The “final phase” at last… “Yamaguchigumi split war” is happening under the surface now.
Money, money, money.”
Seven years have passed since Japan’s largest gangster organization, the 6th Yamaguchigumi, split on August 27, 2015, and the rivalry with the Kobe Yamaguchigumi, formed by the breakaway group. Police authorities had confirmed that Kobe Yamaguchigumi had approximately 2,800 members at the time of its launch, but since then, the group has experienced further splits, and by the end of 2021, the number of members had decreased to approximately 510. Furthermore, in August of this year, it was newly discovered that a leading affiliate organization, the Kyoyukai, had left the organization. As the rivalry enters its eighth year, Kobe Yamaguchigumi’s tendency to further shrink is intensifying.
Kobe Yamaguchigumi was formed by 13 organizations with five organizations at its core: the Yamaguchigumi VI, the Yamaguchigumi Sanken, Takumi, Chiyotomokai, Masaki, and Ikeda, which had left the Yamaguchigumi VI. The main cause of the split was money: In the 6th Yamaguchigumi, the immediate bosses, called “direct advisors,” paid monthly membership fees of several hundred thousand yen, and on the birthday and Bon holidays of the 6th Yamaguchigumi boss Shinobu Tsukasa, the direct advisors shared the cost of 100 million yen and 50 million yen.
In response to this act of open rebellion, the 6th Yamaguchigumi “insulated” five members, including Kunio Inoue, who assumed the post of head of the Kobe Yamaguchigumi, Sadamu Irie, head of the Takumi clan, and Osamu Teraoka, chairman of the Chiyukai, and excommunicated the others. Unlike excommunication and expulsion, which leave room for reinstatement, insulation meant permanent expulsion from the gangster community. It was decisive that the relationship became hostile.
However, money became an issue again in the Kobe Yamaguchigumi. A senior police official in charge of organized crime control said, “The Kobe Yamaguchigumi was formed to be a money-free organization, but the issue of money came up again. The cause of the trouble is money,” he recalls.
In April 2017, a part of the group broke away and formed “Ninkyodan Yamaguchigumi” (now Kizuna-kai), with Oda Kizuna Makoto, who was the highest-ranking executive of Kobe Yamaguchigumi, as its representative. He held an unusual press conference and bitterly criticized the group, revealing that money was being siphoned off from the upper echelons. The Kobe Yamaguchigumi immediately insulated Oda. It was the first split.
A senior police official said, “It is safe to say that the war is in its final phase.”
The split was not limited to this. “Yamaken-gumi,” the core organization of Kobe Yamaguchigumi, announced its withdrawal in August 2020, and in July, “Ikeda-gumi,” known for its abundant financial strength, also withdrew. Kobe Yamaguchigumi’s power was greatly reduced. Another police official who knew the situation at the time said, “The withdrawal of the Yamaguchigumi and Ikeda-gumi was due to the fact that (Kobe Yamaguchigumi leader) Inoue did not allow them to return the money (retaliation). I don’t know why he didn’t allow them to retaliate…. The Sanken and Ikeda groups were not satisfied as yakuza, and probably left the group,” he explained.
The “did not allow them to return,” as pointed out here by a senior police official, referred mainly to three incidents. For the Yamakengumi, it was the April 2019 incident in which Yamakengumi’s number two, young head Yonokazu, was stabbed and seriously injured with a knife. In the Ikeda Gumi, young head Noboru Takagi was shot in May 2016 and another young head Yuichiro Maeya was shot in May 2020. Takagi was killed and Maeya was seriously wounded. Ikeda Gumi did not retaliate even though two consecutive generations of young leaders, the key figures in the organization, were shot.
In the Sanken-gumi, the leader, Koji Nakata, himself a hitman, shot a leader of the 6th Yamaguchigumi Kodokai, but immediately after the incident, Nakata was reprimanded by Inoue. After these events, the Yamakengumi returned to the 6th Yamaguchigumi in September 2021, and the Ikeda-gumi was designated as a designated gang in November 2021 as an independent organization. Kobe Yamaguchigumi expelled Yamakengumi leader Nakata, but his departure was a major blow.
As mentioned above, Kobe Yamaguchigumi had approximately 510 members at the end of 2021, while the 6th Yamaguchigumi as of the same date had approximately 4,000 members. The number had increased from about 3,800 the previous year due to the addition of the Yamaguchigumi. The aforementioned senior police official expressed the opinion that “the number of members is 8 to 1, and it may be safe to say that the war is in its final phase.
What a designated gang leader said was “very unusual”.
In the midst of this process, in August of this year, Teraoka, the chairman of the Kyoyukai, announced his withdrawal from the Kobe Yamaguchigumi. This senior police official also pointed out that “Teraoka had been secretly trying to settle the situation by having Inoue, the head of the Kobe Yamaguchi Gumi, retire, but it seems that Inoue did not listen to him.
The Kobe Yamaguchigumi insulated Teraoka, who left the group in August of this year. This is the second time Teraoka has been insulated, as he was insulated after leaving the 6th Yamaguchigumi in August 2015. A designated gang leader based in the Tokyo metropolitan area who has been closely following the process so far said, “I have never heard of a person being insulated twice. It is very unusual. He then raised the following question.
I understand that they insulated Oda, the representative of the Yamaguchigumi ninkyogumi, and others. After that, Nakata, the leader of the Sanken-gumi, who left the group in the middle of the split, was expelled from the group, a relatively light punishment. But what does it mean to insulate Teraoka, who had followed Inoue of the Kobe Yamaguchigumi for seven years after the split and was working to get things under control, now?”
Since the Masaki clan had already been dissolved, the Takumi clan was the only one remaining among the five core organizations at the time of the launch of the Kobe Yamaguchigumi. However, in September, it was decided that Kobe Yamaguchigumi, Ikeda-gumi, and Kizuna-kai would become a “federation” in a way that each of them maintained their independence. Nevertheless, the 6th Yamaguchigumi is still overwhelmingly dominant in terms of the number of members, and the issue of the split can be said to be in its final phase. However, it is likely that a little more time will be needed for convergence. (Honorifics omitted in the text, some titles were used at the time)
Interview and text by： Masahiro Ojima
Nonfiction writer. After working for Sankei Shimbun in charge of the National Police Agency Press Club, Metropolitan Police Department Cap, Kanagawa Prefectural Police Cap, Judicial Press Club, National Tax Agency Press Club, etc., he went freelance. His most recent book is "The True Story of the Yamaguchigumi Split" (Bungeishunju).
Photographed by： Shinji Hamasaki