The Evolution of the Yakuza in the Last Ten Years in Japan

The name yakuza originated from a common card game and is linked to those who lose the game. However, members of yakuza do not regard themselves as losers. They consider themselves foreigners in a nation with rigid social standards and ladders. Although they normally come from poorer backgrounds and are illiterate, the groups offer such the prospective losers a means of becoming influential despite working against the nation’s values (Organized Crime in Japan 1).

The present yakuza clans originated from tekiya and bakuto organizations of feudalist Japan. The tekiya organizations comprised traveling hawkers and traders. The groups created kiosks all over Japan near temples. They sold and purchased wares and transacted commodities. The groups were acknowledged by the government as merchants, which sanctioned the roles of their leaders. As the organizations acquired legality and tribute, they started abusing the security offered by their leaders. The traders became famous for supplying inferior goods, deceiving clients, and being dishonest. The growth of markets and acquisition of more money made them disagree and fight each other. In the meantime, another group known as bakuto engaged in money gambling. It developed gambling parlors on every major route and received state cooperation (Organized Crime in Japan 2).

In the Meiji restoration era that started in 1868, Japan experienced a period of great industrialization and militarization. The bakuto members engaged in politics and supported campaigning candidates. The significant trend that developed from the Meiji restoration era regarding prearranged crime was the union between criminals and political parties. Organized criminals, the majority of them originating from bakuto, directed and planned political gatherings for their client politicians. They intimidated people physically and compelled them to go to rallies. They also applied force in dispersing gatherings organized by opponent politicians. Criminal groups collaborated with the right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party, a relationship that currently exists (Organized Crime in Japan 2).

As Japan modernized, the yakuza increased their activities by organizing day laborers for building jobs and hiring stevedores for growing docks’ market. Nevertheless, gambling was still the main source of revenue for the bakuto gangs, and the tekiya continued running their street stalls. Moreover, the majority of the yakuza superiors established legitimate businesses to serve as fronts for their illegal activities. They started a tradition of corrupting local police and government officers, which still exists (Gragert 155).

The bakuto and tekiya groups persistently sought political links and some of them established close relations with key officials. Their aim was to obtain liberty from police suppressions. They believed that collaboration was the best strategy. The government used the gangsters to suppress labor unrest.

After many years of black-market business, yakuza clans are investing illegal earnings in genuine business for laundering as well as investment reasons. Yakuza businesses have conventionally concentrated on betting, prostitution, defense, and public work developments. Currently, they are also involved in drug deals and illegal monetary activities like fraud and moneylending. Moreover, the group has advanced and adjusted to changing economic climates, which has made it rich (Organized Crime in Japan 4).

The groups have invested in various lawful businesses in Japan and overseas. They manage more than 25, 000 legal business in Japan, besides the several illegitimate ones. The assets and businesses include golf courses and country clubs, the stock market, banks, gift stores, bars, cafeterias, security services, medical facilities, trucking, guesthouses, travel organizations and several others (Gragert 178). Nevertheless, the same companies are also utilized as fronts to mask their illegal activities and revenue (Gragert 179). The group now earns income through cyber crime and have expanded their income streams. Such legitimacy, including the renowned individualities of yakuza culture, has made them famous globally.

The yakuza clans have restructured whereby higher bosses have given authority to local gangs to avoid being accountable for their activities. However, front organizations ensure that funds continue to flow up to the top. About 800 firms from food merchants to social networking websites serve as fronts (Organized Crime in Japan 5). The clans have categorized membership into regular members and part-time members, and the names are placed on obligatory rosters. They have also outsourced their dirty work, permitting Korean and Chinese to run pachinko parlors as well as drug markets (Organized Crime in Japan 5).

Despite the fact that gun ownership is unlawful in Japan, 90% of guns belong to several yakuza clans (Organized Crime in Japan 6). They take advantage of their international contacts to obtain handguns from the United States, China, and the Philippine. The two trends that are evident in the yakuza activities are a change from customary rackets to white collar crime, and from consensual activities like gambling and prostitution towards more predatory activities like loan-sharking and stealing (Rankin 12).

Yakuza gangs have become famous, and in 2007, over 102,000 members were working in Japan and overseas. They currently put on prosthetic fingertips to evade being easily noticeable. Presently, the biggest yakuza groups are the Kobe-based Yamaguchi-gumi, the Sumiyoshi-kai that came from Osaka, and the Inagawa-kai from Tokyo and Yokohama. The gangs have many investments in large lawful companies, and others are closely associated with the Japanese commercial world, banking segments, and the real estate market. The money obtained from illegal sources is usually laundered via such legitimate businesses.

Contrary to what they are commonly known for, the groups have been involved in charitable activities. For example, following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, various yakuza organizations sent truckloads of provisions to the affected region. Moreover, the group also managed to end the minor offenders. Kobe and Osaka are among secure areas in Japan since petty criminals are not allowed in their lands (Szczepanski n.p).

Yakuza’s ancestors were gamblers, and the modern yakuza still uphold the practice. In addition, its impact on the country’s politics has declined.  Initially, the groups served as enforcers for political organizations, compelling voters and calming leftists through bullying and violence. However, the utilization of physical force in the nation’s political field has reduced. Also, the group is no longer highly involved in real estate and land development as compared to the 1990s although some high-profile cases still exist (Rankin 21).

Japan’s law enforcement officials agree that organized crimes have shifted to the financial markets thus intimidating Japan’s economic institution. The police call yakuza boryokudan, which means violent groups. Initially, the yakuza were alliances of street traders (Adelstein n.p). Many think that yakuza organizations are increasing their powers because individuals back their endeavors, and some are unable to dissociate themselves from the groups.

Nonetheless, the yakuza are narrow-minded.  Unlike other groups, they have not developed massive global criminal networks. For example, they do not engage in exporting drugs to the world, selling arms to extremist organizations, or jeopardizing the national security through radical violence. Despite the fact that they have modified their techniques and operations with a lot of creativity for long periods, the groups are still localized criminals and enforcers, as their swindles are limited to Japan (Rankin 2).

Yakuza population has declined gradually since the late 1960s. The decline has augmented in the new millennium. For example, in 2010 there were 78,600 full-time and part-time members of the gangs (Rankin 2). Many yakuza members have become bankrupt, particularly those at lower positions. The continued stagnation of the economy has negatively affected the yakuza industry, forcing it to restructure their operations. This has also made many members to exit the groups. The discharge of low-earning older members has resulted in insufficient workforce. Besides, several city-based gangs have difficulty enrolling new members. The groups’ lifestyle is no longer appealing because of financial constraints. Heavy labor and less income discourage many individuals from joining the gangs. The young men who already belong to the gangs are opting for different legal and gainful occupations (Rankin 5).

Presently, the yakuza have re-categorizing their activities as religious as well as political groups and legal firms. The top leaders also prohibit their people from openly engaging in violence, scam, burglary, drugs business. However, although the groups try to depict a positive self-image, the government is determined to eradicate them. The yakuza networks can be demolished by the police arresting their leaders, increasing wire-trapping authorities, and allowing plea-negotiation. Moreover, a witness protection plan should be established and means of incorporating former members into society. According to detectives, yakuza groups are not losing many members as alleged. The members have become secretive and moving into groups that the government tolerates


Works Cited

Adelstein Jake. Crime report suggests the yakuza are evolving. Thejapantimes, 1 August 2015, Accessed 9 March 2018.

Gragert, Bruce A. “Yakuza: The warlords of Japanese organized crime.” Ann. Surv. Int’l & Comp. L. 4 (1997): 147.

Rankin, Andrew. “21st-century yakuza: recent trends in organized crime in Japan: part 1.” The Asia-Pacific Journal 10.2 (2012).

Szczepanski Kallie. The Yakuza of Japan. A Brief History of Organized Crime in Japan. ThoughtCo, 8 March 2017, Accessed 9 March 2018.

Organized Crime in Japan. Stratfor World View, 21 Sep. 2017, file:///C:/Users/edwin/Documents/PAULINE/yakuza%203.pdf. Accessed 9 March 2018.