The worst of times sometimes brings out the best in people, even in
Hours after the first shock waves hit, two of the largest crime groups went into action, opening their offices to those stranded in Tokyo, and shipping food, water, and blankets to the devastated areas in two-ton trucks and whatever vehicles they could get moving.
The day after the earthquake the Inagawa-kai (the third largest organized crime group in Japan which was founded in 1948) sent twenty-five four-ton trucks filled with paper diapers, instant ramen, batteries, flashlights, drinks, and the essentials of daily life to the Tohoku region.
An executive in Sumiyoshi-kai, the second-largest crime group, even offered refuge to members of the foreign community—something unheard of in a still slightly xenophobic nation, especially amongst the right-wing yakuza.
A bit of background:
Their income is largely derived from protection money, security services, financial fraud, stock manipulations, gambling, blackmail, prostitution, and loan sharking.
They call themselves “yakuza.”
The word comes from a losing hand in traditional Japanese gambling: 8 (ya) 9 (ku) 3(za) which adds up to 20, and is a useless hand.
Thus to be a yakuza is to be “a loser.” It’s a self-effacing term. They yakuza don’t call themselves “violent groups.”
They exist out in the open; they have offices, business cards, fan magazines.
The three major groups, the
Yamaguchi-gumi (40,000 members), the Sumiyoshi-kai (12,000) and the Inagawa-kai (10,000) all insist they are chivalrous groups, like the Rotary Club, that they areninkyo-dantai.
Ninkyo(do), according to yakuza historical scholars is a philosophy that values humanity, justice, and duty and that forbids one from watching others suffer or be troubled without doing anything about it.
Believers of “the way” are expected to put their own lives on the line and sacrifice themselves to help the weak and the troubled.
The yakuza often simplify it as “to help the weak and fight the strong,” in theory. In practice, the film director Itami Juzo, who was attacked by members of the Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi because of his films depicting them harshly, said “the yakuza are all about exploiting the weak and disadvantaged in society, and run away from anyone strong enough to stand up to them and their exploitive extortion.”
He was primarily correct, I think. However, sometimes, like today in
Of course, most yakuza are just tribal sociopaths who merely pay lip service to the words.
But in times like this every helping hand is welcome, and maybe, maybe for a few weeks, both the police and the yakuza can declare a peace treaty and work together to save lives and ensure the safety of the people of
To some extent, the police have even given their tacit support to the yakuza aid efforts.
That’s the spirit of ninkyodo.
It’s also the spirit of many of the Japanese people.
It is why I have no doubts that
Naoya Kaneko, the deceased Sumiyoshi-kai boss who was a friend and a source, once said, “In times of crisis, you learn the measure of a man.”
To understand the real meaning of that you have to understand how the generally male-dominated and sexist yakuza define “a man.”
The core of that is giri, a word that can be translated many different ways but which I interpret to mean: reciprocity.
Today, the Japanese people and even the yakuza are measuring up very well to that standard of behavior.
Jake Adelstein was a reporter for the Yomiuri Shinbun, Japan’s largest newspaper, from 1993 to 2005.
From 2006 to 2007 he was the chief investigator for a
Considered one of the foremost experts on organized crime in
He is also the public relations director for the Washington, D.C.-based Polaris Project
He is the author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan (Vintange).