Japan’s feared ‘yakuza’ gangsters banned from Halloween festivities

Julian Ryall
·2 min read
Japanese yakuza often sport distinctive tattoos - -/-
Japanese yakuza often sport distinctive tattoos - -/-

One of the most fearsome “yakuza” underworld groups in Japan has been told it cannot hand out sweets to trick-or-treating children at Halloween

The local government of Hyogo Prefecture, in central Japan, on Monday unanimously approved a new provision to existing anti-gangster legislation that makes it illegal for members of the Yamaguchi-gumi to hand out treats at its headquarters in the city of Kobe on Halloween. 

The local authority was acting on a proposal from the prefectural police, which has been waging a war of attrition against the largest “yakuza” group in Japan. The gang operates across Japan, earning millions every year from extortion, underground gambling, the sex industry, weapons trafficking, drug sales and kickbacks in the property and construction sectors. 

Despite their reputation as violent criminals, members of the gang have been enthusiastic participants in Kobe’s Halloween festivities for many years, with gangsters in costumes handing out sweets outside their offices. 

The new ordinance makes that illegal, with children also banned from entering the gang’s offices. Members are also banned from giving money or gifts to children, and contacting minors by phone or email with the intention of encouraging them to join the group. 

Any gangster found guilty of violating the ordinance faces a sentence of up to six months in prison and fines of as much as £3,640. 

“The authorities are acting to deprive the Yamaguchi-gumi of any good public relations that might make them appealing to young people”, said  Jake Adelstein, author of 'Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan' and an authority on the nation’s underworld groups.

“They have been trying to ostracise this gang from society for some years and this is just the latest measure to do that."

“By clamping down like this, they are hoping to deprive them of new blood because the average age of a ‘yakuza’ is now 50 and they’re struggling to attract new members”, he said. 

Authorities are also attempting to keep people away from the gang’s facilities out of concern that passers-by might be injured or killed in the Yamaguchi-gumi’s ongoing feud with a rival group. 

In October last year, two members of an affiliated group were shot dead on a street in Kobe, while a senior member of the splinter group, the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, was killed in November 2019 in the nearby city of Amagasaki. In the last five years, police say there have been 127 incidents of violence involving gangs in and around Kobe.