Infamous Yakuza Is Disappearing Across Japan

Remaining Yakuza gang members reach a 12-year low.
Remaining Yakuza gang members reach a 12-year low.

Japan appeared to be winning its long battle against organized crime. The number of remaining yakuza gang members has declined for the 12th year in a row, with fewer than 40,000 members in 2016.

The notorious Japanese gang, who were known for their missing pinky fingers, was once composed of 21 groups including the infamous Yamaguchi-gumi mafia.  Japan’s National Police Agency (JNPA) said in a 2016 report that crime organizations have finally fallen to about 39,100 remaining yakuza members, according to Friday reports. Yamahuchi-gumi’s figures also dropped to just 11,800 remaining underworld members.

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Remaining Yakuza gang members reach a 12-year low.
Remaining Yakuza gang members reach a 12-year low.

Shoko Tendo author of "Yakuza Moon" poses after an interview with Reuters in Tokyo August 28, 2007. Japan's National Police Agency released a report in March 2017 claiming remaining yakuza members were finally below 40,000.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

In line with the declining number of yakuza members, Japanese authorities arrested 20,050 gang members in 2016, 1,593 people fewer than last year. The agency said the falling number of remaining members and arrests could be due to laws Japan adopted in 2011 that made it illegal for business owners to give money to gang members in exchange for protection, as well as changes authorizing law enforcement to prosecute mob bosses for crimes committed by their workers.

The JNPA first started keeping record of remaining group members back in 1958, but noticed the most significant and consistent decline over the past 12 years.

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In 2013, figures reached an all-time low, when the agency reported only 58,600 remaining yakuza members compared to 2012’s 63,000 members, according to The Guardian. By 2015, the JNPA had only 53,000 yakuza members on record with 23,400 members specifically belonging to the Yamaguchi-gumi, CNN reported.

Wars among groups could also be a factor in the dwindling gang population. In August 2015, the Yamaguchi-gumi split into two separate groups and conflicts between members led to the death of Yamaguchi-gumi boss Tatsuyuki Hishida in November of that year, CNN reported.

Origins of the yakuza, which is a general term for Japan’s crime syndicates, are murky. There is no official record of when the gangs first started, although some people believe the organized crime groups’ history extends as far back as the 1870s with the inception of the Aizukotetsu-kai in Kyoto. 

Along with illegal gambling operations, members of the gang who have been arrested over the years have been charged with extortion, blackmail, fraud and murder. 

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