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Saturday, 15 November 2008

Dojinkai has long been one of Japan’s top organized crime syndicates

Dojinkai has long been one of Japan’s top organized crime syndicates, or yakuza, brethren of the American mafia. When it came to the all-important social rules governing Japanese neighborhoods, the Dojinkai was neighborly enough that a young hairstylist did not hesitate to open a fashionable salon, complete with music by Enya, a stone’s throw away from the headquarters.But residents began worrying two years ago after factional fighting spilled out onto the streets, one time with machine gun fire and explosions.More than 600 residents recently went to court to oust the Dojinkai from its six-story headquarters, located in a prominent commercial area near the main train station in this medium-sized city in western Japan.The lawsuit was the first of its kind in Japan, where the yakuza’s offices tend to be out in the open. It shined a spotlight on how the yakuza — long considered a necessary evil, tolerated by, and sometimes politically allied with, the authorities — occupy a place much closer to society’s mainstream than its American counterparts do. But it has also challenged that seemingly secure position.
“Our headquarters is our castle,” said Nobuyuki Shinozuka, 54, the Dojinkai’s acting chairman. “It’s the one thing that we find most precious, that we’re most concerned about.”So much so that Mr. Shinozuka and the other two leaders of the Dojinkai, 1,000 members strong, sat down the other day for a rare, 90-minute interview. They said they had lived peacefully with their neighbors since moving to their current location in 1986. They believed that outsiders were exploiting their running factional conflict — which has led to seven killings in the past two years — to try to expel them.The Dojinkai is one of the country’s 22 crime syndicates, employing some 85,000 members and recognized by the government. Traditionally, the yakuza have run protection rackets, as well as gambling, sex and other businesses that the authorities believed were a necessary part of any society. By letting the yakuza operate relatively freely, the authorities were able to keep an extremely close watch on them.As the syndicates have moved into drug trafficking and other more serious activities in recent years, however, laws against organized crime have gotten tougher. But they are nowhere near as sweeping as America’s 1970 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, which the government has used to take down the mafia.With their current chairman in prison, the three Dojinkai leaders spoke inside their lawyer’s office in the nearby city of Kumamoto. Asked about their business activities, they demurred. But the three men — Mr. Shinozuka, whose neatly trimmed beard and mustache emphasized his movie star looks; Hideki Fukui, 59, an avuncular type who was a fan of the “Godfather” movies; and Shuhei Tsutsumi, 54, an intense-looking man who rarely spoke — insisted they never broke neighborhood rules.“Not once have we had any trouble with any of our neighbors,” Mr. Fukui said. “That’s because our second chairman was very strict in that respect.”So as not to inconvenience their neighbors, the Dojinkai eschewed the telltale flashier trappings of their counterparts in bigger cities. They were forbidden to wear double-breasted suits. They were told to be circumspect while getting in and out of their cars by not lingering outside, and not to park their cars ostentatiously on the streets.“We’ve seen how the yakuza in Osaka or Tokyo occupy the streets with their cars, but we were explicitly taught not to do that,” Mr. Fukui said, adding that Dojinkai members are also taught to exchange greetings with the neighbors. “We are stricter on this point than most ordinary companies.”two years ago, a fight over succession led one faction to break off and form its own syndicate, called the Seidokai.The ensuing and continuing war led to the killings of members on both sides, as well as the murder inside a hospital of a man mistaken for a rival by a Dojinkai member. (The Dojinkai leaders visited the victim’s widow, burned incense at the family’s home and later gave financial compensation.)Many residents now say they fear getting caught in the cross-fire.According to city hall, 603 plaintiffs living or working within 547 yards of the headquarters joined the lawsuit against the Dojinkai. Some 5,508 people signed a petition endorsing the lawsuit. Private donations to assist the suit totaled $90,000, on top of a $300,000 contribution from the city.“Before there was never any problem, but one night around 11 p.m. I heard machine gun fire, and I thought that’s strange, I don’t remember any construction going on,” said Kimiyo Morita, 62, who lives several blocks away from the headquarters. “We can’t live in peace.”But opinion was split among those living closest to the Dojinkai, including an older couple whose house had a view of the headquarters. The husband favored evicting the Dojinkai, but his wife did not.
“They have to earn a living, too, so it’s not good to keep pushing them, ‘get out, get out,’ ” said the wife, who, like other residents in area, did not want to be identified for fear of drawing the Dojinkai’s attention. “As long as they don’t hurt ordinary citizens, it’s O.K. They may come on strong when they are together, but individually they are no problem. They always greet you, ‘Hello!’ ”
At the Enya-playing salon, the owner said he moved here four years ago, not overly concerned about the yakuza nearby. Like many Japanese, he believed the yakuza had the authorities’ tacit approval to operate, so making them move carried little meaning.“They’ll just move somewhere else,” he said.Indeed, girding for battle in court, Dojinkai members have left their headquarters and moved into a separate building they own next door. A sign on the building claims, however, that the group has relocated its headquarters to a branch office it owns about two miles away.At that branch office, the Dojinkai’s next-door neighbor was an equally fearsome fixture of neighborhood life in Japan: the residential association leader who knows everybody’s business and makes sure that all residents abide by Japan’s Byzantine garbage disposal and sorting rules. The association leader, Akemi Shigematsu, 66, requested that the Dojinkai sign a memorandum of understanding when it opened the branch office 11 years ago. The Dojinkai’s chairman at the time, Yoshihisa Matsuo, quickly complied, promising in the memorandum that members would not threaten passers-by, park illegally, mill around, throw away cigarette butts, litter or be a bad influence on schoolchildren.“They don’t bother the neighborhood,” she said, adding: “If I go speak to them about something — for example, about throwing away the trash — they’ll say, ‘Sorry!’ ”Mrs. Shigematsu, however, still checked the contents of the Dojinkai’s garbage bins just to make sure.The Dojinkai leaders said they and their subordinates, almost all locals, were also members of the community and simply followed neighborhood rules. They said they wanted to coexist with their neighbors, though they acknowledged that their activities sometimes “disturbed” society.“If a friend is killed, an ordinary person will become emotional and probably dream of revenge,” Mr. Shinozuka said.“But we go through with it,” he added. “That’s how we’ve been taught. And because of that difference, we disturb society.”Partly as atonement, the Dojinkai leaders said they gave large gifts to earthquake-relief efforts.


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