The politics of yakuza: Jake Adelstein Q&A pt. 2

Discuss

54 Responses to “The politics of yakuza: Jake Adelstein Q&A pt. 2”

  1. MrJM says:

    This sentence needs help: “Nobody in the Japanese media will that, though, because they’ll lose have access to their stars.”

  2. jungletek says:

    Agreed, #18, second part is better than the first in many ways. Juicier, perhaps.
    Look forward to the next part.

  3. Anonymous says:

    A friend grew up in a Mafia neighborhood in Brooklyn and she espouses the same attitude that the mob kept the streets safe. She says as a teenage girl she was never afraid to walk the neighborhood alone at any time of night because nobody dared to commit an unauthorized crime in that neighborhood.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s interesting that there is a low rate of street crime due to the Yakuza, as I felt it was a similar situation in N.Ireland before peace took hold properly. I imagine the street crime rates may gradually creep up to eventually equal the rest of the UK now.

  5. spazzm says:

    You need wiretapping laws that allow you to wiretap — the laws are so stringent now that they’re almost never used.

    And here I was, believing I’d never see a BB article arguing for more lax wiretapping laws.

    Don’t get me wrong – I think the jakuza must be bridled, but I don’t think easy access to wiretapping is the way to do it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    #36 “Non-eccentric Japanese only rent kimono for occasions in which we wear tuxedos.”

    In a word, no. My in-laws owned and wore them whenever formal occasions required them. Today it is certainly less common, but my wife still has hers. Then again, she’s not from Tokyo, so what would we know?

  7. Anonymous says:

    this is one of the most erotic photos I’ve ever seen. the power play back and forth is amazing.

    I don’t mean to be vile, I’m just stating honest admiration.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Anthony C. (#5) — Well, it always depends on whose traditions we’re talking about, doesn’t it?

  9. Anonymous says:

    I ordered the book from Amazon after part one, and I thought it was very interesting to see a part of Japan that people don’t generally hear about.

    Jake-chan’s writing style seems to show that Jake-chan is very proud of himself.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Why am I reminded of the Dicworld’s Thieves’ Guild?

  11. sethharwood says:

    I love this picture of Jake!! Now THAT’S how I want to be writing!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Being from Providence, I understand how organized crime can sometimes be a boon to a society. It’s a way to moderate illicit transactions that would be happening anyway, and the Yakuza are, or at least were, a perfect example of the honor based justice needed to run a sustainable crime outfit.

    Still, though, I can’t get over the child pornography rings. I don’t think there’s anything worse they could possibly do. It’s not exactly “katagi ni meiwaku wo kakenai” if they’re abducting innocent middle schoolers.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I’d buy a Jake Adelstein t shirt

  14. Anonymous says:

    Stop crime fulled economies? That will never happen. Crime fulled econmies are everywhere. America has one, Italy probably has one. Countries in Africa have them too. It’s the way the world works.

  15. Hugh says:

    Where did that kooky photo come from?

    Great article.

  16. Anonymous says:

    this reminds me of a memoir of an Indian college student who did some case studies back in the 80′s in some of the worst projects. The role the yakuza fills in japan is the same role gangs would fill in the projects that were on their turf. They would protect and ensure the safety of tenants, in order to make them feel safe so they could sell them drugs.

  17. Anonymous says:

    TTTT, aren’t all criminals losers? Yakuza are no different, they steal, rob, do other evil things to make money. They should be thought of as outcasts.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Fascinating.

    I am reminded of the stories of the old Popes who would tolerate vice for the good of society.

    We here in Cali don’t get the same regulating effects from our streetgangs because we leave them leaderless, and because we play the races off one another. Mexico appears to be where the leadership accrues. America will elect a cocaine president within the next twenty years, if our history is any guide.

    I’ve come to the realization that the distasteful choices of others are the price of liberty, and that corruption is the process of important work getting done. The realpolitik that underlies these engines of society is beyond the grasp of political correctness. Our gears bind when we try to be fair to all parties, worse yet when we try to make sense.

    Interesting that race drives the fringe businesses in Japan, too. More interesting yet is that the Yakuza have retained some honor. America has all the tools of law our author cited for taking down such groups, and we have driven our gangs to degeneracy rather than see them as an expression of self policing. But because of the nature of identity and authenticity we are now awash in gangster culture. Our gangs do *not* promote traditional values, in part because we deny them all legitimacy. We all take a lot of pride in spoiling one another, police included.

    These sociological questions are the most interesting thing about America. I wonder sometimes if we are not wise to break up community self policing when I look at our history. Always race is the emergent factor in self policing. We are the anvil against which race is breaking at last. But will we ever revert to cultivation, and move away from spoilage?

  19. Nylund says:

    In my grad school program, my good friend comes from Japan. He gives the impression that the low crime rate and high feeling of personal safety has a lot to do with the Yakuza. Although the way he says it, its more like the Yakuza has a monopoly on crime and no one dares to try to cut in on their business so no one else really commits any crime. And, therefore, as long as you don’t get involved in any of the shady stuff, you’re perfectly fine.

    Or, at least that is the impression I’ve pieced together from the random bits he’s mentioned here and there. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

  20. a_user says:

    First off the Yakuza do bother ordinary people – they make up their bread and butter earnings, from drinking clubs that charge you a fee to leave with your knee caps in place to loan sharking, “katagi ni meiwaku wo kakenai” is what people say to themselves when watching some unfortunate getting his apartment door kicked in by the local collection squad.

    Secondly the Yakuza are facing falling memberships, in Tokyo groups from outside are moving in because the established Tokyo gumi don’t have the manpower to stop them.

    Finally, like the Italian mafia, the political manipulation to avoid the menace of communism in the post war period made sure the politicians and the mafia were inseparable.

    Having initially gone through the process of rooting out the right wingers in government with potential sympathies with the deposed militarists, there was an about face as all the left wingers were rooted out and the right wingers brought back in.

  21. Sekonda says:

    Fascinating.

  22. J France says:

    Totally fascinating – thanks for the in-depth feature and for the more to come!

    I can’t find a way to contact Lisa personally, but in the interview – the response containing police files leaked there is a nonsensical string or two with some words missing (?). I don’t actually give a crap about typos or bad grammar (just look at this string of text)… but it didn’t make full sense and i’m not entirely convinced my interpretation of the comment is correct. And I want to know!!!

  23. greengestalt says:

    Cool!
    I look forward to future episodes.

    I’m wondering if people in America itself will need to form not “Yakuzas” but rather “Tongs” if things keep sliding downhill.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I have just found out who Jake Adelstein is, but am already interested in his work. Thank you for the interviews, they are very insightful and interesting.

  25. TheRealSiliconDoc says:

    Who is so naive to think that our own mob hasn’t gotten into the insurance and investment business ? Done the same thing in the USA that the yakuza has done in Japan.
    We look at the recent financial collapse, hear it “is all about the money” every direction we look, and don’t hear much about them save some worshipful TV shows like Sopranos.
    We also heard how loosely Al Qaeda connected front organizations have businesses. Loan sharking is out, check cashing quick loan places are in.
    It appears to me our own organized crime just beat the Yakuza to the punch. The mob was fiercly patriotic, and we well know our government used them against the USSR in the cold war, and our politicians, especially from Chicago, have the silent co-op where services provided by tax dollars are often known to have been taken over a long time ago by those you do not cross.
    Now that gigantic city and state and federal bureaucracies have large pools of retirement funds, 401k’s, state run energy production, insurance for the employees (nice plans with low copay and high premiums
    ) the organizations have moved well into that. What better way to keep a government contract than to have the competition scared off… even if there are “sealed bids” that campaign contribution makes the decision easy for the tipped staffers who comply or get fired.
    Not like Japan is much different than the USA, it appears they are only catching up.

  26. teapot says:

    The Yakuza are responsible for running and continuation of the most vile of Japan’s industries. Their corrupt hands are in everything which is the main reason I could not live there for a long time.. it’s so easy to come in contact with these scumbags.

    Politicians, cops, judges… they are all on the Yakuza payroll and it puts a dark, rancid stain on the otherwise honest reputation of the Japanese character. Japan – from someone who lived there for years I will tell you this: the yakuza make Japan look weak and pathetic, not strong.

    I mean an akachan gangster? Baka janai no? I dont like Australia’s bikies (our yakuza) much either, but at least they have a more credible gang-banger image and they aren’t in bed with every politician and cop.

  27. coldsnap says:

    The photo was taken at his house. I was there for a party last night. Nice place.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Pretty interesting stories, I’m really excited about the second part

  29. Anonymous says:

    Hey,jake My name is keitaro, a member of the yakuza family for 7 year of my life…i came across your site and got to read both one and two parts. its great! good to see that you could tell everyone who we really are. many people I know in the US think of us as if we are criminals, people see my tat or even look at me like I’m the bad one.. I say we are business men, and this is are business. keep it up.

  30. Thac0 says:

    Sounds like a good job to me and also seems to be filling the void for services that are not being properly rendered by the government keeping society running smoothly.

    I give the Yakuza the official THAC0 seal of approval!

  31. Matt says:

    I read Jake Adelstein’s book and really enjoyed it. This interview series is great.

  32. dculberson says:

    Sounds like they would be great if it wasn’t for the whole violence, prostitution, drug running, extortion, and coercion.

    • Anonymous says:

      Except for the violence, prostitution, drug running, extortion, and coercion; what have the Yakuza done for us?

    • nutbastard says:

      “Sounds like they would be great if it wasn’t for all the violence, extortion, and coercion.”

      fixed that for you…

      • dculberson says:

        Wellllll…. I have a feeling that their “recruiting” of prostitutes is not exactly a consensual, sex-positive, and low pressure method, based on the rest of their activities. I could be wrong, but if they’re willing to extort and coerce for other things, they’ll do it for that. And forced prostitution is both rape and slavery, so it’s even worse than plain old blackmail.

        Same deal for the drug running. A guy growing pot (/mushrooms/making LSD/etc) in his basement and selling it to friends is fine by me. Bur organized crime using force and violence to protect and handle millions worth of drugs is not.

        It’s not the particular product, it’s the methodology.

        • adamnvillani says:

          It’s not the particular product, it’s the methodology.

          Excellent point. As much as I’d be for the liberalization of prostitution and drug laws, pimps and drug dealers have earned their reputations as low-life scum. Remove the coercion, tax to fund rehab, etc. and you can increase liberty *and* decrease misery.

  33. Kevin Sites says:

    thanks lisa, this is a fascinating glimpse into a
    closed subculture within a closed society.

  34. Anonymous says:

    If you read Japanese–you’d find that Mr. Adelstein is not only accurate, he is probably understating the case of how much influence the yakuza have in Japan. Personal attacks on the author don’t make him wrong, while they probably make the poster feel smug.
    Even if you don’t read Japanese but you look at the scarcely available English translated material you’ll find that Mr. Adelstein, while he may be self-promoter, with an inappropriate sense of humor, is quite versed on his subject, unlike some posters who probably can barely read traffic signs in Japanese.

    Japan’s National Police Agency, in their 2008 white paper (English translated) supports him.
    http://bit.ly/cJOGzQ
    “(Boryokudan)Yakuza, with the threat of force in the
    background, either act through the business that is
    effectively provided to them by associate companies or
    collude with those individuals living in coexistence
    with them to carry out general business transactions
    and commit a multitude of fund acquisition crimes.
    Through such actions as unreasonable requests of
    corporations and government organizations, misuses
    public benefit systems, remittance-soliciting fraud
    (extortion)etc..Boryokudan members and those coexisting with them are attempting to acquire funds by undertaking business in securities trading and industries such as the industrial waste management industry, the financial industry, the construction industry.”

    Kyodo News, Japan’s AP ran this article on March 16th.
    JAPANESE BANKS TO SHARE CRIME SYNDICATE DATA
    “Japanese banks plan to introduce a mechanism in April to share data about antisocial forces such as companies linked to crime syndicates to help prevent such forces from raising funds, industry sources said Tuesday.”

    The Tokyo Stock Exchange has done similar things. The banks and TSE wouldn’t do it if their wasn’t a problem, or are they all merely pawns being moved by Mr. Adelstein?

    The former President of FUJITSU corporation was revealed recently to have been forced to resign because of yakuza (anti-social forces is the euphemism) ties. google it.

    NHK, the BBC of Japan has made a documentary “Yakuza Money” which also is line with almost everything Mr.Adelstein writes. I’m an academic, and most of my knowledge of the subject comes from reading books and articles in Japanese–and I find him amazingly on the ball. Almost up there with writers like Arimori or Peter Hill, who’s book “Yakuza, Law and The State” is the finest scholarly source on the subject.

    Everyone has opinions and personal experiences. Some people have facts to back them up. Adelstein is one of them, in my view. He differs from most in Japan because he actually has the courage to tell the truth and name names.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Very nice post, but more details about the picture, please? The contrasts are interesting, especially the cheesiness of the painted doors vs the simple elegance of shoji and tatami, the traditional obi and exposed breast vs the tattooed shoulder, the anachronistic typewriter vs the modern smoke-eating(?) ashtray….

  36. Von Haus says:

    “Crime was always with us, he reasoned, and therefore, if you were going to have crime, it at least should be organized crime.”

  37. AnthonyC says:

    Funny how the phrase “promote traditional values” never means what I expect it to.
    Then again, civilization has spent the last few centuries slowly overturning such traditional values as slavery, divine right of kings, and the subordination of women to men.

  38. Anonymous says:

    The Yakuza is a necessary evil. If it fell apart, the crime rate would go up. But killings happen everyday in Japan anyways so….I don’t know.

  39. Anonymous says:

    I studied, worked and taught in Japan for 10 of the last 25 years. My primary exposure to the yakuza was from time spent living in apartments in Chiba City and Omiya, major satellites for the water trade just outside Tokyo. I have interacted with yakuza on the street and befriended a few who talked about their corporate protection shakedown and sex industry jobs. As a lawyer, I worked with colleagues that called on a yakuza syndicate on behalf of US financial services companies in what were rare corporate racketeering and misappropriation of a trade name for investment fraud. I have also worked as an investor focusing on Japanese companies.

    I have read and fact checked some of Jake Adelstein’s claims at the request of superiors and consulted with a former Japan manager at the leading corporate investigation company.

    Jake Adelstein is first and foremost an excellent self promoter. He is tapping a deep vein of orientalist fantasy over the yakuza, and his audience as a journalist in Japan was the foreign crowd. Why would the Yomiuri hire a US national to write about a domestic topic like crime? It’s entertainment.

    Look at the photo. The point here is that with the kimono and setting, this is nostalgic cosplay. Non-eccentric Japanese only rent kimono for occasions in which we wear tuxedos. Who owns a typewriter? The reality is, if you’re not doing drugs, paying for sex, or looking for a black market loan, you have nothing to do with the yakuza. The yakuza are even getting their asses handed to them by the Chinese in Kabukicho. The Brazilians and Colombians have no problem operating there.

    I tend to think of yakuza like the Sicilian mafia in New York. The role they once played 50 or more years ago is largely gone. Ask yourself, where else can one read such outlandish claims as one fifth of the hundreds of listed Japanese companies are Yakuza fronts? Their ownership is disclosed and even at the microcap level, the largest holders are insiders, major Japanese financial institutions and foreign money. Google the last 24 months of news articles reporting that 20% of Japanese listed companies are fronts. While you’ll find the number in major foreign newspapers, they all attribute Adelstein. Some even refer to his book–they’re puff pieces and quite frankly major newspaper editors should be embarrassed for being so weak on Japan. If one asks how Jake alone can know this, his claimed yakuza connections put him in the know. It is impossible to confirm elsewhere. Not government crime statistics, not securities firm analysts, not in academia, not in corporate investigation firms. The Japanese have a tighter hold on their cash supply than the US (they flushed the economy of North Korean counterfeits by achieving full circulation of new bills and coins in a couple of months) and can track money laundering better than most of the major economies. There is simply no way that the world can be as he describes. The stories are conspiracy fantasies with exotic concubines. Ask a Japanese American if she finds the above photo–targeted at Western readers–tasteful. Enjoy this for what it is. His stuff is fun to read–although I recommend “Confessions of a Yakuza” for a better page turner–but based on my experience I think it’s horseshit.

    FWIW

    • Japanhand says:

      Recently, the former president of Fujitsu, a major corporation, was forced to have resigned because of ties to “anti-social forces.”

      See the Wall Street Journal article
      http://bit.ly/bKqK21
      Note this tidbit from the article.
      “The Tokyo Stock Exchange rules state involvement with organized crime will result in a delisting. The TSE added mention of antisocial forces to its delisting rules in August 2009 over concerns that the dot-com bubble could lead to start-up companies infiltrated by organized crime and risk the credibility of the bourse.”

      And there is no quote from Adelstein!

      http://bit.ly/bdvMVL
      This English article from Nikkei discusses how Suruga Corporation a listed company on the TSE was found to have been working with organized crime, after a police investigation in 2008. The Japanese coverage was more in depth.

      Do you think the TSE wouldn’t have instituted new rules in 2009 if there wasn’t a problem with yakuza in the markets? It’s expat “experts” like yourself who probably rubber-stamped the infamous deal in which Lehman Brothers Japan was defrauded of $350 million dollars. (Before they lost everything).
      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/30/business/worldbusiness/30iht-fraud.4.11536713.html

    • Japanhand says:

      @Anon 36–I’m sorry, but I just feel compelled to ask “I have read and fact checked some of Jake Adelstein’s claims at the request of superiors and consulted with a former Japan manager at the leading corporate investigation company.”–Are these the same experts that advised Lehman Brothers Japan about making the deal where they lost $355 million dollars in a fraud scheme–is this the case you worked on? Or the same experts that advised Citibank Japan on compliance so well that the Japanese government took away their private banking license around 2004 and then punished them again in 2009 for doing business with “anti-social forces”? Or the same people that said the now bankrupt Urban Corporation, which also had organized crime ties–was a good investment? Just wondering. And did you fact check that using English materials or Japanese materials or did you just ask your local yakuza, since you know a few? The leading corporate investigation company in Japan would be Teikoku, if its a Japanese company and they gave the seal of approval to Urban, Suruga, Murakami Fund and Live Door–all companies that ended up being delisted after questionable activities. They don’t have an impressive record and they long since lost the capability of determining a front company from a legitimate company.
      I found Tokyo Vice to be very accurate and Adelstein’s comments insightful, even if he is a showboat and probably abrasive in real life. You sir, would benefit by reading NHK’s Yakuza Money, Suda Shinichiro’s The Mafia Money or any of Arimori Takashi’s book or finding someone who can read Japanese to translate them for you.
      The National Police Agency White Paper 2007 had a very good section on yakuza influence in the financial markets, but for some odd reason this was never translated into English.

  40. Anonymous says:

    Except for the drug-running and white (yellow?) slavery bit they sound like ronin. The old lordless samurai who hired themselves out for jobs like protection for villages and such.

  41. Boba Fett Diop says:

    The low-status or mixed origin of a number of Yakuza is especially interesting considering the assumed involvement of the Yakuza in fringe ultra-nationalist politics. When I lived in Nara in the late 90s, we’d often see loudspeaker vans driving around flying the navy flag and condemning foreign influence on Japanese society (“sorry, my hakama are in the wash”). Many people would tell us that they were associated with organized crime, yet several of the people I met who were overtly Yakuza-connected (punch perms, Cadillacs, Hawaiian shirts) were not only very open to Gaijin, but were said to be of mixed descent themselves.

    This was during the conflict between the Yamaguchi-gumi and the Nakano-kai.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Great article! First article in a while that I read entirely. Usually I get bored in the first few sentences but this really grasped me. It’s interesting that they are so upfront about everything. Can’t wait to read more of these!

  43. davy_k says:

    I’m so glad Adelestein-san is cooperating with BoingBoing. I read “Tokyo Vice” and it was a hell of a yarn, by turns very dark and very humorous. What’s more, Adelstein has a great gift for telling a good story, and is clearly just the kind of Happy Mutant that is a great source for BB. I mean, a lot of nerdy guys think about moving to Japan, but he actually went and did it, and had a hell of a career. His biography is as interesting as the stories he reports on – keep it coming, BB!

  44. benher says:

    Jake’s series has been a good read.

    It’s nice to see someone putting out a bit of fact to counter the fiction that floats around about Yakuza.

    As for powerful people having fetishes, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are plenty of corporate higher-ups from western companies involved in “akachan play.”

    @Teapot Perhaps you’d care to explain the Bikies “credible gang-banger” image to the rest of us?

    • teapot says:

      Perhaps you’d care to explain the Bikies “credible gang-banger” image to the rest of us?

      Bikie gang members don’t go around pretending to be a gentleman. That’s why the yakuza are such a joke; wheeling around like they are something they are not. The yakuza are nothing more than scummy criminals, yet they expect to be treated with respect and honour.

      Last year there was a bikie brawl in Sydney airport and a gang member was brutally bludgeoned to death using one of those people herding poles.

      While I don’t celebrate or support such activity in any way, it is at least easier to know how to avoid trouble when gangs are clearly defined, identifyable organisations, not this wishy-washy grey corporation style that the yakuza employ to literally get away with murder.

      Their little show and dance is just lame. When will the Jap government/population grow some balls and prosecute these morons? The Japanese economy would be thankful, as the yakuza’s business “methods” steal millions in potential tax revenue and waste millions of government expenditure in dodgy, unrequired building contracts (the construction business is the yakuza’s #1 non-gambling, non-prostiution, front).

      Ever wondered why the coastline of japan is covered in ugly concrete blobs? They are purportedly for the purpose of protectiong the shoreline from sea erosion, yet they have been installed over thousands of km of Japanese coastline where they are simply not required.

      Why are they there? Because they are a convenient thing for the yakuza to mass produce any time they need some legit cash. Basically they just bribe local government officials to award contracts to yakuza front companies for compeltely unnecessary projects. Therein lies the black hole where the tax dollars of hard working Japanese people are funneled into the bank accounts of these bottom-feeders.

      If I had the japanese language ability I would most def start a website for yakuza whistleblowers.

  45. EffingTanj says:

    Serendipitous! I have a few chapters to go in his book and I just became aware of this site. Yes!

  46. Anonymous says:

    When my family lived in Japan in the early 90′s, I knew a German family who had brought up their kids there. They lived next door to a Yakuza boss who babysat for them. I also remember being in a group of rowdy teens at some community fireworks and getting a gentle telling off by a guy who had half a pinky finger (a la the movie Black Rain). Japan is very interesting.

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