The Yakuza That Stole Halloween: They tricked cops, rival gangs, the media & treated the kids.

TOKYO—

It was a grisly grim and horrific Halloween in Japan but it wasn’t all bad news–there was a yakuza Halloween, after all. After the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest organized crime group (yakuza), announced that they would be calling off their annual Halloween party this year, they surprised and delighted the neighborhood children by holding it anyway.

The Trick

The Yamaguchi-gumi had posted a sign around October 20th, that they would be refraining from having the annual Halloween Party this year, due to “various circumstances”.

A liberal translation of the tricky announcement that the Yamaguchi-gumi would be calling off Hallowen.”Every year on October 31, we have held the traditional Halloween [party]. However, this fiscal year, due to a number of various circumstances, we will be halting the event. We understand that we are making the children who were looking forward to this very sad, but next year we absolutely will hold the event, so please look forward to it. Thank you for allowing us to inform you.”
It was an oblique reference to the violent gang wars between factions of the group. There was an attempted assassination of the leader of the Ninkyo Yamaguchi-gumi, a splinter faction, in September. His bodyguard ended up taking the bullet. It seemed like a good call not have the event–no one wants kids caught in the crossfire.

The media reported the non-event, including this reporter. Tensions were low, the children who looked forward to the event, which was restarted last year after a one year hiatus, were unhappy.  

Lining up for cotton candy at the Yamaguchi-gumi HQ. Photo: Natasha Shewa
Not only a sack of great Halloween candy but cotton candy in a Pretty Cure (Glitter Force) bag. My daughter would have loved it–when she was five years old. (Photo by Natasha Shewa)
One of the few regrets in life I’ve had was not taking my kids to trick or treat at the Yamaguchi-gumi Headquarter so they could learn the gentle art of extortion.

 

The Yamaguchi-gumi did have their annual halloween party after all (2014 photo)

The Treat

Suddenly at around 4pm on October 31st (Japan time), gangsters opened the shutters of their headquarters and began distributing bags of candy to the neighborhood kids, as they have done for over a decade. A gangster dressed as a giant jack-o-lantern waved children inside the compound. The yard was garishly decorated with Halloween lights, blow-up pumpkins and ghosts, and a cotton candy machine according to those who attended.

The neighborhood children were delighted. Each garish bag was decorated with jack-o-lanterns and “Happy Halloween” in English. The bags had cookies, crackers, and chocolate filled koalas.“They did celebrate after all,” rejoiced one local woman. “Not only were the decorations great and the gift bags full of tasty stuff, there were two big lines for cotton candy. And the gangsters were super nice.”Some members were in costume distributing bags saying “Happy Halloween!” while others were in white jumpsuits and  bullet-proof vests patrolling he area as the police looked on. “Security was top notch,” stated one mother who attended.

One father in the area of Indian descent wrote me, “The kids got one bag each, worth about 800 yen ($7) worth of stuff. My wife said it was a really fun event.” Many in the large Indian community in Kobe were convinced that they played a role in the tradition, recounting stories of visiting the headquarters in their youth. One woman remembers that eventually Japanese school children began following their lead on Halloween–making costumes out of black garbage bags and tagging along.  This year, as  a special bonus, the Cotton Candy was packaged in a Pretty Cure (Glitter Force) Anime bags. My daughter Beni would have been delighted–if she was still five years old.

For a haul like this, I’d go trick or treating at the Yamaguchi-gumi HQ, if I was 10 years old.

No Masks Necessary

For the rest of the world, the Japanese mafia, even the well-organized Yamaguchi-gumi are frightening creatures. They don’t have to hide in Japan. They don’t wear masks but many of them wear sunglasses and are covered in ornate tattoos, often with violent images, and have a characteristic scowl. Some members cut off a finger in atonement for their own mistakes or on behalf of their friends to settle a dispute. A chopped off finger to atone for your mistakes is known as a shiniyubi (死に指) “a dead finger”. When a pinkie is sacrificed for another person, it’s the more honorable ikiyubi (生き指) or “living finger.” Many yakuza also have facial scars. This dates back to a time when instead of killing a rival, some thugs would just cut the person’s face and let them live. A small number of yakuza deliberately cut their own faces, to give the impression that they had survived a deadly confrontation.

In Japan, to discreetly discuss the yakuza, some people still use their index finger to pantomime cutting their face.

The yakuza derive their revenue from racketeering, gambling, fraud, insider trading, blackmail and other unsavory acts. Many members though, also run legitimate businesses. The Yamaguchi-gumi ostensibly forbids its members from engaging in theft, robbery, and drug dealing. They claim to be a humanitarian organization and are regulated under Japanese laws but not banned outright.

Tricky Yakuza 

The police were less than delighted with today’s “trick.” An organized crime control detective from the Kansai area said, “We weren’t completely caught off guard but it was a risky move in light of the current gang war. I think their rivals (Kobe-Yamaguchi-gumi and the  Ninkyo Yamaguchi-gumi) were snow-jobbed but now I get the ‘trick-or-treat’ thing’ now.” He went on to explain that the party was good PR for the organization. The false cancellation may have been an effort to stave off trouble and the press, he speculated.

Local press has also noted that many people in Japan are now bringing lawsuits against yakuza groups to force them to vacate their local offices. It appears that this year’s Halloween Party was the gang’s way of forestalling this, while gaining the goodwill of the community.  Much of the media came late to the party, but the local newspaper, Kobe Shimbun, posted a slightly critical story around 7:30 pm. They also removed from their website an October 21st article stating that the Halloween party was going to be cancelled, “Probably due to the influence of the gang war.” 

I hastily updated my own article—which was hard to do from the scene of the multiple murders at Zama City. One former Kabukicho talent scout was arrested that day for desecration of a corpse, after police found nine severed human heads and body parts in his apartment. They were looking for a missing woman–they probably found her. It was a grisly Halloween indeed. All things being equal, I wish I’d stuck to my original plans to go to Kobe.

In the end, the Yamaguchi-gumi tricked us all. But in some ways, it was the highlight of my dark Halloween.

The police were pissed and so were some of the media. The kids were just happy to get their candy. And it may be the only time in their little  lives that they get to turn the tables on the yakuza and safely extort something from them. Trick or treat!?

This year it was both.

Scary Things You Never Knew You Didn’t Know About Japanese Halloween

October 30th 2015

Only two more days to All Hallow’s Eve aka Halloween aka Harouin (ハロウィン). Did you know that in Japan that the monster most women most men to be is a vampire, and that Japanese men prefer witches over sexy nurses? Were you aware that watching scary movies improves your immune system? Got a cold? Put away that Nytol and stay up all night watching Hellraiser 1-5, your cold will be gone by morning. (Possibly).Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 15.58.29The creators of the YouTube data-driven drama series,  Nonalog which “tells the stories of young people finding each other in an overly-connected world” turns its attention to Halloween for a special omnibus episode.

Using subtitles, lots of gory paints, J-Horror movie methods and B-grade Horror cliches, the crew have put together a fun film on Halloween history and how it’s celebrated in Japan. Watch it a few times, and you’re not only an expert on Halloween, you’re closer to being an expert on Japanese subculture. Spooooooky!

 

Harro Halloween Party 2014: Where to go in Tok-ee-oh (Tokyo)

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Halloween is one of the biggest party events in Japan and some have estimated that Japanese people spend more on the festivities than those in America. And why not? This is the costume play capital of the world. (In the best love hotels, every day is Halloween).

Halloween in Japan used to be a non-holiday celebrated by only a few rowdy foreigners. The biggest party was on the Yamanote line where groups of masked barbarians would take over a a train car and party on. The stuff of legends.

Maybe the  best article tracing the growth of Halloween in this island country is here, from Japan Today

Since when was Halloween so popular in Japan?

1. Theme parks introduce “Happy Halloween”

Up until about the year 2000, Halloween was something people would only hear of by learning English or watching TV programs from other countries. But when Tokyo Disneyland got in on the act (let’s face it – there’s money to be had from a simple spooky makeover), people began to sit up and take notice. On Oct 31, 1997, visitors to Disneyland wore costumes to be part of “Disney Happy Halloween”. Then in 2000, 400 visitors and Disney characters in costume held a ”Happy Halloween Twilight Parade” in the park.

Already enamored of Disneyland, the people of Japan were enchanted by this new idea of Halloween. The event was a hit in 1997, and the scale of the party increased along with public awareness, until Halloween became established as an annual autumn event. Currently the lavish celebration kicks off sometime in early September.

Universal Studios Japan opened its doors in 2001, and got in on the act from 2002 with “Hollywood Halloween”. The two major theme parks of Japan gradually brought Halloween more and more into the public consciousness……..(more here) 

Tomorrow and Friday will be Halloween Paradise in Tokyo but where to go, what to do? For you, our gentle reader, we’ve capriciously picked several places with total bias in our choices, including parties run by old friends, former employers, and people we sort of know–not even a veneer of objectivity. But we’re going with what we know. 

this one is over but it was a blast!

For gaijin, journalists, old-timers, new-comers, and everybody (Thursday night) FINISHED

The highly anticipated Metropolis Halloween Glitterball‘ – supported by Fashion One and Fox Backstage Pass – is here once again!

Come to ELE Tokyo and enjoy sensational performances by Dafty, Femm, and Tokyo Dream Girls. Dress up in your most terrific and terrifying costume for a chance to win fantastic prizes from sponsors like Lindt, Laurent-Perrier, Bacardi, Adidas, ANA InterContinental, and many more! ‘

Futuropolis. Metropolis. Halloween. Glitterball. Bling. Prizes.
Futuropolis. Metropolis. Halloween. Glitterball.
Bling. Prizes.
 

It looks great. The website for buying tickets in advance is buggy. Argghhh. But try your luck.

 

BIAS NOTICE: Many of the staff members, past and present at Japan Subculture Research Center have written for Metropolis at one point in our career, including acting editor-in-chief, Jake Adelstein (under the transparent name ‘Joshua Noblestone’). The Metropolis may not be what it once was but it remains one of the only printed guides to events in Tokyo in English and sometimes has some great articles. So we are definitely going to this party.

And as an added bonus, it’s being emceed by one of the hottest women in Tokyo. (Subjectively speaking)

 

We even have a testimonial and click bait picture for this blog.

 

“I’m Gigi, your MC, and I look forward to welcoming you to a night you will never forget. See you tomorrow!”

 

We’re totally biased.

The femme fatale MC GG, pronounced like jiji (爺)will be hosting this event, wearing something.
The femme fatale MC GG, pronounced like jiji (爺)will be hosting the Halloween Glitterball.

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Metropolis Halloween Glitter Ball 2014 it was a blast. next year!
Metropolis Halloween Glitter Ball 2014
it was a blast. next year!

DSC07465 DSC07433 Halloween Metropolis 2014!

For the fashionistas, models and hipsters: Feria 

Four floors of halloween action: dance, lounge, linger, drink.

FERIA 六本木 ハロウィン 2014 【セレブラウンジ 10月31日 ハロウィンパーティー!】超豪華!FERIA TOKYOでラグジュアリーなハロウィンをお楽しみ下さい!

If you don't where this is, you're not cool enough to go. (lol)
If you don’t where this is, you’re not cool enough to go. (lol)
event_fe_29075 again
FERIA

 

Costume Play (コスプレ) That Pays! 

In the abandoned remains of legendary A Life, Brand Tokyo reopened in July of this year, and is hosting several nights of Halloween Brand Carnivals, and giving away 1,000,000 yen in prizes for costumes. It’s a mostly Japanese crowed and tickets are being sold in advance—and close to being sold out. If you’re going to play, you might as well get paid.  And according to the proprietors–it’s open until the last train. All night long.

BRAND TOKYO: Halloween Costume Play That Might Pay
BRAND TOKYO: Halloween Costume Play That Might Pay

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For the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual party goer 

2-chome Halloween Night! 

Have a gay and happy halloween in Shinjuku 2-chome. Come for the zombie walk and stay out all night until you feel like a zombie.
Have a gay and happy halloween in Shinjuku 2-chome. Come for the zombie walk and stay out all night until you feel like a zombie.

Shinjuku 2-chome is the center of Tokyo’s LGBT world. This Friday not only has a zombie walk but for those with a costume, it’s only 1,000 yen at the Aisotope Lounge if you go in costume. If it’s a FABULOUS costume–free.

2,500 for the unprepared. Tokyo Time Out sums it all up rather nicely:

This all-nighter goes beyond the conventions of sexuality, gender and taboos, featuring everything from corset fitting and a flea market to a colourful zombie walk around the area, while the beats will be provided by the indomitable Tomo Asahina and friends.

Who could resist? This is where the JSRC staff will probably spend their Friday night dressed up as ninja. You won’t be able to find any of us—that’s how good our costumes are.

For The Art Lover: Halloween Art Hop and Stamp Rally in Yokohoma

Spooky art is just a stamp away
Spooky art is just a stamp away

Put on your costumes and take a walk through Ishikawacho and Chinatown to check out the Yokohama i:23 exhibits. Collect all 4 stamps from:
仮装して石川町や中華街のi:23参加ギャラリーを巡ってみませんか?下記のギャラリーでスタンプラリーをやっています。

Launch Pad Gallery

Gallery and cafe fu

Zaim Cafe Annex

Art Baboo146

and receive a special spooky Halloween print!
全部集めてハロウィン特製アートを手に入れよう!

For everything else, check out the following links

Tokyo Time Out: Halloween in Tokyo 2014 

Metropolis Japan: Halloween Special