Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Japanese Gangsters

photo credit: Carley Evans
Christian Caryl and Akiko Kashiwagi write for NEWSWEEK:
If you ever want to see Japanese gangsters at work, look no further than Tokyo's Shinjuku area, which holds a Tori-No-Ichi festival each November. Members of the yakuza, Japan's storied mafia, show up to accept tribute from business owners in the nearby red-light district, who shell out hard cash to ensure the coming year will be free from "difficulties." It's a system that's gone on for decades, if not longer. Except that nowadays the gangsters use computer spreadsheets to track payments and coordinate by text message.

As the scene in Shinjuku suggests, the Japanese mob is still very much alive, and parts of it are thriving. But years of recession, forced restructuring and global competition haven't just changed the way Japan Inc. does business; they've also forced Japan's criminals to adapt. Back when the country's economy was booming, a hood's work was fairly predictable: gambling, protection rackets, and maybe a little drug dealing could ensure a comfortable life. But nowadays, in an age of tougher laws, greater competition and a shrinking, aging domestic market, only those gangsters who can change with the times are flourishing; others are growing poor or dropping out entirely.

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