Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Justice Minister quits after revelation of yakuza ties

Former Justice Minister Keishu Tanaka (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters, file)
Justice Minister Keishu Tanaka stepped down Tuesday after allegations he ties to the yakuza.

Tanaka, 74, became justice minister after a reshuffle of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's cabinet Oct. 1. He had acted as a matchmaker at a yakuza's wedding 30 years ago and attended a party thrown by a mob boss. He claimed he was unaware of the groom's gang connections at the time.

Tanaka cited ill health as his reason for resigning. He had checked into a Tokyo hospital Friday with chest pains, irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure.

This story illustrates the pervasive influence the yakuza has on Japanese politics. I also question why Noda didn't more thoroughly vet his cabinet members before appointing someone with yakuza ties as the Justice Minister.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

'Yakuza Dynasty' is on Amazon

Available now on Kindle

The Untouchable, the first novella in my Yakuza Dynasty series, is now available from Amazon's Kindle store. It is only $0.99, so buy now! Supplies are limited to the number I can sell.

Click on the link below to be taken to Amazon.

The Untouchable (Yakuza Dynasty): Dustin Dye: Kindle Store

Monday, September 24, 2012

YAKUZA ENCOUNTERS: My Very Brief Fight with a Yakuza

This is the latest installment in the Yakuza Encounters series. This originally appeared on Ken Seeroi's blog, Japanese Rule of 7. It also appeared on the Japan Today Web site. It is an amazing story. Ken bravely stepped between a yakuza and a man beaten nearly to death. Who knows what anyone else would do in that situation? I've reposted it here with permission from the author.

This is the story I don’t want to tell, about my fight with a Japanese gangster, because it’s so horrible.  But I’ve held onto it too long already, so I’ll just lay it out.

The night started out pretty much like every other, drinking with some random Japanese girl in Ikebukuro.  What can I say, everybody’s gotta have a hobby.  Now, I’ve heard people say that Japan’s expensive, but it’s really not.  Seriously.  Like I’ll tell you what Tony Robbins told me.  I’m sure you know him—he’s that dude about seven feet tall with hands like baseball gloves.  Sometimes I lie on the floor and watch him on YouTube when it’s two a.m. and I can’t stand any more Japanese TV.  I’m not saying I even like the guy all that much, but from a Japanese perspective, he’s amazing.  He occupies an opposite universe, where people are huge and loud and can accomplish whatever they put their minds to, like improving relationships and being healthy and successful.  And I’m like, Hell yeah!  I can take control of my life!  I’ll just finish this bottle of Sapporo and then I’m on it!

Japanese Snack Bars and Nomihodai

So lying there with my laptop on my stomach, Tony Robbins said to me, “If you do the right thing at the wrong time, you don’t get rewarded.  You get pain.”  And I was like, Dude, that is so true.  That’s like if you go to a “snack bar” with a cover charge and buy one beer and then leave.  That beer’s going to cost you thirty bucks.  See, that’s the kind of pain Tony Robbins and I know about.  People who do stuff like that think Japan’s expensive.  But . . . if you go to a nomihodai, you can drink all you want for two hours for only about fifteen bucks.  A couple of hours, are you kidding me?  I can power down a good twelve beers in that time, and that’s such a deal.  Japan’s cheap if you follow the right program.  Anyway, that’s what Tony Robbins and I think.

But where was I?  Oh yeah, so that night I went with a lady friend to this nomihodai, which by the way translates to “two hours during which you and everyone else will look way more attractive than you actually are.”  And we had a completely fantastic time, eating sliced tomato salad and octopus in wasabi and these mind-blowing shiso and plum sushi rolls.  But as it was Wednesday and we had to get up the next day for stupid work, we just said goodnight, bowed at each other, and went our separate ways.

The Descent into Ikebukuro

It was a hot night, and when I walked down the steps into the station, even hotter air rushed up to meet me.  Ikebukuro Station is a sweltering, foul-smelling place.  Then, near the ticket machines, is where it happened.  I heard a loud thud, like a soccer ball being punted.  I heard it again, then again.  To my left a crowd of Japanese people were ringed in a large circle, and in the middle, a skinny man in a purple shirt was lying face up, unconscious on the white tile floor.  Over him stood a huge guy with a shaved head in a cream-colored jacket.  The huge guy drew back his foot like he was going to kick a field goal—he had on these leather shoes—and booted the unconscious man as hard as he could in the ribs.  Then again in the neck.  He kept doing it over and over.  The sound was horrible.  Around him, nobody said a word.

I really couldn’t process what I was seeing.  Like, a couple of minutes ago I was having a bunch of nice drinks with this chick, and now it’s like, What the hell’s going on?  Why is nobody doing anything?  Where are the cops?  Ikebukuro has a ton of police.  People were just cringing, looking away, but not moving, screaming, or even speaking.  Now, I try not to impose American values on Japan.  It’s another culture, like I get that.  But if there’s one rule about fighting, it’s that you don’t kick a man when he’s down.  No matter where in the world you are, that would seem to make sense.  You certainly don’t keep pounding on someone after he’s unconscious.  And in the States, if someone’s being attacked, you’re supposed to help.  At least you’d call 911 on your iPhone.  Or take a video with your iPad.  Or chuck your MacBook Air at him like a Frisbee.  Jesus, you’d do something anyway.

The Yakuza Outside of my 7-11

Like I said, so the skinny guy on the tile floor isn’t moving and this massive dude is just kicking the shit out of him.  And I know immediately the big guy isn’t just an ordinary person.  He’s a yakuza.  I know these guys because they have a meeting every Tuesday morning in my town, in front of 7-11.  It sounds strange, I know, but maybe they just like the rice balls there or something.  They’re really good, actually.  All these black cars line up with little old gangster guys sitting in the back, while muscly men in black suits mill around outside looking like K-1 fighters, with shaved heads and pounded up faces.  This dude was one of them.

The Part you Really Don’t Want to Read

Everything happened really fast.  I don’t think I’d even been there five seconds.  I was still trying to make sense of the whole scene.  Plus I’d had a few cocktails.  Then the yakuza dude did something I still can’t deal with.  He reached down and grabbed the unconscious man by the hair and lifted him up with one hand, until he was like a marionette dangling in the air.  I just remember that purple shirt.  Then with the speed of a baseball pitcher, he drove forward and whipped the man’s skull onto the tile floor as hard as he could.  It was like an explosion.  Jesus.  There was blood everywhere.  It wasn’t anything like a fight; it was like something from a war movie.  I was like, Holy crap, this is an actual murder.  The man in the purple shirt lay there lifeless with his eyes rolled back in his head, not even breathing, while all his dark blood poured out onto the white tile.

If you think about it,  you probably don’t see a lot of blood very much.  Like maybe emergency room workers or soldiers do, but ordinary folks just don’t see massive amounts of blood in everyday life.  It’s surprisingly dark red.  Yet somehow, the yakuza still wasn’t finished.  He leaned over and once more picked the man up by the hair, like a lifeless doll.  Nobody moved.  The entire Ikebukuro station went deathly silent.  And then he hurled his head onto the tile again, as hard as he could.  The sound was awful, just bone on rock.  More blood came gushing out.  I couldn’t believe it.  Then he reached down for him again.  I stepped forward and shoved the yakuza in the chest.

My Very Stupid Move

Now, I’m not a particularly brave dude.  Like if your baby’s on fire, count on me to be the first guy to take off running down the street for the fire department.  Those guys are professionals; let them deal with it.  They’ve got big trucks and water hoses and oxygen masks and stuff.  Police have guns and clubs and handcuffs.  Only right then, in Ikebukuro, there weren’t any police.  There wasn’t even a lousy JR station attendant.  Just hundreds of people watching and nobody was going to do jack shit.  I stepped next to the unconscious man in the purple shirt, put my palm in the middle of the yakuza’s chest, and shoved him back hard, without a word, mostly because I couldn’t come up with anything to say.  And until that point, I guess I didn’t really realize just how big he was.

His eyes were wild with anger and I knew he was going to take my head off.  The moment he looked at me, realized I’d gotten into something I couldn’t talk my way out of.  Still, I couldn’t help but wonder, What Japanese phrase would be appropriate at this juncture?  Like I can make a dentist’s appointment or book a room at a hotel, but somehow this particular situation had never come up in my studies.  I hate when that happens.  He moved forward until we were standing about six inches apart, and I understood one thing:  backing down was no longer an option.  I pulled my hand back from his chest.  I saw a look flash in his eyes that said, I’m gonna kill you.  And then he did something I totally didn’t expect.  He lowered his gaze, nodded slightly, and raised his hand vertically; the Japanese version of “sorry to trouble you.”   Like he’d just stepped on my foot in the train.  Then he walked past me, up the steps, and out of the station.  Just like that.

The Japanese Police, to Protect and to Serve

Suddenly everybody was on the phone with someone, but for ten long minutes, nobody came.  No police, no ambulance, nothing.   I stood next to the lifeless man and counted the time on my watch.  I knew there was a police box near the top of the stairs, but jeez, did I have to do everything myself?  The crowd mostly hung around watching, in a loose circle around this dude and all his blood, except for two ladies and a man who knelt beside him and patted him like a dead puppy.  Finally an ambulance crew arrived.  When they strapped him to the stretcher, to my surprise, he let out a faint groan and I noticed he was breathing.  The human body is remarkably resilient.  As he was being carted off, the police finally arrived.

People started drifting away.  One policeman asked a few casual questions of a couple people from the crowd, and jotted some notes in a notebook.  I walked up.

“I saw the whole thing,” I said.

The cop looked at me.  “That’s okay,” he said, and turned away.

“I can identify the man who did this,” I insisted.

“We’ll take care of it.

“He’s wearing a cream colored jacket, and he went that way.  I know where you can find him on Tuesday morning.

“That’s okay,” said the cop firmly.  “We’ll handle this.”  He turned his back and strode away.

And just like that, it was over.  I looked around.  There were a couple of girls hugging each other and crying.  A large puddle of dark blood was still on the white tile.  I stood there stunned for a few minutes.  Then I left.  I didn’t know where else to go, so I went I went to the convenience store and bought a tallboy of grapefruit chu-hi.  Then I rode the crowded train home and watched another Anthony Robbins video on the floor of my tiny apartment, but it didn’t make me feel as good as before.  I guess I still think of Japan as a safe place.  I just won’t be walking in front of that 7-11 any more.

Dustin says: One thing that concerned me about this story, which I shared with Ken, was the fact that if the victim was unconscious and not breathing for so 10 minutes, the faint groan Ken heard made may have been a dying respiratory pattern known as agonal breathing. If a 9-1-1 caller had related this to me, I would assume the patient had gone into cardiac arrest and recommend starting CPR immediately. I'd like to think the man made it though.

E-mail me if you would like to write your own Yakuza Encounters post!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Yakuza arrested for stabbing 8-year-old boy

Daimon of the Sumiyoshi-kai (Wikipedia)
Police arrested senior Sumiyoshi-kai gangster Akira Muronoi for allegedly stabbing an 8-year-old boy in the chest.

The boy was the son of a female acquaintance of Muronoi, 57, a member of Japan's second largest gang. Muronoi allegedly stabbed the boy at the mother's home in Tochigi last Saturday as a result of what police say may have been a disagreement between Muronoi and the boy's mother. The boy suffered minor injuries.

This story certainly runs contrary to the chivalrous image yakuza gangsters have of themselves.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Paternity Leave

The Yakuza Watch blog has returned from a short hiatus. My wife gave birth to our daughter, Lisa, Aug. 21. Lisa was 6 pounds, 6 ounces, and 18 inches long. I try to keep an objective tone on this blog, but I think I can objectively say she's the cutest baby in the history of the world, next to me.

I'll return to my regular posts next week, starting with an update on yakuza news that fell through the cracks this past month.

Thanks again for following my blog!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

YAKUZA ENCOUNTERS: Relaxing at a hot spring with a mob boss... and we're both naked!

This is the second part in the ongoing Yakuza Encounters series. Refer to the linked post, e-mail me, or leave a comment if you want to write your own installment!

When I checked into the Shiraoi Onsen Hotel in rural Hokkaido, little did I expect I would find myself sitting next to a yakuza boss at a hot spring.

In the summer of 2009, I used a seishun 18 kippu to travel by local trains from my home in Okayama to my future wife's home in Hokkaido. The seishun 18 kippu, which roughly translates to youth ticket, is a cheap way to travel if you don't mind journeying by local trains rather than the bullet train. It took me six days to get to Sapporo, making frequent sight-seeing stops. You don't necessarily have to be young to use the ticket--they sell them to anybody, but only during certain times of the year.

On my return, I decided to take a side trip to Shiraoi, a rural seaside town in southern Hokkaido, which was recently featured on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. I was attracted to the Poroto Kotan village, which is a replica of an Ainu village, along with a museum and tourist center. I checked into the only open hotel in town, the Shiraoi Onsen Hotel. (Shiraoi only has two hotels, and the other was closed on Mondays.)

The hotel is a nice facility which provides loads of favorite Hokkaido dishes, has a large onsen bath house, and spacious rooms. It was very reasonably priced, considering the amenities.

I sat down for dinner in the dining area. There were only two other guests in the dining room, who pretty much ignored me as I entered. One of them was an older man, the other was much younger. I inferred from their body language that they weren't father and son, so I assumed they were salarymen on a company team-building trip.

Once the younger man left, I was alone with the older man. He was staring at me, but I took no heed, as I was used to getting stared at by then as a foreigner in Japan.

After dinner, I went down to the bath house to clean up and relax from my long journey.

The bath house had perhaps 30 showers, and I had the whole place to myself. I sat at a shower and began soaping up.

Shiraoi Onsen Hotel (
A few minutes later, I heard someone enter the onsen. It was the old man from the dining area. He was now disrobed, and I noticed he was tattooed from neck to ankles. He sat down in the hot spring, and I could see in the reflection of the mirror in front of my shower that he was again staring at me.

Needless to say, I was anxious. It is unnerving enough to be alone with a yakuza boss, but I felt especially vulnerable being naked. A few minutes later, the younger man entered. His tattoos were still works-in-progress.

The boss nodded toward me and said, "Gaikokujin ga oru." There's a foreigner. I was now especially nervous as he was pointing me out to his kobun, but I thought it a little strange he used the politically correct term "gaikokujin" rather than "gaijin" or something less flattering. Imagine Tony Soprano using the term "African American" rather than "black" or a term too ugly to put on the Internet.

The boss then got out of the bath and sat at the shower directly to my left, rather than one of the 29 other open showers in the room. The henchman then began scrubbing his boss's back, while the oyabun sparked up a conversation.

The boss spoke mumbled yakuza slang, only half of which I could discern. The underling then translated it into everyday Japanese.

He asked me basic questions like where I was from. Being from the U.S. seemed to impress him, and he asked which state, and I said, "Um, have you seen The Wizard of Oz?" He asked what I did, and when I said I was a teacher, his tone changed somewhat and he used more respectful Japanese. Teaching is a very prestigious job in Japan.

He had gleaned a little bit about Kansas from American films, and he said, "There are a lot of cowboys there, right?"

"Um... sure."

"Do you have a gun?"

"Um... not with me."

He then started feeling out whether I could get a gun. I just said I don't have any guns in Japan. I then turned off my water, said, "It was nice to meet you," and got up.

I then sat in the hot spring for awhile, because I didn't want it to look like I was rushing off. Later, as I walked through the lobby toward my room, I found the place was crawling with yakuza. I must have crashed their convention.

The boss was now sitting in the middle of the room, and as I walked by he yelled out, "Ah! Teacher! Herro!"

The yakuza all looked at me, cigarettes dangling from their lips.

I said, "Hello!"

This seemed to delight the boss.

"Goodbye!" he said.


As I exited the lobby, I overheard the boss boasting, "I just had a conversation in English!"

Just a normal day in the life of an English teacher in Japan.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

YAKUZA ENCOUNTERS: My grandfather-in-law mistaken for a godfather (multiple times)

This is the first part in the Yakuza Encounters series. Refer to the linked post if you want to write your own installment!

Being mistaken for a yakuza boss certainly has its perks. Just ask my wife's grandfather.

My wife's maternal grandfather is an upright man who worked in administration for the Japan Post Office. He enjoys tennis and fishing. But he also has a gruff manner and strong bearing more suited for a yakuza boss. This may account for why he has been repeatedly mistaken for an oyabun.

The first occasion was on his way home from a wedding. A drunken salaryman crashed into my in-law's car, and then tried to drive off. My in-law sped around the other driver, cut him off, and confronted him. My grandfather was dressed in a nice suit, as he was coming from a wedding, and the other driver mistook him for a yakuza boss. As my grandfather questioned the driver, the driver started hyperventilating, bowing apologetically, and emphasizing that he "had money."

My wife's uncle, returning from the same wedding, then pulled up to the scene. He is a tall man with a buzz cut and the same gruff manner as his father. He too was wearing a suit. When he got out of his car and asked, "What's goin on here?" The poor would-be hit-and-run driver started to cry, still repeating that he had money and pleading for mercy.

(Photo by maclaren)
My grandfather-in-law was again mistaken for an oyabun an a local festival.

The yakuza have their fingers in nearly all Japan's summer festivals. The food vendors account for a lion's share of the yakuza's annual income.

At one such festival, the yakuza had a parking lot blocked off and only VIPs were allowed to enter. My grandfather didn't realize the situation and tried to enter the parking lot.

Several kobun underlings told my grandfather he had to turn around. Being the obstinate man he is, he began questioning them and they made him step out of his car.

By coincidence, the boss of the kobun was an old friend of my grandfather who he hadn't seen since high school. My grandfather didn't know his old friend was now a yakuza boss.

The boss approached my grandfather-in-law and bowed, saying, "I'm so sorry, Kawashima-san!" He then began berating his underlings, who were all crapping their pants as they thought they had upset an important godfather. Needless to say my grandfather was allowed to park in the VIP lot.