Yakuza is helping out Japan and the Japanese after the earthquake, with the relief efforts and showing a strain of civic duty.
The worst of times sometimes brings out the best in people.
Hours after the first shock waves hit, two of the largest crime groups went into action, opening their offices to those stranded in Tokyo, and shipping food, water, and blankets to the devastated areas.
The day after the earthquake the Inagawa-kai (the third largest organized crime group in Japan which was founded in 1948) sent twenty-five trucks filled with paper diapers, food, batteries, flashlights, drinks and the essentials of daily life to the Tohoku region.
An executive in Sumiyoshi-kai, the second-largest crime group, even offered refuge to members of the foreign community, something unheard of in a still slightly xenophobic nation, especially amongst the right-wing yakuza.
The Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group, under the leadership of Tadashi Irie, has also opened its offices across the country to the public and been sending truckloads of supplies, but very quietly and without any fanfare.
The Inagawa-kai has been the most active because it has strong roots in the areas hit : between midnight on March 12th and the early morning of March 13th, the Inagawa-kai Tokyo block carried 50 tons of supplies to Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Prefecture and dropped them off, careful not to mention their yakuza affiliation so that the donations were not rejected.
This was the beginning of their humanitarian efforts.
To those not familiar with the yakuza, it may come as a shock to hear of their philanthropy, but this is not the first time that they have displayed a humanitarian impulse : in 1995, after the Kobe earthquake, the Yamaguchi-gumi was one of the most responsive forces on the ground, quickly getting supplies to the affected areas and distributing them to the local people.
It may seem puzzling that the yakuza, which are organized crime groups, deriving their principal revenue streams from illegal activities, such as collecting protection money, blackmail, extortion, and fraud would have any civic nature at all.
However, in Japan since the post-war period they have always played a role in keeping the peace.
As one Yakuza member said :
“There are no yakuza or katagi (ordinary citizens) or gaijin (foreigners) in Japan right now. We are all Japanese. We all need to help each other.”
There is an unwritten agreement amongst the police and the yakuza groups that is acceptable for them to perform volunteer activities during a crisis but not to seek publicity for it.
Before the crisis the police were cracking down severely on the yakuza and any activity placing them in a heroic light might make the police look foolish. So they have been very quietly doing their part.
Ninkyo(do), according to yakuza historical scholars is a philosophy that values humanity, justice, and duty and that forbids one from watching others suffer or be troubled without doing anything about it. The yakuza often simplify it as “to help the weak and fight the strong,” in theory.
Of course, most yakuza are just tribal sociopaths who merely pay lip service to the words. But in times like this every helping hand is welcome, and maybe, maybe for a few weeks, both the police and the yakuza can declare a peace treaty and work together to save lives and ensure the safety of the people of Japan.
To some extent, the police have even given their tacit support to the yakuza aid efforts.
That’s the spirit of ninkyodo. It’s also the spirit of many of the Japanese people.
Wth no doubts Japan will weather this crisis and come back stronger than ever.