World / Asia-Pacific

Yakuza groups turn to Web in change of approach

By Kyoko Hasegawa in Tokyo (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-04 07:13

Yakuza groups turn to Web in change of approach

A man uses a laptop to browse a home page of the "Banish Drugs and Purify the Nation League" website displaying a video image of Kenichi Shinoda, the boss of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's largest organized cirime group, in Tokyo on Wednesday. Yoshikazu Tsuno / Agence France-Presse

Yakuza groups turn to Web in change of approach
Japan's biggest organized crime syndicate has launched its own website, complete with a corporate song and a strong anti-drugs message, as the yakuza tackles its outdated image and falling membership.

The clunky-sounding Banish Drugs and Purify the Nation League website is an offering from the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's largest yakuza grouping.

It includes shakily shot footage of members making their New Year's pilgrimage to a shrine. The soundtrack is a traditional folk-style song with lyrics extolling the virtues of the "Ninkyo" spirit an ideal of masculinity that battles injustice and helps the weak.

"Nothing but Ninkyo, that is man's way of life," the lyrics say. "The way of duty and compassion, bearing the ordeal for our dream."

Another video shows men with crew cuts pounding sticky rice for a New Year's festival, and there are galleries of pictures showcasing the work members did in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

The website is not the Yamaguchi-gumi's first foray into media. Last year, the crime syndicate began publishing a magazine for its members that includes a poetry page, senior gangsters' fishing diaries and a message from the boss.

Like the Italian mob, yakuza syndicates are involved in activities ranging from prostitution to extortion and white-collar crime.

But unlike underworld counterparts elsewhere, the yakuza is not illegal and each of the designated groups, like the Yamaguchi-gumi, have their own headquarters, with senior members handing out business cards.

They have been tolerated by the authorities, sometimes with corrupt police overlooking their violence, and are routinely glamorized in fanzines and manga comics.

But periodic crackdowns have gained momentum and there is evidence that appeal is waning.

The number of people belonging to yakuza groups fell to an all-time low in 2013, slipping below the 60,000-member mark for the first time on record, police said last month.

An increasingly poor public image and Japan's flaccid economy have made the lives of the gangsters difficult, which has made membership less attractive for potential recruits, experts said.

The website, which looks outdated, is an attempt to counter the yakuza's image as "anti-social forces" a police euphemism by showing how neighborly its members are, experts say.

One page shows men collecting litter along the banks of the Toga River near the Yamaguchi-gumi's headquarters in Kobe, western Japan, with a nearby sign reading: "Purge yakuza."

Jake Adelstein, a journalist and author who has written extensively on organized crime in Japan, said the Yamaguchi-gumi's online offering was an effort to prove its humanitarian credentials.

"By presenting an anti-drugs theme, it shows concern for social welfare, it shows pictures of the group doing emergency relief work after the (2011 tsunami) and Kobe earthquakes," he said.

He said it was true that the yakuza used "ties to the trucking industry and their abundance of cash, lack of red tape and institutional memory" to provide help after the disasters.

But, he added, "There was a certain amount of self-interest involved getting in with the locals helps them get a share of the reconstruction money."

Adelstein, whose account of his life working the crime beat for a Japanese newspaper is being made into a film starring Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe, said the site was an attempt to whitewash an unsavory truth.

"The yakuza motto is 'help the weak and fight the strong'. In practice, it's usually the reverse," he said.

Police could not immediately confirm the website had been made by the Yamaguchi-gumi, nor comment on it.

The website, which features a "contact us" button, can be found at

Agence France-Presse


Trudeau visits Sina Weibo
May gets little gasp as EU extends deadline for sufficient progress in Brexit talks
Ethiopian FM urges strengthened Ethiopia-China ties
Yemen's ex-president Saleh, relatives killed by Houthis
Most Popular
Hot Topics