As a tide of nationally-backed laws seek to break down gang-related corruption, and as the Japanese economy moves toward progress leaving behind a traditional culture still tainted by blood spilled in Yakuza-related violence, rival gangs have escalated their violence in Japan’s southern Fukuoka prefecture. The culture is moving towards modernization, and the spoils of the economy – traditionally an easy target for local gangs – are getting increasingly scarce, Fukuoka’s Yakuza are growing restless, becoming increasingly unafraid of local authorities in their violence.
Fukuoka is a region in Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan proper, and is known to have the largest number of organized crime groups in the country, according to the data from the central government. Organized crime members number around 5,000 members divided into 5 mafia-like syndicates who are fighting with each other for profit in the prefecture – and the fight is literally blowing up and spilling over into the public, whereas Yakuza battles usually were kept under the wraps. The fighting is generating a lot of attention from the police and the government, as in multiple cases already, innocent bystanders have been hurt. These gangs have been known to use fragmentation grenades – known in local gang lingo as “pineapples” – tossing them where rival gang members congregate or live, with the unfortunate claiming of innocent lives in most cases. They have publicly attacked rival’s headquarters, and also the homes businessmen and company owners who decline their usual extortion. The result of this is a crackdown from the prefectural police on gang members who have explosives in their possession – the Fukuoka prefectural police became the first in Japan to offer bounties of over 110,000 yen (around 1,200 US dollars) to citizens who reported suspects in possession of the explosives.
Businesses have grown weary and fearful of the current situation, as every month, bargaining with the mobsters have become draining tasks. “The yakuza have a hand in all sorts of industries, and working with them is just a part of doing business in this city,” admits a chairman of a local construction company who refused to be named for fear of his life. The executive has been a mafia-connected negotiator for a construction company for almost 40 years. “We used to have a sort of harmony with these bosses,” he added, alluding to better times when gangs were not so violent. “They were enforcers, protectors who asked for our money to smooth out permits and deals, but who kept the battles to themselves. Now they’re out of control.” Yet the yakuza maintains a strong influence in the Japanese corporate psyche. One in every five companies has admitted to paying them off at one time or another, as revealed a study by the National Police Agency. For years, the yakuza were revered by some as benevolent “robin Hood” types who enforced a code of honor. In the past, they kept the battles to themselves and avoided civilians.
In Fukuoka, the attacks became more intense – and unfortunately, more public – starting three years ago, when both the local government, on the back of national government momentum, declared war on the yakuza and passed a number of restrictions on them. In late 2011, Japan also passed the first laws completely outlawing payments to the yakuza. In Fukuoka, police have been especially strict on them, taking measures to prevent members from gathering in groups of five or more in public. Starting in June, gang members will be banned from entering some business districts. This tension creates an atmosphere of fear in the local residents, as Fukuoka residents doubt the effectiveness of striking the yakuza too hard. “The police simply aren’t powerful enough,” says the construction executive. He, as with the majority of the residents, thinks the mob presence will never go away, even if it is seeing a decline in the past few years.
[via Press Telegram]