Starting from Chinese in the mid-Meiji period (1890s) and later Koreans beginning from the early 20th century, each successive wave of foreign arrivals to Japan has brought with them a small, but noticeable, criminal element.
More recently, Japan simplified its entry requirements for foreign students, technical trainees, caregivers and workers in certain other fields. This led to increase in crimes, some of it involving groups, although hardly of the scale warranting the term "mafia." And yet Asahi Geino (Dec 22) clings to this outmoded term to describe illegal acts by groups of foreign nationals.
Last month, two Vietnamese were arrested by Yamanashi prefectural police. Their alleged offense was having raided local orchards and making off with a large number of peaches. The same individuals had previously been arrested on suspicion of stealing pears from orchards in Ibaraki Prefecture. Thieves, yes; but "mafia"? Not hardly.
According to the most recent statistics on "group crime activities" from the National Police Agency, as of 2021, Vietnamese topped the list of those indicted for crimes for the previous three years running, with 4,007 individuals in total last year -- considerably eclipsing the Chinese nationals in second place.
"Vietnamese who have committed crimes in Japan were not originally affiliated with any 'mafia' groups, but in many cases came to Japan as technical trainees," said Tetsuya Maki, author of a report published last month by Saizusha on organized crime by foreigners. "They fled from the punishing conditions of long working hours and turned to crime. In 2020 a group of 13 Vietnamese were arrested for stealing livestock from the farm where they worked. They sold their booty to people within their own community and in many cases to restaurants run by their compatriots."
According to a police source, however, fewer Vietnamese are likely to come to Japan to train or work. "Vietnam has been realizing exceptionally robust economic growth, and there are no longer any real merits for them to come to Japan for training," he said. "And the disparity between what they might earn in Japan and back home has also diminished, further reducing trainees' incentives to engage in crime. So we're anticipating criminal activities will be shifting to other groups of foreigners."
Which foreigners? Well, Nepalese seem to be in the running. Maki tells Asahi Geino that young Nepalese have been forming groups centered around such Tokyo districts as Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Kamata. These groups go by names like "Tokyo Brothers" and "Royal Kamata Boys."
Compared with Vietnamese, who engaged mainly in thefts, Nepalese are said to have a greater propensity toward violence. In October 2018, a Nepalese restaurant that had changed to a drinking club became the main hangout for the Royal Kamata Boys. During a melee, one customer was bludgeoned over the head with a beer bottle.
Maki notes one distinguishing characteristic of the Nepalese groups is their ability to summon cohorts with remarkable speed. "When I was researching my book, one of them who I was interviewing misunderstood what I asked him and blew up, coming at me wielding a hammer. Ordinarily they don't act violently toward Japanese, but they had been angered by statements issued by police and negative media coverage."
As far as other foreign criminal groups that have been in Japan longer, like Chinese, Brazilians and Filipinos, and which have set down deeper roots, do they still represent a danger? In general, most of them refrain from hassling ordinary citizens, with one exception: Nigerian crime groups seem to have no compunctions about victimizing Japanese.
"They are tied with the yakuza to run such operations as bottakuri bars (drinking joints that overcharge patrons) and narcotics sales," said Maki. "More members of Nigerian crime groups are also involved in marriage fraud. I did some investigative work in the bars. In one, a big Nigerian guy slipped a muscle relaxant into my drink, and before I knew it, ¥100,000 was gone from my wallet. The drug was so strong I had to be confined to bed for several weeks. It was a real bummer."
Whether they warrant use of the term "mafia" or not, Nigerians may be the most worrisome at present. But who knows which foreign group will lord over crime in the future, Asahi Geino frets.© Japan Today