Ranks of Japan's once-feared 'yakuza' shrink as new laws, weak economy hit home

taiwannews.com.tw -- Aug 16
In a letter circulated last month to the heads of all the other "yakuza" underworld groups in Tokyo, the leadership of the Anegasaki-kai announced that it was voluntarily disbanding and thus no longer a part of Japan's notorious crime syndicate.

The group was one of the smallest in the land of the rising sun and was not considered to pose much threat to ordinary members of the public by the police, but its passing is symptomatic of the challenges facing Japan's once-feared gangs.

Traditionally based in the heart of Tokyo in the Asakusa district, the Anegasaki-kai was founded around 1915 and made its money by scalping tickets for concerts and sporting events as well as running stalls for food and trinkets at summer festivals.

Investigative sources told the Asahi newspaper that there were around 700 members of the gang as recently as 2003, but that figure had tumbled to just 85 individuals last year.

The reasons for falling membership are identical to the problems that other gangs are facing, say analysts. Numbers are shrinking because fewer young people see yakuza as an enviable career path, existing members are aging and earnings are shrinking as a result of a number of legal changes that have given the police far greater powers to bring the gangs under control.

And just as in other parts of Japan's economy, the businesses traditionally operated by underworld groups across the country — illegal gambling, the sex industry, protection rackets, the drugs trade, loan-sharking and so on — have suffered during the downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

A report issued earlier this month by the National Police Agency indicated there were a total of 24,100 members of recognized underworld groups at the end of 2021, a decline of around 1,800 individuals on the previous year and the lowest number since statistics were first compiled in 1958. It is a far cry from the gangs' peak years in the early 1960s, when they could put out more than 184,000 foot soldiers across the country.

The government statistics show that the Yamaguchi-gumi is still the largest single underworld group in Japan, with around 4,000 members, which is actually an increase of around 200 people on the previous year. That growth in membership is due largely to an ongoing feud with a splinter group, the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, and around 200 members opting to return to their previous affiliation. ...continue reading


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