Yakuza keep an iron grip on Japanese companies

The yakuza are the members of traditional organised crime gangs in Japan. They are said to have evolved from groups of traders who sold stolen or shoddy goods in local markets in the period when the country was under the control of the shogunate.

They eventually took over the allocation and protection of market stalls set up during shinto festivals and were given official recognition by the shogun of the time. With this came the right to carry swords, which was until then reserved only for samurai and nobles.

Other yakuza are said to derive from groups that ran illegal gambling dens on the edges of towns.

Many of their members are burakumin — a group discriminated against in Japanese society because they are descendants of outcast communities in the feudal era. There were mainly executioners, undertakers or leather workers.

There are five main yakuza gangs, known as “families”, which have their own formal crest or logo and are based in different cities and territories. They run loan-sharking businesses, protection rackets, drug and pornography smuggling and prostitution rings using girls smuggled in from the Philippines and China.

Unlike the Mafia they are not secret. They have offices with their crests on the door and openly take part in festivals.

They are also not afraid to influence large corporations. The Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission in Japan has knowledge of more than 50 listed companies with ties to organised crime, and in March 2008 the Osaka Securities Exchange decided to review all listed companies and expel those with yakuza ties.

Yakuza members obtain the right to attend stockholders’ meetings by buying a few shares and use this to intimidate ordinary shareholders by their presence.

They also engage in blackmail, obtaining incriminating or embarrassing information about a company’s practices or leaders. Once the yakuza gain a foothold in these companies they will work for them to protect the company from having such internal scandals exposed to the public. Some companies still include payoffs as part of their annual budget.

Yakuza have been known to make big investments in legitimate, mainstream companies. In 1989 Susumu Ishii, the leader of one yakuza group, bought $255 million worth of shares in Tokyo Kyuko Electric Railway.

The biggest syndicate is Yamaguchi-gumi. Created in 1915, it accounts for half of all yakuza with more than 55,000 members divided into 850 clans.

Despite the passing of a new anti-racketeering law in 1995, which is said to have cut overall numbers of yakuza, the Yamaguchi-gumi has continued to grow.

From its headquarters in Kobe it directs criminal activities throughout Japan. It is also involved in operations in Asia and the United States. Shinobu Tsukasa, also known as Kenichi Shinoda, is the current head of the syndicate. Yakuza gang leaders are called oyabun (foster parent) by their members.

May 12, 2010
Robert Lindsay: behind the story

Source: Times Online

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