JAPAN: The Yakuza Does Philanthropy?

LEXIE TUCKER WRITES – Organizations looking to publicize usually turn to the Internet. But what if you’re the yakuza? Often considered Japan’s version of the Italian mob, the yakuza feels so misunderstood it has turned to the Net to help tell a more nuanced story.

The Yamaguchi-gumi, a branch of the yakuza, recently launched a new website for the “Banish Drugs and Purify the Nation League.” The page urges people to stay off drugs and features a video of the group’s corporate song, along with pictures of members helping victims of the Fukushima earthquake.

Experts suggest that the website was created in an attempt to curb membership loss. Poor public image and Japan’s recent economic problems have been reasons for this decrease. According to police, membership has slipped below the 60,000 for the first time on record.

Contrary to popular belief, the yakuza are not an illegal group. Tolerated by the authorities, their activities have been greatly exaggerated in popular culture. In reality, their crimes usually range from prostitution and extortion to white-collar crime.

Police officials said they could not immediately verify if the website was actually created by the Yamaguchi-gumi. If it is real, it certainly reflects their “help the weak and fight the strong” motto.  Then again, journalist and author Jake Adelstein says it best: “In practice, it’s usually the reverse.”

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