Around the end of March, a 61-year-old gang member was arrested in Tokyo for swindling housewives. His modus operandi was to peddle apples door-to-door -- offering five for 1,900 yen -- and then shortchanging women who paid him with a 10,000 yen note.
The story, widely reported in the vernacular media, demonstrates just how hard members of underworld syndicates have been hit by the economic recession.
"A yakuza lives by his manhood," a member of a rival syndicate frowns to Spa! (May 5-12). "No outfit that puts up with such things can justify its existence."
But it seems that hoods down on their luck have been reduced to earning their livelihood through such menial tasks such as being paid to stand in line to purchase concert tickets; serving as matchmakers for men who want to tie up with cheap mistresses; pushing homeowners to renovate aging dwellings; and finding tenants for vacant bars and other shops in "neon" areas. Still others moonlight as cabbies.
"Some yakuza have been reduced to such straits that they hold meetings in fast food restaurants instead of coffee shops in hotels," remarks author Manabu Miyazaki, whose late father headed a Kyoto gang. "During the bubble era in the 1980s, it was nothing for the more flamboyant ones to go through several million yen a night at clubs in Ginza or Roppongi. Now, I'm amused by what I've been hearing about how they get into disputes over just a few thousand yen."
On the other hand, some newly hired salarymen, particularly those in such fields as finance and real estate, are so dissatisfied with their company's low remuneration packages they've found it financially advantageous to do moonlighting jobs for gangs.
"The gangs are faced with aging membership and are having trouble recruiting, so they're willing to go along and accept part-timers," another source tells the magazine.
Even if salarymen prove incompetent as part-time gangsters, they are still obliged to cough up the gang membership fees, which they can apportion from their regular income. So that makes them a steadier source of revenues than destitute yakuza.
On the other hand, one might say the salarymen show no real commitment to the traditional yakuza regimen.
"It's hard to nurture them in the ways of the yakuza," the source concedes. "And they're not amenable to communal living that real yakuza go through during their apprenticeships."
Meanwhile, flashy imported cars seem to be another yakuza standby on the way out.
"We've been changing from sedans to passenger vans like the Toyota Hi-Ace," a gang member tells the magazine. "They cost more than sedans but they get better mileage." The vans can be ordered with smoked glass windows, to at least maintain a more sinister or menacing image. They are also less likely to get their driver pulled over for spot-checks by police.
So be on your guard for vans with smoked windows, Spa! advises. Better to humbly yield the right of way than risk a run-in with an intimidating hood.© Japan Today