Last week we discussed the presence of many North Korean sympathizers who are ethnic koreans living in Japan. Treated as outsiders both due to their politics and their ethnicity, one way in which they connected into the Japanese economy that we discussed was by owning Pachinko parlors. If you thought that those establishments were often controlled by the Yakuza, you are correct. In fact, the ties between the Yakuza and North Korea are only now starting to be understood.
The Yakuza have long depended upon Burakumin and ethnic Korean members in Japan. Some believe that the membership is approximately 30% Japanese-born Korean. The largest organization, the Yamaguchi-Gumi (六代目山口組) has about 55,000 members and accounts for about 1/2 of all Yakuza in Japan today, with about a 10% Korean membership. Its former acting chief's family lived in North Korea. North Korea has, for many years, supplied the Yamaguchi-gumi with methamphetamine, guns, and other illicit goods. North Korea also exports methamphetamine to China, and today most of the methamphetamine that reaches Japan first travels through China. The third-largest organization, the Inagawa-kei, at one time had 18 of its 19 leadership positions held by Koreans.
In 2001, a Japanese patrol boat exchanged fire with and sank a North Korean espionage vessel off the coast of Kyushu. Investigators located a cellphone on board that had called an ethnic korean Yakuza boss 120 times. Most investigators believe this connection was part of the narcotics trade between North Korea and the Japanese Yakuza. The Yakuza has an extensive smuggling network in place to feed the over 1 million addicts and regular users in Japan today. Long adept at manipulating those people whom society has rejected, the Yakuza may now have taken up with a rogue nation whom the world has rejected.