Today on October 1st, both here in Tokyo and in Okinawa, organized crime exclusionary laws (暴力団排除条例-boryokudan haijojorei) go into effect, thus making all of Japan a lot less yakuza friendly; it’s the start of the Big Chill. The laws vary in the details, but they all criminalize sharing profits with the yakuza (aka Japanese mafia) or paying them off.
In other words, if you pay protection money to the yakuza, or use them to facilitate your business affairs, you will be treated as a criminal. You may be warned once, your name released to the public, and fined or imprisoned, or all of the above, if you persist in doing business with the yakuza.
However, what is particularly vexing to the yakuza, is that any payments to the yakuza are criminalized. For example, if the yakuza are blackmailing you or extorting cash from you and you pay them off, you are no longer a victim–you are also a criminal under the new laws. Thus, for most people the benefits of throwing yen at the yakuza to keep them quiet start to fade. Blackmail/extortion is a huge money maker for the mob in Japan. Roughly 45% of all people arrested for the crime (恐喝/kyokatsu) in Japan are yakuza members (circa 2010). Hush money is big business but only when people will pay you to hush up. When they start going to the police as soon as you try to shake them down, the business model falls apart.
A retired police detective explains the law very simply, “The new laws will make the price of paying off the yakuza, in loss of face and in penalties, much more expensive than the actual cash payments to the yakuza. It highly incentives firms not to cooperate or collude with organized crime, much as the revisions to the commerce law in December 1997, made it unacceptable for large listed companies to pay off sokaiya (総会屋) aka racketeers. After a few major company executives were arrested along with the bad guys for (利益供与/riekikyo) the pay-offs drastically declined, as did the number of sokaiya.”
The price for being publicly linked to the yakuza are not only public humiliation, increased police scrutiny, and possible punishment, but for businesses it can mean a huge loss of revenue, cash flow problems when banks refuse to loan money, revocation of licenses, and possible termination of rental agreements for office space. For any small business, being outed as a yakuza front company is more than likely to result in bankruptcy or eviction. On an individual level, it means being fired or forced to resign from your occupation, as was the case of popular comedian and TV host, Shimda Shinsuke in August.
The new ordinances do not have exclusions for foreign firms. They obligate all companies operating within Tokyo to follow the ordinance and to insert organized crime exclusionary clauses into their contracts, and make an effort not to do business with the yakuza and/or other anti-social forces. The Tokyo ordinance is unusual in that it includes, a “do tell, and we won’t ask” escape clause. If you go to the police, before they come to you, and tell them that you have been working with the yakuza, the police will exempt you from the ordinance and help you sever relations. (*Unless you have been using the yakuza to threaten people).
The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department has assembled a cross-divisional team of over 100 officers to put the new laws into effect. As one police source puts it, “There’s only one daimon (coat of arms) that’s allowed in the Tokyo now. That’s the sakurada-mon.*“
Prior to the law going into effect, in July of this year, President Obama, in an executive order, declared the yakuza a threat to the national security of United States and the world, and authorized seizure and freezing of any related assets in the US. Both at home and abroad, times are getting tough for the yakuza.The autumn of the yakuza in Japan, starts today, on October 1st. A cold winter is on the way. There is growing pressure to remove the yakuza from Japanese society. They are unlikely to quietly walk away with a whimper but rather they will leave with a bang. It remains to be seen how ready Japan is for that recoil.
*Memo: A reference to the Tokyo Metro Police coat of arms, 桜田紋 (sakurada-mon). All yakuza groups have a coat of arms or crest —daimon: 代紋–that represents the group. The Yamaguchi-gumi coat of arms aka daimon is often called, hishi-gata because of its shape. Organized crime cops in Tokyo, because of their similarity in appearance to the yakuza they arrest, sometimes jokingly refer to the flower-symbol of the TMPD, as their own daimon (代紋). Sakurada literally means, “field of cherry blossoms.” Sakuradamon is also the name of the closest subway station to the TMPD Headquarters.