Updated: The Gangster That Became A Buddhist Priest. Bye Bye Goto! May your karma find you wherever you are.


Action Targets Yakuza’s Global Criminal Operations

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today designated Tadamasa Goto, an individual associated with the Japanese Yakuza criminal network, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13581, which targets significant transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and their supporters.  Today’s action is part of the Treasury Department’s ongoing efforts to protect the U.S. financial system from the malign influence of TCOs and to expose persons who are supporting them or acting on their behalf.

“Tadamasa Goto possesses deep ties to the Yakuza and has been instrumental to its criminal operations around the world,” said OFAC Acting Director John E. Smith.  “Today’s action denies Goto access to the U.S. financial system and demonstrates our resolve to aggressively combat transnational criminal organizations and their supporters.”

Tadamasa Goto began working in the Yakuza as a member of the Inagawa-kai.  The Inagawa-kai is the third largest Yakuza group and was designated by OFAC pursuant to E.O. 13581 on January 23, 2013.  Goto subsequently joined the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest and most prominent Yakuza group, which OFAC designated pursuant to E.O. 13581 on February 23, 2012.  Goto served in several senior leadership positions within the Yamaguchi-gumi before becoming the head of the Goto-gumi, which was a powerful Yamaguchi-gumi faction.  The Goto-gumi was responsible for setting up a network of front companies on behalf of the Yamaguchi-gumi.

Goto headed the Goto-gumi until October 2008, when he was expelled and forced into retirement from the Yamaguchi-gumi and relocated to Cambodia.  Despite his retirement from mob life, Yakuza figure Tadamasa Goto reportedly still associates with numerous gang-tainted companies that he utilizes to facilitate his legitimate and illicit business activities.  He continues to support the Yamaguchi-gumi and remnants of his semi-defunct Goto-gumi by laundering their funds between Japan and Cambodia.  Additionally, Goto has reportedly established links with the notoriously violent Namikawa Mutsumi-kai group, formerly known as the Kyushu Seido-kai, which is recognized by Japan as a Yakuza group.

The original post from April 7th 2009 is below. 

Japanese underworld boss quits crime to turn Buddhist

The memoirs of deposed Yamaguchi-gumi boss, Tadamasa Goto, still engaged in criminal activity. There is no remorse expressed for his victims or those his men maimed or killed under his reign. “Pardon me, but you’re a despicable human being.”

Tadamasa Goto will enter priesthood after falling foul of yakuza leaders for allegedly passing information to the FBI.

Tadamasa Goto, one of Japan‘s most notorious underworld bosses, is to enter the Buddhist priesthood less than a year after his volatile behaviour caused a rift in the country’s biggest crime syndicate.

As leader of a yakuza – or Japanese mafia – gang, Goto amassed a fortune from prostitution, protection rackets and white-collar crime, while cultivating a reputation for extreme violence.

Tomorrow, his life will take a decidedly austere turn when he begins training at a temple in Kanagawa prefecture south of Tokyo, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper said today, citing police sources.

The 66-year-old, whose eponymous gang belonged to the powerful Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate, was expelled from the yakuza fraternity last October after a furious row with his bosses over his conduct.

Known as Japan’s answer to John Gotti, the infamous mafia don, Goto reportedly upset his seniors amid media reports that he had invited several celebrities to join his lavish birthday celebrations last September.

Several months earlier he had attracted more unwanted publicity following revelations that he had offered information to the FBI in return for permission to enter the US for a life-saving liver transplant in 2001.

At an emergency meeting last October the Yamaguchi-gumi’s bosses – minus their leader, Shinobu Tsukasa, who is serving a six-year prison term for illegal arms possession – expelled Goto, splitting his gang into rival factions.

According to the Sankei, Goto will formally join the priesthood on 8 April – considered to be Buddha’s birthday in Japan – in a private ceremony.

The former gangster was quoted as describing the occasion as “solemn and meaningful, in which Buddha will make me his disciple and enable me to start a new life”.

In his deal with the FBI, Goto reportedly gave up vital information about yakuza front companies, as well as the names of senior crime figures and the mob’s links to North Korea.

Underworld experts have pointed out, however, that the bureau could have gleaned the same information from yakuza fanzines.

Goto’s transplant was performed at UCLA medical centre in Los Angeles In the spring of 2001 by the respected surgeon Dr Ronald W Busuttil, using the liver of a 16-year-old boy who had died in a traffic accident.

The grateful don, who was suffering from liver disease, later donated $100,000 (£68,000) to the hospital, his generosity commemorated in a plaque that reads: “In grateful recognition of the Goto Research Fund established through the generosity of Mr Tadamasa Goto.”

Jake Adelstein, a former crime reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, received death threats before he went public with the transplant story last spring, and has been living under police protection ever since.

When it was assigned to cultivate the Tokyo area in the late 1980s, the Goto-gumi stuck to what it knew best: drugs, human trafficking and extortion, before new anti-gang laws forced it to move in to more lucrative areas such as real estate and the stockmarket.

At the height of their powers, Goto’s henchmen were capable of unspeakable acts of violence, including bulldozing businesses that refused to pay protection money and administering beatings to victims in front of their families, reports said.

A 1999 leaked police file noted that “in order to achieve his goals, [Goto] uses any and all means necessary or possible. He also uses a carrot-and-stick approach to keep his soldiers in line. His group is capable of extremely violent and aggressive acts”.

Editor’s note:
   I wrote a little about this several months ago.  Actually, I was surprised to see someone catch it in the Japanese version of the blog, because it was a very subtle thing.
  Anyway, there are several reasons that the police cite for Goto entering the priesthood. One of them is that he’s facing another trial on real estate fraud charges and would like to make a good impression on the judge. Another is that he plans to use the tax exempt status of a temple or Buddhist priest to launder yakuza money.  However, on the underworld side there is a great deal of speculation that Goto is simply trying to stay alive.  Everyone who was closely associated with him has now been driven out of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest criminal organization in Japan.
  There are people worried that Goto will once again try to make a deal with US or Australian law enforcement/intelligence agencies to trade information for a new liver. He certainly seems to be trying. He knows too much; the attacks his group have made on civilians over the years have so alienated the general public and the police that in many ways he can be blamed for Japan’s gradually harsher anti-organized crime laws.
 Of course, a lot of his former pals would also like to see him dead so they can steal his assets.  He allegedly has close to a billion dollars saved away in stocks, property, and foreign bank accounts.  If I was a hyena, I’d be wanting to strip his bones as well.
 Joganji, the temple where he will be staying has a long history as a sanctuary for criminals.  It’s a good choice for a safe haven.
 Well, maybe he really does regret the way he’s lived his life. For a long-time gangster like Goto, getting kicked out of the Yamaguchi-gumi is like being dead, or becoming a zombie.  Maybe he really does feel bad for all the misery his organization has  caused via human trafficking, murder, extortion,  and violence.
 I kind of doubt it.
 Buddhism is a wonderfully harsh religion at times. If he’s looking to escape from his enemies, the priest ploy might work. It won’t work for everything.
Neither in the sky, nor deep in the ocean, nor in a mountain-cave, nor anywhere, can a man be free from the evil he has done.
Neither in the sky, nor deep in the ocean, nor in a mountain-cave, nor anywhere, can a man be free from the power of death.
—The Dhammapada 

Saying Goodbye to The Buddha Of The Yakuza (極道の仏にお別れ)

Mr. Takahiko Inoue, buddhist priest and yakuza boss passed away in February last year. In order for those who can’t read English but knew him or would like to know about him, I’ve written his obituary in Japanese below (日本語の弔い記事は一番下にあります). I hope that those who read it will be able to understand that  even amongst the yakuza, there are some good people–in their own way.

Takahiko Inoue, yakuza boss and Buddhist priest, died Feb. 10 at age 65. The police determined that he fell from the seventh story of the building where his office was located. When the ambulance arrived, Inoue told the crew: “I’m fine. Just take me to the hospital. I’ll walk to the car myself.” Those were his last words. There was no protracted investigation.

Those who knew him, in the underworld and in normal society, referred to Inoue as “Hotoke” or “The Buddha.” “Hotoke” is also police slang for “the dead.” One of his friends sadly joked after his death, “Well, he finally became a real Buddha, after all.”

It’s not uncommon for a disgraced yakuza boss to seek refuge by becoming a priest after banishment; but it’s usually just an exchange of Armani suits for robes and tax-exempt status. Sometimes, the robes double as a sort of bulletproof vest, because even in Japan, it’s bad PR to kill a priest. However, bosses who are practicing Buddhist priests? Rare.

Inoue was a rare breed. The yakuza, for all their talk of being humanitarian groups, are generally vile parasites on Japanese society. The modern yakuza make their money from extortion, racketeering, bid-rigging and fraud. Inoue was different; a holdover from an older generation. At the time of his death, he was the leader of a 150-man group in Shinjuku, and one of the top yakuza in the Inagawa-kai, Japan’s third-largest organized crime group.

Inoue was born in the city of Kumamoto in 1947. In his 20s, he came to Kanto, worked on the docks and eventually joined the Yokosuka Ikka, a once-powerful faction of the Inagawa-kai that was originally an independent federation of gamblers. He served for many years as the personal bodyguard of Susumu Ishii, the head of Yokusuka Ikka. Mr. Ishii eventually became the second-generation leader of the Inagawa-kai. Because of his financial savvy, he was known as the father of the economic yakuza.

Inoue was hot-tempered in his youth and went to jail for attempted extortion and other crimes. His nickname used to be “Oni no Inoue”— the Demon Inoue. During his time in prison, he became familiar with Buddhism and eventually became a Buddhist priest, yet remained a yakuza boss as well. Inoue justified his decision this way: “It’s easy to give up on the delinquents of the world, but if I give up on them who will make them better people? Who will teach them discipline?” He wrote the story of his life and what he believed in “Going To Shura: The Life and Times of a Yakuza,” published in 1996.

He reconciled the two realms as follows. Buddhism has its rules. The Inoue-gumi had its rules, taken from the Inagawa-kai Yokosuka-Ikka. Inoue worked to uphold them both. In some places, they actually overlap. The Inoue-gumi rules forbid: 1) using or selling drugs, 2) theft, 3) robbery, 4) sexual misconduct, 5) anything else that would be shameful under ninkyodo, the humanitarian way.

To become a Buddhist priest like Inoue, you have to follow 10 grave precepts. Do not: kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct, lie, drink or cloud the mind, criticize others, praise oneself and slander others, be greedy, give way to anger or disparage the noble path.

Hotoke was not very good about avoiding alcohol, but who is in Japan? He was a gambler as well — but an honest one. When it came to running the organization, he was an absolutely strict enforcer of the prohibition on drugs. Several years ago, when he found one of his own members dealing in methamphetamines, he banished him from the organization immediately. His group gave up collecting debts and loan-sharking years ago. They stopped collecting protection money even when it was offered. One local bar owner and former patron said, “Inoue never asked for more than we gave, and he was there when we needed him. Better and cheaper than SECOM.”

A former police chief who knew Inoue personally said on background: “I can’t openly praise the yakuza, but he didn’t cause trouble; he wasn’t involved in fraud, drugs or extortion. He kept his crew in line and he helped keep the peace. He was an asset to Kabuki-cho, an area where any sort of morality is in short supply. He had standards.”

I can’t say Inoue and I were close friends. We exchanged books on Buddhism and good wine. He was a wine aficionado; he sent me imo-shochu — potato hooch — from his hometown. (It gave me the worst hangover of my life.) He was always the teacher and I was the student. I didn’t have much to teach him.

I felt I knew him before we’d even met. In the early ’90s, my mentor, Detective Chiaki Sekiguchi of the Saitama Police Department, recommended Inoue’s autobiography to me as “a good introduction to the yakuza, how they used to be, why they are tolerated, and how they will never be again.” By the time I actually spoke to Inoue, Sekiguchi was a hotoke himself. Cancer.

Inoue was one of the first generations of yakuza to move from outlaw to law-abiding businessman. He was a smart investor, running restaurants, allegedly owning over 10 buildings, taking in legitimate revenue to keep his organization together. He followed the advice of his former boss. Mr. Ishii once told him, “Be a yakuza that pays taxes.” He paid taxes; he was generous with his wealth. He made charitable donations quietly and without great fanfare.

Inoue understood that the yakuza world was changing for the worse and that he was out of date. In his autobiography he wrote, “Yakuza unable to collect traditional revenue are turning to drugs; they’ll do anything to make money, even rob each other.” He wanted to return the yakuza world to its ideals but realized that all he could do was “make sure my group follows the rules and make them understand that we are all judged and eventually pay for what we do. The universe has its karma police.”

I wish that were true. Sometimes, it seems like the karma police are on strike in this realm.

There’s a saying in Japanese: “Jigoku ni Hotoke (To meet the Buddha in hell).” It refers to the good fortune of finding an ally in the worst of circumstances. Considering how I’ve lived my life so far, I hope it applies to the metaphysical world. I hope The Buddha comes to visit me on the other side. I’ll need some help in making my jailbreak.

Takahiko Inoue-kumicho, was known as "The Buddha" in the underworld.
Takahiko Inoue-kumicho, was known as “The Buddha” in the underworld.


井の上さんは裏社会でも表社会でも「仏 (ほとけ)」(Buddha)として親しく呼ばれた。警察用語では、「仏」は「死人」という意味もある。彼の死を知った知人は「いよいよ本当に身も心も仏様になりましたね」と肩を落としながら弔いの言葉を述べた。






In 1996 autobiography, "The Buddha" recounts his life as a yakuza and how he came to become a Buddhist priest.
In his 1996 autobiography, “The Buddha” recounts his life as a yakuza and how he came to become a priest.