Thursday, February 08, 2007

As Japan, Inc. Goes, So Goes Yakuza, Inc. – an Homage to Robert Whiting

BBC reports on the recent escalation among the yakuza syndicates and the concomitant rise in intra-yakuza violence. In passing, the article mentions that "he number of gangsters - known as yakuza - in Japan has grown in the past 10 years to more than 85,000". If true, the yakuza should be commended for increasing employment during the longest stretch of economic stagnation that Japan has seen since the 18th Century. Intrigued, I went looking; this is what I found.

This is obviously the official source that BBC referred to. According to the last graph on the PDF file, the number of yakuza fell precipitously from 91,000 at the end of 1991 to 79,300 at the end of 1995, but has since crept back over the following decade to 86,300 the end of 2005. In other words, the yakuza industry rapidly downsized during the first five years of the post-bubble era, even as Japanese business, particularly the banking sector with support from the authorities, was trying to make-believe that nothing was amiss; then spent the next ten years patiently rebuilding its workforce. You only wish that Japan, Inc. had been similarly swift on its feet.

Wait, there's more. Yakuza membership may have gone up over the past decade, but full members went down from 46,600 in 1995 to 43,300 in 2001. This gap was filled instead by junkouseiin, or associate members, mirroring a similar shift to reliance on an irregular workforce in the more legitimate corporate society. In fact, between 1991 and 1995, the number of full members was slashed from 63,800 to 46,600, even while the number of associates grew from 27,200 to 32,700, somewhat cushioning the manpower shortage. In other words, the yakuza industry downsized its workforce, and brought in the criminal equivalent of temps and contract employees to further bring down costs. To note in passing, from this perspective, the purported rise of the gaijin criminal threat may merely be the criminal analog of the growth of the gaijin labor force in the non-criminal economy.

So, if any industry collectively deserve the Demming Award, surely it is the yakuza industry, no?

But not even that is the whole story. You see, the first chart in the PDF document shows us that the top three yakuza syndicates dominate the industry, accounting for 63,000, or 76.2%, of all yakuza members. Apparently, the lean years has forced consolidation across the entire industry, and produced an oligopoly.

But that's not my point either. The Yamaguchi-Gumi at end of 2005 stood at 41,000 members, or 47.5% of all the yakuza in Japan. Moreover, between the end of 2004 and 2005, Yamugchigumi increased its members by an impressive 1,800, while second-place Sumiyoshikai lost 100 to fall to 12,500 (14.5%), and third-place Inagawakai stood still, ending up at 9,500 (11.0%). So, we have an oligopoly, an oligopoly where one firm is pulling ahead of the others… do you hear "Toyota", anyone?

Truly, as Japan, Inc. Goes, So Goes Yakuza, Inc. Or was it the other way around?

Update: According to the Yomiuri evening edition, the national Policy Agency announced today (Feb. 8) that the number of "associate members", who "cooperate with the organizational management of a bouryokudan, i.e. yakuza syndicate, reached 43,200 at the 2006, surpassing for the first time since statistics were collected in 1958 the number of 'official members' thereof." The Police Agency claims that this trend indicates that yakuza syndicates "are requiring their members to leave the syndicates in order to avoid exposure and prosecution and to pretend that they are not involved in finance, real estate and other business activities."


So much for my take...


Sophie said...


Seen from far away, these statistics seem rather flabbergasting, if I may... I have searched but could not find figures for mafia membership in Italy, and the russian underworld doesn't seem to let the census bureau count them.

So, how can you explain these figures to foreigners ? Are the yakusa like other businesses, replying to census enquiries, paying taxes and applying for retirement when they manage to age without trouble ?

Jun Okumura said...


That is a good question. The numbers are rounded off to the hundreds, which suggests that they are estimates. That is, there is no check box in our census charts that says: yakuza; nor are we required to write our occupations and places of work when we register our residency at the local municipal office. I can assure you that the police keep a close eye on their movements.

One reason that the yakuza might be easier to track is that they have a much higher public profile than your neigbrhood mafia. They make a pretense of being legitimate organizations, and a change in leadership, for example, is celebrated with much fanfare and widely reported in the tabloids. Other than that though, I have nothing beyond pure speculation.

Anonymous said...

Jun, thanks for these two posts. I wrote a small thing on this for and I'm hoping to revise it with some of this info in mind. Thanks!

Jun Okumura said...

You are welcome, Ken. I trust you have looked at the source as well. The NPA, as well as other offical online sources in Japan, are full of interesting facts and figures these days.