_Mizoshita Kudo kai head.jpg
Hideo Mizoshita, Kudo kai head
The piece itself was dynamite: Yakuza leader Tadamasa Goto jumping the queue at UCLA medical center for a liver transplant, his 2001 entry to the U.S. granted at the behest of the FBI for the promise of intelligence on a yakuza operation laundering money through American banks and casinos. The Japanese media wouldn’t run it; in fact, they ran a mile. “We publish this, and not only will we have to deal with Goto’s lawyers, we’ll have to spend a fortune on beefing up corporate security. Retaliation will be certain,” one senior editor at a publishing house told Adelstein. Foreign correspondents thought he was crazy. Eventually, after meticulous fact-checking, the story was published in The Washington Post, with a follow-up by Los Angeles Times that included details of a $100,000 donation to the Westwood hospital where Goto and three of his affiliates received treatment.

With still only tepid coverage of the news in the Japanese-language press, Adelstein and a Japanese friend wrote it up as a chapter in an anthology of “taboo” news stories of 2008, published in August that year. His colleague Tomohiko Suzuki began receiving threats as well. Adelstein hired a bodyguard. But by October, he says, Goto had been expelled from the organization. Given the mob leader’s loss of influence, and subsequent reinvention as a Buddhist priest, Adelstein says he believes the price on his head has plummeted in value.

Adelestein said he was offered by a half million to drop the story by one gang member. Goto later threatened Adelstein in his autobiography. In 2010 Adelestein hired a lawyer to force Goto’s publisher to retract the threat. The lawyer was found a few months later dead in a Philippines hotel with a cup of sleeping pills, a set of box cutters, a glass of wine and a shallow cut on his wrist. [Source: Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, January 9, 2012]

Adelstein said he became obsessed with investigating Goto after one his sources, a foreign prostitute, disappeared and he was convinced she was murdered. During his investigation he was sometimes threatened by yakuza and once was beaten so badly he suffered damage to his knee and spine. During his investigation he also slept with one of Goto’s mistresses (the gangster reportedly keeps more than a dozen women in Tokyo and other cities). Adelstein told The New Yorker , “We had this lovely conversation in bed. She said, “Do you love me?” I said, “No but I like you.” She said, “I like you too. You’re a lot of fun.” She then said, “Are sleeping with me to get information about Goto?” I said, “Pretty much. What about you?” She said, Well, I hate the motherfucker and every time I sleep with it’s like stabbing him the face.” [Source: Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, January 9, 2012]

Other Yakuza Leaders

Tokutaro Takayama is one Japan's best known gangsters. He is the godfather of Kyoto's century-old 10,000-member Aiszu Kotetsi gang, which is affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate. He spent 10 years in prison, for among other things, an attack on a Communist with a samurai sword.

Describing Takayama, Irene Kunii wrote in Time: "Barrel chested and an imposing 182 cm tall, the silver-maned “oyubun”, or boss, inspects visitors with penetrating eyes that register everything. With a flick of his wrist, he dispenses with his dozen bodyguards — many of the them...missing parts of their little fingers."

Kazuo Uchibori, leader of a major Kawasaki-based Inagawa-ki Inagawa-ki faction known as Yamakawa-ikka, is regarded as the leader of Inagawa-ki due to his financial muscle. In August 2009 he was arrested for obstructing authorities from seizing property which he attempted to transfer to his son to keep them from turning it over to the government to pay for $2 million in bank loans he guaranteed for his wife.

Chinese Gangs in Japan

The influence of foreign organized crime groups is growing in Japan. A new Chinese gang known as the Jinshan Group has targeted Chinese-run restaurants and shops around JR Ikebukuro Station in Tokyo. Attention was brought to these gangs after a karaoke operator was severely beaten by a chair by men of Chinese descent who had just arrived in Japan. The operator reportedly failed to pay ¥50,000 a month protection money. The Jinshan group has about 30 members

One Chinese gang, the Dawei Group, is active in Ueno and Kinshicho in Sumida ward, Tokyo. It reportedly has 200 members who collect ¥30,000 to ¥50,000 a month protection money from shops and restaurants operated by Chinese but also sells drugs and is involved in robberies. Many of the members are children or grandchildren of Japanese left behind in northwestern China in the closing days of World War II and experienced adjustment problems when they came to Japan. Some of those formed the “Dragons,” a group of gangsters linked with a number of robberies in the late 1980s.

Chinese gangs are starting to occupy turf long held by the yakuza. One yakuza member told the New York Times, "Our biggest problem is the rise of the Chinese mafia. The Chinese gangs are taking business from us in every area — in prostitution, in gambling, in fencing stolen goods...The Chinese are very, very good at business."

Chinese gangs are regarded as more ruthless and clever than the yakuza. The yakuza member complained, "The difference between us is that Japanese yakuza think of long-term relationships, but the Chinese mafia thinks just of the short term. Their only goal is money, money, money...For Japanese yakuza, the most important thing is staying alive, and making money is second. But for the Chinese gangsters, the first thing is money. The second is money. And the third thing is money."

Crimes by Chinese Gangs in Japan

Chinese gangs have moved aggressively into forging passports and making fake magnetic-strip cards that allow people to win prizes at pachinko parlors. They reportedly charge only $2,700 for a contract killing. In Kabukicho in Tokyo many of the prostitutes and sex workers are Chinese who work for Chinese gangs rather the yakuza.

The Hong Kong triads have forged a large number of credit cards using information stolen from cardholders in Canada, the United States and Europe by installing recorders on credit card terminals at stores and restaurants. In some cases store clerks have been bribed to get the information.

Many Chinese who have been arrested and deported for crimes return within six months using false passports.

Image Sources: Wikipedia, Wiki Commons, exorsyst blog, British Museum, Samurai archives, YouTube

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.

Last updated January 2013

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.