Photo/IllutrationThe signboard of the restaurant in Nagasaki’s Daikokumachi district shows dishes, including “kaisendon” sashimi rice bowl served for 500 yen. (Hikaru Yokoyama)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NAGASAKI—An “izakaya” pub here was described in restaurant reviews as “the greatest value for the money,” and rival eateries were baffled about how it could stay in business with such low prices.

One of its most popular dishes was “kaisendon,” or assorted sashimi served over rice in a bowl, that cost an unheard-of 500 yen ($4.70).

But after an investigation that took police from the ocean to a seedy red-light district and finally to the izakaya in a bustling area in front of JR Nagasaki Station, the secret was revealed.

The profitable business was serving fish illegally caught by a yakuza boss whose hobby was fishing. The izakaya was operated by his wife.

Nagasaki prefectural police arrested six individuals, including the yakuza boss, 51, his wife, 49, and his subordinates, on suspicion of violating the fisheries law and other allegations.

According to investigative sources, the establishment was closed down and cleared out because the operator had violated a stipulation in the real estate contract that prohibited contact with crime syndicates.

Police said the charges against the gang boss and his henchmen concerned a poaching incident in waters off the Nomomachi district of Nagasaki in July. They used spearguns and other equipment to fish for commercial profit without obtaining the required permission from the governor.

Members of the police force had long known that the yakuza boss loved to fish and had many acquaintances in the fishing industry.

He apparently started to make illicit profits from his fishing passion after anti-yakuza ordinances and laws scaled down his usual sources of income.

“I think he had no choice but to turn his hobby into a job after suffering from a cash shortage,” a senior police official said.

The boss and two minions had poached for several years, according to police. Undercover investigators confirmed they went offshore at least 38 times in the past year alone.

Their main area of operation was off the Mitsuse Lighthouse in Nagasaki’s Nomomachi district, which is also a popular destination for leisure fishing boats, according to a member of the local fishery cooperative association.

“It’s not a spot for serious fishing, so fishermen didn’t notice they were poaching,” the member said.

The three gave roles among themselves: the boat driver, the lookout and the one who caught the fish, investigative sources said.

Most of the fish supplied to the pub were premium species, such as areolate grouper, leopard coral grouper and red sea bream, according to police.

Word spread about the izakaya and its low prices on restaurant review website Tabelog and other sites.

The restaurant generated about 30 million yen in annual sales.

But investigators started to close in on the operation.

In early August, prefectural police raided a “free information booth” in an entertainment district in Nagasaki.

Such booths usually help visitors find eating and drinking establishments as well as sex parlors. But in this particular one, investigators found about 200 kilograms of vacuum-packed fish fillets, sources said.

The poachers had used the booth to store their illegally harvested fish, police said.

On Aug. 26, the gang boss and the two others received summary indictments on charges of violating the fisheries law and other allegations. The cases against his wife and the two others were dropped.

Under the anti-organized crime law that went into force in 1992, yakuza organizations were banned from demanding “protection” money from businesses on their turfs and conducting other shady practices.

“With the anti-organized crime law in effect, it became increasingly difficult for organized crime groups to secure ‘shinogi’ (sources of income), and their power faded away,” the senior police official said.

The fishing yakuza boss also learned that poaching can put food on the table, but for only so long.

On Sept. 3, a 2-ton truck pulled up alongside the izakaya that had been run by his wife amid Chinese restaurants that serve the local specialty “champon” noodle dish, cafes and other shops.

Employees of a transportation company carried a water tank, a large refrigerator, a sink and other equipment from the pub for “relocation.”

One worker was overheard saying, “The water tank is really heavy, isn’t it?”

Word spread about the secret to the izakaya’s success.

“That’s why it was so cheap,” the manager of a nearby izakaya said. “(Under ordinary circumstances,) the more you serve at low prices, the more money you lose. A 500-yen kaisendon is unthinkable.”

A 20 year-old college student who visited the area on a trip from Tokyo’s Koto Ward with her friend said she would never want to eat something caught illegally. But she acknowledged that the prices at the former izakaya were tantalizing.

“I might have entered if I hadn’t known (about the poaching),” she said. “I might if it were such a cheap place to eat.”