Next Wednesday will mark 49 days since Ryoichi Sugiura (杉浦良一), a director of the Sumiyoshi-kai (住吉会), a Tokyo Yakuza gang, was shot and killed around morning tea time on the sidewalk of the busy Roppongi Street in central Tokyo. In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, the soul of a dead man spends 49 days after the day of death uneasily straddling this life and the next, before a ceremony on the 49th day releases the soul. For the last couple of weeks, the streets of Roppongi have been eerily quiet, but the flowers at the scene of the crime are refreshed almost daily, with new messages from Sugihara’s Yakuza comrades added daily. (See pictures)
The shooting was carried out on 5 February, with a spate of threatened retaliations culminating in some random shots fired, and strategic bullet holes in doors. However it appears that commonsense has prevailed and that a truce was agreed between the warring Sumiyoshi-kai and Yamaguchi-gumi (山口組) gangs, although the details of this truce have not been made public.
The Yakuza have been known to rigidly follow a “blood balance sheet” system, similar to the “eye for an eye” teachings in the West. The most mysterious event since the shooting was the apparent suicide of the Kazuyoshi Kudo (工藤和義会長), the 70 year old Chairman of the Kokusai-kai (国粋会), who was also a Chief Advisor (山口組最高顧問) to the Yamaguchi-gumi.
The Kokusai-kai have historically controlled all of the Roppongi and Nishi-Azabu areas, and in past years forged a friendly relationship with the Sumiyoshi-kai, and had effectively lent this area to the Sumiyoshi-kai to control. However, in September 2005, in an unexpected development, the Kokusai-kai was absorbed by the Yamaguchi-gumi, the Sumiyoshi-kai’s biggest competition. No doubt a great success for the Yamaguchi-gumi, but it this strategic mistake effectively saw the 70 year old Kudo tieing the knot to his own noose.
This issue of ownership of the area between Yamaguchi-gumi and Sumiyoshi-kai, and the shifting alliance of the Kokusai-kai was the catalyst to the current tensions. Kudo not only betrayed the its old ally at the Sumiyoshi-kai, but then to prove its new allegiance ordered the hit one of its most crucial members, Sugiura, who was in charge of negotiations between the two gangs. Rumour has it that Sugiura was a talented emissary, who was seriously challenging the Yamaguchi control. The subset of the Sumiyoshi-kai which had controlled the region is known as the Kobayashi-kai (小林会), and it was as Sugiura was on route to meet the Chairman of this group, that he was gunned down.
Through these actions, Kudo not only showed a lack of honour to his old allegiances, but also created a major incident for both parties, leaving not only a mess on one of the busiest streets in Tokyo and a diplomatic stand-off, but also left the faces and locations of many members from both sides splattered across the TV and newspapers through Japan. This undoubtedly upset both sides over and above the Sumiyoshi-kai’s burning desire for retaliation to even up the score.
A number of intense days of negotiations followed, during which other Yakuza gangs nationwide were reported to have been having their own emergency meetings to discuss how to deal with the possible fallout. The result of negotiations was that Kudo ended up falling on his sword, committing an honourable suicide, thus taking personal responsibility for the incident, as well as the Yamaguchi-gumi sacrificing him to show a gesture of apology to the Sumiyoshi-kai for the trouble Kudo caused. A truce was subsequently announced through the Tokyo police.
Although the police have been focusing their investigations on the Kokusai-kai’s offices, ranging from central Tokyo to Nagano prefecture, Sugiura’s killers have not been caught.
Note: Stippy has had an overwhelming response to our original article on the potential Yakuza Wars, thank you to everyone who has commented and emailed us. We are still gathering more information, so if you have any news which we don’t, let us know in a comment!