Japan’s biggest organized crime syndicate has launched its own Web site, complete with a corporate song and a strong anti-drugs message, as the yakuza looks to turn around its outdated image and falling membership.
The clunky-sounding “Banish Drugs and Purify the Nation League” Web site is an offering from the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest yakuza grouping.
It includes shakily shot footage of members making their New Year pilgrimage to a shrine. The soundtrack is a traditional folk-style song with lyrics extolling the virtues of the Ninkyo spirit — an ideal of masculinity that battles injustice and helps the weak.
“Nothing but Ninkyo, that is the man’s way of life,” the lyrics say. “The way of duty and compassion, bearing the ordeal for our dream.”
Another video shows men with crew cuts pounding sticky rice for a New Year festival, and there are galleries of pictures showcasing the clean-up work members did in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and the 1995 Kobe earthquake.
The Web site is not the group’s first foray into media — the crime syndicate last year began publishing a magazine for its members that includes a poetry page, senior gangsters’ fishing diaries and a message from the boss.
Unlike their underworld counterparts elsewhere, the yakuza are not illegal and each of the designated groups, like the Yamaguchi-gumi, have their own headquarters, with senior members dishing out business cards.
They have historically been tolerated by the authorities and are routinely glamorized in fanzines and manga comics. However, periodic crackdowns have gained momentum, and there is evidence the mob’s appeal is waning.
The number of people belonging to yakuza groups fell to an all-time low last year, slipping below the 60,000-member mark for the first time on record, police said last month.
An increasingly poor public image and Japan’s flaccid economy have made gangsters’ lives difficult, which has made membership less attractive for potential recruits, experts said.
The Web site, which looks outdated, is an attempt to counter the yakuza’s image as “anti-social forces” — the police euphemism for them — by showing how neighborly its members are, experts say.
One page shows men collecting litter along the banks of the Toga River near the Yamaguchi-gumi’s headquarters in Kobe.
Police said they could not immediately confirm the Web site was made by the Yamaguchi-gumi.