Obama Makes Good on Promise to Attack Yakuza

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Well, I guess that America made good on its promise to go after Japan’s yakuza. In my previous post on US President Obama declared war on the yakuza via an Executive Order: Blocking Property of Transnational Criminal Organizations, the US names four transnational organized crime groups, including the Yakuza, and authorizes the U.S. Treasury, working with the Department of Justice and State Department, to identify people involved with the groups and subsequently block their financial transactions.:

“On July 24, 2011, President Barak Obama declared war on the yakuza a.k.a. The Japanese mafia, in an executive order which stated that “(the yakuza) are becoming increasingly sophisticated and dangerous to the United States; they are increasingly entrenched in the operations of foreign governments and the international financial system, thereby weakening democratic institutions, degrading the rule of law, and undermining economic markets. These organizations facilitate and aggravate violent civil conflicts and increasingly facilitate the activities of other dangerous persons. I therefore determine that significant transnational criminal organizations constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States, and hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.” [You can read the Fact Sheet here or the entire report via PDF here.]

Globally, the Yakuza alone rakes in “billions of dollars” per year in illicit profits from a range of criminal activity including weapons trafficking, sex tourism, prostitution, money laundering and more. According to the Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime: Addressing Converging Threats to National Security Fact Sheet released by the US National Security Council:

“The Yakuza comprises the major Japanese organized crime syndicates, sometimes referred to as “families,” and had more than 80,000 members as of 2008. The Yakuza derives most of its profits from the drug trade, particularly methamphetamine, the most widely abused drug in Japan. The Yakuza also profits from other serious criminal activities, including weapons trafficking and nearly all aspects of sexual exploitation: sex tourism, prostitution, human trafficking, “mail order” marriages, pornography, and the exploitation of women and children, with the help of local crime syndicates in East Asia. The Yakuza is also heavily involved in white-collar crime, often using front companies to hide illicit proceeds within legitimate industries, including construction, real estate and finance.”

In addition to its networks in Japan, the Yakuza acts globally. It has relationships with criminal affiliates in Asia, Europe and the Americas. In the United States, the Yakuza has been involved primarily in drug trafficking and money laundering.

Unlike America, the mob in Japan is out in the open with registered members and location. As one outstanding Tokyo crime journalist noted:

“There is an idea within Japan that the yakuza are a necessary evil, that by having them around they keep street crime down.” “The other idea is that the only thing worse than organised crime is disorganised crime. This approach allows the yakuza a curious freedom; they run their “business” from offices well-known to locals as well as police.” [Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice, an insider’s look at the Yakuza in Japan. Be sure to follow Adelstein via  @jakeadelstein on Twitter.]

So what does the executive order mean for those on the target list:

“Imposing sanctions on the Yamaguchi-gumi leaders, Kenichi Shinoda and Kiyoshi Takayama, as well as five members of the Brothers’ Circle, a criminal group which operates in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, forces U.S. financial institutions to freeze their assets in the United States.”

Yakuza members, Kenichi Shinoda a.k.a. Shinobu Tsukasa is the sixth and current kumicho or supreme godfather of the Japan’s largest yakuza organization, the Yamaguchi-gumi and Kiyoshi Takayama (wakagashira or deputy godfather) the founding head of the Nagoya-based Takayama-gumi, the president of the 2nd Kodo-kai, and the number-two boss (wakagashira) of the 6th Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest known yakuza syndicate in Japan.

The US Governments stance should give Japanese government a wake-up call and even a boost to their efforts to thwart the reach of the Yakuza. As reported by Bloomberg:

“Kenichi Shinoda, the group’s 70-year-old “godfather,” and his deputy, Kiyoshi Takayama, 64, will have their U.S. assets frozen in a move that is called “a slap in the face of the Japanese government” for taking a lenient stance toward organized crime.”The Yakuza alone rakes in “billions of dollars” per year in illicit profits from a range of criminal activity including weapons trafficking, sex tourism, prostitution, money laundering and more.

Anton Kusters Yakuza Pix

In the Japanese system, the Yakuza are legally recognized entities that operate freely and have clear links to banks, legitimate businesses, and leading politicians. According to Adelstein:

“The reaction of the Japanese ministry of justice and the National Police Agency to Obama’s executive order last year was one of shock and shame. This latest announcement is a slap in the face of Japan, telling them to really do something about their organized crime problem, which is spilling into international waters,” he said.

Without help from Japanese officials, it’s difficult for the U.S. law enforcement community to get a handle on Yakuza activities. For one thing, only the Japanese government can identify Yakuza officials, because tracking them requires knowing their names, their date of birth, their faces, and the Kanji symbols — Japanese characters — they use to identify themselves. The Yakuza exists openly in Japan with fanzines and magazines,” Adelstein explained. “They are heavily involved in the stock market and there are politicians with known Yakuza ties in national politics.”

With the prefectural-level anti-gang ordinances  put in place by the Government of Japan will the latest US efforts take a bite out of crime in Japan? Investigative journalist Atsushi Mizoguchi, a prolific writer on the subject of the yakuza and regarded by many as Japan’s most authoritative author on organized crime has this to say when posed the following question:

 [Via Japan Today] “Will the wholesale enforcement of the new anti-gang ordinances in all 47 of Japan’s prefectures from Oct 1 eradicate the “boryokudan” (gangs)?

Mizoguchi: Probably not. The new law does not penalize the boryokudan, but the citizens. In a Sankei Shimbun interview around the beginning of October, Shinobu Tsukasa, head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, was quoted as saying “We are not the least bit worried by the adoption of the new law.” Read the rest of the interview here.

Adelstein also had this to say:

“There’s only one problem: The Japanese government doesn’t seem to be on board. The National Police Agency (NPA), which is in charge of organized crime, has been uncooperative with the U.S. efforts to keep the Yakuza out of the United States and does not share its database of Yakuza bosses and associates with the FBI, DEA, or Homeland Security Investigations (formerly ICE). The NPA has also rarely acted on the hundreds of tips the United States passes along about child pornography coming out of Japan.” [ Check out previous Black Tokyo posts on child pornography in Japan.]

“The Yamaguchi-gumi is the Wal-Mart of organized crime. If you count smaller Yakuza groups under their umbrella, they are more than half of the market of Japan’s 79,000 Yakuza members and associates. They also support the DPJ and ruling coalition of Japan,” said Adelstein, adding that the Yamaguchi-gumi has ties to Olympus and TEPCO, two firms that operate within the United States. They are heavily involved in the stock market and there are politicians with known Yakuza ties in national politics. That kind of institutional corruption crosses borders, bleeding heavily into the U.S. economy.

“The Japanese police estimate that roughly 40 percent of foreign exchange trading companies in Japan are Yakuza-affiliated. With so many Japanese companies invested in the U.S. and with so many American companies investing in the Japanese stock market, which is yakuza infested, it becomes a matter of U.S. national security,” Adelstein said. “Because of the yakuza’s deep involvement in the Japanese economy and Japan’s economic ties with the U.S., the actions of the Yakuza effect the U.S. economy, therefore it’s not just a Japanese problem.”

Anton Kusters Yakuza Pix

If you want a look inside the yakuza and their elaborate tatoos check out Anton Kusters blog. As reported by Business Insider:

Anton Kusters is one bold photographer. The Belgian native spent two years photographing the Yakuza, Japan’s most notorious gang. He returned with some amazing images that he made into a book called “Odo Yakuza Tokyo.” (Odo means “the way of the cherry blossom” and is the credo of the Yakuza family he followed. In the introduction, Kusters tells the dramatic tale of how he gained such amazing access:

A smoldering cigarette was all that remained in the ashtray on the table we sat at. The family Boss had just nodded yes, then stood up and left the room with his bodyguard. My brother Malik and I had done it. After months of negotiating, we were allowed to present our project proposal to the Boss, and he had just accepted. Roughly 1,600 family members now would to be informed of our presence, to prevent “shoot first, ask questions later” type of incidents. The door to photographing the Yakuza, the largest organized crime syndicate in the world, was now open. And yes, we would be closely watched every step of the way.

Kusters gained their trust and returned with an amazing collection of images depicting the inner workings of the violent gang. The scenes range from the tattoos they rarely show in public to an evening at a nightclub where Kusters witnessed gang members getting lap dances and more. There are also images of chopped off fingers and senior members riding in limousines.

You can view the blog here and some of the pictures here. Be sure to follow Anton via @antonkusters on Twitter.

Lastly, via Journeyman TV: “Child pornography, along with prostitution and drugs, allows the Yakuza – Japan’s 80,000 strong mafia – to rake in 50 billion dollars a year. We pry open a window on this deadly criminal network.” Be sure to check out the video produced by ABC Australia and distributed by Journeyman Pictures at the beginning of the post!

Oh yeah! Feel free to comment!

1 Comment

  1. america, please keep your freakin’ huge nose the HELL OUT of Japan. How would you like if we walked in and told you what to do and declared war on your criminals? And you’re damn right it’s a necessary evil!

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