Leaving the world of yakuza, a difficult process

Learn the law by heart in prison

— You both told us about your past as yakuza. What motivated you to study for the exam?

MOROHASHI YOSHITOMO I was kicked out of my gang in 2005 for being addicted to amphetamines. I was placed in a psychiatric hospital and then arrested. While I was in prison, awaiting trial, my mother brought me lawyer Ohira Mitsuyo’s book, Dakara, anata mo ikinuite (translated into English by John Brennan as “So Can You “). This woman, like me, had a heavy past since she had been the wife of a chef. yakuza. Completely changing her life, she took the bar exam and passed. That’s when I told myself that I too wanted to do the same thing. I started studying to become a licensed real estate agent. But what I was mainly aiming for was the bar, a much more difficult exam. So I rolled up my sleeves and immersed myself in books.

KÔMURA RYÛICHI When I was 38, I got into trouble with a police officer at a bar not far from my house. I went to prison in Hiroshima for obstructing a law enforcement official in the exercise of his duties. I always told myself that my forties would be a turning point in my life but everything I had done up until then had done nothing good so I decided to think about all that before reaching this pivotal date. When I thought about the things I could do in prison, I came to the following conclusion: study. To begin with, I set my sights on taking the bar exam, but having received a prison sentence immediately disqualified me. So I lowered my goal and decided to be a legal editor.

Morohashi Yoshitomo, left, and Kômura Ryûichi

— Sharing your cell with other inmates, you couldn’t study, so to be more peaceful, you intentionally stood up to a guard so that he would put you in solitary confinement. And there, with grains of rice, which you stuck under your window, without the guards knowing, you made cards to memorize the laws. What motivation!

KR It’s the only way I found. I couldn’t do anything else while I was in prison and I would have just wasted my time anyway.

MY I think Kômura’s method is simply incredible. In addition, maintain such rigor! Most of yakuza are trained not to use this kind of cost-benefit reasoning.

KR This was precisely what I was thinking about all the time; costs and benefits. In fact, I think I’ve always loved law. When I was in my twenties, I learned how to send letters with certificates of content, I did data entry procedures, all by myself. When I went to prison, I took books about the statutes and the Prison Establishments and Treatment of Prisoners Act.

A matter of pride

— Kômura Ryûichi, it took you eight years to pass this exam, and you Morohashi Yoshitomo seven years. Many people didn’t want you to take this exam. Have you ever wanted to give up?

KR To tell you the truth, I was extremely confident in myself, even though there was no reason for it. I only had a diploma in my pocket but many people who obtain very good grades in high school or university do not naturally go to study law. So I told myself that if others could do it, then why not me?

I had little support around me. In fact, it was quite the opposite, I heard things like “It’s too hard, you should give up.” » But deep down, I’m sure what they were saying to themselves was “What the hell is this idiot talking about?” “. And if I gave up, they would have said, “See, what did I tell you, huh? » And I didn’t want that. So I made it a point to tell them all I was studying. And I would tell them things like, “There’s not much that’s difficult. Stop getting in my way.” In the end, it was just a matter of pride.

MY I had the same feeling. What kept me going was imagining the faces of those who would be so happy to see me fail. It had nothing to do with the fact that I was a yakuza. I was just competitive by nature.

— Has your life changed after obtaining your certification?

KR Being able to do things without having to hide is great. Before, I did everything in secret; such as suing financial institutions to obtain reimbursement of overpayments. Anyway, now that I have chosen to do this job, I can devote myself to it full time. And there is no retirement age, it depends on you, if you have the necessary determination.

MY But even when you’re no longer one yakuza or you’ve set yourself on the right path and you’re no longer the little guy you used to be, it’s difficult to break all the ties that tie you to this environment. What is complicated, because of your past, is also finding a job that pays well, so many often find themselves operating in gray areas, on the border between legal and illegal. In this sense, having a certification is a powerful weapon. In my case, the fact that so many people helped me with my registration as a lawyer was a great motivation. And the fact that I cannot betray them keeps me on the right path; I will never go back to meth, I will never lose my license.

THE yakuzaan image far removed from that of the films

— Your past as yakuza prevented you from accomplishing certain things?

KR Not that much actually. But last year I wanted to buy a car from an importer in Tokyo. He gave me a quote and everything was going well until I went to the dealership for a final check on the car, and they said, “Sorry, but that’s not going to be possible.” They had probably found out about my past on the internet. Even though it has been more than fifteen years since I left the world of yakuzaI still have these kinds of problems.

Exclusion orders yakuza defined by local governments among others have a “five-year antisocial force”, which limits the freedom of people who have belonged to gangs for five years. Even after this five-year period is over, it is not uncommon for these ex-thugs to be unable to open a bank account or buy a car.

MY When the first exclusion orders were adopted, around twenty years ago, they accelerated measures aimed at putting yakuza at the company bench. The previous law against organized crime cracked down on the organizations themselves, but the exclusion orders crack down on people who are linked to yakuza. It’s too much !

KR There was a bank that froze a company’s account because its CEO had dinner with a yakuza. The bank called the dinner a “close association.” The company collapsed and dozens of people and their families paid the price.

MY I think that in the future, more and more families will find themselves discriminated against simply because their parents are or were yakuza. “You cannot marry this or that person because you are a yakuza “, they will be able to hear this kind of thing. And even the children of people who are no longer yakuza will keep the label of their parents. This label will stick to them and they will be considered children of former mafiosos.

KR If you try too hard, no one will ever be happy. Everyone is so keen to put them away from society but no one thinks about what they can become afterwards. Be a yakuza, and staying there, has become more and more difficult, more and more of them will leave this world, but afterwards, they will no longer have anywhere to go or even a place where they can feel at home. Not being able to open an account for five or ten years means having no means of earning a living. To eat their fill, they will have no choice but to get involved in shady business.

In the end, you know what? You have the hangurepseudo-criminal organizations which are even worse than the yakuza. THE hangure have neither organization nor aesthetics. These people meet on the internet and whoever shows up for this or that mission steals or even kills. Amateurs of this caliber come together like this, they are the ones who scare the most.

MY THE yakuza are dishonest, of course, but it’s no secret. But they have offices and signs. The groups hangureThey are clandestine criminal teams, like the foreign mafia.

But despite everything, I support the yakuza who want to hang it up and get back on the right path. And when people ask me what is better, yakuza or some hangureI tell them to get out of the world of yakuza even if they join the hangure. For society, being a yakuza is worse than anything, and the demerit of being a part of it is just too great for that person’s life.

I think that the objective behind this desire to exclude yakuza has already succeeded. Today, there are fewer and fewer of them, especially in the cities, and the average age of members is around 50 years old. And this will not get better, leading more and more people into poverty. A yakuza who has style, you only see them managed in the movies.

Now we need to take the next step and create places for those who have decided to hang up their lives and for their families. To offer them some comfort. Neither the government nor the media pay attention to the rights of these minorities. I think the justice system has an important role to play.

(Interview by Mori Kazuo, Koizumi Kôhei and Power News. All photos © Ikazaki Shinobu)

Also read our two previous articles in the series:

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NEXT Valady. Jean Couet-Guichot and Gaya Wisniewski, two artists in residence within the region