[image: Carl Court/Getty Images]
Times are tough, even for those who make their money through nefarious means.
The yakuza, who can be likened to the Italian-American mafia in that they are a collection of separate gangs often grouped together, were already struggling in Japan before the pandemic struck.
Some have even had to resort to humanitarian efforts to improve their public image (like the short-lived truce on the Cape Flats), and there have been some rather ‘creative’ endeavours taking place.
More from Sky News:
Members of the organised crime syndicate make their money through “shinogi” – a Japanese term which roughly translates as “hustle” – and includes illegal activities such as drug-dealing, prostitution, blackmail and protection rackets.
Jake Adelstein, a Tokyo-based investigative reporter who has been covering the yakuza for more than 25 years, told Sky News that younger members are having to find new ways to make enough money to pay up to their bosses each month.
He said: “Yakuza members, like everyone else, have decided to stay home.
“This means they can’t collect their usual protection money from clubs, bars and dens of ill repute.
Some gangs have even resorted to selling face masks at extortionate prices, or offering to help members of the public to apply for financial relief, only to rip them off.
The situation has become so bad that certain yakuza bosses are considering relaxing the money they expect from members each month, or suspending the collection of payments altogether.
Flogging illicit cigarettes in South Africa may be lucrative, but over in Japan there isn’t a ban on the sale of tobacco products, and it’s drug prices that have seen a spike:
[Yakuza expert and author Tomohiko Suzuki] said: “The public has been following the call for people to stay at home. The price of marijuana and stimulants have risen to nearly double in some areas since then.
“Drugs are ordered over the phone and delivered by car.
“Illegal brothels have always been illegal brothels. The gangs are still running those but no customers are coming.”
To make matters worse, two of the yakuza network’s biggest gangs, the Yamaguchi-gumi and the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi (really threatening names), have been involved in turf warfare the past few years.
Hospitals have taken to turning away people with the distinctive gang tattoos, for fear of finding themselves in the middle of a revenge attack, and that extends to treating possible coronavirus cases.
Gang members are said to be very fearful of catching the virus, both because falling ill is seen as a sign of weakness and because of the fact that bosses are usually older, and thus at a higher risk of dying.
Adelstein, who has faced death threats from bosses during his time covering the yakuza, says the network of gangs is in “the worst position it has ever been in”, and numbers have dropped from around 80 000 in 2010 to below 10 000, across the 22 major gangs.
He added that a few more years of reduced business could see him become a historian, rather than an expert.
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