For the first time in history, an organised crime ‘yakuza’ boss has been sentenced to death in a Japanese court. Satoru Nomura, head of the Kudo-kai group in Fukuoka, was found guilty of murder and three assaults after a trial held without a jury due to fears of possible intimidation. If a planned appeal fails, he will be hanged. We’ll find out about it after it happens.
What makes the case remarkable is that no evidence was presented linking Nomura directly with the crimes he was accused of. The judge nonetheless concluded that they took place on his orders and had the confidence to deliver the ultimate sentence. The case marks a new low in the seemingly terminal decline of the once fearsome crime syndicates.
At its peak in the 1960s, the yakuza could boast 180,000 members spread across more than 20 ‘families’. They flourished in the chaotic postwar years, controlling black markets, entertainment and gambling before moving into construction, real estate and politics. Japan’s eternal party of government, the LDP, was financed by notorious gangster Yoshio Kodama in its early years and as a sign of their influence thousands of yakuza were to be used as security for President Eisenhower’s planned visit to Japan in 1960. Allegations of ties between ministers and even prime ministers have surfaced periodically ever since.
The curious thing about the yakuza was that they have always operated, more or less, in plain sight. They have offices with nameplates and members with business cards, some of whom even register with the police. They regarded themselves as guardians of public order rather than criminals and have occasionally even volunteered in good works, such as helping with the relief effort after the 1995 Kobe earthquake and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The traditional yakuza member was almost absurdly conspicuous, with dyed hair, shades, sharp suits, a well worked on suntan and a shirt (possibly Hawaiian) unbuttoned to expose some of their full-body hand-inked tattoos (excruciatingly painful to acquire, apparently).