You may remember this this year, Japan’s largest organized crime group, the Yamaguchi-gumi, launched its own website in Japan. But as I wrote in the article on April 1st for VICE News, if you were hoping to see guys covered in tattoos, epic gun battles, bloody sword fights, and fingers being chopped off — as one might— it wasn’t so exciting. And it was in Japanese only. There were other minor problems with the initial effort.
For starters, the site looks like it was created in the late 1990s. Still, the criminal syndicate is hoping it’ll serve as a recruitment tool as the membership of yakuza organizations shrink and public support for them falls. And the branding reflects this; the site at first appears to be for an organization known as the Banish Drugs and Purify The Nation League — or Drug Expulsion of Land Purification Alliance, as Google translates it. The “purify the nation” thing is potentially unsettling, but it still doesn’t sound like a criminal organization.
But it was founded by one. The then-leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi founded it in 1963 as a group “dedicated to the eradication of amphetamine abuse.” Sources familiar with the syndicate told VICE News that the site was launched under the Banish Drugs… monicker to, one, remind Yamaguchi-gumi members to behave themselves, and two, to convince people that the Yamaguchi-gumi is not “an anti-social force,” as they’re called by police, and are instead a “humanitarian organization.”
However, veteran police detective told us that they suspect the site may be a signal that the Yamaguchi-gumi plans to expand their operations. (for the rest of the article click here: Japan’s Biggest Organized Crime Syndicate Now Has Its Own Web Site and Theme Song)
Maybe the detective was right, because while the Yamaguchi-gumi may not have substantially expanded their operations, they are certainly trying to expand their appeal internationally. Recently, they debuted their own English version of the website, NINKYOUDOU (任侠道). Ninkyodo is the supposed to be the philosophy of the yakuza, an ethical code and way of life which places importance on helping the weak and self-sacrifice. The old-school yakuza, while still being essentially criminals, but mostly professional gamblers or street merchants–also maintained a code of honor which forbid theft, robbery, sexual assault, fraud and dealing in drugs. (Of course, racketeering, extortion, and other money-making ventures were not off-limits. Even a noble semi-samurai has to earn a living, right.)
The website contains footage of the yakuza distributing supplies to victims of natural disasters and a history of the yakuza written in slightly awkward English. The main point of the website seems to be to hammer in this simple point–all yakuza are not bad. And in perhaps one of the most surprising pieces of rhetoric I’ve ever seen put out by the yakuza—they also suggest that the yakuza may be one of the last things to prevent Japan from descending into a fascist police state, where no one is free.
“”Yakuza is bad” “Everyone else who is associated with this practice is wrong” This thought is not only oppressive but also dangerous. If people presumably believe this type of discrimination is allowed under the name of equality and human rights, it is possible that pre-World War II way of thinking can get out of control in today’s society. Prime Minister Abe’s recent comments suggest that Japan is leaning towards nationalism. Therefore, we are facing the reality that our citizens’ equality is on jeopardy. Moreover, we need to realize that this nation is heading towards to fascism.”
If you’ve been tracking how the Abe administration has passed one of the most oppressive state secret laws in the Western world, which makes it a crime to ask the wrong question, and threatens press freedom—or how it has reinterpreted the constitution to allow Japan to remilitarize itself–suddenly the yakuza don’t seem quite as bad. Of course, it’s mostly a pose but who’d expect gangsters to make complaints like this:
“The number of vicious crimes has increased in this country; people generally are devastated. No one notices if an elderly from his or her neighborhood has passed because there is no communication, not even greetings exchanged any more. No one is interested or cares enough about what is going on around them except about his or herself. Unfortunately, this sensation has become normal in today’s generation.”
These are strange times indeed when the voice of reason, press freedom, humanitarianism and anti-discrimination are being spoken by tattooed gangsters. Well, sometimes even the bad guys say good things. And in English as well. Maybe they’re taking a hint from Rakuten? In any event, if you’re interested in Japan’s tattooed outlaws, it’s worth a read.