Japanese Organized Crime Units, Yakuza

Japanese Organized Crime Units, Yakuza
Japanese Organized Crime Units, Yakuza

Probably no combination of outside forces with the Mafia conjures up more fear among investigators than a possible full-time alliance between the American mob and the Japanese yakuza. The yakuza have in the past been allied with criminal activities in Hawaii, where there is an enormous Japanese population, and later intrusion by the yakuza in the West Coast of the United States has been obvious.

In many respects the yakuza organized activities have been the mirror image of the American Mafia. The yakuza consist of a number of crime families, and its actual criminal activity is very Mafia-like. They are very involved in prostitution, gambling, pornography, loan-sharking, smuggling, extortion and various trucking rackets.

Just like the Mafia, they break strikes and other dissenters for corporations especially at stockholders meetings. They are deeply involved in entertainment, where they shake down movie studios, nightclubs and professional sporting clubs. And it has been estimated that half the yakuza profits come from drug trafficking.

Like the American mobs the yakuza are heavy into money laundering and of course infiltrate legitimate business. In this last activity they have little trouble with the authorities as the organizations are frequently accepting in Japanese society. Many wear lapel pins that identify them as yakuza, much like fraternal and business organizations such as the Rotarians.

One group that seems to give the yakuza no trouble is the police—to such an extent that American mafiosi are startled. Bribery is much less needed in Japan since the yakuza and most police are of the same conservative persuasion. The police and the mobsters seem to be frequently on a first-name basis. Researchers declare that the Japanese police frequently give warnings to the yakuza gangs before major raids.

To allow the police to save face, the mobsters will leave behind a few guns to be confiscated. It is a tactic mafiosi fully understand. In Hawaii the yakuza and the American mobs worked well together, and the mafiosi thrived on providing the yakuza guns and pornography to ship back to Japan. U.S. handguns worth $100 to $200 in the States easily bring $1,000 in Japan.

The main cooperation between the two gangs in Hawaii involved gambling and drug trafficking, and for a while it greatly flourished until the early 1980s when several federal task forces of American investigators struck at the yakuza for fear of further encroachment in California and elsewhere stateside. The crackdowns petered out by 1985 because of budgetary cutbacks.

Still, the arrangements between the two ethnic groups continued for a while, but the mafiosi were not happy about the growth of yakuza power in California and Nevada. Japanese mobsters operated on trust with the Americans since huge sums of money had to be exchanged on trust.

To build that trust Japanese gangsters visited the mafiosi in Las Vegas and the two groups ate, drank, gambled and had access to sex. That did not prevent a cultural divide from developing, or as one mafioso allegedly said to an investigator, "They just don't-a talk good like-a us." More important the mob learned that the corrupt law enforcement community was still wary of the "yellow peril."

Rather than try to argue about it, they cut off working with the yakuza. Of course the yakuza still maintain a presence in the United States, but the seemingly most dangerous combination of criminals internationally has simply not jelled. Will that change in the future?