Japanese police avert ‘all-out yakuza war’, arrest nearly 1,000 gangsters

Japanese riot police © Toru Hanai
Japanese police claim to have averted an “all-out war” between two rival yakuza factions by arresting nearly 1,000 members. Tensions between the gangs have been high since the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi broke away from the largest crime syndicate Yamaguchi-gumi last year.

A total of 976 gangsters from Yamaguchi-gumi and its spin off the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi were arrested since March when National Police Agency (NPA) agency said the factions declared “a state of all-out war”, The Asahi Shimbun reports. Of those arrested 623 were members of the Yamaguchi-gumi, and 353 were from the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi.

NPA said it would hold both of the groups in iron fists adding that the crackdown on yakuza gangs would continue.

“We will try to destroy both groups by tightening controls and appropriating the anti-organized crime law,” Masayoshi Sakaguchi, commissioner general of the NPA, said during a news conference on August 25. “We will also keep our strictest watch on them to prevent civilian casualties.”

“The situation is exceptionally serious,” said Taro Kono, the chairman of the National Public Safety Commission in March adding that the major task for law was to shield ordinary citizens from getting caught up in the hostilities of criminal groups.

Every arrest means the losing of funding and manpower for the groups directly affiliated with the warring factions since in many cases they cover the cost of legal bills of suspects including hiring of a lawyer.

The police launching a “war of attribution” and the huge number of arrests have led to some deep frustration within the group’s members.

“After the split, the police have been relentlessly arresting members even for spontaneous scuffles or damage to property,” said a gangster affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi. “Every time someone gets arrested, we have to pay for a lawyer. It is a horribly exhausting battle.”

“We have to pay the fee even when core members of our group are behind bars,” said a mobster affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi. “We are so stretched thin that we would rather ask them to give us some money.” The disappointment among mobsters comes despite the fact that both of the gang groups reduced the membership fees.

The total number of incidents carried out by yakuza is said to have decreased since April when the NPA branded the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi a “criminal syndicate” under Japanese law. The NPA might restrict the activities of the rival gangs even further if they are designated as “crime organizations engaged in specific conflict.”

Under that designation, police would have the legal right to arrest yakuza for holding a gathering of five or more people. Therefore, it is not in the best interest of the gangs to engage in a full-scale war.

“If they start a full-scale conflict, they will sink together,” a police official said. “They both know it.”

Besides launching a physical offensive at each other rival factions have been also engaged in an online war. Police say gangsters have taken to social media where they have been posting footage of assaults and vehicles ramming into office buildings. Through this content the groups might be either demonstrating their power, or trying to portray themselves as victims, officials say.

The conflict in the criminal world of Japan formed in 2015, when the century-old Yamaguchi-gumi Yakuza syndicate split into two organizations, with the spin-off Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi becoming Japan’s third largest Yakuza syndicate after the Tokyo-based Sumiyoshi-kai. The break-down was triggered by the Yamaguchi-gumi’s suspending and expelling subsidiaries discontented with gang-boss Shinobu Tsukasa’s management.

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There have been attempts for a truce between the factions but they have failed. Following the unsuccessful negotiations Tadashi Takagi, a senior member of the Koba Yamaguchi-gumi, was gunned down on 31 May and Tatsuo Saiki, another member of the gang, was shot dead on 15 July.

Yakuza in Japan do not openly confront law enforcement, which makes big efforts to monitor and even control their activities to avoid excesses. Yakuza syndicates run multiple offices throughout the country, under the guise of private companies and ultranationalist organizations. Their interests vary from racketeering and gambling to prostitution, drugs, and weapons sale. Other fields of its criminal activities include financial fraud and the construction business.