In recent weeks, Stippy has been receiving much attention and many comments and questions based around our Tokyo Yakuza Wars and Prison in Japan articles. One of the questions we received was what is the difference between the Yakuza and the Right-Wing Nationalist groups? Are they different parts of the same organization, or are they in fact completely different?
For the average foreigner living in Japan, both the Yakuza and the Right-Wing Nationalists have very stereotypical images, and are easy to pick out from a crowd. The Yakuza are big, bulldog types with black glasses, often seen waiting quietly outside or by the bosses car, or in groups in the local Almond cafe. The Right-Wing Nationalists on the other hand, usually seem to be skinny undernourished guys, wearing a Long Live the Emperor style head bands, who cant say anything unless its standing on a big black vans through a megaphone so distorted that it is impossible to make out a word they are saying.
Despite the obvious differences, the first reaction is to put them in the same group, and assume that the vans, megaphones, Toyota Century cars, shouting in the streets, rallies on public holidays such as National Foundation Day (建国記念日), etc are all part of the same overall group, out to scare and control the public, and that they are mostly the same people on the same side of society. The mass media in Japan also tends to do so by portraying the Nationalists as “violence gangs” (暴力団). However, after the recent breakout of Yakuza Wars, and the Rise of Ishihara-style Patriotism in Japan, our research has shown that the two groups are surprisingly different, and have a very complex relationship.
Now, there are elements of the two groups which are the same- i.e. members of both groups who “wear both pairs of sandles”. For example, Yakuza’s have been know to form ad hoc Nationalist groups for specific purposes, and some members of the Nationalist group who cant make enough money to live, have joined Yakuza gangs. But in general, they are two completely separate organizations.
The most basic difference is what they are each working to protect. The Yakuza endeavors to protect its turf. This turf is an area within a city, and they compete with similar Japanese Yakuza groups for that turf, such as the Sumiyoshi-kai and Yamaguchi-gumi over Nishi Azabu. On the other hand, the area that the Nationalists attempt to protect is the entire country of Japan. “From the Senkaku Islands in the south (尖閣諸島), to the Hopporyodo Islands (北方領土) in the north”. (Read here for an amazing Government conspiracy about the Happoryodo’s uncovered by Stippy.)
Another related difference is that all Yakuza work completely for the benefit and the honour of a Boss, known as an Oya-bun(親分)、the top of their own Yakuza organization. Each Yakuza group in Japan has its own Oya-bun. No specific knowledge or education is required for this line of work. However, the Nationalists work with complete and ultimate loyalty to the Emperor of Japan, and act only in the interest of Japan as an independent nation. To do this successfully, the Nationalists need to study history, philosophy and politics to fully understand exactly what they are attempting to protect.
In the post-war decades, the Nationalists had strong and wealthy organizations, but in more recent decades, it is the Yakuza that have tipped the balance due to both higher membership numbers and greater economic wealth. The two tipping-points for the Nationalists were in both 1981 and 1997, with revisions to the Japanese Commercial Code putting a stop to two of the Nationalist’s most profitable activities, Soukai-ya (総会屋), which is where minority Nationalist stock holders arrive at corporation’s AGMs and cause trouble and extort cash, and also kigyo-mawari (企業回り), where Nationalist members would sell the organizations internal magazines and publications to corporations.- large numbers of copies at extremely high prices. This was a large source of income for them which funded their activities, but the new laws diminished their power greatly, and the Yakuza began to take over.
One of the Nationalists main activities, is denouncing in public those who they believe have done wrong by the country, and by the Emperor. This is where they stand in the middle of a public place, on top of a van, and shout denunciations through a megaphone. However, in many situations, those person being denounced will seek refuge with the local Yakuza boss, and the boss will call up the Nationalists, and they hit down and talk it out. Usually they will come to a middle ground of exactly how far the Nationalists are allowed to go in their denouncements. Although these two groups are different, and work for different causes, there is friction between them. But this rarely escalates into violence, which is avoided.
As the original founder of the Chuko-juku Aikoku Renmei Nationalist Group (忠孝塾愛国連盟) famously quipped, in an unfamiliar street, a Yakuza must walk down the footpath with his eyes to the ground, whereas anywhere in Japan, a Nationalist can walk down the middle of the road, with his head held high.