Yakuza Organisations

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.

Comments
21 Responses to “Yakuza Organisations”
  1. Nellie rosa says:

    I don’t know how relevant or true this is, but I heard that the name yakuza originates from the hanafuda game of oichokabu. Ya(8) ku(9) za(3) adds up to 20 which is buta in oochokabu which is the worst dealt hand… Thus implying that it amounts to nothing. Can you possibly confirm that piece of info Jake?

    • It’s one explanation that makes the most sense. I know it is a losing hand in a game of traditional Japanese cards, or “good for nothing, useless.” Kanto yakuza use the word “yakuza”. Kansai yakuza like the word “極道” (Gokudo) which means “ultimate way.”

    • Chance says:

      You are correct. The 8, 9, 3 hand is the “loser” hand, hence yakuza being “loser”

      • anonymous says:

        hummm… yakuza and loser?? … you definitely have to read some books about types of personalities, deviations, behaviourism and more :/

        … you are a sheep, but they are born wolves… that’s it.

  2. taotsu says:

    i have seen the same info in “Confessions of a yakuza” by Saga Junichi. Sadly I failed to find the right page to reference it. but maybe someone who has also read it, cares to look.
    I must be in the first part, where the interview Yakuza is telling about his youth in gambling. If i find it, i will report page and give a quote.
    cheers.

  3. Alec says:

    How true is it that the yakuza actually provide services for society? For example I read somewhere which corroborates with what you’ve written above that the yakuza provided help for victims of the earthquake in 1995 and 2011 long before the police or government etc

  4. Justin says:

    Just finished listening to the audiobook and wanted you to know how much I enjoyed it. I’m an English teacher currently living in Korea. I’ve been planning to hop over to Japan for awhile now, if anything this book has helped me pick out which areas to avoid.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing this. Stay safe.

    • subcultureist says:

      Justin,
      Thanks for writing in and you deserve special thanks for putting up with my voice for over ten hours.

    • James says:

      @Justin: There are no ‘areas to avoid’ in Tokyo if you’re a tourist. It’s one of the safest capital cities in the world (even in the more sleazy areas Jake discusses). Nothing’s going to happen to you as you’re of no consequence to the business of the people mentioned in Tokyo Vice.

      • subcultureist says:

        I’d have to agree. You really have have to look for trouble in Tokyo to find it, but you can. Sometimes, it comes looking for you.

  5. Hi Jake,
    thanks for the reply about my thesis on Yakuza. I’m graduated and now, i’m the owner of orientalcrimeblog.com , website with the purpose of describe and analyze the main oriental criminal structure.
    I write for ask you an interview to put on my website. I’ve a big section on the blog dedicated on yakuza, and your website helped me a lot with the university.
    Please, if you’re interested contact on my email or by my blog.
    Thank you so much for the attention.

    Greetings
    Federico – Orientalcrimeblog.com

    • subcultureist says:

      I hoped it help you graduate. Please send a few short questions to me and I’ll try to answer. I’m really swamped so please give me some time.

  6. Diego Takashi says:

    Mr. Adelstein, good afternoon!

    I finished reading your book this week and was surprised how much the mafia is involved in the economic aspects of Japan in 2004 I lived in the area of ​​Shizuoka (Hamamatsu) and I could not understand this movement, perhaps because it is a town slightly inland over Tokyo. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you for the excellent book.

  7. Andrew says:

    Jake, I love your book Tokyo Vice. Thanks for a great read!

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  1. […] The term “yakuza”, derived from a losing hand in Japanese cards, fittingly describes the group’s origins as gamblers (bakuto) and street merchants (tekiya). The yakuza are a patriarchal organization with strong fictitious familial ties. The pyramid structure of the group includes a top boss known as the oyabun (“father figure”) and those under him known as kobun (“children”). These relationships are established by a ritual exchange of sake in a sakazuki ceremony, and members maintain unconditional loyalty to their “fathers”.  Each smaller group controls a different region in the country, with most members belonging to one of the three main yakuza groups: the Yamaguchi-gumi (the largest gang with 40,000 members), the Sumiyoshi-kai,  and the Inagawa-kai.… […]



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