Category Archives: On the Record

Economics 101: The Yakuza Barometer

A look at why the yakuza hitting the books is a sure-fire sign that the economy is hitting rock bottom, by Bloomberg’s William Pesek, with added flavor from Jake Adelstein.

Oct. 7 (Bloomberg) — Japan’s underworld can tell you a lot about what’s happening in the legitimate economy.

Gangsters are on the run as growth wanes and deflation worsens. Yet the oddest development by far involves yakuza members sitting for exams covering key aspects of their work.

If you think this is just a law-enforcement issue, think again. It’s a sign Japan’s funk will be longer than economists predict. That may surprise those betting Japan is recovering. Oddly, though, the plight of gangsters tells the story.

Huddled over legal texts and documents isn’t the popular image of Japan’s storied mobsters. When they aren’t collecting debts, shaking down shop owners, overseeing prostitution rings or rigging stocks, members of Japan’s biggest organized crime group, Yamaguchi-gumi, are studying for 12-page tests.

Yakuza’s Series 7 Exam Is Harbinger for Economy [via Bloomberg]

Japanese Mob Boss Plans To Learn About Reincarnation and Karma Really Fast

This is an interesting article from The Independent about “the John Gotti” of Japan turning over a new leaf.  Personally, I kind of wish I hadn’t made the remarks in the story at 5 am in the morning, but then again, they are kind of funny—in a black humor sort of way.  Maybe Goto really does regret his depraved life and is seeking spiritual salvation. It would be nice if took some of his ill-gotten gains and donated them to charity to show his “sincerity” but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.  At the very end of the story is a photo of what allegedly is the statement that Goto passed out at his Buddhist priest initiation ceremony.  I’m working on a rough translation although some of the words are fairly esoteric.

Goto Tadamasa (from MEDIAX comics)

Gangster boss who turned to God

One of Japan’s most feared yakuza has renounced violence and found Buddhism. A genuine conversion? Or a desperate attempt to avoid assassination at the hands of his enemies? David McNeill reports

Picture the scene: a fleet of black limousines crunches up the driveway of a Buddhist temple nestled in lush pine-carpeted mountains an hour west of Tokyo. The precious cargo of limousine one – a violent but ageing mob boss – steps out into the sun, surrounded by four sumo-sized bodyguards and is welcomed by a priest. As cherry blossom petals blow gently in the wind, the gangster enters the shrine and proceeds to be solemnly ordained into the Buddhist priesthood.

It sounds like the opening of a terrible yakuza movie, but this is what took place in this picture-perfect setting when Tadamasa Goto, one of Japan’s most feared mob bosses, stepped out of the shadows this week and into the path of God.

Unsurprisingly, he was watched – at a safe distance – by a 40-strong media scrum. It was as if the infamous mafia don John Gotti, a man with whom Goto is sometimes compared, had ditched his dapper suits for priests’ robes at the local Catholic church.

Continue reading Japanese Mob Boss Plans To Learn About Reincarnation and Karma Really Fast

Jake Adelstein Yakking About the Yakuza On The Economist Web Site

If you’ve come here because you have a “yen” to know more about Japan’s tattooed brotherhood, please check out  TOKYO VICE: AN AMERICAN REPORTER ON THE POLICE BEAT IN JAPAN.

Tokyo Vice is a look at Japan's underworld from the inside.
Tokyo Vice is a look at Japan's underworld from the inside.

It’s a more than a memoir and more than just about yakuza.  It contains tales of dog breeding serial killers, the strange world of Japan’s red-light district, a look at human trafficking in Japan, the story of how four Japanese gangsters were able to get liver transplants at UCLA and why I think that’s a travesty, and an introduction to the rituals of Japanese daily life and especially those of a police beat reporter. And sometimes, it’s funny. Black humor, yes, but it’s there.  It’s also everything I learned over the last fifteen years of wandering through the darker side of the land of the rising sun. There was a lesson to be learned there. Somewhere.

Posted here is an interview I did with Ken Cukier at The Economist in February. The article he wrote about why the yakuza are still flourishing was very insightful and certainly took an unusual angle in explaining the situation.

If you know me, you may be surprised that I sound reasonably lucid in this interview. That’s those years of working in public radio finally coming in handy.


Jake Adelstein on the Yakuza

If the link doesn’t work try clicking below.


Living With The Mob: Yakuza Deeply Rooted In Japan


The Tattooed Men are not easy to live with.
Once the yakuza move in, they don't move out easily.


by David McNeill and Jake Adelstein

A bloody dispute between two rival Yakuza groups in a southern Japanese city has led to a historic fight-back by local people.  But rooting out the mob from society will not be easy. Continue reading Living With The Mob: Yakuza Deeply Rooted In Japan

From The Guardian: Residents go to courts to evict yakuza

By Justin McCurry in Tokyo
From the
Tuesday August 26 2008

Residents of a city in western Japan this week became the first to turn to the courts for help in ridding their neighbourhood of organised crime, amid fears that they will become the next victims of a violent power struggle.

Around 600 residents of Kurume, in Fukuoka prefecture, have asked a local court to order members of the Dojinkai yakuza gang to vacate an office building in the middle of a busy shopping district.
Continue reading From The Guardian: Residents go to courts to evict yakuza

From the Times Online: Yakuza stalk Japanese markets as organised crime opens new front

From The Times
August 28, 2008

By Leo Lewis, Asia Business Correspondent

Japan’s powerful yakuza organised crime syndicates are mounting a widespread assault on the country’s financial markets that may have left hundreds of listed companies riddled with mob connections.

In a surprisingly stark admission, the National Police Agency (NPA) says that it is locked in a battle for the economic soul and international reputation of Japan. Continue reading From the Times Online: Yakuza stalk Japanese markets as organised crime opens new front