Philippine Daily Inquirer

‘Yakuza’ in forefront of relief efforts

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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

 ??  ?? LUNA, a beagle, is tied to a tree near hermakeshi­ft house at an evacuee center.
LUNA, a beagle, is tied to a tree near hermakeshi­ft house at an evacuee center.
 ??  ?? LADY, the cat, gets loving care at an evacuee center.
LADY, the cat, gets loving care at an evacuee center.
 ??  ?? ORPHANED PETS A woman plays with a dog at an evacuation center on Thursday in Fukushima prefecture, Japan. The catastroph­ic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan onMarch 11 have created a disaster not only for hundreds of thousands of people, but...
ORPHANED PETS A woman plays with a dog at an evacuation center on Thursday in Fukushima prefecture, Japan. The catastroph­ic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan onMarch 11 have created a disaster not only for hundreds of thousands of people, but...

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