The Unexpected Cost of the Yamaguchigumi Split War Now Burdened by Gang Members | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The Unexpected Cost of the Yamaguchigumi Split War Now Burdened by Gang Members

The aftermath of the schismatic war has drastically changed the lives of gang members

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Shinobu Tsukasa, head of the 6th Yamaguchigumi

The rivalry between Japan’s largest gang, the 6th Yamaguchigumi, and the breakaway Kobe Yamaguchigumi, which split in August 2015, is about to turn seven years old. According to the National Police Agency, there have been about 90 incidents of rivalry between the two sides to date, resulting in eight deaths. There have also been incidents not caused by rivalry but by troubles within the organization over transfers, and since the split, more than 100 such incidents have occurred in total.

Against the backdrop of growing public condemnation of this string of incidents, the sentences for murder by gang members have become harsher in recent years.

In April 2022, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a man named Hisanori Asahina, a former member of the 6th Yamaguchigumi, who was convicted of murder and other crimes and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Asahina had been arrested and charged with murder in November 2019 for firing an automatic rifle at Kobe Yamaguchigumi leader Keiichi Furukawa in Amagasaki City, Hyogo Prefecture, killing him.

The trend is definitely toward harsher punishments.”

The incident occurred in an evening shopping street frequented by shoppers, and was the subject of public criticism, partly because it was pointed out that the stray bullet from the large gun could have endangered civilians. Although Asahina’s dismissal of the appeal was only partially reported, the heavy judicial decision was reported and spread through social networking sites.

In December 2017, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Hideyuki Yamamoto, a member of the 6th Yamaguchigumi Kodokai, who shot and killed Noboru Takagi, a young leader of the Ikeda clan of the then Kobe Yamaguchigumi, in Okayama City, and similarly confirmed his life imprisonment. A lawyer familiar with criminal trials commented on these conclusions, “In the past, a single murder case often resulted in a fixed-term sentence, such as 20 years in prison. There is a definite trend toward harsher punishment.

Factional conflicts have erupted in the Yamaguchigumi in the past, and there has been a history of splits and internal conflicts. The most damaging was the “Yamaichi War” over the position of the fourth head of the Yamaguchigumi, in which 25 people died on both sides; a group opposed to the appointment of Masahisa Takenaka as the fourth head broke away and formed the Ichiwakai, resulting in a state of rivalry and warfare.

The most violent incident occurred in January 1985. Three top executives, including Takenaka, were simultaneously murdered by hitmen from the Ichiwakai side. The impact of the incident was so great that the Yamaguchigumi was forced to dissolve the Ichiwakai due to the violent rewind of the Yamaguchigumi. The Yamaichi War is still talked about by the gang community and police officials as the worst rivalry in gang history.

Seiji Takayama, a young leader of the 6th Yamaguchigumi, visited Jiro Kiyota, president of the Inagawa-kai. Amidst the ongoing divisive war, he has been working tirelessly to strengthen relations with friendly groups.

The prosecution sought the death penalty for the leaders of the assassination group that killed Takenaka, but the Osaka District Court sentenced them to life imprisonment, which was later confirmed after a ruling by the Osaka High Court. The other members of the group, including the perpetrators, were sentenced to 20 years in prison, among other terms. Although more than 37 years have passed since the incident occurred, one of the leaders who was sentenced to life imprisonment is still in prison.

Following the Yamaichi feud, society’s condemnation of the Yamaguchigumi was focused on the August 1997 shooting death of Masaru Takumi, a young leader of the fifth Yamaguchigumi. In this incident, a stray bullet also killed a dentist, an inexcusable situation. The arrested leader was sentenced to life imprisonment, but the perpetrators were imprisoned for 20 years.

The most fruitful period of his life…

Regarding the Yamaichi War and the shooting death of Wakagami Takumi, the aforementioned lawyer said , “In the Yamaichi War, there were three victims in the killing of the fourth leader of the Yamaichi crime syndicate. In the case of the 5th leader, civilians were also involved. Even with this much damage, the perpetrators were given fixed-term sentences. That would be impossible today.

He continued, “In cases where members of the 6th Yamaguchi Gumi killed their opponents in a feud, there has been one victim who was sentenced to life imprisonment. The trend toward harsher punishment has become clear. He added, “In the past, life imprisonment was not without a path to parole. But now it is almost like a life sentence,” he added.

In the past, the maximum term of a fixed-term sentence was 20 years, and after this period, a person could be eligible for parole even if he or she was serving a sentence of life imprisonment, although there would be a review. However, the current maximum term is now 30 years, and prison terms are becoming longer. In recent years, the average number of years served on parole has been about 36 years.

Yamamoto, who shot and killed a young leader of the Ikeda clan of the Kobe Yamaguchi Gumi, was 31 years old when he was arrested. He will spend the most productive years of his life in prison. Even if he is released on parole, he will have passed the age of 60 by then. Asahina was 52 years old when he was arrested for firing automatic weapons. Thirty-odd years later, he will be a late-aged man. The reality is that the cost of war is heavy.

(Honorifics omitted in the text)

  • Interview and text by Masahiro Ojima

    Nonfiction writer. After working for the Sankei Shimbun in charge of the National Police Agency Press Club, the Metropolitan Police Department Cap, the Kanagawa Prefectural Police Cap, the Judicial Press Club, and the National Tax Agency Press Club, he went freelance. His most recent book is "The True Story of the Yamaguchigumi Split" (Bungeishunju).

  • Photography Shinji Hamasaki

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