The cozy relationship between the Japanese authorities and the Yakuza is breaking down

A member of the Japanese Yakuza Takahashi-gumi crime syndicate
A member of the Japanese Yakuza Takahashi-gumi crime syndicate
Image: Getty Images / Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert
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Japan has named a new justice minister after the previous incumbent, Kaishu Tanaka, resigned after being embroiled in an organized crime scandal.

Tanaka was in his post less than a month before it was reported that he had links with one of Japan’s notorious underworld groups. He admitted he acted as a matchmaker at the wedding of a gang member and gave a speech at a Yakuza party, but insisted the allegations were “old news” because they happened 30 years ago. He also said he was unaware that either event involved members of Japan’s most notorious organized-crime group.

The Japanese are quite used to parliamentarians being linked to organized crime gangs. As longtime Japanese crime reporter  and author Jake Adelstein writes, the phenomenon was “not that unusual in the past.” For example, “the grandfather of ex-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi (Liberal Democratic Party), Matajiro Koizumi, was a member of a yakuza group.”

Adelstein, whose Yakuza and police sources tend to be reliable, claims that Tanaka kept up his Yakuza connections “until at least two years ago.”

For most of the last four centuries, the government and the public turned a blind eye to the gangs’ involvement in extortion, drug trafficking and money laundering. As Al Jazeera reports here, (video) the Yakuza were traditionally viewed as gangsters with a strong code of honour who help police with their investigations and keep Japanese crime “clean” of outside influences, such as Chinese triads, who are less predictable and harder for the authorities to negotiate with. But now, this cozy relationship between Japan’s lawmakers and gangsters is breaking down. The authorities feel the Yakuza’s code of honor is weakening. New laws aim to choke the gangsters’ sources of revenue and strangle their existence.