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Japan's former yakuza struggle to find work despite police attempts to provide support

Investigators from the Aichi Prefectural Police enter the headquarters of the Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate in the city of Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture in this file photo taken on Sept. 14, 2017. (Mainichi)

Former crime syndicate members are struggling to find jobs after putting the yakuza world behind them. In the decade ending in 2020, some 5,900 people were able to leave crime syndicates with the help of police and others, but only 3.5% of them went on to find work.

    In early 2018, a member of a yakuza gang rushed into the Metropolitan Police Department headquarters and asked for help leaving a crime syndicate. In the three or so years the 27-year-old had spent in the gang, he served as senior officials' drivers and in other positions, but mounting fees he had to pay the gang were making him pessimistic about the future. But he had no experience seeking work outside the yakuza world. "I didn't know how to search for a job," he told the Mainichi Shimbun.

    Police first instructed him to not respond to any of the crime syndicate's attempts to make him stay in the gang. He was advised to turn off his phone right away if a gang leader called him to try to stop him leaving. He was also referred to the Tokyo Center for Removal of Criminal Organizations, which offers advice on finding work to former yakuza.

    At the center, the man was shown multiple job options, among which he was ultimately accepted as a regular worker at a firm doing maintenance on hotel equipment, among other services. After becoming an employee there, his superior taught him how to use a computer and create documents.

    The company's human resources officer spoke highly of him: "I got the impression he was a decent person with the strong will and ability to take action and quit the crime syndicate. He has a very serious attitude to work, too."

    About a year after being employed at the company, he was promoted to section chief. "I've been able to come this far because even the people who knew I was a former yakuza saw me without prejudice as a human being. Now, I'm thinking about how I can be of service to the company."

    The center that helped the man find his job introduces former yakuza to cooperating companies that are understanding of the plight former yakuza are in. They often find jobs through the center, but only about 10 people actually consult it per year. "Former members of crime syndicates, who have attached great value to saving face, may be resistant to the idea of consulting a public body for assistance," a center staff member said.

    A Tokyo resident in his 40s who left a crime syndicate in 2013 pointed to the example of bank accounts to stress the difficulty of life after leaving a gang.

    The banking industry has a rule prohibiting former yakuza from opening bank accounts until five years after they leave a gang. This forces former gang members to explain to employers why they cannot open bank accounts, and makes job hunting harder.

    The man happened to have an acquaintance running a company with no ties to crime syndicates, and as chance would have it, he was able to get work there. "It was possible for me to become a company employee because of that person's understanding, but there are a lot of people who, even though they might find a job, don't really fit in at their job because of their tattoos or missing fingertips. Countless people who are unable to find work and end up without money, go on to rely on buddies from the past and start buying and selling methamphetamines and other stimulants. They go back to their old gangs."

    Ultimately, job hunting's biggest challenge is being able to find job openings where employers are understanding of candidates' circumstances. As long as former yakuza have jobs, it can prevent them going back to their gangs or committing crimes. According to the National Police Agency, around 5,900 people were able to leave crime syndicates with support from police and others in the decade ending in 2020, but only 210 people found work in the same period.

    In response to the situation, police departments and other bodies across the country are putting their weight behind job assistance for former crime syndicate members.

    The Fukuoka Prefectural Police, which is on a mission to eliminate the Kudo-kai crime syndicate headquartered in the Fukuoka Prefecture city of Kitakyushu in southwestern Japan, began signing agreements with police departments nationwide in 2016 to offer job options outside the prefecture, where gang members are less likely to know other gang-related people. As of January 2021, the agreement has spread to 35 prefectural police departments.

    Furthermore, the Fukuoka Prefectural Police has adopted a program in which it provides a cash handout of a maximum of 720,000-yen (approx. $6,207) to companies taking in a former crime syndicate member as an employee. A similar program has been implemented by the prefectural police of Hyogo, where the Yamaguchi-gumi and Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicates have headquarters. The Tokyo Center for Removal of Criminal Organizations also provides a maximum of 300,000 yen (approx. $2,586), and is considering raising the amount.

    However, the fruits of their efforts are still limited. "Under the current circumstances, there is no system to follow up on former yakuza after they find work, so companies shoulder high risks by taking in former gang members," said attorney Motoo Kakizoe, an expert on issues surrounding crime syndicates. "It is imperative to cultivate specialized human resources who will support gang members to leave gangs and find employment."

    (Japanese original by Kotaro Adachi, Tokyo City News Department)

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