Post-disaster business opportunities attracting wrong kind of enterprises
Like ants to sugar, underworld organizations have been making their way to the towns and cities of the Tohoku region that were destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11. The cost of cleanup and reconstruction is estimated to be some ¥15 trillion, so there seems to be enough sugar to go around, but according to the Sankei Shimbun, the boryokudan (organized crime), or yakuza, seem determined to secure as big a share as they can.
Police in the area are reporting that since early April two “unknown” organizations have been making the rounds of five evacuation centers in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, handing out plain brown envelopes to evacuees. Each envelope contains ¥30,000 in cash. Local officials have cautioned individual representatives of these organizations, saying that their way of distributing the money is “unfair,” and that it would be better for them to give the officials the money so that it could be distributed more properly. This request was ignored in Ishinomaki. However, the same groups also delivered a pile of envelopes each containing ¥30,000 to the disaster headquarters of another city in Miyagi, Minami Sanriku, for distribution. Altogether, the “contributions” in the two cities total somewhere between ¥30 and ¥50 million.
There have been a number of reports about yakuza philanthropy, but police say this is a familiar underworld method. Cleaning up and reconstruction will take a few years, and by handing out money to as many victims as possible the yakuza are telling them “we are here and ready to take your orders.” The idea is to demonstrate sympathy for the evacuees’ situation (jingi) as a means of insinuating their influence in the “areas of benefit,” such as construction and waste disposal.
Apparently, the Kodo-kai, a particularly powerful arm of Japan’s biggest underworld organization, the Yamaguchi-gumi, are already involved in the cleanup effort and currently gathering intelligence regarding the processing of refuse. Following the Great Hanshin Earthquake, yakuza groups produced counterfeit refuse hauling permits so that they could corner the market on the cleanup of Kobe, which is in the Yamaguchi-gumi’s backyard. As the police told Sankei, piles of debris are like “mountains of gold” to organized crime. The yakuza are also said to buying up as much heavy machinery in the Tohoku region right now so that they will have a monopoly on equipment leasing when reconstruction begins.
Miyagi Prefecture has already implemented a regulation that “excludes” identified criminal organizations from participating in economic activities, but given how desperate residents are for reconstruction aid in any form, it’s hard to know how effective it will be. Right after the earthquake, the National Police Agency told business people in the disaster area to be alert to yakuza trying to gain entrance to their industry associations. These days, such criminals don’t dress or act like stereotypical yakuza, and it may very well be that there are already gangsters in these associations.