Foreign Policy has long been a bastion of conventional wisdom against the armies of common sense. But sometimes they produce something interesting. Such is the case with their article on the yakuza, Japan’s organized crime families. Jake Adelstein:
The yakuza has its origins in federations of gamblers and street merchants of the Edo period (from the 17th to the 19th centuries), which evolved over time into the sprawling crime syndicates they are today. Currently, the yakuza comprises roughly 79,000 people, divided among 22 groups. Although referred to by authorities as “anti-social forces,” it’s actually a semilegal entity with offices, business cards, and fan magazines. The yakuza groups make their money through a combination of legal businesses — like dispatching day laborers — and illegal activities such as extortion, racketeering, and financial fraud. The largest yakuza group, the Kobe-based Yamaguchi-gumi, has 39,000 members. The Inagawa-kai, the group most closely tied to former Justice Minister Tanaka, has 10,000 members and is based in Tokyo. Its offices are across from the Ritz-Carlton.
Adelstein was a main source for the Richard Wilcox article I linked some time ago regarding the yakuza’s involvement in Fukushima.
Adelstein demonstrates that both of the main political parties of Japan are hopelessly entangled with the yakuza and, not so incidentally, corrupt.
Update: Oh, and the modern yakuza exists because of the CIA. Adelstein:
Chapter 12 [of Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes]: “We Ran It In A Different Way” is a must for anyone interested in the shadow history of Japan. It details how in post-war Japan, the CIA, using large amounts of cash, reinstated former war criminal Kodama Yoshio and hand-picked one of Japan’s Prime Ministers–in order to supress communist/socialist movements. Kodama had extensive yakuza ties and huge amounts of capital made in the black markets in China. ($175 million estimated). The Tokyo CIA station reported on September 10th, 1953, “(Kodama) is a professional liar, gangster, charlatan, and outright thief….and has no interest in anything but the profits.” It still didn’t keep the CIA from doing business with him up to that time and behind the scenes later. The chapter also notes how the CIA was able to ensure that Nobusuke Kishi became Japan’s prime minister and the chief of its ruling party, in order to ensure that Japan didn’t go red. The president himself seemed to have authorized huge cash payments to Kishi and his other lackeys within the LDP.