Authorization

Yakuza are getting old, facing future without a pension or retirement pay

The most striking feature about the accused hitman is his age – 68. In less times gone by, gang scores were settled by younger men.
Toshio Maruyama is a member of the Kodo-kai, an affiliate of Japan’s largest criminal syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi. Wealthy and powerful though it is, the Yamaguchi-gumi is torn by rivalries. These are not settled gently. On Oct 10, in Kobe, Maruyama allegedly shot to death two members of the Yamaken-gumi, Kodo-kai’s rival sub-group within the Yamaguchi-gumi. The shooting occurred outside the Yamaken-gumi’s office, in plain sight of police officers present just in case a regularly-scheduled monthly gang meeting turned disorderly. Maruyama was arrested on the spot. He may have wanted it that way.
Think of old age from a gangster’s point of view, says Shukan Post (Nov 29). There’s no pension or retirement payout to look forward to. Life outside society’s moral and social safety nets may be romantic in life’s prime. Past it, it can appear very bleak indeed – more bleak than jail. Jail has its good points. It provides three meals a day, a bed to sleep on, a roof over your head, medical care if needed, all cost free. Why not just get arrested and solve all life’s problems at one stroke?
“Prison, you might say, is a substitute senior citizens’ home,” observes Atsushi Mizoguchi, a journalist who has written extensively on organized crime. Shukan Post’s report takes the form of a dialogue between Mizoguchi and another journalist with similar expertise, Tomohiko Suzuki.
Modern crime syndicates have roots extending back to 17th-century Edo (today’s Tokyo). Peddlers and gamblers, the lowest of society’s low, formed groups for self-protection and self-assertion. From these humble beginnings the yakuza grew and evolved. At their peak in the 1960s, numbering an estimated 184,000, gangsters cultivated and to some extent achieved a charismatic outlaw image. Legal crackdowns early in the present century are one factor in their decline, membership now said to be less than 40,000.
Changing notions of charisma is another factor – fewer young people today aspire to that kind of thing. Most corrosive of all is the poison Shukan Post discusses: age. Society as a whole is aging - worldwide, but most dramatically in Japan. And organized crime, the magazine finds, is where it hits hardest. This sector may be aging more rapidly than any other.
Up until a generation or two ago, Suzuki explains, rivalries such as that which allegedly led Maruyama to murder would be settled by young gangsters. They’d go to prison for 15-20 years, counting on it that when they got out they’d be in their 30s or 40s, their status within the gang much enhanced and the future still stretching long ahead of them.
One feature of the anti-gang crackdown changed that at a stroke. This was the life jail sentence. The exit clanged shut. You didn’t necessarily get out at 40; you might languish behind bars until you died behind bars. That effectively put young people out of the game.
And put old people into it. Prison bars, dreadful to the young, can represent security to senior citizens facing penniless homelessness. And the gang would show its gratitude – by supporting your wife, for instance, or seeing your children through college. It’s not known whether this is what may have motivated Maruyama. The point is, says Shukan Post, it’s probably on the minds of a lot of aging gang members as the yakuza phenomenon fades slowly into twilight.


© Japan Today
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