The Yakuza in a slow decline?


    Yakuza show off their tattoos at the Sanja Matsuri Festival in 2007; via released under Attribution 2.0 Generic license

    The yakuza’s slow decline in Japan occurred after the strict implementation of anti-organized crime laws and the arrest of senior members taking place.


    The yakuza have been a facet of Japanese society, being known for following a strict code of honour and the use of yubitsume or cutting off the left little finger as a means of punishment if mistakes are made against it or a way to show an apology [source]. This also includes the presence of tattoos all over their body, which are only seen if their shirts are removed since they are kept concealed from the public. According to the National Police Agency (NPA), membership to yakuza groups (or Boryokudan) stand at around 28,200 by the end of 2019. In the same year, around 14,281 members were arrested in various operations [source]. Despite the dropping numbers, the yakuza’s strong influence is a force to be reckoned with. The four largest yakuza syndicates in Japan, as of 2021, consist of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai, Inagawa-kai and the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi [source].

    The yakuza is generally regarded as a semi-legitimate organization. During times of crisis, they conducted relief efforts during the 1995 earthquake in Kobe and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region. The yakuza are also known to have strong ties with right-wing political groups, giving them a connection to Japanese politics [source]. They are called a necessary evil to handle things that may not be easily handled through legitimate means like settling debts or traffic disputes [source]. At times, yakuza groups are involved in the banking and real estate industry through jiageya, or land consolidators, especially when there are disputes with tenants or homeowners who refuse to move out of their properties and the corporations or government ministries/agencies need someone to do their dirty work [source].

    By the 1990s, Japan’s view on its existence has been changing. The passage of the 1991 Organized Crime Countermeasures Law was a major law being used to combat organized crime by putting most yakuza groups under Boryokudan status, which makes things difficult for them if their members have criminal records and conduct crimes for their bosses [source] with updates made in 2012 to designated said groups as “dangerous” and make arrests if illegal demands are made [source]. The Act for Prevention of Unlawful Activities by Criminal Gang Members was passed in 1995, which made racketeering activities difficult to conduct [source]. The passage of the Organized Crime Punishment Law in 2000 and the Transfer of Criminal Proceeds Prevention Law in 2007 targeted yakuza profits by going after financial fraud, money laundering and underworld banking [source]. The implementation of the Criminal Investigations Wiretapping Law in 2000 allowed the police to use wiretapping in yakuza-related cases [source]. In 2009, NPA Commissioner General Takaharu Ando has called for the yakuza’s influence to be curtailed, starting with the Kodo-kai [source]. This was followed by arrests of various yakuza leaders. In 2010, Fukuoka was the first prefecture to enact anti-yakuza ordnances [source]. Tokyo and Okinawa were the last places to enact anti-yakuza ordnances, leaving a nationwide network where prefectural police forces can easily go after the yakuza [source].

    With the arrest of known yakuza leaders, enforcement of harsh laws and social stigmas against their existence, the Yakuza is already in a slow decline.

    The yakuza's slow decline
    An anti-Boryokudan sign in Nakasu, Hakata in Fukuoka Prefecture; via released under Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license

    Key Judgement 1

    The Hangure are likely to fill in the void of organized crime as tough laws and arrests of known leaders has forced yakuza groups to curtail most of their activities

    • The yakuza’s influence in Japanese society was in a slow decline after strict implementations of the various anti-organized crime laws aimed to curtail their activities. Arrests of yakuza members and leaders have contributed to the fall of influence and number of yakuza members [source].

    • The Hangure (Half gray) are slowly replacing the yakuzas as their influence continues to drop. These gangs have no code of honor and are known to commit violence when the situation calls for it [source]. Their structure, based on close personal relationships, means that they are not covered by anti-organized crime countermeasure laws [source].

    • With the use of personal connections instead of an organized structure, it is easier for hangure groups to legally operate under the eyes of law enforcement. Their lack of legal status under Japanese laws means that it’s also easier for them to recruit people, especially ex-yakuza who wish to continue their former activities or crooks who don’t like the yakuza structure/code as a means of doing things.

    Key Judgement 2

    The implemention of strict anti-yakuza laws and arrests of yakuza leaders are highly likely to force its current members to leave for legitimate means of work.

    • The arrest of Satoru Nomura, followed with a death penalty sentence, is a strong indication that Tokyo wants to crack down on yakuza activities in society [source]. This was also an indication that his arrest is an indicator of being held responsible for the Kudo-Kai killing and intimidating people who would not submit to cooperation. The Kudo-Kai are notorious, like all groups in the northern Kyushu region, for using small arms and explosives in settling dispute with their rivals or their targets.

    • With the arrest of senior yakuza members and leaders, followed by the drop of yakuza membership, the events has made it feasible for those who decided to work legitimately and leave the life of being a criminal [source]. They feel that the yakuza’s influence is in a decline and it was a matter of time before those who left would be arrested if they stuck around.

    Key Judgment 3

    Surviving yakuza groups are highly likely to change their ways in order to avoid being disbanded by the police and public scrutiny.

    • Since the implementation of strict laws targeting the yakuza, most groups have avoided showing off their logos in their offices or business cards to avoid legal repercussions. They are forced to use front companies as a means of conducting business [source]. Savvy yakuza groups have worked to recruit potential members who have financial status and don’t have the look of a yakuza thug [source].

    • Instead of conducting traditional crimes that are being targeted, the laws and the crackdown are forcing them to do crimes that are not easily detected. For instance, the yakuza are engaged in cybercrimes, fraud and theft since they are criminal acts that do not rely on the use of force to make their victims compliant [source].

    • A former boss with the Sumiyoshi-kai said that the yakuza are changing their tactics to cope with the laws [source]. If these groups are able to hide their activities from the surface, then these yakuza groups are able to escape the crackdown and survive the slow decline.
    Mark Christian Soo
    Mark Christian Soo
    Mark is a graduate of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) under the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) with a Master's Degree in Strategic Studies. His research interests focus on Japanese, East and Southeast Asian defense/foreign affairs policy.

    Table of contents


    Get the weekly email from Grey Dynamics that makes reading intel articles and reports actually enjoyable. Join our mailing list to stay in the loop for free!

    Related contents

    Subscribe to our Newsletter!
    I agree to receive the latest emails
    and offers from Grey Dynamics.
    not Information
    Subscribe Now
    Subscribe to our Newsletter!
    I agree to receive the latest emails
    and offers from Grey Dynamics.
    not Information
    Subscribe Now
    Learn to create professional videos and have fun in the process of creating videos.
    Video Review And Collaboration.
    Get Started