Poor economy increases Japan's gang violence

Sunday, September 9, 2001

TOKYO -- Brawls in popular nightspots. Shootouts in the swank Ginza shopping area. Underworld headquarters riddled with bullets.

As police work to contain a power struggle within one of Japan's richest underworld syndicates, an unusual wave of high-profile gangland violence has gripped Tokyo.

Police refuse to discuss details, other than to confirm the number and locations of shootings. But experts say it underscores a larger concern -- how a decade of crackdowns and economic hard times have made Japan's "yakuza" underworld increasingly volatile, and violent.

"These are desperate times for gangs," said Atsushi Mizoguchi, an expert on Japan's underworld. "With the economic slump, the police surveillance, the defections, it's blurred allegiances."

The current battle began in April, when more than a dozen empty shops and offices owned by outcast factions of the Kokusuikai syndicate were fired on in the late night and early morning hours.

So far, no one has been killed and no one has been arrested, though the violence continues.

Japan's crime syndicates are among the world's wealthiest, bringing in billions of dollars a year. Recent scandals have revealed close ties to Japanese police and prominent politicians, along with some of the country's biggest banks and brokerage houses.

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