Yoshio Kodama (児玉 誉士夫 Kodama Yoshio , February 18, 1911 – January 17, 1984) was a prominent figure in the rise of organized crime in Japan. The most famous kuromaku, or behind-the-scenes power broker, of the 20th century, he was active in Japan's political arena and criminal underworld from the 1950s to the early 1970s.
Born in Nihonmatsu, Japan, Kodama lived with relatives in Japanese-occupied Korea early in his life, and during that time formed an ultranationalist group with the intent to assassinate various Japanese politicians. He was caught and served a prison term of three and a half years.
After his release, the Japanese government contracted Kodama to help move supplies for the Japanese war effort out of continental Asia and into Japan. He accomplished this through a network of allies he made during his time working in Korea as a youth. Kodama became involved in the drug trade at this time, moving opiates to Japan along with the supplies he was paid by the government to smuggle. He formed a vast network of allies and gained a fortune—more than $175 million U.S.— making him one of the richest men in Asia during this time.
At the end of World War II, Kodama was arrested by the United States as a Class A war criminal. He was held in Sugamo Prison with Ryoichi Sasakawa, where the two formed a long friendship. While locked up, he wrote his Sugamo Diary (a chronicle of his experience in prison) and I Was Defeated (an autobiographical work).
The U.S. intelligence community later secured his release in exchange for his aid in fighting communism in Asia. Kodama, being a right-wing ultranationalist, eagerly obliged, using his fortune and network of contacts to quell labor disputes, root out Communist sympathizers, and otherwise fight the socialist presence in Japan. In 1949, the CIA paid him to smuggle a shipment of tungsten out of China. The shipment never arrived but Kodama kept his money.
Kodama used his power in the yakuza to suppress anything he deemed the least bit communist or anti-nationalist. In 1947 he ordered the Meiraki-gumi, an affiliated gang, to break up a labour movement at the Hokutan coal mine. He also offered his support to the anti-communist right-wing Liberal Democratic Party.
During this period, Kodama used his underworld connections to help unite the various gangs, which had greatly proliferated in the years immediately following World War II. The short-lived Kanto-kai was the most prominent example of these efforts. He also brokered a truce between the Yamaguchi-gumi and the Tosei-kai, headed by his colleague Hisayuki Machii.
Kodama was also involved in a number of scandals in the post-war era, many of which involved United States businesses and the CIA. Most notable of these was the Lockheed L-1011 sales scandal in the 1970s, which effectively marked the end of his career. After the Lockheed scandal, disillusioned ultranationalist roman porno film actor Mitsuyasu Maeno attempted to assassinate Kodama by flying a plane into his Tokyo house, kamikaze-style. The attempt failed.
Kodama died in his sleep of a stroke on January 17, 1984.
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