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Yakuza To The Rescue
March 22, 2011 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Even Japan’s infamous mafia groups are helping out with the relief efforts and showing a strain of civic duty. "The Kanagawa Block of the Inagawa-kai, has sent 70 trucks to the Ibaraki and Fukushima areas to drop off supplies in areas with high radiations levels. They didn't keep track of how many tons of supplies they moved. The Inagawa-kai as a whole has moved over 100 tons of supplies to the Tohoku region. They have been going into radiated areas without any protection or potassium iodide."
posted by kingv (63 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read this the other day, it's really interesting. It goes into more depth about the organization and culture of the Yakuza than I had ever seen before. (Not that I was looking, but it was on my radar as something I wanted to learn more about, someday...)
posted by nevercalm at 1:23 PM on March 22, 2011


It bears mentioning that the Yakuza aren't quite Mafia in the Western sense; there are known Yakuza offices (they have a logo on the door) across the prefectures, and the Japanese police sometimes shield the identities of members from Western police agencies. It's more a tacit acceptance of crime and preference for a system that fits into the Japanese social system than one of complete opposition.

Given that, I should imagine that the businesses and government agents who have relationships there simply asked.
posted by jaduncan at 1:25 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


They have been going into radiated areas without any protection or potassium iodide.

"They?" I suspect that "they" are forcing "their" people to go into radiated areas without any protection or potassium iodide. Just how willing are the actual individuals who are being sent by organized crime groups to go into high radiation areas without appropriate protection?
posted by The World Famous at 1:26 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"membership is not illegal although the police regulate their activities, much the way the SEC regulates Goldman Sachs."
posted by kingv at 1:28 PM on March 22, 2011 [55 favorites]


Why's it always "the Japanese Mafia?" Nobody ever says "the Italian Yakuza."
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:28 PM on March 22, 2011 [44 favorites]


I wonder what the vehicles are coming back with on the return trip.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:32 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


That was interesting. More for me because of the insight into the workings and cultural position of the Yakuza than anything else.

Granted, my previous "knowledge" has all been gleaned from 90's (US) action flicks.
posted by flippant at 1:33 PM on March 22, 2011


FOB: For the same reason it's called "The Russian Mafia". Like it or not, Mafia has become shorthand for organized crime.
posted by KGMoney at 1:33 PM on March 22, 2011


According to Wikipedia, the same yakuza syndicate was also involved in distributing food and water to victims during the Great Hanshin quake in 1995, so apparently this isn't new for them.
posted by KGMoney at 1:38 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why's it always "the Japanese Mafia?" Nobody ever says "the Italian Yakuza."

Because the movie was called The Godfather, not Ojiisan.
posted by eriko at 1:38 PM on March 22, 2011 [16 favorites]


"They?" I suspect that "they" are forcing "their" people to go into radiated areas without any protection or potassium iodide.

Though the Yakuza make the bulk of their income through protection rackets, prostitution, gambling, control of certain industries, etc. in exactly the same way that the mafia do, they've always had very close connections with the political right in Japan, and as a consequence, share lots of their beliefs about the nature of duty, responsibility and what it means to be Japanese.

Given that, I think it's perfectly consistent with their adherence to a peculiar right-wing ideology that puts emphasis on heirarchy and obedience to the head of the gang, and then secondly, to the Japanese nation. I don't think any coercion is likely to be required.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:39 PM on March 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'm going to start using "The Sicilian Triads."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:39 PM on March 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


Granted, my previous "knowledge" has all been gleaned from 90's (US) action flicks.

Mine comes from Kaplan and Dubro, which I highly recommend.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:41 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Mister A will remember Skinny Joey Merlino giving away Thanksgiving turkeys and giving kids bikes at his Christmas party here in Philly. It's just good PR.
posted by fixedgear at 1:42 PM on March 22, 2011


Given that, I think it's perfectly consistent with their adherence to a peculiar right-wing ideology that puts emphasis on heirarchy and obedience to the head of the gang, and then secondly, to the Japanese nation. I don't think any coercion is likely to be required.

The difference between that and coercion is pretty slim.

Also, I think it should be referred to as the Japanese 'Ndrangheta.
posted by The World Famous at 1:42 PM on March 22, 2011


Adelstein's Tokyo Vice is worth reading for one person's insight into the not-so-savory aspects of the Yakuza.

they've always had very close connections with the political right in Japan, and as a consequence, share lots of their beliefs about the nature of duty, responsibility and what it means to be Japanese.

Going back to what I read in the book, the notion of nationalist identity, perhaps, explains why the Yakuza treat non-Japanese sex workers in its employ they way that they do.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:44 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Going in without potassium iodide is just foolish. Is there a shortage?
posted by you're a kitty! at 1:49 PM on March 22, 2011


one of the first organizations to start relief convoys in the northeast was none other than the yakuza, Japan's famous gangsters. Unconstrained by reams of regulations, the underworld representatives, whose business tentacles extend to the trucking business, simply started delivering aid on their own, without government approval.

posted by fixedgear at 1:55 PM on March 22, 2011


This reminds me of Doctor Doom crying at Ground Zero.
posted by brundlefly at 1:57 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder what the vehicles are coming back with on the return trip.

Copper, ornamental marble if there is any.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:58 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mister A will remember Skinny Joey Merlino giving away Thanksgiving turkeys

One James "Whitey" Bulger used to do the same in South Boston, and always remembered fondly by those who could be easily swayed by a free, frozen bird or an advance on a payday. But he was also a criminal element in his own right: a terrorist sympathizer and would-be weapons supplier, government collaborator and deceiver, drug dealer and murderer. The by-product of every social disease concentrated into one individual. A real gem, that Jim Bulger. And still on the run, say some.
posted by jsavimbi at 2:03 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I'm going to start using "The Sicilian Triads."

I briefly considered "Missouri Tongs", but that only brought to mind barbeque.

Yakuza have a lot to benefit by acting quickly and generously: It makes the recipients considerably better-disposed to them; it buys a lifetime of good will.

I wish I could cite right now, but it's a known thing for gangs in most parts of the world to be early responders in crises. They have the resources for it, it's yet another way to launder money, and after all, the dude who's tough enough to rough up the local store owners is going to be tough enough to wade into the collapsed building to help rescue him later.
posted by ardgedee at 2:04 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


The difference between that and coercion is pretty slim.

possibly, but I think it's the same sort of pressure any employee would face in their jobs--my understanding is that the yakuza have developed a reputation after the Kobe earthquake for actually helping the community in times like this. This would just be part of the job, like it would be for a firefighter or cop or soldier. A firefighter or cop or soldier who also dabbles in gambling, prostitution, drugs and racketeering.
posted by Hoopo at 2:05 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's a human universal that organizations participate in the community to legitimize themselves. We see this with religions (the catholics run a lot of hospitals), we see this with corporations ("sponsored by..."), we see this with violent political groups (Hamas does a ton of social work).

Just how things go.
posted by effugas at 2:12 PM on March 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


We seem always surprised and intrigued to discover that those groups usually considered outside the bounds of rightful behavior in fact help from time to time when there is an emergency confronting their society. So too the organized crime gangs helped in WWII along the NY waterfront. Perhaps what they do that helps also helps ensure that their way of life continues.
posted by Postroad at 2:16 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because the movie was called The Godfather, not Ojiisan.

*polite cough* I think you mean "oyabun".
posted by kkokkodalk at 2:17 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


There are near countless examples of organizations we find distasteful doing good work. That there is any amount of WTF about this says more about our willingness to shunt people/organizations into binary states rather than the organizations themselves.

Scientologists, the Catholic church Walmart, Hamas, al-Qaeda... all have provided real material support in times of crisis. I dislike each of those organizations for slightly different reasons, but credit when due.

(yeah I realize that some support may be at least partially for PR purposes, so the motives may not be entirely pure, but I'd wager some of it comes from real compassion, and am not really up to wrangling in the minutia about which is which)
posted by edgeways at 2:20 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Eh. Just like the US military then, one day joyfully killing people when ordered to, the other bringing twinkies and coca-cola to the poor and afflicted masses of some God-forsaken land.
posted by vivelame at 2:24 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I prefer "Nihon no Camorra."
posted by jtron at 2:27 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, we also tend to think of "protection racket" as something that only protects against damage from the organization itself. A theory I've seen in a number of places is that the Mafia did so well in New York because they were internally policing the Italian neighborhoods in order to keep the Irish cops at bay.

The legitimacy of an organization which uses violence is always questionable, but some of 'em we call "government", some we call "gang", and often the line between those two isn't terribly clear. Witness some of the organizations we currently recognize as "legitimate" government. Heck, some particularly vicious violent gangs are even upstanding U.N. members.
posted by straw at 2:27 PM on March 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


It's just good PR.

Great that Jake Adelstein is so hell-bent on getting the word out.

By the way, it should come as no surprise that the local yakuza, aligned with local construction interests, played an instrumental roll in forcing local landowners to make way for the Fukushima nuclear power plants.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:29 PM on March 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


It might be interesting to see how american gangs would respond in the event of a disasterous quake in Cali
posted by Redhush at 2:32 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eh. Just like the US military then, one day joyfully killing people when ordered to, the other bringing twinkies and coca-cola to the poor and afflicted masses of some God-forsaken land

Well, not so much like the US military. The Yakuza don't actually kill that many people believe it or not; it's mostly intimidation. And probably beatdowns, if my own experience counts for anything.
posted by Hoopo at 2:35 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just how willing are the actual individuals who are being sent by organized crime groups to go into high radiation areas without appropriate protection?

I imagine it's a good opportunity for hopefuls to earn names for themselves within their organizations.
posted by clarknova at 2:47 PM on March 22, 2011


FOB: For the same reason it's called "The Russian Mafia". Like it or not, Mafia has become shorthand for organized crime.

Maybe it's my Exile grounding, but I always use the short hand Mafya to distinguish the Russians.
posted by jaduncan at 2:52 PM on March 22, 2011


Into the radiation zone?

Talk about hot merchandise...
posted by Capt. Renault at 2:53 PM on March 22, 2011


(Or gopnicki, if I am feeling cruel).
posted by jaduncan at 2:53 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hoopo, elaborate?
posted by cereselle at 2:53 PM on March 22, 2011


Why's it always "the Japanese Mafia?" Nobody ever says "the Italian Yakuza."

I bet they do in Japan.
posted by DU at 2:55 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually I read somewhere that originally, the yakuza were firefighters. You paid them a monthly subscription, and if your home caught fire, they would show up and put out the fire. Not sure how they got into crime. They fought fired wearinin only a loin cloth and a sweatband.
Which may explain why they went in for those admittedly gorgeous tatoos.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:59 PM on March 22, 2011


Badass of the Week (non-Yakuza division). Originally posted deep in one of the other Japan threads, but well worth another look. Just fucking amazing.
posted by maudlin at 2:59 PM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't know about the "Of course they would do that, it's good PR" angle. The author points out that they have been dropping off supplies anonymously, out of fear that they may be rejected for coming from the Yakuza. Of course it's also good PR, and maybe it's a strategic act on their part, but a good deed is still a good deed.
posted by kingv at 3:00 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


it's nothing big, cereselle--I was out walking one night with the wrong drunken white guy. We passed a parked van full of young gangster guys in a van parked outside a known yakuza hangout, and one of them supposedly spat out the window at us--I didn't see this, I think this is the idiot I was with making excuses for his behaviour. So yeah, he gets all lippy in Japanese that I can't understand, and doesn't sound polite about it. He then goes around to the back of the van and starts writing down the license number. Then the doors slide open and a bunch of young punks come out swinging. I ran so damned fast! But that guy I was with got a few lumps. Nothing too bad though, just a bloody nose. I also know of a few similar stories of getting punched in the face and forcibly escorted out of bars etc by yakuza from coworkers. Truth be told, they were probably acting out of line and deserved it--this wasn't too different from what the average bouncer would do. Most of my experiences with the yakuza were actually pretty positive, I met some really nice guys. But I wouldn't want to cross them or get involved in their business.
posted by Hoopo at 3:06 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyone have a link to this article that I can read on my phone? It dumps me to the front page of their mobile site when I click the above link, and I can't find the damn article.
posted by jtron at 3:06 PM on March 22, 2011


You paid them a monthly subscription, and if your home caught fire, they would show up and put out the fire. Not sure how they got into crime.

I don't know if this story is true, but if it is: protection. You pay us the subscription, we put out fires at your place. What's that? You don't want to pay? Be a shame if your store were to burn down somehow ...
posted by penduluum at 3:07 PM on March 22, 2011


I don't know if this story is true, but if it is: protection. You pay us the subscription, we put out fires at your place

It's actually how firefighting started, and by extension fire insurance. You used to have to pay private companies and they'd let your place burn if you hadn't paid them or paid a different company than the one that showed up.
posted by Hoopo at 3:10 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why's it always "the Japanese Mafia?" Nobody ever says "the Italian Yakuza."
I realize that's a little tongue in cheek, but Mafia has become a generic term. The Italians kind of lost their trademark.

Anyway, this doesn't surprise me that much. First of all you would expect thieves and conmen to still care about people starving, first of all. And second of all the Yakuza see themselves as being part of society, not alienated from it. It's probably one of the reasons that the 'official' crime rate is low in Japan. The Yakuza have a monopoly on criminal enterprises, and so anyone with criminal tendencies would either join up or get 'taken care of' for being competition.
Actually I read somewhere that originally, the yakuza were firefighters. You paid them a monthly subscription, and if your home caught fire, they would show up and put out the fire.
It isn't like you can't just read the wikipedia article:
Despite uncertainty about the single origin of Yakuza organizations, most modern Yakuza derive from two classifications which emerged in the mid-Edo Period: tekiya, those who primarily peddled illicit, stolen or shoddy goods; and bakuto, those who were involved in or participated in gambling.[2]
Tekiya (peddlers) were considered one of the lowest social groups in Edo. As they began to form organizations of their own, they took over some administrative duties relating to commerce, such as stall allocation and protection of their commercial activities. During Shinto festivals, these peddlers opened stalls and some members were hired to act as security. Each peddler paid rent in exchange for a stall assignment and protection during the fair.
posted by delmoi at 3:16 PM on March 22, 2011


Why's it always "the Japanese Mafia?" Nobody ever says "the Italian Yakuza."

Clearly something is very wrong. We should definitely start a MeTa about the ethnic identity of organized crime groups.
posted by IvoShandor at 3:19 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's actually how firefighting started, and by extension fire insurance. You used to have to pay private companies and they'd let your place burn if you hadn't paid them or paid a different company than the one that showed up.

Sure, Elfreth's Alley here in Philly (oldest continuously inhabited street in the US?) has plenty of houses with firefighting plaques mounted.
posted by fixedgear at 3:24 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


My one and only run-in with the mafia was when I first arrived in Japan. I was eating conveyor belt sushi at Atom Boy, and was accosted by an old man who wanted me to come back to his house. His daughter (in her forties) translated for us. It was a big concrete house with red carpet, the kind you find in church basements. I remember there was a piano and a lot of pictures of big guys with dark glasses, mutton-chop sideburns and punch perms.

The guy gave me his card: his name was "Taiko Sempai"
posted by KokuRyu at 3:26 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


mmmmmmmmmmmmm, octopus!
posted by fixedgear at 3:30 PM on March 22, 2011


mmmmmmmmmmmmm, octopus

(that's "tako")
posted by Hoopo at 3:38 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mafia has become shorthand for organized crime.

Much as "Wall Street" or "defense contractor" is shorthand for disorganized crime.
posted by Twang at 3:48 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't know if this story is true, but if it is: protection. You pay us the subscription, we put out fires at your place. What's that? You don't want to pay? Be a shame if your store were to burn down somehow ...

You pay us taxes, we let you use our roads and police force and currency. What's that? You don't want to pay? Be a shame if you ended up in prison somehow, unable to use any of those things...
posted by DLWM at 4:16 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Much as "Wall Street" or "defense contractor" is shorthand for disorganized crime.

No those are synonyms for "legalized crime".
posted by clarknova at 4:37 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


FDR called it "organized money."
posted by synaesthetichaze at 5:10 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Great that Jake Adelstein is so hell-bent on getting the word out.

His book does have a couple of those 'heroic Yakuza' types -- guys who provide him with information, and would get out of the game if they weren't so old and had some more options.

He contrasts these with the 'bad Yakuza' who run the white slave trade, use the money to buy liver transplants in California and want to turn him into sashimi.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:15 PM on March 22, 2011


Also, Young Yakuza was a pretty great documentary about a kid who's mom gets pissed off with his lack of direction, so apprentices him to his local Yakuza boss. Maybe you can watch it here?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:22 PM on March 22, 2011


I don't really have an opinion on the yakuza one way or the other. My main content with Adelstein is his relentless self-promotion, and using the yakuza for that self-promotion. I guess he has to promote himself and his books. We all need to earn a living.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:28 PM on March 22, 2011


I don't really have an opinion on the yakuza one way or the other. My main content with Adelstein is his relentless self-promotion, and using the yakuza for that self-promotion. I guess he has to promote himself and his books. We all need to earn a living.

Jeez, I don't think I know more than a handful of gaijin online who aren't exactly that way.
posted by nightchrome at 7:16 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


mmmmmmmmmmmmm, octopus

(that's "tako")


mmmmmmmmmmmmm, taco
posted by nevercalm at 5:24 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I assumed that's what you were getting at, KokuRyu
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:25 AM on March 23, 2011


I briefly considered "Missouri Tongs", but that only brought to mind barbeque.

mmmmmmmmmmmm, yakiniku
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:53 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


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