The Japanese Mafia: Yakuza, Law, and the State

The Japanese Mafia: Yakuza, Law, and the State

The Japanese Mafia: Yakuza, Law, and the State

The Japanese Mafia: Yakuza, Law, and the State


The Japanese mafia - known collectively as yakuza - has had a considerable influence on Japanese society over the past fifty years. Based on extensive interviews with criminals, police officers, lawyers, journalists, and academics, this is the first academic analysis in English of Japan'scriminal syndicates. Peter Hill argues that the essential characteristic of Japan's criminal syndicates is their provision of protection to consumers in Japan's under- and upper-worlds. In this respect they are analogous to the Sicilian Mafia, and the mafias of Russia, Hong Kong and the United States. Although theyakuza's protective mafia role has existed at least since the end of the Second World War, and arguably longer, their sources of income have not remained constant. The yakuza have undergone considerable change in their business activities over the last half-century. The two key factors driving thisevolution have been the changes in the legal, and law-enforcement environment within which these groups must operate, and the economic opportunities available to them. This first factor demonstrates that the complex and ambiguous relationship between the yakuza and the state has always been morethan purely symbiotic. With the introduction of the boryokudan (yakuza) countermeasures law in 1992, the relationship between the yakuza and the state has become more unambiguously antagonistic. Assessing the impact of this law is, however, problematic; the contemporaneous bursting of Japan'seconomic bubble at the beginning of the 1990s also profoundly and adversely influenced yakuza sources of income. It is impossible to completely disentangle the effects of these two events. By the end of the twentieth century, the outlook for the yakuza was bleak and offered no short-term prospect of amelioration. More profoundly, state-expropriation of protection markets formerly dominated by the yakuza suggests that the longer-term prospects for these groups are bleaker still: nolonger, therefore, need the yakuza be seen as an inevitable and necessary evil.


This book is an attempt to make sense of the yakuza. My interest in these groups was first aroused by two social encounters with yakuza gang members in bars in the northeast of Japan in the late 1980s. To a fresh-faced and impressionable youngster struggling to internalise the accepted norms of Japanese behaviour, these larger-than-life characters, with their ostentatious display of conflicting norms, were compelling. This was a very different side to the community I thought I knew.

My interest was not, however, a purely emotional phenomenon. On sober reflection, the apparent paradox of a number of large, clearly identifiable criminal gangs operating openly within a society widely regarded as one of the industrialised world's most crime-free societies was puzzling. Recourse to the popular English-language literature, such as van Wolferen (1989) and Kaplan and Dubro (1986), suggests that this paradox is resolved by seeing these syndicates themselves as an integral part of the crime-control process in Japan and enjoying a quasi-symbiotic relationship with the legitimate law-enforcement authorities.

This explanation raises two crucial questions: Is this posited social-control function unique to Japan or can we identify similar patterns in the dealings between organised crime groups and their host communities in other jurisdictions? Is it actually an accurate description of the interplay between yakuza, law, and the state?

With respect to my first question, examining the available literature on organised criminal groups outside of Japan, it has become clear

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