There is an endless list of necessary evils today -
fast food, mobile phones, television, FaceBook. But if you take a closer look,
somewhere in this list even the criminals
feature. More specifically, we’re referring to the Japanese organized criminal
society whose members call themselves the “yakuza.”
The word “ya-ku-za” is derived from a losing hand
in traditional Japanese gambling: 8 (ya)
+ 9 (ku) + 3(za) = 20 (a useless hand). Thus yakuza stands for “a loser”;
quite modest, but don’t ask me ‘why’. The three major groups of yakuza are:-
1. the Yamaguchi-gumi (40,000 members; the largest
2. the Sumiyoshi-kai (12,000 members; the
3. the Inagawa-kai (10,000 members; the
third largest group)
The yakuza exist out in the open; they have
offices, business cards, fan magazines. Their income is largely derived from
illegal means such as protection money, security services, financial fraud,
drug dealing, stock manipulations, gambling, blackmail, extortion, prostitution
and loan sharking. So, though they call themselves ninkyodantai (chivalrous groups), the police count them under shiteiboryokudan
or “designated violent groups”, that in total account for 80,000 crooks. Membership
in these syndicates is not illegal, although the police regulate their
They follow Ninkyo(do), an established philosophy that values humanity,
justice, and duty and that forbids one from watching others suffer or be
troubled without doing anything about it i.e. “help the weak and fight the
strong”. It rhymes a little with Robinhood, doesn’t it?
Now, coming back to “necessary evil” part, the yakuza turn into instant-action philanthropists
during crisis in Japan. In fact there is an unwritten agreement amongst the
police and the yakuza groups that it is acceptable for them to perform
volunteer activities during a crisis but not seek publicity for it.
instance, in January 1995, after the Kobe
earthquake, the Yamaguchi-gumi was one
of the quickest and most responsive forces on the ground in procuring and
distributing supplies to the locals in the devastated western port city. They
did so very quietly, avoiding publicity.
This time too, just hours after shock waves rocked
Japan in March 2011, the yakuza opened their offices to those stranded in Tokyo
and shipped food, water and blankets to the stricken areas in two-ton trucks
and any available vehicle. They claimed, “There are no yakuza or katagi (ordinary citizens) or
gaijin (foreigners) in Japan right now. We are all Japanese. We all need to
help each other.”
The very next day, the Inagawa-kai
sent twenty-five four-ton trucks filled with paper diapers, instant ramen
(Japanese noodle dish), batteries, flashlights and drinks to the Tohoku region.
An executive in Sumiyoshi-kai,
the otherwise xenophobic yazuka right-wing, even offered refuge to members of
the foreign community. Even the Yamaguchi-gumi opened their offices and
sent truckloads of supplies worth half a million dollars. Very true, the worst of times brings out the best of people.
And if this leaves you wondering how they fund these rare philanthropic
impulses, don’t forget they are criminals.
But now, as
three months have passed since the crisis, the outlook of these criminal
syndicates has reverted back to normal. So, do
you get hold of the equation: 8 + 9 + 3= 20? Here, having successfully invested
in 8, 9 and 3, the luscious figure “20” does not stand for a remodeled Japan,
but an infinite source of profit-yielding opportunities. Yes, the Japanese
underworld is all set to cash-in on the tsunami clean-up, which is the
responsibility of the central government.
yakuza are trying to win lucrative contracts for their construction companies
for the massive rebuilding which involves removing millions of tonnes of debris
left in the tsunami's wake, including the contaminated and the radioactive
waste near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
construction has been a dependable well of cash from which the yakuza have
always drawn lump sums. Their cut on construction projects is estimated at 3%,
a vast enough to keep them afloat.
usual, the emergence of yakuza front
companies is sure to wean away the control from the Centre, the reason
being that they are indistinguishable from legitimate businesses. So, police
investigations would be too time consuming, or more simply put, “an uphill
battle to prevent them from benefiting from the multitrillion-yen
On one hand they unburden the local authorities in
the tough times; on the other hand they forcibly squeeze out money from the
hapless people. This complicates their position further, leaving the police in
a tight spot, unable to curb their involvement.
said the best of intentions can result in the worst of consequences, just as the
worst of intentions can reap the sweetest of fruits. In this line, the yakuza justify
their proposition that “it takes too long for the arm of the government to
reach out here so it's important to do it now. Our honest sentiment right now
is to be of some use to people.”
Where else do you find such nationalist sentiments?