No More Golf or Pizza for the Yakuza

Tokyo’s organized crime exclusionary laws went into effect in October—and they’re already wreaking havoc. The laws criminalize doing business with bōryokudan (“violent group” or colloquially yakuza). In an ingenious twist, paying off the yakuza in an extortion racket is also a crime. Now restaurants have to stop paying protection money. Even victims of blackmail—hush money is an outright industry in Japan—commit a crime if they pay.

First, there’s a warning. But if violations persist, authorities will add the business or person to a public list of perps who have a “close relationship” with the yakuza. Instant loss of face. And then the financial nightmare: customers flee, banks shut their doors, government agencies won’t renew licenses, office leases get terminated—all based on the organized crime exclusionary clauses in their contracts. Individuals may lose their jobs, as comedian and TV host, Shimada Shinsuke, found out.

If contact with the yakuza continues despite all this, a person risks up to one year in the hoosegow and a fine of ¥500,000 ($6,400).

It hit the golf industry hard.

“If customers are yakuza, we ask them to leave even if they’re in the middle of playing,” said the general manager of Akabane Golf Club (Mainichi, article in Japanese). He is also the chairman of the Council of Golf Clubs for the Expulsion of Organized Crime in Tokyo. How would he know if someone is a yakuza? “We refer the names of suspicious people to the police,” he said.

And the pizza delivery industry is in uproar.

“We don’t know if the address we deliver to is the place of a yakuza,” said the Delivery Business Safety Driving Council. But don’t panic. “One or two pizzas are OK,” the Council said, “but delivering a huge amount of pizza, knowing that the customer is a yakuza is a no-no.” They’re planning to invite police officers to a study meeting with store managers.

A famous temple in Tokyo is grappling with the new laws. A number of its members are yakuza, and the graves of top yakuza are always full of incense. They held a huge funeral for one in July, but no more. Small family-and-relatives-only funerals of yakuza are tolerated. Not big ones. “But it’s difficult to decline a request for a funeral made by a powerful yakuza,” a temple official conceded.

The publishing house of a magazine that reports on the yakuza was also fretting over the implications of the new laws. “In order to get an interview, we take them out to dinner,” the editor said. He was worried about having a “close relationship” with the yakuza, which could make him a criminal. The police clarified with legendary precision: “If it’s within regular news gathering activities, we don’t see it as a violation of the law.”

And there was a first arrest—in the construction industry, a yakuza stronghold. In Fukuoka prefecture, where organized crime exclusionary laws went into effect in April 2010, violent acts against companies are a serious problem; of the twenty cases reported nationwide during the first half of 2011, twelve involved firearms, and ten of those took place in Fukuoka.

Kikuchi Kogyo, the owner of a front company in Fukuoka, had obtained some contracts through his brother who used to be a member of Dojin-kai, one of the 22 registered Yakuza syndicates. Kikuchi paid a big part of his revenues to Dojin-kai and subcontracted out all of the work.

In January 2011, Tokyu Kensetsu, a mid-size construction company, took advantage of the new laws and notified Kikuchi that it would cease all transactions with him. Kikuchi threatened them and demanded continued subcontracts or ¥100 million yen in “retirement pay.” He even bought some stock in Tokyu Kensetsu and threatened to disrupt the next shareholder meeting by exposing their ties to organized crime, a common form of corporate extortion. October 18, he was arrested for attempted extortion.

And the soul searching began. While people appreciated the company’s decision to be courageous, some feared a possible increase of revenge acts by desperate gangsters.

Meanwhile, in Oita prefecture, a rental car company got its knuckles rapped for having rented a car to a yakuza. In Ishikawa prefecture, a remodeling company got in trouble for replacing some frigging wallpaper.

If you’re not sure, the police said, consult with the local police office. And take two aspirin.

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