Photo/IllutrationA former yakuza executive reveals some of the tricks of the trade to The Asahi Shimbun. (Chihaya Inagaki)

  • Photo/Illustraion

FUKUOKA--So how do yakuza maintain and expand their organizations?

“ 'Carrot and stick' is the approach used to lure youngsters into the yakuza,” explained a man in his 30s who was a former executive member of a yakuza organization here in Kyushu in an exclusive interview with The Asahi Shimbun.

The man was a first-year high school student when yakuza gangs approached him.

The former yakuza, who was shoplifting when he was a kindergartener, organized music events outside school and already had almost 50 "followers" working for him back in his school days.

“Come and visit us,” the mobsters said to him when he was having fun with his friends in front of a train station after school.

He and his friends were taken to a detached house, which was the office of a yakuza group.

Tea was served, and the teens were introduced to a high-ranking member of the group with such phrases as, “These kids will work hard for the group from today.”

He objected as he had no intention of joining the group at that time. The result was him getting beaten up by the gang.

The yakuza members told him that if he joined the group, he would not get hurt anymore.

A friend of his was compelled to join the group through threats such as: “If you don’t join us, get out of the town.”

Fukuoka Prefecture boasts more designated yakuza crime syndicate headquarters than any other prefecture in Japan.

The yakuza group this man left in 2015 is an organization under the umbrella of another yakuza organization that is designated by the authorities in the prefecture.

So how about the rewards in this nasty "carrot and stick" game?

“Let’s go to a ‘yakiniku’ barbecue restaurant!”

One day he was invited to dinner with a member of the group. When he arrived at the restaurant, the “kumicho,” or yakuza boss, was there. The member's usual arrogant attitude suddenly changed to a polite one.

“How have you been?” The boss asked him in a gentle voice and treated him to dinner.

In this way the mobsters created an alluring atmosphere to make the young boys believe the yakuza world was a prosperous and fascinating one.

“If you follow the boss, everything will be guaranteed,” the member told him.

When he went to a “sento” public bath with a yakuza member, the gang member showed him his “irezumi” (tattoos), saying, “Awesome, isn't it?”

He just smiled and disguised his true feelings because he didn’t want to join at that time.

After he dropped out of high school when he was a second-year student, he left his home and stayed at his friends' homes, moving from place to place.

He drifted into selling stimulant drugs and loaning money at exorbitant interest rates through widespread connections gained while hanging around and playing with his wide network of friends.

He made money hand over fist with interest rates of 50 percent per week.

The yakuza boss whom he had known for a long time was someone who had supported him financially in these illicit activities.

He felt indebted to the boss for all the support so in his mid-20s he decided to become a follower of the boss.

Once he became a member of the yakuza organization, his role was reversed.

It was now his turn to recruit future members for the group.

So, he haphazardly approached members of "bosozoku" (motorcycle gangs) and delinquent youths that were connected to his acquaintances.

He menaced dealers of stimulant drugs, saying, “Quit dealing with stimulant drugs unless you become a member of our group." He asked juniors in his hometown and dragged 10 youngsters into the group.

"Numbers equal power,” the former yakuza said.

The more members the group has, the more prosperous the organization appears. A large number of members makes the group prominent.

He sometimes received instructions from the organization to increase the number of group members.

Therefore, he terrified the members to bind them to the organization, giving the killer line: “If you want to quit, cut off your finger.”

He also physically abused members as warnings for them to stay or face further violence.

However, the yakuza life wasn't all roses. Some of it was boringly mundane.

He had to stay at the office of his group for 48 consecutive hours when he was on duty, which occurred several times a month.

Also, he gradually got fed up with the system in which members must pay big cash kickbacks to their boss from what they had gained.

In 2015, he left the yakuza group as his partner was pregnant, and he wanted to wed her.

His fiancee pleaded with him to quit the yakuza. He didn't want to cause his family any more trouble.

He asked the Fukuoka prefectural police for advice on his concerns. The police told the yakuza boss about the man's desire to leave the group.

When he left, fortunately no yakuza members hounded him. He wondered whether this was because he was a high-ranking member of the group and had helped to raise considerable funds for the organization.

He is currently working at a construction company he was introduced to by the police.

Despite the drop in his income, he is relieved he made the decision, saying, “My parents were also happy with my exit from the yakuza group.”

However, he also understands the circumstances of those who become yakuza.

“I never thought I’d be able to go to either a good university or a first-rate company,” he recalled.

When he was a member of the organization, he had a monthly income of 500,000 yen ($4,550) on average. The highest monthly earnings he got was 8 million yen.

“If you are rich and caring, people will follow you,” he said. “Most yakuza are incapable of working a decent job. So the yakuza world is the only place where they can fit in.”