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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Yakuza don exits the big house


Staff writer

KOBE — The don of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the top mob syndicate, was released from a Tokyo prison Saturday morning, five years and four months after being sent up for accessory to gun possession involving an underling.

News photo
Out of the joint: Kenichi Shinoda, head of the Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate, arrives at JR Shin-Kobe Station on Saturday afternoon after being released from a Tokyo prison earlier in the day. KYODO PHOTO

Sporting a shiny brown fedora and brown scarf, Kenichi Shinoda, 69, alias Shinobu Tsukasa, arrived at the gang's Kobe headquarters early Saturday afternoon. Pausing briefly in front of the entrance, a frail-looking Shinoda was greeted by about a half dozen senior Yamaguchi-gumi affiliated mob bosses as dozens of media and police looked on. Shinoda spoke a few words to his cohorts before disappearing inside.

Shinoda, the sixth head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, returns at a time when police nationwide have been beefing up antigang laws and ordinances. With 34,900 members in 85 affiliated gangs, the Yamaguchi-gumi accounts for about 45 percent of the 78,600 mobsters in 22 police-designated violent gangs.

Over the past two years, police in Hyogo and other prefectures have stepped up pressure on the Yamaguchi-gumi. The gang's No. 2 and No. 3 leaders, Kiyoshi Takayama, 63, and Tadashi Irie, 66, were both arrested last year and are now in prison.

The 2010 National Policy Agency report on gang activity nationwide noted that since Shinoda became head of the Yamaguchi-gumi in August 2005, police have been paying special attention to the activities of the Nagoya-based Kodo-kai, the affiliated gang Shinoda and Takayama headed.

Local governments have also been tightening their antigang ordinances after several years of gang-related violence. A Hyogo antigang ordinance that went into effect April 1 prevents the underworld from operating offices or annex offices within 200 meters of schools, day care centers, public meeting halls, libraries, museums, public sports facilities and other facilities designated by the authorities.

The crackdown follows the gang-related violence over the past few years, including the April 2007 assassination of Nagasaki Mayor Iccho Itoh by Tetsuya Shiroo, a Yamaguchi-gumi member.

The arrest of Takayama, the de facto don after Shinoda went to prison in late 2005, and Irie, the No. 3 man, came after last summer's sumo bid-rigging scandal resulted in the arrest of three Yamaguchi-gumi affiliated gangsters on suspicion of extorting ¥6 million from an ex-sumo wrester who had allegedly been involved in a gambling operation with several wrestlers.

Police and yakuza watchers say now that Shinoda is out, restructuring the gang and keeping a low profile will likely be the path the Yamaguchi-gumi takes, at least for a few months.

Residents near the gang's quiet headquarters in a wealthy suburb of Kobe said Saturday the return of Shinoda made them a bit more concerned for the safety of the area.

"There are a lot of families in this neighborhood, and I think a lot of us are wondering what Shinoda's return means for the area's safety. Things have been very quiet over the past five years (since Shinoda went to prison). I hope it stays that way," said Masako Hosokawa, a Kobe resident who visits friends in the area often.

But other residents said they've never had any serious problems with their Yamaguchi-gumi neighbors, adding many are civic-minded.

"Gang members sometimes clean up the rain gutters around my house, and I've seen them sprucing up the area around a local temple," said Kazue Shiota, who lives just a few doors away from the gang.



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