Decline of the Yakuza
Because Japans National Police Agency has traditionally been reluctant to release complete reports on their native crime group, it is difficult to say whether the yakuza, like the American Mafia, are currently in a period of decline. Perhaps Japanese authorities do not want to risk losing face by giving a true picture of the yakuzas power. Avoiding international embarrassment could also be an incentive because the yakuza are so intimately entwined with business and politics in Japan.
Nevertheless, there are signs that the yakuzas influence is diminishing. Japanese citizens are fighting back, banishing yakuza social clubs from their neighborhoods. For example, the Ichiri Ikka gang led by oyabun Tetsuya Aono set up shop in the Ebitsuka neighborhood of the town of Hamamatsu, 130 miles southwest of Tokyo. The gangsters headquarters was a green-painted building that the outraged locals renamed burakku biru (the black building). The residents videotaped everyone who went in and out of the building and presented the tapes to the police. The gangsters were naturally upset with this degree of disrespect, and in retaliation they stabbed the towns lawyer, slashed the throat of a town activist, and trashed a local garage. But the people of Ebitsuka persisted, and in an out-of-court settlement the yakuza agreed to leave, not wanting to create negative publicity and set a bad precedent for other anti-yakuza activists in Japan.
Another sign of the yakuzas weakening grip on Japanese society is that legitimate companies openly offer jobs and rehabilitation programs for yakuza members who wish to renounce their lives of crime. Unlike the Mafia, in which a member is a member for life and a mid-course career change can have severe repercussions, former yakuza thugs are now applying to become salaried workers. It is hard to imagine General Electric or IBM recruiting for employees among the ranks of Gambino or Genovese crime families, but this is essentially whats happening in Japan.
But these signs of decline can be deceptive, and more anecdotal than systemic. Yakuza membership remains huge, and their secretive nature may be serving them well, as they become more entrenched and harder to locate. For an organization so large, little is known or written about it. Today they could be more activeand more carefulthan ever, broadening their bases, infiltrating new territories and working new scams. Like the fabled ninjas of ancient Japan, they can be everywhere and nowhere, but theyre always lethal.