The yakuza (ヤクザ）aka the Japanese mafia are quasi-legal organized crime groups in Japan. There are currently close to 80,000 members. While not illegal, the larger organized crime groups are recognized and regulated under the organized crime control laws. The groups exist out in the open with office buildings, business cards, and are celebrated in movies, comics, games and fanzines.Their primary sources of revenue are extortion, racketeering, financial fraud, blackmail, stock market manipulation, drugs, and the entertainment industry. They are called 暴力団 (boryokudan/violent groups) by the police. They refer to themselves as humanitarian groups aka ninkyodantai (仁侠団体) and claim to be civic organizations that preserve the peace in Japan and provide welfare to the needy. They were very active after the great Tohoku earthquake (March 11th, 2011) and did provide substantial aid to the victims of the disaster for the first few weeks immediately after the disaster. Part of this was calculate PR, part of it stemmed from a desire to live up to their carefully cultivated public image.
There are approximately 3,200 organized crime groups in Japan. Of these, about 1,400 are affilitated with one of the three main yakuza groups: the Inagawa-kai, Sumiyoshi-kai, and the Yamaguchi-gumi.
Inagawa-kai (稲川会): The largest group based in Tokyo. Though relatively small, the group is known for being well-disciplined and efficient. It is structured in the traditional pyramid power scheme, with the bosses at top making decisions for the group and collecting significant tribute from the lower ranks. Though traditionally bakuto, the group has branched out into other typical yakuza business such as loan sharking and construction. They were also one of the first groups to take their business international.
Sumiyoshi-kai (住吉会): Tokyo’s second main group. Unlike the Yamaguchi-gumi or the Inagawa-kai, which run its organizations in a very traditional, pyramid-like fashion (with power concentrated at the top), this group is rather a federation of gangs which grants more autonomy to each group and relies less on tribute coming from the bottom. They have a number of front companies operating in Tokyo and are often involved in the real estate business.
Yamaguchi-gumi (山口組): Japans’s largest organized crime syndicate, with nearly 40,000 members. Based in Kobe, the group grew rapidly and currently have a significant presence in the Tokyo area. There has been much friction with police in recent years due to their size and relative hostility towards the police. The Yamaguchi-gumi is the most international of all the organized crime groups and excel at economic crime. They have several hundred front companies in Tokyo alone and are extensively involved in real estate, FX trading, investments, restaurant management, construction, waste disposal, and controlling interests in most of Japan’s talent agencies and “the entertainment business.” The group has extensive political connections and has been officially “backing” the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) since 2007. The former Minister of Financial Services, Kamei Shizuka, and the current special envoy to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, admitted in a session of the Japanese Diet to receiving a payment of over roughly 5,000,000 dollars from a Yamaguchi-gumi boss into his own bank account. He was also a close associate of Kyo Eichu, a special advisor to the Yamaguchi-gumi.
Kokuryu-kai (黒龍会): Amur River Society or Black Dragon Society. Founded in 1901, this far-right group held an ambitious imperialistic agenda for Japan: to control all of Asia. Yakuza at the time time were often sympathetic to nationalistic causes, due to both ideological similarities (a resentment of foreigners and a worship of traditional ways) and business concerns (left wing ideologies threatened to change some of the long-standing power structures of Japanese society). Gangsters and groups such as these often worked together.
Toa Yuai Jigyo Kumiai (東亜友愛事業組合): East Asia Friendship Enterprises Association. A front company for the ethnically Korean yakuza organization that is based in Tokyo. Despite its small size at 1,000 members, its activities span throughout at least 20 prefectures in Japan, and abroad.