Writing Echoes

Delijah's Writing Blog

Crime: Sometimes the yakuza live up to their image, by Jake Adelstein

I don’t remember exactly how I discovered that the article existed, probably through the author’s twitter. Crime: Sometimes the yakuza live up to their image is part of an ebooklet named Reconstructing 3/11: Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown – how Japan’s future depends on its understanding of the 2011 triple disaster, which is a rather descriptive title. Unfortunately, it was only available in Kindle edition, so at first I did not know how to get it – yours truly does not have a Kindle – until I discovered Kindle for PC and iphone, and got myself the ebooklet, just for the article.

Jake Adelstein is the author of the first actual yakuza book I owned, Tokyo Vice, an American reporter on the police beat in Japan, which is probably the book that triggered my love for documentation and research in writing. Again, the title is rather informative, (I wrote a minireview for it here). Adelstein is an expert in yakuza and human trafficking in Japan, and has seen a lot of the ugly side of the underworld there.

Shortly after the Great Tohoku Earthquake on March 11 2011, Adelstein wrote an article about the Yakuza disaster relief efforts (Yakuza to the rescue), and now he takes things deeper. First he takes a rundown on yakuza history and their meaning in the Japanese society, and how they are considered by many Japanese ‘a necessary evil’, even with the recently passed laws to control and stop them. Yakuza are famous for enforcing peace in their turfs. Banters and fights are bad for business, be it gambling or sex business.

According to Adelstein, the very same night of the earthquake there were yakuza group patrolling both stricken and not stricken areas (Tokyo, Fukushima, Miyagi, Chiba) in order to prevent looting. Apparently, they were the most visible ‘police force’ in several Miyagi areas. They also made a very effective stand in the refugee camps in order to stop reported sexual abuses – the police could spare female 30 police officers, the Yamaguchi-gumi (the first responders after the Great Kobe Earthquake in 1995), sent along with food and first-necessity items. The Sumiyoshi-kai patrolled Sendai and the shelters there, flashing tattoos.

Just after the earthquake hit, the Sumiyoshi-kai (Tokyo) opened their offices to Japanese and foreigners that had gotten stranded when the trains went down, offering futons and food – the yakuza are usually very racist, so the fact that they were opening up to gaijin was surprising. Other gangs started loading supplies on trucks and drove until the roads disappeared, destroyed by the earthquake and the tsunami. Then they went cross-country, and when they could not drive anymore, they loaded the cargo and walked to where the supplies were needed, on occasion just dumping them and leaving before anyone noticed them. This included the radioactive zone, back in a time when nobody knew what the hell was going on.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, the yakuza have made their own cut, working on reconstruction and nuclear clean-up. Probably not all the money raised in charity fundraisers made it to its destination, but for once the yakuza were real heroes.

I am making my way slowly through the whole booklet, but it’s a thick read when you remember the thousands of lives that were lost or broken that day. If you have – literally – two quid to spare, this is worth it.

Reconstructing 3/11: Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown – how Japan’s future depends on its understanding of the 2011 triple disaster [Amazon]


3 responses to “Crime: Sometimes the yakuza live up to their image, by Jake Adelstein

  1. el tiger11 April 1, 2012 at 20:13

    I thought your post was great. It captures the long term challenge the Yakuza cause Japan. They serve a purpose at times, while also cause significant damage as well.

    • Sakaki Delijah April 1, 2012 at 22:23

      It is very interesting how yakuza are so rooted in the Japanese society – whether they want to admit it or not – and how sometimes they get (and want!) to play tragic hero. I would not be surprised if in a few years they start making health claims and say they developed cancer in Fukushima delivering supplies thought…
      I really recommend Adelstein’s article, which is the source for this post. I am humbly summarizing his data.
      Thanks for dropping by 🙂