He is about fifty years old, six feet five, and has arms that are bigger than my legs.
I was sitting on the tatami listening to the rain outside, and while he lit up his twentieth cigarette of the day I said,
“I love rainy days.”
He didn’t agree.
“I hate them. Most yakuza do. People get taken out when it rains — the rain washes away the blood, the trace evidence, the footprints, everything. You can’t hear a gunshot in the rain, you can’t hear the whoosh of a sword, you can’t even hear people walking behind you. Rain makes it dark, makes it hard for eyewitnesses to see anything. Makes it hard for you to see anything. And… if you’re holding an umbrella, you can’t react. You’re handicapped. We get killed on rainy days. And, of course, that’s also the day that, if you’re going to take someone out, you’d choose to do it. Maybe just snatch them off the empty streets. Take them somewhere else and kill them. If there’s a turf war going on, a downpour tells me someone is going to die.”
He is calm as he says these things, smoking all the while. He has a self-described “racoon-face” and a thick grey beard that covers up a scar on his face where he was once slashed with a Japanese sword in his youth.
According to him, in the good old days, that’s how yakuza took each other out during a gang war. With a sword. Not a gun.
“Anybody can use a gun. All you have to do is have enough strength to flick a lighter. Swords are manly things. Heavy to carry. Swing it too hard and it feels like you’re going to rip your own arm off.”
He tells me that the newly revised and much harsher anti-organized crime laws are spurring a comeback of swordplay. Since a Boss can now go to jail if one of his underlings is caught with a gun, people are switching back to swords. The penalties for possession of a sword are much lighter. He points out that there was an Inagawakai Sanbonsugi guy taken out last Friday in Shibuya [August 22nd, around 10:45 pm]–with a sword. The assailant wielding it cleaved half of his victim’s jaw off–the guy bled to death.
It was not a sunny day when it happened, that’s for sure. Speculation was that the Kokusuikai, a faction of the Yamaguchigumi which is trying to take over Tokyo, orchestrated the rainy-day hit.
Yakuza kill each other all the time. There’s a lot of murders in Japan, just not a lot of bodies. Typically, the dead are dumped into the setting foundations of buildings because so many yakuza run construction companies or do business with them. After the Kobe Earthquake, body after body showed up in the rubble of broken cement buildings. All those dead people didn’t die in the earthquake, though. Some of them had been dead for a long, long time.
Murders in Japan are low, but if you look at the number of missing persons reported each year, it‘s over 10,000 per year. [from National Police Agency figures]
The racoon-faced man said to me “I don’t even want to walk out the door on a rainy day, and if I were you, I’d learn to hate them, too.”
But I can’t help it — I still like them. I guess I’m just a happily gloomy person. And besides, I have a really big, sturdy umbrella– a baseball bat, practically, though I don’t know how well it would do against a Japanese sword.
I don’t plan on finding out, either.
Isn’t that a sunny thought?