Read Tokyo Underworld Online

Authors: Robert Whiting

Tokyo Underworld

BOOK: Tokyo Underworld
11.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Robert Whiting
is the author of
You Gotta Have Wa
and is one of the very few Westerners to write a regular column in the Japanese press. He has appeared as a commentator in documentaries about Japan and on such shows as
Larry King Live
The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
. He has also written for the
New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian, Newsweek, US News and World Report
, among other publications. He lives in Tokyo.


Constable & Robinson Ltd
55–56 Russell Sqaure
London WC1B 4HP

First published in the US by Pantheon Books,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York, 1999

First published in the UK by Constable,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd., 2012

Copyright © Robert Whiting 1999

The right of Robert Whiting to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

Author’s note: the translations of articles presented here are mine. I alone bear responsibility for any errors.

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication data is available from the British Library

ISBN 978-1-78033-067-9 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-78033-517-9 (ebook)

Typeset by TW Typesetting, Plymouth, Devon

Printed and bound in the UK

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2


In memory of the late, great Kitty



1.   The First Black Market

2.   Occupation Hangover

3.   Success Story

4.   Post-Olympic Underground Economy

5.   Miss Hokkaido

6.   Behind the Shoji

7.   The Great Transfer of Wealth

8.   Black Rider



Notes and Sources




America’s relationship with Japan began in 1853, when Commodore Matthew Perry and his squadron of Black Ships forcibly ended centuries of self-imposed isolation and opened up the nation to the rest of the world. For years afterward, however, the number of expatriate Americans who actually lived in that country at any one time was measured in the low hundreds. Those silk traders, oil merchants, teachers, missionaries, military attachés, and so forth, were almost totally segregated, socially and geographically, from the general population.

The war in the Pacific helped change all that. When it was over, Japan suddenly found itself playing unwilling host to over half a million occupying soldiers and civilians. Historians called it the biggest meeting between two cultures since Rome took Carthage.

The libraries are filled with historical tomes, doctoral theses and personal memoirs recording the vast changes that resulted: the creation by starry-eyed New Deal ‘Japan experts’ of a new constitution; the semi-successful attempt to introduce democracy; Japan’s slow, painful metamorphosis from shattered nation to global economic power. The alliance also produced a considerable number of institutes, foundations, goodwill associations, academic departments, think tanks, libraries, endowments, trade agreements, treaties, sister cities and thousands of reassurances of the two parties’ essentially friendly and cooperative pursuit of peace, prosperity and human happiness.

But there is another side to the US–Japan equation that is far less known if inextricably bound up in the whole. It is an alternate, separate layer of reality, a shadowy universe of characters – gangsters, corrupt entrepreneurs, courtesans, seedy sports promoters, streetwise opportunists, intelligence agents, political fixers and financial manipulators – who perhaps have done as much in their own right
to influence US–Japan affairs as their more refined and respected peers. Significantly, it has not always been easy to distinguish the latter from the former.

Japanese authors have written much about what they call variously the Underground Economy, the Invisible Empire, the Shadow Government and the
Yami Shakai
(Dark Society), among other things – and have dealt at length with American’s participation in it. However, the history of this chaotic orb and the efforts of Americans and Japanese to exploit, use and abuse each other within it has largely remained untold in the West.

Among the more notable by-products of this dynamic subculture, for example, has been a postwar black market perhaps unprecedented in character; a secret Wall Street cabal that subverted official US policy in Japan; an extraordinary, jingoistic professional wrestling boom enthusiastically promoted by a tandem of political leaders and underworld bosses and led by a national sporting icon with a hidden past; a ruthless Korean gang lord vying for control of the city involved in a secret connection with the US government and the CIA; a professional wrestler and Tokyo jewel thief named ‘Gorgeous Mac’; nightclub hostesses trained in the art of international industrial espionage; Lockheed, the granddaddy of all aircraft scandals; financial gangsters; an underworld stock market manipulator who nearly made it to the portals of the White House; assorted con artists, gold smugglers and an American ‘Mafia Boss of Tokyo’ from New York who founded one of the world’s great nightspots – where many of these characters congregated.

This book tells the story of that bizarre demimonde. It is a parable of greed, arrogance, duplicity and revenge that spans fifty years and bares many hidden layers in the US–Japan relationship. The tale it tells parallels the great shift of wealth from America to Japan and more recent shifts back the other way. It reveals as much about the baser emotions that have united Japanese and Americans in the fashioning of the postwar era as it does the vast cultural differences that habitually separate them.

1. The First Black Market

Urgent notice to enterprises, factories and those manufacturers in the process of shifting from wartime production to peacetime production. Your product will be bought in large quantities at a suitable price. Those who wish to sell should come with samples and estimates of production cost to the following address:

Shinjuku Market, 1-854, Tsunohazu,
Yodobashiku, Shinjuku Tokyo.

Kanto Ozu Gumi, August 18, 1945

It was surely some kind of record for speed. Three days after the end of the war – and a full ten before the first American soldier set foot in Japan – the above newspaper advertisement appeared for what would be the nation’s first postwar black market. One of the very few paid announcements in print at the time, it was a call to commerce hardly anyone expected so quickly, given the wretched, bomb-ravaged condition of Tokyo.

Once a teeming castle town of wood and paper houses, Japan’s capital was now mostly cinder, the ground one massive flat layer of residue from the terrible B-29 Superfortress incendiary attacks. The heavily populated lowlands to the east by Tokyo Bay where the merchant and artisan classes had lived and worked had all but been obliterated, as had vast sections of the neighboring industrial city of Kawasaki and the port of Yokohama, further to the south. Drivers of what few cars there were frequently got lost because it was so difficult to distinguish the road from the rubble of shattered roof tiles and burned-out homes. All that was left standing were several marble and stone buildings in the commercial business centers of the capital, Marunouchi, Ginza, and Nihonbashi, which the Occupation authorities were planning to use for themselves.

For most of Tokyo’s inhabitants existence was a living hell. The homeless, numbering in the millions, lived in jerry-built huts of chicken wire, rocks and cardboard, occupied subway stations and air raid shelters, or camped out in large bomb craters in the street. There was so little available food that people would travel hours to the countryside to trade expensive heirlooms for a tiny share of a farmer’s crop. Yet, by August 20, only five days after Japan had officially conceded defeat, the Ozu open-air market was ready to roll. Located at the main entrance of the western commuter hub Shinjuku Station – or what was left of it – it boasted a startling array of goods. Displayed on wooden crates were pots, pans, kettles, plates, silverware, cooking oil, tea, rice, leather, electrical goods and
(wooden clogs), along with vast quantities of military equipment and clothing. Most of the wares for the market, which bore the romantic-sounding name
Hikari Wa Shinjuku Yori
(The Light Shines Forth from Shin-juku), had been stolen from a secret supply of provisions for a ghost army of 4 million men that was to have been mobilized in the event of an American invasion of the mainland.

The Potsdam Declaration had decreed that the Japanese government would have to surrender all such materials. However, with Japan in a weird post-surrender netherworld where no one was really in charge, looters appropriated an estimated 70 percent of all supplies held in military depots throughout the country, providing the Ozu market with its windfall inventory.

The Kanto Ozu gumi (Kanto Ozu gang) was the largest crime syndicate in Western Tokyo at the time. They were
(itinerant peddlers, racketeers), a type of gangster in Japan that for centuries had monopolized the festival vending stalls at temples and shrines. They contrasted with the
(gamblers), who also dated back to feudal times, and with the latter-day stevedores, rickshaw drivers and day laborers under control of the slum labor bosses, who had also formed underworld gangs.

Despite involvement in protection, narcotics, strong-arm debt
collecting, strikebreaking and blackmail, among other nefarious activities, all of them professed to be a cut above mobsters in other lands. They claimed to live by a strict code of chivalry, based on the samurai warrior’s
ethic, which emphasized humility, duty and loyalty to one’s lord. They placed great value on the stoic endurance of pain, hunger and imprisonment and saw honor in dying a violent death. (An old gangster credo went: ‘Strong men don’t die on the tatami.’)

Over the years, they aligned themselves with right-wing causes, developing a reputation as patriots in times of foreign conflict, as well as defenders of oppressed people in times of civil strife. Legend tells of the Edo-era outlaw Chuji Kunisada wielding his sword on behalf of farmers and peasants who were being treated cruelly by feudal lords; he became famous for the line, ‘I would like to die so that people can mourn my death.’ A
chieftain was one of the heroes of the 1905 war with Russia. At the same time, however, the gang bosses and the Japanese civil authorities had also cultivated a mutually beneficial relationship in which certain mob activities were tolerated without interference from the law as long as they were accompanied by campaign donations.

During World War II, gangster-owned construction firms under government contract built and repaired airfields, dug tunnels and constructed subterranean factories, earning a nice profit while kicking back a healthy percentage to their contractors. As the strain of a losing war intensified, gangsters helped run the POW camps and supervised imported Korean slave labor in domestic coal mines. The Tokyo Assembly even allowed
bosses to take over as municipal tax agents, granting them legal authority to control pricing and distribution as well as the power to punish disobedience. The Metropolitan Police Board, getting into the spirit of the times, forced all stall keepers to join a tradesmen’s union that was run by the mob.

BOOK: Tokyo Underworld
11.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Humbling by Philip Roth
Captured by a Laird by Loretta Laird
The Volk Advent by Kristen Joy Wilks
Girl, Missing by Sophie McKenzie
A to Z Mysteries: The Bald Bandit by Ron Roy and John Steven Gurney
Honesty by Foster, Angie
The Best Mistake by Kate Watterson