In 2011, the Japanese prefectural governments passed Organized Crime Exclusion Ordinances which prohibit companies from doing business with members of organized crime groups. While it’s unreasonable to expect convenience stores to screen every customer for criminal ties, it does make entering legal contracts extremely difficult for members of groups such as the yakuza.
It’s uncertain if this was intentional in the planning of the ordinances or not, but they have been making life increasingly more difficult for yakuza members as more and more services are based on contracts. For example, many yakuza members are finding themselves blackballed when it comes to getting new smartphones, and now it looks as if their days of driving on expressways are numbered as well.
In Japan, expressways require a toll, which traditionally is fed into a machine or toll booth operator who then grants entry. In 1997, Japan introduced the Electronic Toll Collection System (ETC) which allows cars to just whizz through tolls and pay when their transponder detects entry on high-speed roadways.
▼ If your ETC is all set-up then you can just cruise through the gate at about 20 kilometer per hour without stopping.
Thanks to the convenience of ETC and its ability to reduce congestion, in 2020, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism announced that it intends to replace all toll booths with ETC lanes. It’s planned as a gradual replacement with total ETC saturation across the country envisioned by 2030. This will be very problematic for yakuza members, who will be blocked from signing up for an ETC card.
Actually, gang members have been able to apply for a card due to a loophole in the paperwork. While the terms and conditions state that members who are found to be associated with organized crime will have their membership revoked, there is no wording that forbids a gangster from applying and receiving a card in the first place, amounting to a de facto “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
As a result, nine yakuza members were arrested for having ETC cards between 2015 and 2021, but in each case, the charges were dropped because of the ambiguity of the contract wording. However, the six major highway companies in Japan announced that they would be rectifying this to refuse service to organized crime from the outset.
So, with this shoring up by the ETC operators and modernization of the infrastructure, it looks as if members of the yakuza will have to resort to the long routes when going places. However, some online comments weren’t sure that this was the best course of action when dealing with organized crime, both on practical and ethical grounds.
“It’d be better to ban them from owning cars altogether.”
“They can’t have an ETC, but they can have a driver’s license? Why?”
“It seems like having ETC cards would help the police to track them so maybe they should let them sign up.”
“Do cashless payment services have the same setup? I think the yakuza won’t be able to use those either.”
“Sounds like they’re making the jobs of toll booth collectors more dangerous.”
“Not that I support the yakuza, but even criminals should have human rights.”
“How are they buying cars and insuring them, then?”
We probably shouldn’t put it past organized crime groups to find ways around these ever-tightening restrictions on daily conveniences. Still, with the speed that contract-based services seem to be emerging and evolving, they’ll have a hard time keeping pace.
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