It’s common to refer to the Yakuza as the “Japanese mafia,” though the comparison is fraught: For instance, unlike their secretive Italian counterpart, Yakuza openly broadcast their affiliation with signs and tattoos. Nevertheless, the Yakuza represent Japan’s most powerful organized crime interest, which is why it may come as a surprise that they are actively aiding in the Japanese relief effort following the devastating earthquake and tsunami, providing food, supplies, and even shelter for the affected.
Reporting for The Daily Beast, veteran Yakuza watcher Jake Adelstein documents this unexpected trend:
The day after the earthquake the Inagawa-kai (the third largest organized crime group in Japan which was founded in 1948) sent twenty-five four-ton trucks filled with paper diapers, instant ramen, batteries, flashlights, drinks, and the essentials of daily life to the Tohoku region. An executive in Sumiyoshi-kai, the second-largest crime group, even offered refuge to members of the foreign community—something unheard of in a still slightly xenophobic nation, especially amongst the right-wing yakuza. The Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group, under the leadership of Tadashi Irie, has also opened its offices across the country to the public and been sending truckloads of supplies, but very quietly and without any fanfare.
Why aren’t you hearing more about this? For one, , Adelstein says that “right now [the Yakuza] care more about getting the job done than getting credit for it”: Moreover, they don’t want their donations rejected out of hand due to their origins.