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Shrine concessions face ruin through guilt by association

19 Comments

It's bon-odori week. And as the drums beat out the old familiar cadence, the grounds of temples and shrines are lined with concessions dispensing draft beer, yakitori and edamame (green soya beans).

The stall-keepers who operate such concessions may work at such jobs for as few as 80 to 100 days out of the year -- perhaps 130 days, if travel and preparation times are included. What's more, they might have to pay out as much as 12,000 yen per day for "teko" (young helpers) on busy days, leaving their own net income at around 7,000 yen on average -- not nearly enough to raise a family.

To make matters far worse, one impact of the organized crime exclusion laws that went into effect from last October may drive these stall-keepers, known as "tekiya," out of the business for good. In Shukan Shincho (Aug 16-23), crime writer Atsushi Mizoguchi reports that the anti-gang ordinances make it easy to ban the tekiya, who are said to have traditional ties to the underworld.

While only one of the 22 designated organized crime groups in Japan, the Nishi-Ikebukuro-based Kyokuto-kai, is regarded as a tekiya-centric gang (with the other, more common variety being the "bakuto," or gambler-types), the tekiya are said to have links to several of the other major yakuza organizations through "blood-ties," which may date back many decades.

Article 3, Section 3 of the aforementioned laws can be cited to keep tekiya from setting up shop. Such action was in fact taken last October at Tokyo's Meiji Shrine, where stall operators were assigned spaces for four days during the coming new year.

The action was protested a month later by a letter from the president of Mikuro Kikaku, an event planning company, sent with cooperation from the central body of the association of groups representing members of the former outcast class.

The letter stated the stall-keepers' livelihood would be damaged and urged the police allow them to continue their business. Applicants were obliged to pay a fee and provide documents to facilitate personal background checks by the police.

During the Toka Ebisu festival held each January in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture, some 500 concessionaires -- which are alleged to have ties to the Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate -- operate for three days. Police estimate that if each of the 500 concessions turns over 30,000 yen per day, that will make for a total of 45 million yen in sales for the three days. But Mizoguchi supposes that after stalls pay for for cleanup, electric power, etc, the gang's total cut from the 45 million was probably around 800,000 yen. By the time that amount was spread around to the involved parties, it was barely enough to been worth the effort.

"When I was a kid," Mizoguchi reminisces, "I used to stand in front of a stall watching the operators' animated face and gestures with an awed expression. More recently I don't see their caustic sales style."

Now, he writes, it's become "winter" for the tekiya.

And not just due to the laws. Convenience stores and 100-yen shops are also full of the kind of brick-a-brack or cheap novelties in which tekiya once monopolized. Or, you can see such goods being offered as bonus products or incentives on TV "infomercials," whose narrators make their pitch in an animated style remarkably similar to the tekiya of yore.

Except for summer fireworks events and the occasional shrine festivals, tekiya are becoming an increasingly rare sight. But their street stalls are in a league apart from garage sales or bazaars. Indeed, Mizoguchi says he prefers to deal with the tekiya, who, whatever else one can say about them are pros who know their business. And who don't deserve to be treated as hardened criminals.

Once the tekiya have been "killed off" for good, he warns, the atmosphere of the "omatsuri" as Japanese knew it will die out as well.

© Japan Today

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19 Comments
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I don't get

“I used to stand in front of a stall watching the operators’ animated face and gestures with an awed expression. More recently I don’t see their caustic sales style.”

"I used to" suggests that something has changed. The speakers used to see an animated style. More recently he does not see a "caustic" style. Caustic and animated seem very different. Should the above be "More recently their sales style is more caustic."?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Cities need to take more control. If the city provides access to electricity and stall apparatus which can be lent out to local merchants for the duration of the festival and the merchants bring whatever else they need (deep fryers, fridges, grills etc.) then they can still create a lively and much warmer atmosphere than the typical tekiya set-up.

It's a bit of a gamble because if the weather is poor then the crowds won't turn out but most bar, restaurant and other business owners enjoy doing it even if they aren't guaranteed to rake in the bucks. They do it for the community, possibly the PR and certainly out of nostalgia.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just contract the concessions to the local merchants.

The stall supply companies are still yak-affiliated.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Where have all the Yatai gone? I guess the tekiya are following them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Poor guys, must be tough serving food while missing a pinky.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

30,000 Yen a day? So at about 500 a pop, they only get about 60 customers in 8 hours or so? I would have thought by the amount of garbage these matsuris produce, that each stall must be taking much, much more.

And for only 60 customers (one every 10 minutes or so) you dont need teko. If you did, they get 700 Yen per hour or 5600 Yen, not 12000 Yen.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just contract the concessions to the local merchants. That's what they do in my hometown, which is NOT Japan. It's win-win. The merchants get revenue plus PR, the public gets quality and the community spirit is stronger.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Just as well. Most tastes like crap and are food poisoning waiting to happen. Various local stalls in each town is better than these guys.

They aren't "associated" w/yaks, they ARe yaks. Keep em away. Maybe some are associated but, too bad, find a new trade.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The trick is to take a practice shot and compensate when you shoot.

That is where the lack of consistency comes it. Those guns dont shoot in the same inaccurate way twice!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This should bring about a transformation of the types of stalls and the variety of people operating them.

That is to say, it allows the free market to operate "freely" by keeping it open and "free" from coercion by organized crime extortionists and the like.

It is also important--perhaps even more so--in that it prevents the yakuza from trying to associate themselves and their organizations with traditional culture and religions, which is by and large what the matsuri are about.

Article 3, Section 3 of the aforementioned laws can be cited to keep tekiya from setting up shop. Such action was in fact taken last October at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, where stall operators were assigned spaces for four days during the coming new year.

The action was protested a month later by a letter from the president of Mikuro Kikaku, an event planning company, sent with cooperation from the central body of the association of groups representing members of the former outcast class.

That's basically a bald faced ploy, as it is well known that the "former outcast class", i.e., the burakumin, account for the majority of the rank and file of many yakuza groups. According to Robert Whiting, 60% overall. Who does the preseident of the "event planning company" think he is fooling?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

< have never seen a gun at a stand or carnival that was either accurate or consistent.>

Neither have I anywhere in the world. The trick is to take a practice shot and compensate when you shoot.

Nothing has been said about the food the tekiya sell. Yuk.

I feel sorry for the tekiya but I've never liked them. They sell crap, they are connected to crooks and they take up too much public space.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It still might be a good idea to form relationships among other vendors, and make a plan to ward off the yak. There comes a point when it is okay to bust someone's kneecaps, before they do it to you.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

No stalls too in Azabu Joban Matsuri! Good riddance!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Does the writer mean to state that every time I bought a kakigori (snow cone) or grilled corn on the cob at a temple, I was contributing to the yakuzas' coffers?

You're the last to learn it. Welcome to real life ? Oh, not all the street stands are yakuza... I have done some, BUT, we were ransomed by them at some level. Which is why I retired.

I always thought the temple received a cut of the proceeds.

And you know if the cults operating those temples are better than gangs ? How can you tell ?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

They already banned stalls from the hanami in shukugawa, Nishinomiya.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

this is about matsuri in cities and at big tourist shrines...... at shrines in the countryside everything is done by villagers and many times is free....

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Also, they are a bunch of cheats. Their game stalls at the local festival are not run fairly. They put up big prizes of Nintendo DS etc but you just try to win one of those... impossible. Well, I suppose it's like fairgrounds all around the world but I don't accept it.

Well to be fair you've only handed over about 300 or 500 yen to play the game. You can't expect them to hand out those prizes to even every thousandth customers or they'd go out of business. I like that you never walk away empty-handed, there's always a consolation prize, and the games are fun. Personally I choose games I'm good at and I often walk away with nice stuff. My hint? Try games that are skill based, like the shooting games.

As for this problem, well the solution is simple, the police must offer support in keeping the yakuza out of the games. Essentially this is just a protection racket, with the yakuza pressuring these poor stall operators for a cut they didn't earn. The police shouldn't be punishing the victims.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I think it's just a case of chickens coming home to roost.

People less and less prepared to accept yakuza in any part of their lives.

I completely agree... yakuza are parasites and (despite their PR) a bane on society.

I don't want to give any money to yakuza-run stalls.

Also, they are a bunch of cheats. Their game stalls at the local festival are not run fairly. They put up big prizes of Nintendo DS etc but you just try to win one of those... impossible. Well, I suppose it's like fairgrounds all around the world but I don't accept it.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Whoa, wait a second! Does the writer mean to state that every time I bought a kakigori (snow cone) or grilled corn on the cob at a temple, I was contributing to the yakuzas' coffers? I always thought the temple received a cut of the proceeds.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

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