Recent legislation in Japan has made it made illegal to cooperate with the Yakuza in any way. Now, persons whom the yakuza extort for money or rent payments for protection are no longer victims but also willing accomplices to the crime. Writing for The Atlantic Wire, Jake Adelstein, a yakuza-culture expert, outlines how new legislation called the “boryokudan haijojorei” (暴力団排除条例) or the “organized crime exclusion laws” will effect yakuza activities and includes most prominent aspects of Yakuza business in Japan. Different from previous legislation in that it criminalizes working with the yakuza, the new laws attempt to force those who are being extorted by the yakuza to seek official help from the police. If one continues to do business with the yakuza, one might possibly have one’s “name released to the public, be fined, imprisoned, or all of the above.” The criminalization of working with the yakuza cuts deeply into one of the yakuza’s most profitable territories, namely, extortion and blackmail, with some estimated 45% of cases of such crimes in Japan being attributed to the yakuza. This legislation has been compared to the 1997 anti-sokaiya (or racketeering) law that had a negative influence on racketeering activities within Japan. Jake Adelstein specifically highlights the societal dangers that come with having one’s name linked to the yakuza,

“The price for being publicly linked to the yakuza are not only public humiliation, increased police scrutiny, and possible punishment, but for businesses it can mean a huge loss of revenue, cash flow problems when banks refuse to loan money, revocation of licenses, and possible termination of rental agreements for office space. For any small business, being outed as a yakuza front company is more than likely to result in bankruptcy or eviction. On an individual level, it means being fired or forced to resign from your occupation.”

One such prominent example of a successful figure who’s ties to the yakuza have negatively impacted his career is the story of Shinsuke Shimada, a once popular Japanese comedian and television host. After it was revealed that Shinsuke had extensive ties to the yakuza, he quickly announced his retirement at the Tokyo offices of Yoshimoto Kogyo Company, the firm for the television programs in which he was a regular star. In Japan the entertainment industry and its involvement with the yakuza is a taboo subject and within the country the yakuza is not culturally the same as say organized crime in the United States. Yakuza groups have fan magazines and their existence is well known, with each of the 22 yakuza groups comprising a membership of some 80,000. Being quasi-regulated entities, the Yamaguchi-gumi, with over 40,000 members, is often considered Japan’s largest “private equity fund” and is the mother group of Kyokushin Rengo, the division with which Shimada Shinsuke was involved. Insofar as how he initially became involved with the yakuza, Shinsuke vaguely admitted that he had found himself in a bind some time ago and that is when he turned to the yakuza, which does not sound reassuring at all when one is talking about organized crime.

In an article with The Daily Beast, Jake Adelstein reveals that Shimada’s predicament stemmed from his insulting a right wing group in Japan when he compared the imperial crest to his anus. This led to Shimada’s payments to Yamaguchi-gumi for protection and assistance in shaking off the group. Shinsuke Shimada’s ties to Jiro Watanabe, a crime boss to whom he paid jinchumimai (a kind of money gift given to yakuza members facing prosecution and jail time to defray costs) exposed him as an affiliate of Yamaguchi-gumi. Shimada is no stranger to the law, having been arrested prior for his beating a female employee repeatedly in the face for not showing him the “proper respect.” Yet it was Shimada’s ties to the yakuza that led his swift downfall in the Japanese entertainment industry. Goto Tadamasa, a former Yamaguchi-gumi crime boss, leaked the texts to police in retaliation for Shimada’s intolerable act of yobisute, or the social impropriety of referring to another without an honorific. This act, which is considered very rude and disrespectful by Japanese social standards, prompted Tadamasa to expose Shimada as an associate of the Yamaguchi-gumi, ending his career.

The Shimada saga was only the beginning of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s efforts to weed out the yakuza from the entertainment industry. Police have been distressed at how deep the links are between the yakuza and the Japanese entertainment industry, with little distinction between the two actually existing. Jake Adelstein’s article for The Daily Beast, “The Yakuza Goes Hollywood,” reveals that not only was Shimada’s talent agency Yoshimoto Kogyo a longterm associate of the Yamaguchi-gumi, but also that, “[Yoshimoto Kogyo] isn’t a front company of the Yamaguchi-gumi, it is a branch of the Yamaguchi-gumi.” The new legislation prompts Japanese citizens who have ties with the yakuza or who are being extorted by the yakuza to inform authorities. Doing so will remove that person from implication as a criminal, but failure to inform on the yakuza to police will be treated as collusion with the yakuza and thus make the citizen subject to the anti-yakuza provisions stipulated in the law. The yakuza are not only facing pressure in Japan, but also in the U.S. as well with Barack Obama’s issuance of an executive order that names the yakuza as a national security threat to the United States. How the yakuza will be managed in the future and to what extent it will be a part of Japanese society remains to be seen although it is fairly certain that their current postion will be much diminished. The legislation, while prompting revelation, also forces many of the yakuza’s activities underground which could make it an even more dangerous and insidious group of organizations than at present.

[The Atlantic Wire]