State, and Collusion
Yuki Allyson Honjo
idea that crime is representative of moral failing is a potent one
in our modern culture. Take for example, that execrable Fox TV show,
Cops. One of the early “reality” television shows, the unblinking
eye of the camera follows police as they chase the criminal and the
hapless, grab drunks and addicts, and break up domestic “incidents.”
Each clip follows with a cop musing thoughtfully that it was a tough
job, but ever so rewarding to do right. To wit, the theme song proclaims
“Bad boys, bad boys, what’ya gonna do, what'ya gonna do when they
come for you.” Even the most logical of criminals, (e.g. the fictional
Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lechter) is dismissed as ultimately pathological.
Yakuza, the very real Japanese mafia, occupy a place that is somewhere
between fact and fiction. They are bigger than life, with tattoos,
elaborate rituals, and their own special language. Fingers are chopped
off and bodies are elaborately tattooed. They are romanticized as
gamblers and rogues who protect the townspeople against the authorities.
of the most persistent perceptions of the Yakuza is that they are
unique, when compared to Russian, Chinese or Italian mafias, in their
relationship with the state. Indeed, in one of “the industrialized
world’s most crime free societies,” the Japanese mafia appears to
have open, almost cozy ties with police: in the past, some police
used to have tea in headquarters to catch up on news.
gangs used to openly display their gang affiliations outside their
offices without fear of reprisal, have organization guides, and send
formal notices through the post on who’s in and who’s out in a given
gang. Indeed as Peter Hill, the author of The Japanese Mafia,
discovered in the course of his field work, interviewees on both sides
of the law asserted that “the yakuza were fundamentally different
from the (Sicilian) mafia.”
are they? Are the Yakuza unique in their allegedly close relationship
with the state? Do they exist with the tacit approval of the state?
Peter Hill’s elegant study of the Japanese Yakuza is stripped of anecdotes
(though given the opportunity, one gets the feeling that he probably
has some stories to tell) and uses a variety of sources to try to
“makes sense of the yakuza.” He argues that the Japanese Mafia, in
as much as any organized crime gang can be seen as a monolithic group,
are not fundamentally different from their peers.
dissects the nature of the Japanese Yakuza by asking difficult questions.
What is organized crime? How is it defined? Why does it exist? As
he points out, a bank heist requires much organization, but is not
organized crime per se. It is not enough to point to the
pathological nature of crime—clearly there is a market for the services
that mafias provide. Borrowing heavily from F. Varese work on the
Russian mafia and D. Gambetta on the Italian mafia, he develops a
framework that organized how crime groups sell and seek to monopolize
the supply of protection. And as he points out, police are competitors
in this market.
building a conceptual framework around a market of supply and demand
of protection, he provides a structure to what seems like random acts
of gang activity. Indeed it is need as the scope of Hill’s study is
wide. He attempts to quantify mafia business, describe sources of
income, sketch the various laws, and the complex relationship between
the state and mafia. He describes the legal niceties and limitations
of the Boryokudan Taisaku Ho (Botaiho), Japan’s answer to
RICO. In the course of his research, he spoke a wide range of sources
from interviews with police, lawyers and gang members in a variety
of locales. He refers to a wide range of sources on international
mafia, and police documents and white papers.
However, unlike his peers, he uses shukanshi, “the down market
weekly and monthly magazines” as a source. Certain magazines such
as Jitsuwa Jidai and Jitsuwa Dokyumento “are avidly
read by both gang members and police alike as a way of keeping up
to date with underworld affairs.” Hill makes skillful use of these
sources: while they are colorful, are not always verifiable. However,
while the police white papers have more respectability, they are equally
problematic, albeit in a different way: for example, yakuza income
statistics appear to be underreported by a wide margin.
forte is describing the complexities of the relationship between
the mafia and the state. For example, Hill’s description of the
Sagawa Kyubin scandal connects the dots. In this scandal
it was found a listed company and “the two most powerful and well-funded
politicians in Japan at the end of the 1980s were making direct
use of the yakuza.” However, Hill fully explores the many varied
reasons why major players such as Noboru Takeshita created certain
alliances with Kominto, an obscure right wing party with ties to
another case, he highlights frictions between the state and the mafia
by describing a lawsuit in which local residents in Shizuoka prefecture
sued the Yamaguchi-gumi (gang) in an effort to oust them from their
local headquarters building. In this case, the land was legally owned
by the gang officer and no criminal activity had been obviously committed:
the gang argued that they were a “chivalrous group” and the residents’
group was infringing on their constitutional rights to freedom of
association, property rights and equality before the law. Nevertheless,
the gang lost the case.
work is not without flaws. Hill takes on the onerous task of trying
to quantify the Yakuza business. As he himself concedes of the numbers,
“many of them look suspiciously like as they have been calculated
on the back of a cigarette packet. The truth is that nobody knows
the true figures of, for example, total yakuza income.” He also makes
a minor error: he notes that the maximum interest that money lenders
can charge under the Investment law is 40.004%. However, as of June
2000, the maximum interest rate had been lowered to 29.2% under a
revision of the Capital Subscription Law.
none the less, Hill’s work is valuable addition: by exploring Japan’s
criminal underbelly, he offers insights into both the mafia and
the state. In the end, both exists in conjunction with the other.
the nature of the Japanese Yakuza by asking difficult questions.
What is organized crime? How is it defined? Why does it exist?
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