Did the yakuza syndicates based in Tohoku suffer serious damage from the March 11 quake and tsunami? According to Shukan Taishu (April 4), it's too soon to say.
"Because of the devastation, it's been impossible to make contact with our people in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures," a well informed source tells the magazine. "We haven't been able to make contact by telephone, and in some cases, damage to the roads made it impossible to get through to the towns."
In other parts of the country, the gangs have reportedly postponed or canceled a number of planned events and ceremonies. One was a funeral for Kosaku Akiba, head of the Kunii Ikka, a major force in Ibaraki Prefecture with close ties to the Asakusa-based Matsuba-kai in Tokyo.
Akiba passed away on Jan 25 and his funeral, to have been attended by top gang bosses, was scheduled to be held in Katori City, Ibaraki, on March 13. It was postponed.
The nation's third largest gang, the Inagawa-kai, was planning to hold a succession ceremony on March 14, but a source connected to the gang told the magazine, "We have affiliates in the damaged areas, so I suppose a celebratory ritual wouldn't be appropriate right now."
In Kobe, meanwhile, the nation's largest syndicate, the Yamaguchigumi, had been planning a confab of gang sub-heads from nine affiliates, including groups from Tokyo, Chiba, Kyoto, Osaka, Okayama and Fukuoka, called the "Wakakashira-kai," but this, too, was postponed. "Service had been restored on the shinkansen, and it would have been physically possible to hold it, but it was decided at the last minute to call it off," a veteran gang watcher tells the magazine.
The Yamaguchigumi, of course, gained a modicum of fame in the immediate aftermath of the January 1995 Hanshin earthquake when it unhesitatingly supplied relief to quake victims. "Before its Kobe headquarters was built, it had arranged for boring to be undertaken, which succeeded in tapping an underground water source," says the aforementioned gang watcher. "They took the initiative in making this water available to people in the neighborhood, along with food supplies."
The heads of gang affiliates arranged for provision of blankets, portable cooking stoves, kerosene, articles of clothing, milk, pocket warmers, sanitary pads and so on, to the victims. They also dispatched rank-and-file members to operate street kitchens.
"Many official organizations around the country assembled relief materials, but there were lots of cases where delivery was delayed due to red tape," a local journalist is quoted as saying.
Gang members were also said to have patrolled the damaged areas to discourage looting.
Shinobu Tsukasa, who later became boss of the Yamaguchigumi, was said to have energetically taken part in those efforts. A photo on page 224 shows him bowing as he accepted a floral bouquet from a grateful female Kobe resident.
With the disaster in Tohoku, Shukan Taishu reports that once again the three major gangs and their affiliates have swung into action.
"We couldn't just stand still after hearing reports there weren't enough food or drinking water getting to the devastated areas," said a gang boss who asked not to be mentioned by name. "If we were to buy up all the supplies from this area, we might cause hardships for people in local neighborhoods, so we procured them from farther away. We've gathered them from various places so as not to exhaust supplies."
That aside, Shukan Taishu points out that mass media coverage of such charitable activities by yakuza has not been entirely favorable; Yamaguchigumi was accused by some of engaging in self promotion and looking out purely for its own interests.
"I suppose after things have calmed down, any mention in the news this time will be similar," says the aforementioned boss. "In the present confusion, the police aren't saying anything either; but after things start returning to normal and a semblance of order is restored, they'll exhort people, saying, 'Don't accept anything from yakuza.'
"But we're not concerned with such remarks. What's important is that the government couldn't get the job done. So if we make ourselves useful, then we've done the right thing. That's what our yakuza code of chivalry is all about."© Japan Today