Yakuza membership sinks to record low as ageing gangsters in Japan retire and recruitment dries up

Shigeharu Shirai, a 72-year-old mafia boss was arrested in 2018
Shigeharu Shirai, a 72-year-old mafia boss, was arrested in 2018 Credit:  Reuters

Membership of Japan’s once-feared yakuza gangs has shrunk to 30,500, down from a peak of more than 184,000 in the early 1960s, thanks in large part to an ongoing police crackdown on organised crime and public attitudes towards gangs hardening.

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With their roots in feudal Japan, Yakuza still prefer to be known as “ninkyo dantai”, meaning “chivalrous organisations”, and see themselves on occasions as latter-day Robin Hoods. Local Yakuza groups did provide food and shelter in the aftermath of the 1995 earthquake in Kobe and again after the Tohoku disaster of 2011, but they are being increasingly rejected by society.

Communities are no longer afraid to stand up to gangs that operate in their neighbourhoods and that opposition has in some instances forced organised crime groups to close their offices in residential districts.

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