Photo/IllutrationA street vendor stall in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward attracts tourists from overseas. Part of the image has been deliberately blurred for privacy reasons. (Tatsuro Sugiura)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Police are trying to clean up Yoyogi Park, the often crowded green area in central Tokyo that is seen as a potential cash cow for yakuza during the 2020 Olympics.

Metropolitan Police Department investigators said Jan. 28 they found that all seven permanent street vendor stalls operating in Yoyogi Park under occupancy permits issued by the metropolitan government were run by individuals connected to the Kyokuto-kai, a government-designated crime syndicate.

Metropolitan government officials plan to interview the stall operators with an eye toward possible revocation of the permits.

It is extremely rare for such occupancy permits to be rescinded because of yakuza connections, metropolitan government officials said.

The investigators said the seven individuals are employees of a company operated by a senior member of a gang group affiliated with the Kyokuto-kai.

Three of the seven stalls are currently out of business.

Yoyogi Park in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward is a candidate site for public viewing and other events during the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games next year, according to metropolitan government officials.

The park is expected to be packed around that time.

The MPD believes that proceeds from vendor stalls represent a key source of income for the crime syndicate. It decided to work with the metropolitan government to take measures at the park ahead of the sports event.

GANGSTER: STREET VENDING IS LIFELINE INCOME SOURCE

Rows of vendor stalls are typically seen at shrine and temple fairs and local festivals.

On a recent holiday, a crowd, including families with children, gathered near a number of kiosks, kebab vans and other stalls in Yoyogi Park.

Four stalls standing side by side near an open-air stage carried price cards advertising fried noodles for 600 yen ($5.48) per serving, a dish of frankfurters for 400 yen and canned beer chilled in icy water for 500 yen.

“These meat buns are from Yokohama Chinatown, and these piping hot fried noodles are my pride and joy,” said the male operator of one of the stalls. “I have quite a number of customers, so I am making good money.”

Sales have more than doubled during the past decade thanks to the surging number of foreign tourists, the man added.

Yoyogi Park is a stone’s throw from the new National Stadium under construction, which will be the main venue for the Tokyo Olympics.

“Crime syndicates are apparently banking on an Olympic boom,” one metropolitan government official said. “They were pressuring the metropolitan government so the latter would not rescind permits.”

Yoyogi Park’s vendor stalls have their origins in a black market operated in the aftermath of World War II.

The metropolitan government, which owns the park, introduced a licensing system for street vendors there in 2007. About 20 individuals have obtained occupancy permits, but their numbers have dropped from year to year, partly due to their advancing ages.

The investigators said all proceeds from the four stalls that remain in business have been handed to the company operated by the senior gangster. The stall operators receive part of the sum in the name of wages.

“Crime syndicates are hoping to jump on the Olympic bandwagon to make a fortune at one stroke, but we will never allow them to do so,” a senior MPD investigator said.

One gangster in the Kanto region said street vending can bring in huge profits if the right location is acquired.

“The prime cost of fried noodles is only several tens of yen per serving,” the gangster said. “Gambling and street vending have, since olden times, been sources of income for us yakuza.”

He said that occupancy permits for setting up vendor stalls in places like Yoyogi Park, where there are constant crowds, represent a “lifeline for gang families.”

“A loss of permits would deal a major blow to people like us, who have few job opportunities with prospects of stable income,” the gangster added.

(This article was written by Kenta Yasumi and Tatsuro Sugiura.)