WORLD NEWS

As Japan’s yakuza weakens, police focus shifts to unorganized crime hired via social media

May 17, 2024, 8:40 PM

TOKYO, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13: A police officer stands at the entrance to the Embassy of Israel on Octo...

TOKYO, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13: A police officer stands at the entrance to the Embassy of Israel on October 13, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan. On October 7, the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched the largest surprise attack from Gaza in a generation, sending thousands of missiles and an unknown number of fighters by land, who shot and kidnapped Israelis in communities near the Gaza border. The attack prompted retaliatory strikes on Gaza and a declaration of war by the Israeli prime minister. (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)

(Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)

TOKYO (AP) — A senior member of yakuza was arrested for allegedly stealing Pokemon cards near Tokyo in April, a case seen as an example of Japanese organized crime groups struggling with declining membership.

Police agents who were busy dealing with thousands of yakuza members just a few years ago have noticed something new: unorganized and loosely connected groups they believe are behind a series of crimes once dominated by yakuza.

Police call them “tokuryu,” anonymous gangsters and tech-savvy young people hired for specific jobs. They often cooperate with yakuza, obscuring the boundary between them and making police investigations more difficult, experts and authorities say.

The Tokyo metropolitan police are currently investigating six suspects in their 20s and 30s, most of them without connections to one another, who are believed to have been hired on social media to kill, transport and burn the bodies of an older couple at a riverbank of Nasu, 200 kilometers (124 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

“It’s a crime carried out like a part-time job,” Taihei Ogawa, a former police investigator and crime analyst, said on an online talk show. “Tasks are divided, making it difficult for police to track down where instructions come from.”

The yakuza membership has shrunk to 20,400 last year, one-third what it was two decades ago, according to the National Police Agency. It attributed the decline largely to legislation passed to combat organized crime that includes measures like barring members of designated groups from opening bank accounts, renting apartments, buying cell phones or insurance.

Yakuza once operated from well-marked offices, often with signs out front and symbols of their trade such as lanterns and samurai swords visible through the windows. They were often portrayed in films and cartoons as noble outlaws with a code of honor. Their typical rackets were extortion, gambling, prostitution, gunrunning, drug trafficking and construction kickbacks.

But gang violence in a number of neighborhoods, including the 2007 fatal shooting of Nagasaki Mayor Iccho Ito during his election campaign, have since led the government to tighten gun control, racketeering laws and other anti-gang measures.

Local residents and businesses have also stepped up and filed dozens of lawsuits against yakuza groups to bar them from their communities. In December 2022, Fukuoka city filed for a court injunction to close down an office led by the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi branch of yakuza near elementary and junior high schools and forced it off the street six months later.

The aging of yakuza members and their financial difficulties have also hobbled the syndicate, experts say.

The number of arrested yakuza members in 2023 declined to 9,610, compared to 22,495 in 2014, according to the police.

Yakuza crackdowns have driven many members to quit and sent others underground. But they also prompted younger generations to join “tokuryu” groups rather than the traditional criminal structures, Noboru Suetomi, a criminologist and expert on yakuza, said in his recent article.

The National Police Agency describes “tokuryu” as “anonymous and fluid” groups that repeatedly form and disband via social media to carry out swindling, illegal betting, prostitution and other crimes often remotely, including from overseas.

They recruit a number of participants who are not connected to each other and assign them specific roles. While often cooperating with conventional yakuza, they invest their earnings into illegal businesses, the agency said. “They have become a threat to public safety.”

While numbers are hard to track, more than 10,000 people were arrested from 2021 to 2023 for alleged swindling, illegal drug trade other crimes, such as forgery of identification cards, which were linked to “tokuryu,” records show.

In April 2022, police busted a ring of 19 people recruited anonymously who operated a fake telecom company out of Cambodia and swindled an elderly Japanese. In 2023, Tokyo police arrested six people who got in touch via social media and carried out a high-profile daytime robbery of watches and jewelry worth 300 million yen ($1.92 million) at a store in Tokyo’s posh Ginza district.

National Police chief Yasuhiro Tsuyuki, at a meeting Monday of top prefectural criminal investigators, said “tokuryu” have been part of surging cases of swindling via social media and have become a “serious concern.” He urged police across the country to make unified efforts to tackle the problem and also cooperate with authorities abroad.

Tsuyuki has said police must drastically change their anti-organized crime measures to keep up with the new menace, calling for organizational restructuring and cooperation across investigative departments, from cyber to robbery and fraud.

To reinforce measures, the police in April launched a joint investigation unit specializing in social media and telephone scams. The agency also stepped up policing in entertainment districts and measures against juvenile delinquents and motorcycle gangs.

KSL 5 TV Live

World News

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 19: People watch a television broadcast reporting a meeting between North...

Kim Tong-Hyung

Russia and North Korea sign partnership deal that appears to be the strongest since the Cold War

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country faces “aggression.”

20 hours ago

Evan Gershkovich looks out from a defendants' box before a hearing at the Moscow City Court in Mosc...

Sergey Gudkov and Kathleen Magramo, CNN

Russia will hold Evan Gershkovich’s espionage trial behind closed doors, state media reports

American journalist Evan Gershkovich will stand trial behind closed doors in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg starting on June 26, state-run news agency TASS reported Monday, citing the court’s press service.

3 days ago

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ahead of their tour of the ...

Simone McCarthy and Anna Chernova, CNN

Russia’s Putin to visit North Korea in rare trip as anti-West alignment deepens

Vladimir Putin is set to travel to North Korea this week, the Kremlin said Monday, in the Russian president’s first visit to the country in more than two decades – and the latest sign of a deepening alignment that’s raised widespread international concern.

3 days ago

The Junkers Ju 52 aircraft "Kaleva" by the Finnish airline Aero is parked at the Katajanokka seapla...

Jari Tanner, The Associated Press

Remains of Finnish WWII plane shot down by Moscow with a US diplomat aboard is found

The World War II mystery of what happened to a Finnish passenger plane after it was shot down over the Baltic Sea by Soviet bombers appears to finally be solved more than eight decades later.

3 days ago

Olympian Clayton Yong and many others took part in a 6-mile run along the Jordan River Trail in Sou...

Alex Cabrero

Elite Running Program credited for producing Utah Olympians competing in 2024 Paris Games

Olympian Clayton Young credits his success to an increased emphasis on the running culture in Utah, and a big part of that is to the Elite Run Program.

4 days ago

The Olympic rings are seen on the Eiffel Tower Friday, June 7, 2024, in Paris. The Paris Olympics o...

Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press

IOC gives 14 Russians, 11 Belarusians neutral status for Paris Olympics in first round of decisions

The IOC approved 14 athletes from Russia and 11 Belarusians with neutral status to compete at the Paris Olympics in a first list from some sports published Saturday.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light up your home with these top lighting trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for hassle-free computer repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

As Japan’s yakuza weakens, police focus shifts to unorganized crime hired via social media