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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Japan’s yakuza gangs will be extinct in 50 years, says ex-member amid police crackdown

The numbers speak for themselves. As recently as 2011, there were 70,300 known yakuza, but that figure had fallen to just 25,900 by 2020, according to the Centre for Removal of Criminal Organisations. It is a far cry from the heyday of the Sixties, when gangs with regional strongholds across Japan had more than 184,000 members.

Mr Takegaki is among those contributing to chipping away at those numbers in his own small way. In the Yamaguchi-gumi, he spent more than three decades working first as an enforcer who ensured rules were obeyed and debts paid, and then eventually being promoted to a senior member. 

His preferred weapon was a knife, but he also carried a gun, just in case. He says he cannot remember how many prison terms he served, only that the longest was for five years over an assault.

When the allure wore off

However, by 2005, he had become disillusioned. It was becoming harder to make money, he said, while newcomers were ignoring the traditions that had once made the Yamaguchi-gumi respected as much as it was feared. 

“I joined in 1972 because I was attracted by the sense of honour that we had then, the sense of fighting for our community. But things changed,” he explained.

The last straw was when his boss’s own son was machine gunned dead during a gang dispute.

“My ‘senpai’ [mentor] was retiring and I was in line to take over. But I was getting older and slowing down, so I decided that it was time to leave.”

Walking away from an organisation that takes a dim view of disloyalty had its dangers. Mr Takegaki said five shots were fired at his front door shortly after he left and he took to sleeping with a “wakizashi” short sword within easy reach.

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