The Sixth Yamaguchi-gumi (六代目山口組, Rokudaime Yamaguchi-gumi?) is Japan's largest yakuza organization. It is named after its founder Harukichi Yamaguchi. Its origins can be traced back to a loose labor union for dockworkers in Kobe before World War II.
It is one of the largest criminal organizations in the world. According to the National Police Agency, it had 20,400 active members and 18,600 associated members in 2007. It is, by far, the largest of the boryokudan groups, and its membership encompasses roughly 45% of the 86,300 yakuza in the Japanese underworld. Leading members of the Yamaguchi-gumi number 102 people in total; 1 kumichō (組長) (boss), 15 shatei (舎弟) (younger brother) and 86 wakachū (若中) (child) as of November 2005.
The Yamaguchi-gumi are among the world's wealthiest gangsters, bringing in billions of dollars a year from extortion, gambling, the sex industry, arms and drug trafficking, and real estate and construction kickback schemes. They are also involved in stock market manipulation and Internet pornography.
The Yamaguchi-gumi has its headquarters in Kobe, Japan, but it operates all across Japan and has overseas operations in Asia and the United States. Its current kumicho (Boss), Shinobu Tsukasa, has declared an expansionist policy—even making inroads into Tokyo, traditionally not Yamaguchi turf. They also have multiple groups working overseas.
- 1st kumicho (1915–1925): Harukichi Yamaguchi
- 2nd kumicho (1925–1942): Noboru Yamaguchi—son of Harukichi Yamaguchi
- 3rd kumicho (1946–1981): Kazuo Taoka
When Taoka inherited the title of kumicho, it was merely a local family with only a few dozen members. It was Taoka who made Yamaguchi-gumi the world's largest criminal organization. He urged his underlings to have legitimate businesses and allowed them to have their own family, which became a kind of subsidiary family of Yamaguchi-gumi. He also created a structural system in the family. Wakagashira were elected as underbosses to the kumicho and some of powerful members were elected as wakagashira-hosa (deputy underbosses).
- 4th kumicho (1984–1985): Masahisa Takenaka
After the death of Taoka, the heir apparent wakagashira Kenichi Yamamoto (kumicho of the Yamaken-gumi) was serving a prison sentence. He died of liver failure shortly afterward. Fumiko Taoka, Kazuo Taoka's wife, stepped forward to fill the leadership void until a new kumicho could be selected by a council of eight top-level bosses. In 1984, the elders chose Masahisa Takenaka (kumicho of the Takenaka-gumi) to be the fourth kumicho of Yamaguchi-gumi. One of the other contenders, Hiroshi Yamamoto (kumicho of the Yamahiro-gumi), broke away from Yamaguchi-gumi with many of its powerful members and more than 3,000 of its soldiers to form the Ichiwa-kai. A bitter rivalry existed between the two groups, which led to an all-out war (the Yama-Ichi War) after the Ichiwa-kai's 1985 assassination of Takenaka and wakahashira Katsumasa Nakayama. During the war, acting-kumicho Kazuo Nakanishi (kumicho of the Nakanishi-gumi) and wakagashira Yoshinori Watanabe (kumicho of the Yamaken-gumi) briefly took the leadership role until 1989.
- 5th kumicho (1989–2005): Yoshinori Watanabe
The Yama-Ichi War ended with retirement of Hiroshi Yamamoto which was arbitrated by one of the most respected bosses Seijo Inagawa. After that, the clan elected wakagashira Yoshinori Watanabe as 5th kumicho of the organization. Masaru Takumi (kumicho of Takumi-gumi) was elected as wakagashira. He was so powerful and respected within the organization that his influence overshadowed that of kumicho to some extent.
In 1997, then powerful wakagashira Masaru Takumi was assassinated by underlings of then wakagashira-hosa (deputy underboss) Taro Nakano. After this assassination, they were unable to choose a new wakagashira for more than eight years. As a result, leadership of the organization became weaker. Finally, in 2005, wakagashira-hosa Shinobu Tsukasa (then kumicho of the Hirota-gumi) was chosen as new wakagashira and shortly afterward, in August 2005, Tsukasa inherited the position of the 6th kumicho of the Yamaguchi-gumi.
Watanabe retired to private life—rather uncommon in Yakuza circles, as bosses usually do not retire until their death. Under Tsukasa's leadership, the 6th Yamaguchi-gumi has resumed expansion. Kiyoshi Takayama, kumicho of the Kodo-kai, was elected as wakagashira. They absorbed the Tokyo-based gang Kokusui-kai, thus acquiring lucrative turf in the capital. Tsukasa was imprisoned in December 2005 for illegal gun possession, and was released in April 2011 after serving nearly six years in jail.
Immediately after the Kobe earthquake of 1995, the Yamaguchi-gumi started a large-scale relief effort for the earthquake victims, helping with the distribution of food and supplies. This help was essential to the Kobe population, because official support was inconsistent and chaotic for several days.
In an effort to boost morale, the Yamaguchi-gumi launched an eight-page newsletter in July, 2013. However, it was only distributed to full members. The publication bridges communication gaps and includes articles on the group's opinion and traditions, as well as columns on angling, with an editorial section written by Kenichi Shinoda.
On April 17, 2007, Tetsuya Shiroo, a senior ranking member of the Suishin-kai (an affiliated Yakuza family to the Yamaguchi-gumi), assassinated Iccho Itoh, the mayor of Nagasaki, over an apparent dispute over damage done to Shiroo's car at a public works construction site. On May 26, 2008, Tetsuya Shiroo was sentenced to death. However, the Fukuoka High Court revoked the death sentence and sentenced him to life imprisonment on September 29, 2009.
In February 2012 the U.S. Treasury Department announced a freeze on American-owned assets controlled by the organization and its top two leaders. The Obama administration imposed sanctions on the Yamaguchi-gumi as one of four key transnational organized crime groups, along with the Brothers' Circle from Russia, the Camorra from Italy, and Los Zetas from Mexico.
Yakuza membership has been steadily declining since the 1990s. According to the National Police Agency, the total number of registered gangsters fell 14% between 1991 and 2012, to 78,600. Of those, 34,900 were Yamaguchi-gumi members, a decline of 4% from 2010. Its membership had further declined by 2013, with an estimated 28,000 members, and dropped again to 23,400 members in 2014.
On August 27, 2015, Japanese police confirmed that powerful factions, including Kobe-based Yamaken-gumi, Osaka-based Takumi-gumi, and Kyoyu-kai, broke away from Yamaguchi-gumi and forming new group called Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi. Prior to the split, the organisation consisted of seventy-two factions. This was the first major split since the forming of Ichiwa-Kai more than thirty years ago.
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