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Japan gets tough on yakuza gangsters

Call it a sign of the times for Japan’s yakuza crime syndicates — placards on the fence around one of Tokyo’s most high-profile building sites warn: "Gangsters not welcome."

Developers of Tokyo’s Sky Tree broadcast tower, set to be the world’s highest when it’s finished next year, are doing what long seemed unthinkable, shutting the door on the tattooed tough guys of the Japanese underworld.

Their bold stance comes amid a police offensive against crime groups since 2009 that has also emboldened local governments and citizens’ groups to voice their opposition to mobsters long deemed untouchables.

Late last year, police arrested the man alleged to be Japan’s most powerful gang boss still outside jail — 63-year-old Kiyoshi Takayama — on extortion charges.

A force of 140 police officers joined the pre-dawn raid to net Takayama, who allegedly led the Kodokai faction of the largest yakuza group, the 50,000-member Yamaguchi-gumi.

Takayama — whose one eye is permanently shut, reportedly from a sword fighting injury — was said to be the Yamaguchi-gumi’s de facto leader after its boss, Kenichi Shinoda, 68, was jailed in 2005 for gun law violations.

In December, police struck again and arrested the Yamaguchi-gumi’s alleged number-three, Tadashi Irie, 65, on suspicion of paying the relatives of a hitman who is in jail for a gangland killing.

The arrests came after crusading National Police Agency chief Takaharu Ando declared war on the yakuza in September 2009, shaking up a long-standing and uniquely Japanese live-and-let-live consensus.

Like crime groups elsewhere, yakuza have made money off illegal gambling, drugs, prostitution, protection rackets and loan sharking, as well as white-collar crime and through front companies.

But unlike Chinese triads or the Italian mafia, yakuza groups are not secret societies and operate openly out of corporate headquarters that have signs at their front doors and are listed in phone books.

Read the rest of the story: AFP: Japan gets tough on yakuza gangsters.