Yamaguchi-gumi: Japan's Largest Organized Crime Group
Japan's largest organized crime group is the Kobe-based but internationally active Yamaguchi-gumi. It is named for its legendary founder Harukichi Yamaguchi. "Gumi" means group, and is often found in the name of construction companies, which are of course often closely tied to crime groups.
With a membership of close to 39,000, and many more associates, it is one of the largestorganized crimegroups in the world. Within Japan, its membership accounts for almost half of all known yakuza.
The Yamaguchi-gumi is alleged to earn in the billions of dollarsannually from its many sources of revenue: extortion, gambling, the sex industry, weapons (mainly guns), drugs, real estate, and construction-related "fees." In recent years, the mob has also moved into online pornography and financial racketeering.
The group was founded in Kobe in 1915 by the aforementioned Harukichi Yamaguchi. His son, Noboru, took over the reigns of power in 1925 and led the group until 1942. The third Kumicho, or Don, was Kazuo Taoka who ruled from 1946 until 1981.
The brilliant Taoka took a local crime group and made itinto one of the world's largest criminal organizations. Heenlarged the group's internal organization, urged members to start side businesses (essentially as mobfranchises), andexpanded business over overseas.
Following his death, and a brief interregnum, Masahisa Takenaka was chosen as the fourth boss of the Yamaguchi-gumi. Another candidate, Hiroshi Yamamoto, however brokewith the Yamaguchi-gumi along with 3,000 of his followers and created a rival group, the Ichikawa-kai.
A mob war- known as the "Yama-Ichi War" ensued,during which Takenaka was assassinated by the Ichikawa-kai in 1985. Yamamoto, however,was ultimately forced to retire, and Yoshinori Watanabe was elected as the fifth Don.
The current leader is Shinobu Tsukasa, who filled an almost decade long voidprecipitated bythe killing of powerful underboss Masaru Takumi. Internal discord kept the group without a leader for eight years.
The most recent incident involving the Yamaguchi-gumi was the recent assassination of Nagasaki mayor Iccho Ito. He was gunned down by Yamaguchi member Tetsuya Shiro, in August 2007.
Following the Kobe earthquake in 1995, the Yamaguchi-gumi endeared itself to local citizens by performing disaster relief efforts that the government failed to.
An unblinking account of modern Yakuza life can be found in Shoko Tendo's Yakuza Moon. She was part of an Osaka crime family, and she harbors no romantic notions about the life they (and she) led. She is pictured above right.
Another somewhat odd feature of the Japanese mob is that its members, like salarymen, wear a pin badge identifying them as belonging to Organization X. In this case, that would be the Yamaguchi-gumi. A replica is pictured above left.