July 28, 2021

The new faces of the Japanese underworld

LETTER FROM TOKYO

When we talk about organized crime in Japan, the emblematic figure of the yakuza comes to mind.. However, the mobster mythologized in the cinema with his tattoos, his little finger cut off as a sign of repentance and his high branded “code of honor” no longer has a monopoly on delinquency in the Archipelago. New mobsters have appeared. A more opaque, more violent, less predictable and therefore more difficult to fight crime which could, in the long term, damage the image of Japan, the safest country in the world.

This new form of delinquency has been called Hangure (pronounced “hungured”) by investigative journalist Atsushi Mizoguchi in the early 2000s. This term coined with they have (“Half”) and the verb gureru (“To behave like a delinquent”), which has become common “Reductive because it in fact covers a wide range of delinquents who are in no way” half-mobsters “”, believes criminologist Noboru Hirosue.

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This independent underworld, unrelated to the large yakuza gangs, is a perverse effect of the toughening of measures against organized crime taken since the 1990s and which will be further strengthened in September.

Unlike Cosa Nostra in Sicily, whose system is based on omerta, the yakuza have made their visibility a social capital: presenting themselves as “mutual aid organizations”, their bands have long had a presence, with their emblem. appearing on members’ business cards as a means of intimidation.

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Traditionally linked to the right “Through ideology and action”, recalls Philippe Pelletier in The Empire of the Yakuza. Underworld and nationalism in Japan (Blue rider, 291 pages, 22 euros), at the ankle with politicians, the underworld made order reign in the marginal fringes of society.

Avoiding going beyond certain limits – for a long time, the Archipelago was relatively protected from hard drugs such as heroin but not amphetamines -, containing petty crime, the yakuza gave a “helping hand” to politicians or companies. In return, they conducted their business, using violence to defend their territories but rarely attacking, in principle, ordinary citizens.

Bleeding from members of large gangs

Thanks to the “financial bubble” of the 1980s, the system got carried away: the yakuza entered the world of finance and the workings of the legal economy. Their visibility, peppered with scandals involving bankers and businessmen, ended up tarnishing Japan’s international image.

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