Sunday, October 10, 2010

Is Japan Finally Standing Up?

Earlier this summer, the revered Japanese sport of sumo made headlines worldwide for all the wrong reasons: High-level ties to the yakuza, including match-fixing, were finally exposed. It turns out that sumo and the yakuza went together like sushi and soy sauce. For the first time ever, broadcaster NHK cancelled airing a match. Later, signs at sumo arenas and stables sprung up specifically denying access to gangsters and other undesirables.

Could the sumo fiasco be the impetus to bring the yakuza out of the shadows and shine a bright, probing light on organized crime in Japan? Two articles I uncovered suggest the philosophy might be taking hold. First, yakuza-affiliated construction concerns are officially barred from work on the Tokyo Sky Tree project. (For years, the yakuza has called the shots in the construction industry.)

Second, the Hyogo Prefectural Assembly approved an ordinance Wednesday to ban gangster leaders from setting up offices or buying homes in neighborhoods and near schools. (To indicate just how little yakuza regulation there has been, most organized crime families set up traditional office spaces, proudly displaying their insignia and affiliation on the front door.)

These are both small steps, to be sure—but you’ve got to start somewhere!

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