Friday, May 10, 2024

"In Japan, yakuza are reduced to stealing Pokémon cards"

From LeMonde, May 8:

Organized crime syndicates are losing ground in the country while Pokémon merchandise has regained value since the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Even for the yakuza, every penny counts. On April 26, Tokyo Metropolitan Police arrested Keita Saito, a kanbu, or executive, of the Takinogawa gang, a branch of the Sumiyoshi-kai, Japan's second-most powerful organized crime syndicate. The man is said to have stolen 252,000 yen (€1,500) worth of goods. The loot included 25 Pokémon cards – popular trading cards based on the Pokémon video games launched by Nintendo in 1996.

It's rare to see a full-fledged gang member, let alone an executive, arrested for petty theft. Traditionally, yakuza are more known for blackmailing, prostitution, drug trafficking, usury, exploitation of day laborers, and white-collar crime. Criminal organizations also control restaurants, bars, trucking companies, and even employment agencies.

The yakuza, who refrain from targeting ordinary citizens, remain popular, even idealized figures, as evidenced by the many films, series, and manga featuring them. The success of the Tokyo Vice series (HBO Max), which immerses viewers in Tokyo's red-light district, Kabukicho, in the 1990s, shows just how much the yakuza continue to fascinate.

Yet the world of the yakuza is in decline. In 1992 and 2011, Japan passed laws against the "Anti-Social Forces" – the official term for the criminal underworld – banning them from opening bank accounts, signing property contracts, and even driving on highways. Companies are no longer allowed to do business with them.

Retouching suggestive pictures

According to the National Police Agency, the crackdown has helped to reduce the number of members of organized criminal groups greatly. From 87,000 in 2006, it fell to 22,400 in 2022, a far cry from the historic peak of 184,000 in the early 1960s. And, like the rest of Japanese society, the yakuza are aging. In 2019, the percentage of those over 50 reached 51.2%, exceeding 50% for the first time. 

The gangs' difficulties have driven them to diversify their activities. In 2020, 10 members of Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's most powerful gang, were arrested in Hokkaido (northern Japan) for illegally fishing sea cucumbers. The exportation of this tasty seafood is said to be as lucrative as selling drugs. The yakuza also specialize in retouching suggestive pictures – a skill they have acquired through editing photos of hostesses in the bars they control.....



"We have to improve our image," said Masatoshi Kumagai, one of the yakuza bosses. Yakuza are on decline, he said, and... 'We Have To Evolve Our Business Model' ...

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The writer, Jake Adelstein, is one crazy mo-fo.
He is the pre-eminent Tokyo police-beat reporter writing in English, specializing in vice and organized crime.
He was also the first American to work for a Japanese newspaper as a Japanese language reporter.
His reporting of the UCLA organ transplant scam (because of their tattoos Yakuza often have kidney and especially liver problems) garnered him a few death threats and from time to time his sources decide to beat him to a pulp.
"Making a slow getaway: Japan's anti-yakuza laws result in cohort of ageing gangsters"

However, it is not all 'Japanese girls coyly giggling at the old men.' Or something.

From ABC (U.S.) News, February 21:

DOJ charges Japanese Yakuza leader for allegedly attempting to traffic nuclear materials