Maybe it seems like we glorify the yakuza on this website, and perhaps we do a little. But they are called 暴力団 (boryoku-dan –violent groups) by the police for a reason–violence is the source of their power and wealth and they do not hesitate to use it. The following letter was sent from Sam P, who did an exchange program in Nagoya several years ago, about his encounter with the yakuza as they are. Nagoya is not only home to Toyota, it’s also home to the Kodokai （弘道会）, roughly 4,000 members, and the ruling party of the Yamaguchi-gumi with 40,000 members. They are the most violent and belligerent of all the remaining factions. The yakuza Sam P. witnessed may or may not have been Kodokai members, but it’s highly likely that they were. More about the Kodokai follows after the letter.
Tonight I suddenly understood a mystery which had been eating at me for the last four years.
As a high school exchange student in Nagoya I witnessed an event which left me rattled. I was returning from a field trip with my class. We were across the street from Nagoya-station, waiting to cross to the station’s entrance when all of a sudden a burly man came, and for lack of any artistic phrase, literally kidnapped a middle aged salary man standing in front of me, grabbing him and pulling him away. Nobody did anything. Everyone stood where they were. Mind you, there were at least 30 people watching all of this; high school students and adults on their way to work.
As this was four years ago, I was not yet fluent and felt incapable of expressing my disbelief in anything but English. I am ashamed that I was also one of the people momentarily paralyzed. But thankfully the shock wore off within seconds. Unfortunately, by that time the man was hauling off that salary man down the sidewalk to an alleyway. A fellow student and I quickly yelled at our teacher (sensei) to do something. She refused. Just then we remembered there was a koban (police box) across the street in Nagoya station. We ran to the koban and tried to give as coherent an explanation as possible recounting what we had witnessed. The policewoman thanked us, but we never learned what happened.
Back at school I was furious no one had done anything. I yelled at people and expressed my disgust at all that had transpired that morning. I then turned to my sensei and asked her why she did nothing. She said, “He was probably yakuza. I don’t want to get involved!” At that time I knew nothing other then yakuza were Japan’s equivilent of the mob. Moreover, I did not know just how powerful the yakuza were and what the roles they played in Japanese society were. I was ignorant at best. Therefore I could not comprehend her answer. I could only see her and the other adults at the crime scene as having failed as ethical people. And even though I read your book back in December, my realization that my sensei had true fears of all too real consequences for getting involved did not occur to me until tonight when I read your January 27th blog entry. To this day I am still rattled by these memories.
I never told my parents what had happened. What was I supposed to say? “Oh, the day was good, but by the way a man standing next to me was abducted, and no one did anything to stop it.” I suppose it is because I felt guilty of not having done more at the time. It’s a shame that has bored a hole into me which I do not know what to do with.
Personally, I think that Sam did far more than most people would do in a similar situation. It’s not a bright idea to play hero when a yakuza is beating the crap out of someone but going to the police or calling 110 (the Japanese equivalent of 911) is certainly worth doing. Whether the police will do anything is another issue.