In the wake of the powerful earthquake and hundreds of aftershocks centered in Kumamoto Prefecture from the 14th of this month, it was not only the Japan Self Defense Force and fire brigades that dispatched emergency rescue teams to Kyushu. Shukan Jitsuwa's (5/5) reporter on the scene said the local yakuza groups responded quickly to provide assistance.
Tatsuya Kiyosaki, boss of a local gang called the Daimon-kai, which is affiliated with the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi -- one the two groups created following the schism last year that resulted in the breakup of Japan's largest underworld criminal syndicate -- immediately set up an operations center.
Through Twitter messages or word of mouth, local citizens converged on the gang's office to obtain emergency supplies.
"Boss Kiyosaki had been in Kobe on April 14, but when the area was hit by a 7-magnitude quake, he rushed back to Kumamoto," a gang source in Kyushu tells the magazine. Upon hearing such woes from victims as 'I've only had one onigiri (rice ball) since the quake,' 'I've got nothing to feed my kids' and 'There are no supplies here at all,' he undertook what small-scale action he could, by arranging for supplies to be sent to his headquarters."
Using Twitter and other social media, the locals posted images of bottled water, canned foods and tissue paper, along with various commentary about the availability of rescue items.
The aforementioned gang source also added, "Twenty-one years ago (on Jan 17, 1995), when the Hanshin Earthquake struck the Kansai area, Yoshinori Watanabe, at that time the 5th generation head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, organized volunteer assistance together with Kiyosaki. So thanks to his previous experience, Kiyosaki was quickly able to grasp what people needed most in the damaged areas."
In March 2011 as well, the Yamaguchi-gumi was active in providing assistance to the devastated areas of Tohoku.
"At that time, people in Tokyo and other places bought up provisions, leading to shortages on a nationwide scale," a former member of the Yamaguchi-gumi tells the magazine. "I recall that the gang's bosses issued an order not to buy up all the distributors' inventories. 'Leave half, so as not to inconvenience other people,' they insisted. Afterwards they also arranged to supply items that other volunteers had not considered, such as women's underwear in a wide variety of sizes. This was seen as 'the kind of assistance to people that only caring yakuza could provide.'"
After the Tohoku quake survivors were settled in evacuation centers, in response to reports of rapes and looting, the gang also organized "self-protection" groups to patrol the towns.
Photographs accompanying the article show gang members at work in Kobe and Tohoku.
The aforementioned Kyushu-based yakuza told the magazine that with the Kobe-based gang's experience in emergency logistics, it was likely that more aid will soon flow to Kumamoto.
"I don't want to sound like I'm trying to glorify the yakuza, but 'assisting the weak' is part of our code; even if our own house is damaged, we consider natural to provide assistance to respectable people."
Their good deeds aside however, Nikkan Gendai (April 23) was less inclined to portray the yakuza as a group of altruistic heroes.
"It's a tradition for the Yamaguchi-gumi to expect a return on its charitable activities," said Itsuo Tobishima, a former detective with the Hyogo prefectural police. "After they set up soup kitchens and feed the survivors of a disaster, they expect some form of repayment. After all, that is what 'ninjo' (empathy or human nature) is supposed to be about. Government offices are barred from contracting with gangs on reconstruction projects, but I would expect to see many brought in as subcontractors, or third-party contractors."
Nikkan Gendai agrees, predicting that once the repair crews set out for the damaged areas, we can expect that plenty of sweating construction workers on the job, their sleeves rolled all the way down to their wrists so as to conceal their colorful gang tattoos.© Japan Today