Fukushima 50

Just hours after the worst earthquake in a generation plunged Japan into crisis, the nation's mafia sprang into action. So began the yakuza relief effort

Japan’s Mafia launched an aid effort

On 12 march, around midnight, less than a day after a devastating earthquake tore through the Tohoku region of Japan, causing a tsunami that killed thousands and left many more homeless, 25 trucks bearing 50 tonnes of supplies arrived in front of the City Hall in Hitachinaka, in the east-coast Ibaraki prefecture.

A hundred men in long-sleeves shirts and coats immediately began unloading the boxes. These men weren't the Red Cross. They were members of Japan's third-largest organised crime group, the Inagawa-kai. They had all taken great care to cover up their affiliation. Sleeves were rolled down to hide the ornate tattoos that characterise so many of Japan's yakuza members; those who were missing fingers all wore gloves. They were not wearing their gang badges with the bushels of rice and Mount Fuji in the background that are part of the Inagawa-kai symbol. Their corporate emblem – and all yakuza groups have them – was not on display. Some members of the yakuza even have the logo tattooed on their chests. Needless to say, no one was bare-chested that night.

They came under the cover of the night because they didn't want their donations to become a public affairs issue. Since 30 September, 2009, when the head of Japan's National Police Agency (NPA), the courageous Ando Takaharu, declared war on organised crime, life for these criminal groups has been hard. No one wants to be associated with them, and the Inagawa-kai was well aware that any high-profile operation, even one with charitable intent, could invite harsh police crackdowns.

Gangsters in “duty”

Hitachinaka City Hall employees understood who they were. One of them recorded a video of the delivery, and they didn't refuse the supplies; it was no time to turn down aid. The main roads in Hitachinaka had been uprooted and split in half, electrical wires knocked down, sewage pipes exploded, the town's historical museum collapsed, over a thousand houses were damaged and by the 13 March, over 9,000 people were scattered in 68 shelters across the city.

The video, which I have seen, shows the gangsters unloading boxes of blankets, water, instant ramen noodles, bean sprouts, flashlights, batteries, paper nappies, toilet rolls: all the essentials of daily life in front of the still-standing City Hall. They were noisy, but fast and efficient. When they were done, they nodded to the city officials who watched on, and left. Another group would come back to the Tohoku region the next day.

The Japanese have been here before. After the great Kobe earthquake in 1995, the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest of the yakuza groups, which has its fortress-like headquarters in the city, gathered supplies from all around the country and brought them to the stricken residents, dispensing hot food from their offices, patrolling the streets to keep down looting. The mobsters were lauded for being faster and more efficient than the government relief effort – goodwill on which they have been capitalising for over a decade.

The aid delivery to Hitachinaka was not an isolated incident. In the hours after the 11 March quake, major organised crime groups across Japan opened their offices to people who could not return home or find a way to go home. In Tokyo, a yakuza group called the Sumiyoshi-kai, which has its offices in the Ginza entertainment district, opened offices all over the city-state to those who needed it; one yakuza boss even extending invitations to members of the foreign community, non-Japanese residents. According to police and group sources, in the wake of the disaster, the Sumiyoshi-kai has collected over a million dollars from senior members and is distributing goods to Miyagi, Ibaraki, and Fukushima prefectures via front companies and associated members. In some areas, offices have become temporary shelters

This story is written by Jake Adelstein /
The Independent Staff Writer /
Saturday, 9 April 2011 /

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mark liu

designer / artist

Mark Liu


Hamilton, NZ

I am a designer, illustrator, and amateur photographer, and I love to teach.

I am enjoying constantly pushing the boundaries and experimenting with new ideas. I particularly enjoy implementing all those ‘cutting-edge ideas’ into practical and functional design solutions.

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