Restaurants, bars and nightlife venues were ordered to close in the early phases of the health crisis – Bloomberg

The coronavirus pandemic has delivered a body blow to Japan’s feared Yakuza underworld groups, which were already under growing pressure from authorities trying to stamp out “antisocial elements”.

The National Police Agency has reported that membership of Japan’s crime syndicates fell for a 16th consecutive year in 2020, with 2,300 gangsters turning their backs on a life of crime. There are now an estimated 25,900 Yakuza in 20 major groups across the country, a sharp decline from a peak of more than 184,000 members in the gangs’ heyday in the early 1960s.

Based in the central Japan city of Kobe, the Yamaguchi-gumi remains the largest single underworld group, although it lost around 700 members during the year, reducing its ranks to 8,200 followers.

The Sumiyoshi-kai focuses its attentions on the upmarket districts of Tokyo, but lost around 300 people last year, bringing its numbers to around 4,200, while around 100 individuals left the Inagawa-kai, leaving it with 3,300 members.

There were nine violent clashes between members of the Yamaguchi-gumi and a splinter group, including the shooting of two members of the gang in November on a street in the city of Amagasaki, close to the Yamaguchi-gumi’s stronghold in Kobe.

The rival gangs are involved in a turf war to control the region’s drug trade as well as the sex, gambling, loan sharking and protection businesses that are the gangs’ traditional sources of income.

Those sectors have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with restaurants, bars and nightlife venues ordered to close in the early phases of the health crisis and now operating on strictly reduced hours, With the lost revenues, many places have closed, depriving the Yakuza of their protection money and other revenues.

Other businesses that are struggling to survive have simply stopped paying the gangs, the Sankei newspaper reported.

Local residents are also increasingly standing up to underworld groups that have offices in their districts, in part concerned that they might get caught in the crossfire of an attack on a known gang facility.

In addition, new legislation has proved effective, with gangs now not permitted to have offices within 220 yards of a school and a number of local governments setting up rehabilitation and retraining schemes for former gang members.

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