KOBE -- The Kobe Municipal Board of Education has warned children against participating in an annual Halloween event in the city, which is organized by the Japan's largest recognized crime group, the Yamaguchi-gumi.
The directive, handed down in September, is the first time the board of education is clearly advising against children attending the handout of candies the group typically carries out. Previously it had avoided doing so out of consideration for children whose parents may be engaged in the criminal groups.
But recent violent incidents between crime organizations have raised concerns of further conflict outbreaks, leading the board to change its stance.
The Yamaguchi-gumi has been holding the Halloween event since at least around 2013. On Oct. 31 individuals connected with the group dress up as Halloween pumpkins and other seasonal ghouls to distribute an assortment of candy to kids for free. The Hyogo Prefectural Police reported that in 2018 around 1,000 people attended, with the numbers on an upward trend in recent years.
According to the city government's board of education, the new directive was conveyed sequentially to local elementary and junior high schools from the start of the second school term in September.
When police give talks related to crime and delinquency prevention at schools, a representative of the Hyogo Prefectural Police's Organized Crime Division also attends. They explain to students the dangers posed by organized crime groups, including potentially being caught in a conflict between them, and call for pupils not to attend the Halloween event.
The city board of education had previously kept to more abstract advisories urging children not to go to the places of people they don't know. The indirect guidance came out of concerns that pupils whose parents are members of the criminal groups could be discriminated against by their peers.
But in 2015 the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi split from the main Yamaguchi-gumi. When a number of those who were part of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi that originally split off founded another separate group called the Ninkyo Yamaguchi-gumi, conflict intensified.
In September 2017, an individual connected to the Ninkyo Yamaguchi-gumi was shot dead in a street in the city's Nagata Ward. In August this year, a person affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi was shot outside the group's office in Chuo Ward.
Amid a sense of urgency, in November 2018 prefectural police presented images of children going to the criminal organization's headquarters for the Halloween event to the city board of education, and petitioned them to adopt a harder stance on the issue.
Reportedly, after there was no disagreement from principals at any of its municipal schools, the board decided to put out a concrete message telling children they must not go to the event.
Regarding its response to the issue up until now, officials with the Kobe Municipal Board of Education said, "The children of people connected to these groups also attend schools. For other children, those children are their friends. Schools were not able to make a judgment."
They also added, "In the footage supplied by police, children were nonchalantly riding their bikes to enter the group's office. That is a problem. We're telling them (children) not to go and take part in the event because it's in a dangerous place."