Much of the current activities of the yakuza can be understood in the light of
their feudal origin. First, they are not a secret society like their counter-
parts of the Italian mafia and Chinese triads. Yakuza organizations often have
an office with a wooden board on the front door, openly displaying their group
name or emblem.
Members often wear sunglasses and colourful suits so that their profession can
be immediately recognized by civilians (katagi). Even the way many Yakuza walk
is different from ordinary citizens. Their wide gait is markedly different from
the unassuming way many Japanese prefer to adopt. Alternatively, Yakuza can dress
more conservatively and flash their tattoos to indicate their affiliation when
the need arises. On occasion, they also sport insignia pins on their lapels. One
Yakuza family[which?] even printed a monthly newsletter with details on prisons,
weddings, funerals, murders, and poems by leaders.
Until recently, the majority of Yakuza income came from protection rackets in
shopping, entertainment and red-light districts within their territory. This is
mainly due to the reluctance of such businesses to seek help from the police.
The Japanese police are also reluctant to interfere in internal matters in
recognized communities such as shopping arcades, schools/universities, night
districts and so on.
In this sense, yakuza are still regarded as semi-legitimate organizations. For
example, immediately after the Kobe earthquake, the Yamaguchi-gumi, whose head-
quarters are in Kobe, mobilized itself to provide disaster relief services
(including the use of a helicopter), and this was widely reported by the media
as a contrast to the much slower response by the Japanese government. The yakuza
repeated their aid after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, with groups
opening their offices to refugees and sending dozens of trucks with supplies to
affected areas. For this reason, many Yakuza regard their income and hustle
(shinogi) as a collection of a feudal tax.
Yakuza are heavily involved in sex-related industries, such as smuggling un-
censored pornography from Europe and America into Japan (as the local porno-
graphy is censored in ways Western pornography is not). They also control large
prostitution rings throughout the country. In China, where the law restricts the
number of children per household and the cultural preference is for boys, the
yakuza can buy unwanted girls for as little as $5,000 and put them to work in
the mizu shobai, which means water trade and refers to the night entertainment
business, in yakuza-controlled bars, nightclubs and restaurants.
The Philippines is another source of young women. Yakuza trick girls from
impoverished villages into coming to Japan, where they are promised respectable
jobs with good wages. Instead, they are forced into becoming prostitutes and
Yakuza frequently engage in a uniquely Japanese form of extortion, known as
sokaiya (???). In essence, this is a specialized form of protection racket.
Instead of harassing small businesses, the yakuza harasses a stockholders'
meeting of a larger corporation. They simply scare the ordinary stockholder with
the presence of yakuza operatives, who obtain the right to attend the meeting by
a small purchase of stock.
They also engage in simple 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.
The Yakuza have a strong influence in Japanese professional wrestling, or
puroresu. Most of their interest in wrestling activities and promotions is
purely financial. The Yakuza have mostly gotten involved by financially
supporting wrestling promotions with fading fortunes, or simple business loans.
Many venues used by wrestling are connected to the Yakuza, and as such, when a
promotion uses one of their sites, the Yakuza receive a percentage of the gate.
The Yakuza as a whole is regarded as a great supporter of both puroresu and MMA.
It's not unusual for wrestlers to receive specific instructions on what to do in
their matches so as to appeal just to Yakuza members in the crowd. It is thought
in Japan that it is safe to say that none of the large wrestling promotions in
Japan would fold, because they would be rescued by the Yakuza.
The pioneer of wrestling in Japan, Rikidozan, was killed by the Yakuza.
Former WWE wrestler Yoshihiro Tajiri was asked to start a Yakuza gimmick, an
offer he quickly refused, fearing that he would be targeted by the real Yakuza.
Professional wrestler Yoshiaki Fujiwara is often referred to as Kumicho (i.e.,
"Godfather") and his wrestling promotion was called the Pro Wrestling Fujiwara
Gumi. He often portrays Yakuza figures as an actor on Japanese television.
Yakuza also have ties to the Japanese realty market and banking, through
jiageya (????). Jiageya specialize in inducing holders of small real estate to
sell their property so that estate companies can carry out much larger
development plans. Japan's bubble economy of the 1980s is often blamed on real
estate speculation by banking subsidiaries. After the collapse of the Japanese
property bubble, a manager of a major bank in Nagoya was assassinated, and much
speculation ensued about the banking industry's indirect connection to the
Yakuza often take part in local festivals such as Sanja Matsuri where they often
carry the shrine through the streets proudly showing off their elaborate tattoos.
Yakuza have been known to make large investments in legitimate, mainstream
companies. In 1989, Susumu Ishii, the Oyabun of the Inagawa-kai (a well known
Yakuza group) bought US$ 255 million worth of Tokyo Kyuko Electric Railway's
stock. Japan's Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission has knowledge
of more than 50 listed companies with ties to organized crime, and in March 2008,
the Osaka Securities Exchange decided to review all listed companies and expel
those with Yakuza ties.
As a matter of principle, theft is not recognised as a legitimate activity of
yakuza. This is in line with the idea that their activities are semi-open; theft
by definition would be a covert activity. More importantly, such an act would be
considered a trespass by the community. Also, yakuza usually do not conduct the
actual business operation by themselves. Core business activities such as
merchandising, loan sharking or management of gambling houses are typically
managed by non-yakuza members who pay protection fees for their activities.
There is much evidence of Yakuza involvement in international crime. There are
many tattooed Yakuza members imprisoned in various Asian prisons for such crimes
as drug trafficking and arms smuggling. In 1997, one verified Yakuza member was
caught smuggling 4 kilograms (8.82 pounds) of heroin into Canada.
In 1999, Italian-American Mafia Bonanno family member, Mickey Zaffarano, was
overheard talking about the profits of the pornography trade that both families
could profit from. Another Yakuza racket is bringing women of other
ethnicities/races, especially East European and Asian to Japan under the
lure of a glamorous position, then forcing the women into prostitution.
Because of their history as a legitimate feudal organization and their
connection to the Japanese political system through the uyoku (extreme right-
wing political groups), yakuza are somewhat a part of the Japanese establishment,
with six fan magazines reporting on their activities. One study found that one
in ten adults under the age of 40 believed that the yakuza should be allowed to
exist.. In the early 1980s in Fukuoka, a yakuza war spiraled out of control
and a few civilians were hurt. The police stepped in and forced the yakuza
bosses on both sides to declare a truce in public.
At various times, people in Japanese cities have launched anti-yakuza campaigns
with mixed and varied success. In March 1995, the Japanese government passed the
Act for Prevention of Unlawful Activities by Criminal Gang Members which made
traditional racketeering much more difficult. Beginning in 2009, led by agency
chief Takaharu Ando, Japanese police began to crack down on the gangs. Kodokai
chief Kiyoshi Takayama was arrested in late 2010. In December 2010, police
arrested Yamaguchi-gumi's alleged number three leader, Tadashi Irie. According
to the media, encouraged by tougher anti-yakuza laws and legislation, local
governments and construction companies have begun to shun or ban yakuza activi-
ties or involvement in their communities or construction projects. The
police are handicapped, however, by Japan's lack of an equivalent to plea bar-
gaining, witness protection, or the United States' RICO Act.