The BBC reports that Kyoto-based Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest Yakuza syndicate, has named a new boss:
Sixty-three-year-old Kenichi Shinoda was named as the new leader during a ceremony in the western town of Kobe, the Kyodo news agency said.
The previous boss, Yoshinori Watanabe, unusually left his post earlier this year by retiring; death is a more usual end to such a career.
Mr Shinoda has a bit of a history, having apparently served thirteen years in prison for beheading a rival boss with a sword. To me, it sounds like rather a light sentence in a country not known for them.
Possibly the strangest thing about the yakuza, though, is that everything is reported so openly. In fact, the Wikipedia article on the subject has some pertinent insights:
Much of the current activities of the yakuza can be understood in their feudal origin. First, they are not a secret society like their counterparts of the Italian mafia and Chinese triads. The word “mafia” means those organisations which can not have open offices. Yakuza always have an open office with a (wooden) board on the front door displaying their group name or their emblem. Members often wear sunglasses and colourful suits so that their profession can be immediately recognised by civilians (katagi). Alternatively, they can be more conservatively dressed but when the need arises, they can flash their tattoos to indicate their affiliation. On occasion they also sport insignia pins on their suits.
At this point, you might be wondering why they are able to walk around with impunity.
Due to their history as a legitimate feudal organisation as well as their connection to Japanese political system through the uyoku, yakuza are somewhat a part of the Japanese establishment. Assassination of government officals by mafia as in Italy would be unthinkable in Japan, as such acts would make the semi-open nature of yakuza activities impossible. If a yakuza organisation does commit an open crime such as murder, a member from the yakuza organisation will often volunteer to turn themselves in to protect senior member of organisation. That also saves the police the trouble of investigation.
That’s the answer, really. They are part of the establishment. And, from what I hear, the connections go very high.