Philippine Daily Inquirer
‘Yakuza’ in forefront of relief efforts
TOKYO—Tons of relief goods have been delivered to victims of Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami from a dark corner of society: the “yakuza” organized crime networks.
Yakuza groups have been sending trucks from the Tokyo and Kobe regions to deliver food, water, blankets and toiletries to evacuation centers in Japan’s northeast ravaged by the disasters that have left at least 27,000 dead and missing.
Yakuza are better known for making money from extortion, gambling, pornography and prostitution, as well as for the often-elaborate tattoos coveringmuch of their bodies.
But disasters bring out another side of yakuza, whomove swiftly and quietly to provide aid to those most in need.
As with the devastating 1995 Kobe earthquake, government workers were slow in reaching afflicted areas, so yakuza groups stepped in quickly, and in many cases, were first on the ground.
Such actions stem from yakuza knowing what it’s like to have to fend for yourself because they are considered outcasts.
‘Dropouts from society’
Many gangmembers faced discrimination and come fromminority populations such as ethnic Koreans or “burakumin”—those who work in businesses seen as related to death, such as butchers and leather tanners.
“Yakuza are dropouts from society,” saidManabu Miyazaki, an author who has written more than 100 books about yakuza and minorities.
“They’ve suffered, and they’re just trying to help other people who are in trouble,” said Miyazaki, himself the son of a former Kyoto yakuza boss.
Others see ulterior motives to the groups’ charity.
“If they help citizens, it’s hard for the police to say anything bad,” said journalist Tomohiko Suzuki. “The yakuza are trying to position themselves to gain contracts for their construction companies for the massive rebuilding that will come.”
One yakuza boss rejected such criticism.
“It takes too long for the arm of the government to reach out here so it’s important to do it now,” theWeekly Taishuu magazine, which specializes in yakuza affairs, quoted a top yakuza as saying.
“Our honest sentiment right now is to be of some use to people,” said the boss, who declined to be identified.
Code of giving
Yakuza groups have dispatched at least 70 trucks to the quake zone loaded with supplies worthmore than $500,000, according to Jake Adelstein, an expert on yakuza.
The gangs’ charity is rooted in their “ninkyo” code, Adelstein says, which values justice and duty and forbids allowing others to suffer.
“In times such as earthquakes, they put theirmoney where theirmouths are,” Adelstein said.
Atsushi Mizoguchi, a freelance writer and yakuza antagonizer who has written about organized crime for 40 years, also gives the yakuza the benefit of the doubt.
“Rather than a PR effort, I think it’s actually good intentions,” saidMizoguchi, who has angered the yakuza so much he has been stabbed twice in attacks by gang members.
But yakuza shun the spotlight regarding their relief work.
Adelstein explains there is an informal understanding between yakuza and police who tolerate the gangs carrying out such charitable work, but not seeking publicity for it.
“What they seek most is selfsatisfaction,” saidMiyazaki. “It’s not for pay, but for pride.”
There are an estimated 80,000 yakuza in Japan.
No time to nitpick
Part of the reason for the yakuza’s reluctance to receive attention stems from increased crackdowns by the police, which have heightened antiyakuza sentiment among the public.
There have been no reports of donations being refused—perhaps because there is no indication who supplied them.
And, says Suzuki, this is not the time to nitpick over the origins of emergency goods.
“When it’s life or death, you don’t care where your food comes from,” he said. Reuters