A Brief History of Yakuza from Origins to Formation

Yakuza image

Yakuza is a term that strikes fear into the hearts of many and has become synonymous with organized crime in Japan.

These notorious criminal syndicates have a long and intriguing history that traces back centuries.

Originally, the yakuza were composed mainly of vassals from the Tokugawa clan who had been stripped of their lands and possessions by the shogun's decree.

Additionally, numerous ronin, masterless samurai, found themselves wandering from place to place in search of sustenance and often banded together in gangs engaged in robbery.

As time went on, the ranks of the yakuza expanded to include vagrants and other marginalized individuals.

By the late 18th century, with the proliferation of gambling in Japan and the rise of the wealthy urban class, the yakuza's primary occupation shifted to organizing gambling activities in underground establishments and at post stations along major roads.

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The Origins of Tekiya

Tekiya groups were formed by bandits known as yashi, who were also predominantly ronin that had lost their feudal lords during a series of continuous civil wars.

Over time, these groups transformed into itinerant peddlers, petty thieves, extortionists, and fraudsters who plied their trade under the guise of portable stalls on the streets and at fairs held near monasteries during major religious festivals.

Even then, tekiya had earned a bad reputation by selling substandard goods or deceiving buyers through various fraudulent techniques.

The tekiya worshipped the god Shennong, and altars dedicated to this deity can still be found in the homes of yakuza today.

Shennong, also known as the Divine Farmer, is a legendary figure in Chinese mythology. He is credited with inventing agriculture, discovering medicinal herbs, and classifying their effects on the human body. Shennong's contributions to agriculture and medicine are highly revered in Chinese culture, and he is considered the ancestor of traditional Chinese medicine.{alertInfo}

The Rituals and Structure of the Yakuza

Both bakuto and tekiya, bound by pseudo-familial relationships of allegiance and blood-sworn oaths, developed their own code of conduct, violations of which would be met with punishment.

A newcomer who joined the group underwent an initiation ceremony known as the "Sakazuki (sacred cup)" ritual, after which a father-son relationship was established between them and the boss.

This initiation symbolized the renunciation of one's biological parents, with the boss and senior members of the group assuming the role of surrogate family, demanding unwavering loyalty.

It was during this time that the custom of finger joint amputation emerged, whereby the novice demonstrated their sincerity and self-sacrifice to the authority of the boss and their new "family" (later, finger joint amputation was performed as penance or as a means to exit the gang).

Thus, the structure of the yakuza was founded on traditional Japanese family values, which dictated strict regulations for the position and behavior of each member, along with boundless loyalty to the family and its leader (oyabun) who held absolute power over the family members and served as the sole decision-maker regarding their finances.

These pseudo-familial (or pseudo-clan) relationships ensured the criminal organization had enduring ties not only between the boss and their subordinates (parent-child relationships) but also fostered mutual cohesion among other members of the group (relationships between elder and younger brothers).

In other words, these relationships strengthened not only the vertical but also the horizontal bonds between gangsters of the same rank, often scattered across different cities and even countries.

The Fusion of Yakuza Values

In addition to their familial traditions, the yakuza widely incorporated elements of the samurai code of bushido into their ideology, glorifying violent death merely as a tragic inevitability.

Many oyabun of tekiya and bakuto, especially those who were former ronin, cultivated the traditions and way of life of samurai.

They studied literature, honed their sword skills, and imitated the samurai's style of dress and behavior.

Since one of the primary functions of tekiya and bakuto was to protect their group's territory and income from encroachment, oyabun constantly instilled and nurtured an aggressive spirit among their fighters.

They established armed factions to compete with rivals.

The strict discipline and mutual loyalty of the yakuza created an environment where high-ranking individuals or wealthy businessmen sought out gangsters as bodyguards or to collect debts or pressure former subordinates who had left their control.

The positions of tekiya and bakuto were often strengthened by the actions of the authorities.

For instance, between 1735 and 1740, the government appointed certain tekiya bosses as "overseers" in their controlled territories as a means to quell street fights, granting these criminals a title close to that of samurai.

Chiefs of police stations from the central police agency established in 1805 would enlist bakuto bosses as informants, offering them protection and assistance in fighting competitors in exchange for a promise to curb illegal activities within their groups.

Yakuza groups also safeguarded their own neighborhoods from thieves, robbers, and rapists, thus contributing to the prevention of street crime.

Consequently, a popular saying circulated among the people:

By day, the police protect us, by night, the yakuza.

Modern Legacy and Cultural Significance of the Yakuza

Despite their notorious reputation, the yakuza have left a significant mark on Japanese culture and society.

Their portrayal in literature, films, and other forms of media has captivated audiences worldwide, perpetuating their mystique and allure.

The yakuza's code of honor, loyalty, and hierarchical structure has also influenced various aspects of Japanese society.

In recent years, however, the Japanese government has taken a firm stance against organized crime, implementing stricter laws and cracking down on yakuza activities.

Their influence and power have been diminished, and their public presence has significantly decreased.

The yakuza now operate more discreetly, engaging in legitimate businesses while maintaining their connections within the criminal underworld.

The Rise of Yakuza

In the history of Japan, the first documented leader of the Yakuza was a former samurai named Banzuiin Chōbei, who lived in the 17th century.

After losing the patronage of a feudal lord, which was not uncommon during those times, he ventured to Edo, a city experiencing rapid development, and established an underground gambling den.

Chōbei quickly amassed wealth and fame, and the city authorities approached him with an offer to provide labor for road construction and castle wall repairs in Edo.

Chōbei tackled this task in his own unique way: he put debt-ridden gamblers to work on construction sites, and the Yakuza would receive their wages (since then, intermediation in day labor hiring has become one of the most significant interests of the Japanese mafia).

The Emergence of Mafia Conflicts

In the mid-19th century, the first major conflict among the proliferating Yakuza gangs erupted, as they vied for control over territories.

A certain boss named Jirocho from the city of Shimizu (1820-1893), leading a group of six hundred militants, brutally wiped out a rival gang from a neighboring prefecture.

It is Jirocho who is credited with popular philosophical sayings among modern Japanese gangsters, such as:

A gun is cold; it is merely a mechanism without personification. But a sword is an extension of the hand, the flesh; I can convey all the depths of my hatred for the enemy by thrusting my sword into their body. There is no greater pleasure than immersing my hand sword into the enemy's body and uttering: I ask you to die.

Jirocho was also responsible for a high-profile theft of large "golden dolphins" (kinshachi) from the roof of Nagoya Castle, which served as protection against fires.

By disguising the murder of two individuals, Jirocho, through his accomplice, presented the stolen treasures and the murder weapon, his sword, as lavish gifts to the Kotohira-gū in Shikoku.

Yamaoka Tesshū, who became governor of the imperial court in 1871, repeatedly employed Jirocho's thugs to subdue the capital's poor and peasants.

Controlling Kobe's Underworld

The economic crisis that gripped Japan in the early 1930s led to widespread unemployment, worker strikes, and peasant uprisings.

To prevent an explosion of public anger, authorities turned a blind eye to the proliferation of illegal entertainment and peculiar spectacles.

Soon, the yakuza gained control over numerous gambling dens, public houses, and emerging cinemas that showcased sound films.

Gangsters took over bars and clubs where American jazz became popular, while also strengthening their influence in the hiring of porters and construction workers.

In Kobe, the Yamaguchi-Gumi gang, led by Noboru Yamaguchi, seized control of the city's criminal underworld.

The Yamaguchi-Gumi's Rise to Power

In the summer of 1934, at the behest of entrepreneurs and authorities, the local yakuza from Yamaguchi-Gumi brutally suppressed the striking dockworkers in Kobe.

They slashed union leaders and activists, bringing the protests to a halt.

As the fleeing gangsters went underground, their bosses successfully orchestrated a deal with the city police, presenting the bloody massacre as a typical street brawl.

Subsequently, the yakuza surrendered to the authorities, pleading guilty and receiving symbolic sentences.

This incident only served to further expand the mutually beneficial cooperation between the government and organized crime, taking on new forms.

Yamaguchi-Gumi's Control Over Kobe

By the mid-1930s, the Yamaguchi-Gumi had gained control over key areas of Kobe.

The gang held sway over the city's port, wholesale market, and entertainment district with its bordellos, gambling dens, concert halls, theaters, and cinemas.

They also extended their influence to the local sumo federation and many provincial artists.

Their dominance was solidified through a web of illicit activities and alliances that allowed them to maintain a stranglehold on Kobe's underworld.

The Influence of Yamaguchi-Gumi on Society

The rise of the Yamaguchi-Gumi had far-reaching effects on the social fabric of Kobe.

The gang's control over the entertainment industry, including theaters and cinemas, allowed them to shape cultural trends and influence public opinion.

With their involvement in the sumo federation, they exerted control over Japan's national sport, further cementing their position of power.

Additionally, their involvement in various illicit activities, such as prostitution and illegal gambling, ensured a steady stream of revenue and influence over vulnerable segments of society.

Rebirth of the Yakuza

After the war, the Yakuza faced a decline due to many of their members being drafted into the Imperial Army or becoming prisoners of war.

Ports were taken over by soldiers and police officers, and entertainment districts were left in ruins from bombings.

The population, suffering from hunger, sought refuge outside the cities.

Around 180,000 gangsters were scattered among 5,200 factions, leading to frequent violent conflicts.

However, in early 1946, the authorities enlisted the help of the Yakuza to control the unruly behavior of Koreans and Chinese brought in as forced labor.

The Yamaguchi-Gumi syndicate even protected overwhelmed police stations in Kobe from a disorder caused by these individuals.

The Decline and Disarray of the Yakuza

Following the end of World War II, the Yakuza found themselves in a state of decline and chaos.

The enforced conscription of many gang members into the Imperial Army disrupted the hierarchical structure and unity of the criminal syndicates.

As these gangsters were sent off to battle, many lost their lives or became prisoners of war, leaving behind a void within the Yakuza ranks.

Soldiers and Police in Power

With the absence of the Yakuza's strong presence, soldiers and police officers took advantage of the situation and seized control of the ports.

These law enforcement authorities saw an opportunity to exploit their newfound power and assert dominance over previously Yakuza-controlled territories.

The once-thriving entertainment districts were reduced to ruins due to bombings during the war, further dismantling the Yakuza's influence and revenue streams.

A Ravaged Landscape and a Hungry Population

The devastating bombings not only destroyed the entertainment districts but also left cities in ruins.

The infrastructure was severely damaged, making it difficult for the Yakuza to maintain their operations and control illicit activities.

Additionally, the general population faced the hardships of hunger and scarcity, pushing them to leave urban areas in search of sustenance and stability.

Fractured Gangs and Violent Conflicts

The fragmentation of the Yakuza into numerous factions led to an increase in intergang rivalry and territorial disputes.

Approximately 180,000 gangsters were divided into 5,200 bands, resulting in frequent bloody conflicts and clashes.

These confrontations often spilled over into neighboring territories, causing a surge in violence and further eroding the Yakuza's once-formidable reputation.

The Yakuza's Unexpected Role in Restoring Order

In early 1946, recognizing the need for stability and control, the authorities turned to the Yakuza for assistance.

The influx of Koreans and Chinese for forced labor during the war resulted in disorder and unrest.

The Yamaguchi-Gumi syndicate, one of the prominent Yakuza factions, was even tasked with protecting overwhelmed police stations in Kobe.

Challenges Faced by the Yakuza in Restoring Order

The Yakuza faced significant challenges in their newfound role as enforcers of order.

The police force was ill-equipped to handle the disorder caused by the influx of Koreans and Chinese, leading to violent outbreaks.

The Yakuza, drawing upon their organizational structure and experience, intervened to restore a semblance of stability.

Protecting Police Stations and Maintaining Control

The Yamaguchi-Gumi syndicate took on the responsibility of safeguarding police stations in Kobe that were overwhelmed by the "third country nationals" causing unrest.

These criminal organizations demonstrated their capability to maintain control and prevent further chaos from spreading.

They deployed their resources and influence to confront the rebellious Koreans and Chinese who had seized a police station and a prison.

Rebuilding Trust and Reestablishing Authority

In addition to containing the violence, the Yakuza faced the challenge of rebuilding trust with the local communities.

The war had shattered the people's faith in institutions, including the police.

By stepping in and effectively handling the situation, the Yakuza aimed to regain public confidence and establish themselves as a force for stability.

Shifting Power Dynamics

The Yakuza's involvement in restoring order had significant implications for power dynamics in post-war Japan.

While their criminal activities were widely condemned, their ability to bring stability to chaotic situations raised questions about their role in society.

As the Yakuza filled the void left by weakened institutions, their influence grew, enabling them to exert control over certain aspects of daily life.

The Path to Resurgence

The Yakuza's role in curbing the disorder caused by the influx of Koreans and Chinese marked a turning point for the criminal syndicates.

This unexpected responsibility provided them with an opportunity to reestablish their presence and demonstrate their capacity for maintaining order.

As the nation slowly recovered from the ravages of war, the Yakuza seized the chance to adapt and evolve in the changing social landscape.

A New Era

The Yakuza's successful efforts in restoring order paved the way for their resurgence.

With their organizational structure intact and a demonstrated ability to navigate complex situations, the criminal syndicates gradually rebuilt their influence.

They adapted to the shifting needs of society, diversifying their activities beyond illicit enterprises to include legitimate businesses, such as construction and entertainment.

Navigating Legitimacy and Illegality

The Yakuza's foray into legitimate businesses presented both opportunities and challenges.

On one hand, engaging in legal enterprises allowed them to mask their criminal activities and project a more respectable image.

On the other hand, it exposed them to greater scrutiny from authorities and rival gangs.

The Yakuza had to strike a delicate balance between maintaining their criminal operations and pursuing legitimate avenues for financial gain.

Rise of Kazuo Taoka

In the autumn of 1946, Kazuo Taoka emerged as the new leader of the Yamaguchi-Gumi the third in line after the gang's founder, Harukichi Yamaguchi, and his son, Noboru Yamaguchi, who had passed away in 1942 from knife wounds.

Taoka, known for his role in quelling Korean and Chinese factions, propelled the organization to become one of the prominent forces in Japan's organized crime scene.

At the height of his power, Taoka was considered the "king" of the Japanese underworld.

This section delves into Taoka's extraordinary journey, from his humble beginnings on the island of Shikoku to his ascent as a formidable leader within the Yamaguchi-Gumi.

From Humble Origins to the Port City of Kobe

Growing up in a destitute family on Shikoku, Taoka tragically lost his parents at an early age.

He found refuge with his uncle, a dockworker in Kobe.

To escape poverty and hunger, Taoka joined the ranks of the Yamaguchi-Gumi, a small gang that controlled flophouses (gonzo-beya) and managed the hiring of dockworkers at the port.

Through his cruelty, resourcefulness, and intellect, Taoka embarked on a remarkable journey, progressing from an apprentice and petty thief to eventually leading the organization.

A Ruthless Path to Prominence

During a time when the Yamaguchi-gumi's dominance in Kobe was challenged by 75 other gang factions, Taoka's relentless pursuit of power propelled him to unprecedented heights.

Known for his cunning strategies, he swiftly climbed the ranks within the criminal underworld.

Taoka's rise was fueled by his ability to outmaneuver rivals, solidify alliances, and expand Yamaguchi-gumi's influence.

Transition to the Entertainment Business

Beyond his criminal exploits, Taoka demonstrated a shrewd entrepreneurial spirit.

He capitalized on opportunities in the entertainment industry, ultimately becoming a leader in the world of show business.

Taoka's successful foray into the entertainment sector further cemented his reputation and elevated his standing both within the Yamaguchi-Gumi and the broader criminal landscape.

The Rise of Yukio Jido and Taoka's Dominance

Under the leadership of Yukio Jido, a notorious and sadistic gangster, Taoka's influence grew rapidly.

By the end of the 1940s, Taoka had absorbed the largest bakuto group, Kobe Honda-kai, and regained control over Yamaguchi-gumi's totalizators at racetracks and velodromes.

Additionally, he gained authority over major concert halls in Kobe.

Notably, Taoka also took under his wing a young rising star in the music industry, Hibari Misora, who, like many other Japanese singers and actors, signed a contract with Taoka's production company, "Kobe Geinosa."

Furthermore, Misora's brother eventually became a full-fledged member of the Yamaguchi-Gumi.

Taoka's Influence on the Entertainment Industry

Beyond his involvement in the criminal underworld, Taoka extended his influence to the world of filmmaking.

He produced movies that glorified the yakuza image and played a pivotal role in advancing the career of his friend, Bunta Sugawara.

Gangsters often distributed tickets to Sugawara's concerts, exerting their influence on patrons who frequented their controlled bars and restaurants.

Taoka's network in the Japanese show business industry included notable connections such as film actor Ken Takakura and artists in the comedy genre, Happo Tsukitei, Modaka Ikeno, and Nobuo Muroya.

The Formation of the Inagawa-kai Syndicate

1948 the Inagawa-kai syndicate was established in Tokyo, eventually becoming a powerful yakuza organization.

While not directly attributed to Taoka, this development showcased the evolving landscape of the Japanese underworld during the same period.

It is worth noting that Taoka's influence and connections likely shaped the dynamics of this influential syndicate.

Organized Crime in Post-War Japan

The Korean War, which began in 1950, transformed Japan into a rear base for the United States military.

The Yakuza swiftly established a thriving "leisure" service for the resting soldiers, providing them with prostitutes and narcotics.

They also capitalized on the country's flourishing "black market" by purchasing goods from rear army services.

In no time, Yamaguchi-gumi, a prominent Yakuza group, took control of all port operations in Kobe, ousting competitors from their traditional territory.

In 1956, all 12 firms operating in the port merged into an association, with Taoka serving as the vice-chairman, later forming a unified labor union under Yamaguchii-gumi's control.

Additionally, a new form of organized crime emerged in post-war Japan, known as Gurentai groups, whose primary source of income was prostitution.

After the introduction of the law against prostitution in 1957, Gurentai groups, entrenched in the entertainment districts (yukaku and hanamachi) of major cities, engaged in pimping and provided protection to underground brothels against the police, rivals, and small-time criminals.

They also worked as bouncers in bars and restaurants, trafficked drugs, and even encroached upon the traditional domain of bakuto, the illegal gambling business (due to the need for survival, the old bakuto were forced to either unite with Gurentai or shift to extortion and blackmail).

Thus, three main types of Yakuza groups emerged:

  1. Bakuto
  2. Tekiya
  3. Gurentai

Bakuto traditionally earned their living through gambling, bookmaking, and engaging in prostitution, fraudulent trade, construction, and service industries.

Tekiya engaged in speculation, traded in defective and counterfeit products at markets and fairs, and extorted money from shop owners, nightclubs, and restaurants.

Gurentai predominantly operated in areas with concentrations of entertainment establishments, controlling prostitution, and selling stimulants and pornography, while also engaging in petty theft, debt collection, and blackmailing wealthy clients of brothels.

Despite the strict ban on firearms in occupied Japan, Gurentai was the first to deviate from the traditional use of swords and began employing guns to resolve conflicts.

Moreover, all categories of Yakuza actively collaborated with the authorities to suppress and deter left-wing movements, labor unions, anti-war sentiments, and anti-American demonstrations.

The Rise of Yamaguchi-gumi in Osaka's Underworld

In the early 1960s, Taoka emerged as a dominant force in the Hyogo prefecture, eliminating all his competitors.

However, his ambitions extended beyond regional control, as he aimed to expand his influence to the neighboring city of Osaka.

This section explores the rise of Yamaguchi-gumi, led by Taoka, as they strategically allied themselves with local gangs and orchestrated a series of events that ultimately led to their ascension into the Japanese criminal underworld.

The Formation of an Alliance

Sent on a reconnaissance mission, Yukio Jido formed an alliance with the local gang known as Yanagawa-gumi.

This gang exerted control over the northern part of Osaka and operated in the realm of prostitution.

With a common objective in mind, Jido and Yanagawa-gumi set their sights on their primary target—the formidable Meiyu-kai, the largest and most influential criminal organization in Osaka.

Meiyuyu-kai's Hold on Osaka's Pleasure District

Meiyu-kai held sway over the vibrant entertainment district of Minami, which housed dozens of bars, restaurants, bathhouses, brothels, drug dens, and gambling establishments.

This bustling area, predominantly run by Koreans, formed the backbone of Meiyu-kai's operations.

The Osaka Conflict: August 9, 1960

On August 9, 1960, a minor altercation erupted in a nightclub, marking the beginning of the infamous "Osaka War."

This clash of forces sparked a fierce battle for supremacy within the Japanese criminal underworld.

With their ranks swelling, Jido's fighters and the Yanagawa-gumi encircled the Minami district, meticulously scouring every corner in search of their enemies.

Meiyu-kai's Demise and Yamaguchi-gumi's Triumph

Following the targeted assassinations of Meiyu-kai's leaders, the organization quickly crumbled.

The remnants of Meiyu-kai ceased to exist, leaving the path wide open for Yamaguchi-gumi to claim their victory.

On August 27, 1960, in the confines of the Osaka hotel known as "Minoh Kanko," the surviving fifteen gangsters who had accepted their defeat presented Yamaguchi-gumi's bosses with their severed finger joints as a symbol of submission, thereby earning their forgiveness and a place within the victorious faction.

The Rise and Influence of Hisayuki Machii

In the vibrant streets of Tokyo, a significant number of Koreans were affiliated with the powerful boss, Hisayuki Machii, also known as Jeong Geon-Yeong.

This section delves into the intriguing story of Machii and his profound impact on Tokyo's underworld during the post-war era.

Let's explore the rise and eventual reign of this influential figure, shedding light on his alliances, business ventures, and lasting legacy.

The Collaboration with American Intelligence

Following Japan's surrender, Machii began collaborating with American intelligence agencies.

These newfound connections, coupled with the weakening of the indigenous yakuza in the post-war years, facilitated his dominance over the thriving "black market."

Unlike other Korean gangsters of the time, Matii avoided conflicts with Japanese bosses, forging close ties with Kodama and Taoka instead.

The Formation of Tosei-kai

In 1948, Machii established the Tosei-kai syndicate, swiftly gaining control over the vibrant entertainment district of Ginza.

His Korean brigade was so formidable that it earned the moniker "Ginza's police force," demanding respect from anyone seeking a foothold in Tokyo.

Machii's extensive criminal empire encompassed tourism, the entertainment industry, bars and restaurants, oil imports, prostitution, and even real estate investments in partnership with Kodama.

Expansion and Controversy

Thanks to Machii's mediation, the yakuza managed to establish a presence in South Korea, allowing him to acquire the ferry line between Shimoneseki and Pusan.

However, in the mid-1960s, due to increased police pressure, Machii was compelled to officially disband Tosei-kai.

Nonetheless, he smoothly transitioned his entire illegal and legitimate businesses under the protection of two newly created organizations—Towa Sogo Kigyo and Towa Yuai Jigyo Kumiai.

The Kim Dae-Jung Incident

In 1973, individuals affiliated with Machii were implicated in the abduction of South Korean dissident Kim Dae-Jung in Tokyo.

Surprisingly, no charges were ever filed against them.

In the 1980s, Machii retired and frequently enjoyed his leisure time in Hawaii before passing away in 2002, leaving behind a controversial and enigmatic legacy.

Tokyo Olympics of 1964

The Tokyo Olympics of 1964 marked a significant milestone for Japan, not only as a sporting event but also as an opportunity to showcase the nation's progress on the global stage.

However, behind the scenes, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police faced the challenge of combating the notorious yakuza groups.

This section delves into the measures taken to maintain law and order, highlighting the intricate dynamics between the police and the yakuza during this period.

Police Crackdown on Yakuza Groups

Before the commencement of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, the police launched a rigorous crackdown on yakuza syndicates operating within the capital.

However, it was widely perceived as a superficial operation aimed at maintaining law enforcement's public image.

Despite Taoka's verbal commitment to peaceful coexistence with other yakuza factions since 1965, the Yamaguchi-Gumi not only absorbed weaker and smaller peripheral gangs but also encroached upon the territories of powerful Tokyo syndicates, such as the Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai.

Taoka's major triumph came with the absorption of the influential Miyamoto-gumi, while Yoshio Kodama, an influential "gray cardinal," dissuaded him from invading Yokohama, a neighboring city of Tokyo.

Despite the Yamaguchi-gumi's aggressive expansion, a tactical alliance was forged in October 1972 between Kazuo Taoka, Seijō Inagawa (the boss of Inagawa-kai), and under the mediation of Yoshio Kodama.

This alliance left only four prefectures outside the control of the united cartel.

Recognizing the need for economic diversification, Taoka spearheaded the establishment of the "All-Japan Society for the Development of Port Labor," which soon monopolized the hiring of port laborers across the entire country.

However, the global shift to containerization and the mechanization of port operations in the 1970s led to a decline in the yakuza's income from labor exploitation.

In 1973, Japan implemented a law imposing taxes on yakuza earnings, amounting to 20 billion yen the following year.

Assassination Attempt and Its Aftermath

In July 1978, a daring assassination attempt was made against Taoka while he was enjoying his leisure time in a nightclub in Kyoto.

Despite having five bodyguards, the assailant managed to approach the powerful boss, injuring him in the neck with a gunshot before escaping.

Taoka was immediately rushed to a local hospital, where his condition stabilized.

The Yamaguchi-gumi members initiated a manhunt for the perpetrator.

Eventually, they discovered that the assailant was Kiyoshi Narumi, a member of a Matsuda-gumi whose boss had previously been killed in a confrontation with Yamaguchi-gumi operatives.

Several gangsters from the defeated clan, including Narumi, consumed the ashes of their deceased leader as a symbol of loyalty and vowed to avenge his death.

Weeks later, the mutilated body of the assassin was found in a forest near Kobe.

The Rise and Influence of Yoshio Kodama

Yoshio Kodama, an influential figure in Japan, held the title of "kuromaku," meaning "leader behind the black curtain" or "grey cardinal," during the peak of his power.

Until his death in 1984, he exerted his influence over a wide range of businessmen, politicians, parliamentarians, journalists, and even the yakuza.

From the late 1920s, Kodama actively participated in the far-right movement, serving multiple prison sentences.

He later led covert operations for Japanese intelligence in Shanghai, simultaneously engaging in drug trafficking and smuggling looted assets and strategic resources back to Japan.

In November 1945, Kodama financed the establishment of the Liberal Party of Japan, which merged into the newly formed Liberal Democratic Party in November 1955.

In January 1946, he was arrested as a war criminal but was soon released.

The immense influence of Kodama and his associate Ryoichi Sasakawa, an ultranationalist politician and businessman with deep connections to the criminal underworld, within the LDP, was such that three prime ministers rose to power directly through their patronage, and three more benefited from their indirect support.

In the spring of 1960, the Japanese authorities seriously considered utilizing Kodama's controlled militants to suppress anti-American demonstrations and provide security during President Eisenhower's visit, allocating 600 million yen for this purpose.

During Kodama's meeting with the bosses of the Kinsei-kai, Ozu-gumi, and Sumiyoshi-kai factions, the forces he could mobilize were discussed—18,000 gangsters, 10,000 former imperial army soldiers, and 4,000 trained extremists affiliated with far-right parties.

The Rise and Influence of Kodama in the Japanese Underworld

In the 1960s, Kodama, leveraging his authority, acted as an "arbitrator" in conflicts between yakuza factions.

He played a pivotal role in facilitating an alliance between the Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai syndicates, forming the nationalist and anti-communist organization known as Kanto-kai.

Moreover, he drafted a political program for this union, dividing the country into spheres of influence and discussing strategies to combat leftist forces.

This section delves into the activities and significant contributions of Kodama in the Japanese underworld during the 1960s and beyond.

The Formation of Zen'ai Kaigi

Following Kodama's meeting with Tao, which took place at a restaurant in Kobe, the Zen'ai Kaigi, or the "All-Japan Patriotic Council," was established.

This council unified all right-wing yakuza members under its banner.

By the early 1970s, Kodama successfully coordinated the operations of dozens of far-right organizations and hundreds of yakuza groups.

He held influence over sports newspapers, magazines, a basketball team, and a real estate company, and had stakes in a shipping company and a network of nightclubs.

Furthermore, he financed the production of "patriotic" films.

The Lockheed Scandal and Its Aftermath

In June 1977, Kodama found himself in court amidst the infamous "Lockheed Scandal."

He was accused of being the conduit for bribes from the American corporation, Lockheed, which reached the Prime Minister of Japan, ministers and their deputies, parliamentarians, and prominent businessmen.

Additionally, Kodama's gangsters, who were under his control, pressured the head of All Nippon Airways to secure desired contracts.

While Kodama was absent from court due to hospitalization, he was sentenced in absentia to three and a half years of imprisonment.

Influence over Corporate Extortionists

By the beginning of the 1980s, Kodama had garnered the support of three-quarters of Japan's corporate extortionists, known as sokaiya.

Among his close associates were the financial magnate Kenji Osano and parliamentary deputy Koiti Hamada.

Hamada previously served as the head of the LDP Youth Division and had a criminal record as a member of Inagawa-kai.

Notably, he had once worked as Kodama's secretary, further solidifying their bond.

The Emergence of Sokaiya and its Influence on Corporate Activities

Sokaiya (総会屋), professional corporate extortionists, emerged in the 1970s and became a significant force in the realm of Sokaiya (総会屋) activity.

These individuals engaged in blackmailing businessmen or were hired to exert pressure on uncooperative shareholders, competitors, and other entities involved in entrepreneurial endeavors.

This trend particularly intensified in the late 1980s when the number of Sokaiya rose, and they established connections with independent Sokaiya who had previously not been associated with organized crime.

By 1982, there were 6,300 Sokaiya in the country, organized into 500 groups, with a quarter of them affiliated with the Yamaguchi-Gumi and Sumiyoshi-kai syndicates, while the rest operated under Yoshio Kodama's leadership.

Annually, Sokaiya extorted approximately 65 billion yen from corporations, although some reports suggest that the actual figure was much higher.

Changes in Sokaiya Activities

Following the enactment of a law in the autumn of 1982 that altered the procedures for shareholder meetings and prohibited collaboration with Sokaiya, some of them shifted their focus to manipulative practices in advertising, printing, trading, and services.

According to police data, in 1987, there were around 1,300 Sokaiya, with 300 of them organized into groups.

Additionally, there were approximately 1,500 Simbungoro and Kaiseigoro, swindlers who infiltrated publishing houses and companies, operating similarly to Sokaiya.

Over time, the proportion of Sokaiya members and their influence among Sokaiya and other fraudsters steadily grew.

As a result, Sokaiya relinquished the initiative in conducting their own actions, effectively merging into criminal syndicates as structural units, while gangsters introduced their own tactical maneuvers into Sokaiya activities.

Japanese Corporations and the Sokaiya Extortion Scandal

The Sokaiya Extortion Scandal rocked the Japanese business landscape, ensnaring major corporations in its web of corruption and illegal practices.

This section delves into the involvement of prominent Japanese companies, such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Motors, Isuzu, Nomura Securities, Daiwa Securities, Nikko Securities, Nippon Shinpan (now part of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group), Marubeni, All Nippon Airways, Tokyo Electric Power, and Nippon Steel, in the Sokaiya scandal.

We will explore the consequences of the anti-Sokaiya law enacted in October 1982, the transformation of extortion groups into public organizations, and the subsequent exploitation of companies under the guise of "political contributions."

The Rise of Sokaiya and Corporate Collaboration

Among the largest Japanese corporations that collaborated with the Sokaiya and paid their tribute were Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Motors, Isuzu, Nomura Securities, Daiwa Securities, Nikko Securities, Nippon Shinpan (now part of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group), Marubeni, All Nippon Airways, Tokyo Electric Power, and Nippon Steel.

The Anti-Sokaiya Law and its Impact

After the enactment of the anti-Sokaiya law in October 1982, many extortion groups began officially registering themselves as public organizations, political associations, "patriotic" entities, ultranationalist leagues, and anti-communist organizations.

This allowed them to legally extort money from companies, but now under the guise of "political donations" commonly practiced in Japan.

Consequently, these organizations could continue their illicit activities by imposing their previous exactions on corporations in a seemingly legitimate manner.

Transformation of Sokaiya Groups

By the autumn of 1983, the Yamaguchi-Gumi syndicate had assimilated 20 ultranationalist groups formerly associated with Sokaiya.

The Sumiyoshi-kai syndicate, on the other hand, absorbed 11 such groups, and the Inagawa-kai syndicate incorporated 4.

Other extortionists resorted to publishing "business" journals and bulletins, coercing companies into expensive subscriptions or costly advertising spaces.

In cases of refusal, the yakuza threatened to expose compromising information or publish intentionally false negative articles about the businessmen in these publications.

Additionally, they organized "charitable" gatherings, established funds, golf tournaments, beauty contests, and performances by entertainers with exorbitantly priced tickets.

The Rise and Fall of Yamaguchi-gumi: A Powerful Japanese Criminal Syndicate

In June 1981, a significant event took place at a prestigious hotel in Tokyo.

Over 3,000 gangsters from the Inagawa-kai were present to witness the revival of the pre-war organization known as Daikōsa, meaning "Thunderous Roar."

This revival was led by one of the bosses of the syndicate, Etsuro Kishi.

As part of Daikōsa, the leader of the Bosozoku gang, Koji Watanabe, joined the organization.

This section delves into the history of the Yamaguchi-Gumi, its rise to power, and its subsequent challenges.

The Yamaguchi-Gumi's Battle for Dominance

In July 1981, the Yamaguchi-Gumi, one of the largest yakuza syndicates in Japan, wrestled control of the gaming machine production sphere from the Inagawa-kai.

They accomplished this by uniting all the manufacturers under a nationwide association.

Masaharu Gotoda, the former head of Japan's National Police Agency, became an advisor to the association.

This move consolidated the Yamaguchi-gumi's influence and dealt a severe blow to their rivals.

Farewell to a Powerful Boss

In October 1981, Kobe witnessed the grand funeral of Yamaguchi-gumi's boss, Kazuo Taoka.

Taoka's annual income reached an astonishing 60 million yen, and his influence within the country's criminal underworld was virtually limitless.

More than 5,000 yakuza, including bosses and leaders from Kimura-gumi, Takenaka-gumi, Sudzukuni-gumi, and other gangs, attended his funeral.

However, just two days prior to the ceremony, the police launched a massive nationwide crackdown on gangsters, arresting 870 high-ranking members from 126 organized crime groups and declaring 130 others as fugitives.

Among the attendees were also notable Japanese entertainers and movie stars such as Hibari Misora, Bunta Sugawara, Shintaro Katsu, Nijiko Kiyokawa, and many more.

The Widow's Leadership

Shortly before his death, Kazuo Taoka had chosen his successor, who, unfortunately, found himself in prison.

To prevent a violent power struggle, Taoka's widow, Fumiko, a highly respected figure among the Yamaguchi-gumi gangsters, assumed nominal leadership of the syndicate.

In 1984, Masahisa Takenaka became the new boss of the Yamaguchi-Gumi.

However, in January 1985, he was assassinated in Osaka by rival factions from the splinter group known as Ichiwa-kai.

This incident triggered a bloody gang war that lasted for four years.

The Era of Yamaguchi-Gumi's Dominance

By the early 1990s, the Yamaguchi-Gumi syndicate, operating across 35 prefectures, boasted 559 factions, comprising approximately 11,800 yakuza members.

This accounted for nearly 12% of all gangsters in the country.

During this period, the Yamaguchi-Gumi solidified its position as Japan's most influential criminal organization, with far-reaching tentacles that infiltrated various aspects of society.

The Evolution of Yakuza in the 1990s

The Yakuza, Japan's notorious organized crime syndicates, experienced significant changes and challenges during the 1990s.

This article explores the key events and transformations that shaped the Yakuza during this period.

Yoshinori Watanabe: The Fifth Leader of Yamaguchi-gumi

In 1989, Yoshinori Watanabe became the fifth boss of the Yamaguchi-Gumi, one of the largest Yakuza families.

He held this position until his retirement in 2005.

Watanabe outlined the fundamental principles of the Yakuza's operations, emphasizing absolute unity, retribution, silence, appropriate rewards and punishments, and the calculated use of violence.

Yakuza's Involvement in the Kobe Earthquake

In January 1995, the Yakuza, particularly the members of Yamaguchi-gumi under Watanabe's leadership, played a significant role in the rescue operations following the devastating Kobe earthquake.

Frustrated with the slow response of the authorities, the gangsters independently organized the distribution of water, food, clothing, and medicine among the affected population.

Furthermore, they provided financial support for the reconstruction efforts.

Hiroyuki Jo's Attack on Hideo Murai

In April 1995, Hiroyuki Jo, an associate of the Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate, fatally assaulted Hideo Murai, the scientific leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, in front of a crowd of journalists.

Jo gained notoriety as the "Japanese Jack Ruby."

He claimed that his act of violence was retribution for the Tokyo subway attack orchestrated by the cult.

However, many experts speculated that the mafia silenced a witness who possessed knowledge about the cult's involvement in drug production and toxic substances.

Escalation of Conflict with Aizukotetsu-kai

In August 1995, due to an intensifying war between Yamaguchi-gumi and the Kyoto-based faction Aizukotetsu-kai, a plainclothes police officer was mistakenly killed.

Two years later, in August 1997, Masaru Takumi, an influential leader of the Yamaguchi-Gumi and boss of the Takumi-gumi, was assassinated in a Kobe hotel.

Takumi, who served as the syndicate's financial director and oversaw the Kansai region, was considered a potential successor to Yamaguchi-gumi's boss, Yoshinori Watanabe.

One theory suggests that his death was a result of conflicts over profit sharing from the newly opened Kansai International Airport in 1994.

Restructuring and Economic Challenges

The economic downturn in the late 1990s led to further reforms and restructuring within the Yakuza.

Facing declining revenues, many factions reduced their membership or merged with larger syndicates.

The Rise and Turmoil of Japanese Yakuza in the 2000s

In the bustling city of Tokyo, the year 2000 witnessed a series of arrests that shook the notorious Sumiyoshi-kai syndicate.

Fast forward to February 2002, and the Tokyo-based Anegasaki-kai found itself entangled in a massive mafia war.

These incidents were just the beginning of a string of violent conflicts that gripped the Japanese underworld.

The Bloody Gang Wars of 2004

As the cherry blossoms bloomed in the spring of 2004, the prefectures of Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, and Tochigi turned into the battlegrounds for a brutal and bloody war between two powerful factions - the Yamaguchi-Gumi and the Iijima-kai.

The streets ran red as they fought for dominance and supremacy.

Yamaguchi-Gumi's Ascendancy

August 2005 marked a turning point as Ken'iti Shinoda took the reins of the Yamaguchi-Gumi, an influential criminal organization based in Aichi Prefecture, following the arrest of its former leader, Kiyoshi Takayama, for illegal possession of firearms.

Soon after, the Yamaguchi-gumi swallowed up the prominent Tokyo syndicate, Kokusui-kai, further solidifying its control over the capital region.

The Kyushu-Seido-kai Split

In 2006, a major split occurred within the Dodzin-kai, the dominant group controlling the northern part of Kyushu Island.

The breakaway faction, Kyushu-Seido-kai, led to a prolonged gang war that threatened to tear apart the criminal underworld.

Inagawa-kai's Incorporation

By 2007, the Yamaguchi-gumi's sphere of influence even extended to the Tokyo syndicate, Inagawa-kai, propelling this mafia alliance to an unparalleled position of power within the Japanese criminal hierarchy.

Assassinations and Assassination Attempts

February 2007 witnessed the assassination of one of the Sumiyoshi-kai leaders and the discovery of the dead body of Kazuyoshi Kudo, the boss of the formidable Kokusui-kai and a member of the Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate (according to some versions, he took his own life).

On April 17, 2007, a prominent gangster and construction contractor, Tetsuya Shiroo, attempted to assassinate the Mayor of Nagasaki, Itto Ito, who succumbed to his injuries soon after.

In May 2008, a member of the Suisin-kai, a part of the Yamaguchi-Gumi, was sentenced to death for this heinous crime.

The Kurume Residence Controversy

In the spring and summer of 2008, the residents of Kurume petitioned the court to relocate the headquarters of the influential Dodzin-kai, which had established itself in the city's business center.

Internal Strife and Economic Woes

In the same year, some of the Yamaguchi-gumi leaders attempted to reinstate Yoshinori Watanabe as the boss, but their failed conspiracy was quickly exposed, and those involved were sidelined.

Moreover, the massive recession that gripped Japan due to the financial crisis severely impacted the Yakuza's revenues, forcing many gangsters to tighten their belts and adopt a more austere lifestyle.

The Japanese underworld is a complex and ever-changing landscape, with power struggles, territorial disputes, and economic challenges shaping the course of the Yakuza's history.

As law enforcement continues its crackdown on organized crime, the future remains uncertain for these clandestine syndicates.

Only time will tell how they adapt and evolve to survive in an increasingly modernized Japan.

A Look at the Yakuza in the 2010s

In the early 2010s, Japan witnessed significant events in the realm of organized crime, with the Yakuza at the forefront.

This section explores the evolving dynamics of the Yakuza during this period, shedding light on their involvement in various incidents and the challenges they faced.

The Yakuza's Aid During the 2011 Earthquake

In March 2011, representatives from different Yakuza syndicates, particularly members of Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai, provided substantial assistance to the victims of a devastating earthquake that struck the eastern coast of Honshu Island.

The Kurume Attack in August 2011

In August 2011, in the city of Kurume, members of one of the splinter groups from the Dodzin-kai organization launched an attack on a boss's house using automatic weapons, pistols, and grenades.

The Olympus Scandal in Autumn 2011

During the fall of 2011, the Japanese corporation Olympus found itself at the center of a major scandal.

Law enforcement agencies and financial regulators suspected the company's ties to the Yakuza.

Minister of Justice's Resignation in October 2012

In October 2012, Japan's Minister of Justice, Keishu Tanaka, resigned after admitting to longstanding connections with the Yakuza.

Mizuho Bank's Involvement in October 2013

In October 2013, the second-largest Japanese bank, Mizuho, was exposed for providing loans to Yakuza members and companies linked to criminal organizations.

The funds were primarily used for purchasing automobiles, and the bank's top management was aware of this.

Following this scandal, Japan's Ministry of Finance initiated an investigation into the country's largest banks for their connections with Yakuza syndicates.

The Yamaguchi-gumi Split in September 2015

In early September 2015, a schism occurred within Japan's largest criminal conglomerate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, during a meeting of mafia bosses in Kobe.

As a result of internal conflict, up to five thousand individuals left the Yakuza, with some forming a separate group under the leadership of boss Yamaken-gumi Kunio Inoue.

To prevent potential violence between rival clans after the split, the police arrested dozens of the most dangerous gangsters.

In particular, in October 2015, Toshiaki Nakai, a "veteran" of the Kokusei-kai group, was arrested on charges of extortion from a businessman.

Shortly thereafter, Kenji Eguchi, one of the leaders of the Yamaguchi-gumi, was arrested on suspicion of establishing a dummy company that served as a cover for illegal transactions.

The Antimafia Sticker and Violent Incidents in November 2015

In November 2015, criminal boss Tatsuyuki Hisida of the Yamaguchi-gumi was found dead in Yokkaichi, having been brutally beaten before his demise.

Additionally, in November, the police arrested 11 members of the Kudo-kai group who had been setting fire to restaurants and bars in Kitakyushu for refusing to serve mafia members.

Among those arrested was Keigo Kikuti, the third-ranking boss of the clan, who had ordered the arsons.

Police Crackdown on the Yamaken-gumi in February 2016

In February 2016, the Kagoshima police arrested four members of the Yamaken-gumi, a subunit of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi conglomerate, seizing approximately 100 kilograms of stimulants and psychotropic drugs worth over 60 million dollars.

This group controlled the supply of drugs and psychotropic substances, ferrying them via ferries from Korea and China.

Attacks on Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi in 2016

In March 2016, unidentified individuals rammed an excavator into the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi office.

In May 2016, the head of one of the brigades within the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi was assassinated.

In June 2016, Hyogo Prefecture police arrested Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi boss Kunio Inoue for using a mobile phone registered in the name of an acquaintance.

According to police data for 2016, the Yakuza's membership dwindled to 39,100 individuals, with 11,800 being members of the Yamaguchi-gumi (in 2012, there were 63,000 Yakuza members, 58,600 in 2013, and 53,000 in 2015).

In 2016, the police arrested more than 20,000 mafia members.

Kunio Inoue's Legal Troubles in January 2017

In January 2017, Kyoto Prefecture police arrested Kunio Inoue on suspicion of causing injuries.

However, he was released in July, with his punishment deferred.

In April 2017, due to dissatisfaction among some gangsters over high membership fees, the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi group disbanded.

From it emerged the Ninkyo-dantai Yamaguchi-gumi under the command of boss Oda Yoshinori (it was renamed Ninkyo Yamaguchi-gumi from August 2017).

In the two years following the split (from fall 2015 to fall 2017), there were around a hundred clashes between the Yamaguchi-gumi and Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi.

The Yamaguchi-gumi developed strong ties with groups based east of the Kansai region, including the Inagawa-kai, Matsuba-kai, and Sumiyoshi-kai, while the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi established connections with groups in western Japan, such as the Sakaume-gumi and Asano-gumi.

Rivalry with Biker Gangs and Street Gangs by Late 2017

By the end of 2017, the Yakuza's main rivals in Japan's criminal underworld were bosozoku (biker gangs) and hangure (criminal groups and street gangs not affiliated with the Yakuza).

In some cases, these two factions distanced themselves from the Yakuza and even clashed with them, while in others, they cooperated closely or merged into their ranks as junior members.

Resignation of the JABF Chief in August 2018

In August 2018, the head of the Japan Amateur Boxing Federation (JABF), Akira Yamane, stepped down amid allegations of arranging fixed matches and having ties to the Yakuza.

This period in the Yakuza's history was marked by upheaval, internal conflicts, legal troubles, and changing dynamics in Japan's criminal landscape.

The Resilience of Yakuza During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In the early 2020s, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Yakuza members displayed an unexpected side by distributing protective masks, toilet paper, and tissues to the public in a bid to garner sympathy.

These items had become scarce commodities, vanishing from retail shelves.

Additionally, Yakuza-affiliated companies undertook the task of disinfecting hospitals, schools, supermarkets, and cruise liners.

However, this period also severely affected various Yakuza activities due to the nationwide quarantine measures, impacting areas such as prostitution, drug trade, and the operation of food stalls typically set up during religious festivals and mass gatherings.

The Yakuza's Benevolent Acts

During the height of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, Yakuza members embarked on a surprising mission.

Recognizing the scarcity of protective masks, toilet paper, and tissues on the market, they took it upon themselves to provide these essential items to the general population.

This altruistic gesture was aimed at winning the hearts of the people and enhancing their public image.

It was an unexpected turn of events for an organization often associated with crime and secrecy.

Supporting the Community in Crisis

As the pandemic raged on, Yakuza-affiliated companies went beyond distributing essential supplies.

They extended their support by disinfecting critical public spaces such as hospitals, schools, supermarkets, and even cruise liners.

This proactive approach to sanitation was an attempt to contribute positively to society during a tumultuous time.

It not only showcased their adaptability but also hinted at a willingness to cooperate with authorities when needed.

The Impact of Quarantine Measures

While the Yakuza's actions during the pandemic garnered attention, the quarantine measures implemented by the government had a significant impact on their traditional sources of income and operations.

Let's explore how these restrictions affected various aspects of Yakuza activities:


The lockdowns and social distancing protocols made it increasingly difficult for Yakuza-controlled prostitution rings to operate.

With a decrease in customers and increased scrutiny from law enforcement, this lucrative enterprise faced considerable setbacks.

Drug Trade

The restrictions disrupted the supply chain for illicit drugs, impacting the Yakuza's drug trade.

Reduced mobility and heightened border security made it harder to smuggle narcotics into the country.

Food Stalls

Yakuza-operated food stalls, often set up during religious festivals and large events, faced financial losses due to the cancellation of these gatherings.

With fewer people attending such events, the demand for their services plummeted.

To learn more about the Yakuza, please also read the following articles.

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