News of Ichiro Ozawa’s questioning by prosecutors in relation to the Rikuzan-kai campaign fund scandal has flooded the dailies and the news for much of the past few days as investigators dig deeper into what may be a possibly destabilizing blow to the DPJ. Ozawa was put in the hot seat after the arrest of Tomohiro Ishikawa, a DPJ lawmaker who was formerly the secretary general’s privately hired secretary.
Something interesting about the incident is the language used in Ishikawa’s statements to prosecutors, where he refers to Ozawa using the word oyabun. The term is widely used by the yakuza to describe a gang boss they’ve pledged allegiance to.
From the Yomiuri Shinbun, Jan. 17:
“What the boss says goes. If he says white, it’s white; if he says black, it’s black.”
These were the words of arrested lawmaker Tomohiro Ishikawa, 36, who made no effort to hide his loyalty to Ozawa. When asked who he respects, the name “Ichiro Ozawa” always came up.
(Yomiuri article here)
This isn’t an isolated incident; former prime minister Taro Aso also peppered his speech with yakuza terminology. He referred to the act of earning money as shinogi — a term almost exclusively used by yakuza to describe their (illegal) methods of money making. Not only the actual connections between yakuza and politicians, but the way they speak and think also make it seem like they are two sides to the same coin.
Edit: The Japan Times recently published an article that touched on this subject as well. Check it out!
4 thoughts on “Politicians and yakuza, not so different”
You’ve said before that the Yakuza is a legal entity, so use of such terms wouldn’t necessarily denote that the individuals on trial or being referred to are operating illegally? Do I understand that correctly?
The language itself makes no particular implication that the politicians have done anything illegal. It’s just interesting that, not only is the level of loyalty and relationships within political groups similar to what one would find in organized crime, but the language they use is similar as well.
“Shinogi” is also a term used in the board game Go (囲碁). It refers to making a living group inside the opponent’s sphere of influence. In the shinogi case you can’t afford to sacrifice any stones. There is also “sabaki” where you can sacrifice a few stones to save the rest. See the Sensei’s Library entry for example.
Nice! Aso wasn’t using the term in that way. But “shinogi” and “sabaki” are situations I want to avoid. I’m not sacrificing even a few stones in the game of life. I would be a terrible Go player. 🙂