Japan's yakuza mafia faces a crackdown
Japan's yakuza mafia has long run unchecked. Recent sumo scandals highlight a deepening war against organized crime in Tokyo.
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Since Ando's appointment, Police officers have reportedly been instructed to attack the organization broadly, closing down front companies, investigating tax evasion, and even arresting members on minor traffic violations.Skip to next paragraph
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Then came the opportunity to damage the reputation of the gang by linking it to the dishonoring of the centuries-old sport of sumo, when it emerged wrestlers had been gambling illegally on baseball games through the Kodokai. "The baseball gambling story was leaked by the police to the press because some officers felt that an [internal sumo] investigation would be squashed from the top," says Adelstein. "The police are very good at using leaks … and they need to get public opinion on their side … by showing that the Kodokai disgraced and corrupted Japan's national sport."
Says one veteran observer of organized crime who spoke on condition of anonymity: "What has happened to sumo is just collateral damage in the war against the Kodokai.'
At about the same time the sumo gambling story was breaking, reports emerged that 55 Kodokai gangsters were in VIP seats during last summer's Nagoya sumo tournament, and had appeared on broadcasts on national TV. Few believe the timing was a coincidence, and the emergence of the reports appears to have been intended to put maximum pressure on the Japan Sumo Association to end the sport's deep ties to the yakuza.
The mobsters were apparently keen to be seen on television by the imprisoned godfather, Shinobu Tsukasa, who is due for release next spring after his stint on firearms charges. Mr. Tsukasa, also known as Kenichi Shinoda, has previously served time for murder after killing a rival boss with a samurai sword.
"In preparation for Tsukasa's release, a big plot of land has been bought in Nagoya, and there is talk of moving the Yamaguchi-gumi headquarters there from Kobe. The police crackdown is in part preemptive action before the big boss gets out," suggests the veteran yakuza observer.
A deep, indelible influence
The Yamaguchi-gumi has expanded activity during Tsukasa's reign, including moving outside its strongholds into Tokyo, which provoked a bloody turf war with local gangs and further angered police.
Even if the police chief, Ando, gets his wish and the gangs disappear from public society, the challenge of removing their behind-the-scenes influence will remain. A source from Tokyo's entertainment world, where the mob has strong connections, believes their presence is growing stronger. "There seem to be even more of these 'intelli yakuza' [intelligent gangsters] in the background these days, in financing and artist management. Many operate in the gray zones where people aren't sure what's legal or not," says the source, who asked not to be identified, "and not just in entertainment, but in other industries, too."
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