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"Yamabishi" (山菱), the daimon of the Yamaguchi-gumi
Founded1915; 107 years ago (1915)
FounderHarukichi Yamaguchi
Founding locationKobe, Japan
Years active1915–present
TerritoryPrimarily based in Kobe but has territory all over Japan, including in Nagoya, Tokyo and Hawaii, United States
Membership (est.)8,500[1]
Leader(s)Kenichi Shinoda
ActivitiesArms trafficking, assassinations, bid rigging, blackmail, bookmaking, contract killing, drug trafficking, extortion, fraud, human trafficking, illegal gambling, Internet pornography, loansharking, match fixing, money laundering, murder, prostitution, racketeering, securities fraud, sōkaiya, and infiltration of legitimate businesses[2][3]
RivalsKobe Yamaguchi-gumi

The Sixth Yamaguchi-gumi (六代目山口組, Rokudaime Yamaguchi-gumi, Japanese: [ɾokɯdaime jamagɯt͡ɕi gɯmi]) is Japan's largest yakuza organization. It is named after its founder Harukichi Yamaguchi. Its origins can be traced back to a loose labor union for dockworkers in Kobe before World War II.[4]

It is one of the largest criminal organizations in the world. According to the National Police Agency, it had 8,500 active members at the end of 2021.[1]

The Yamaguchi-gumi are among the world's wealthiest gangsters, bringing in billions of dollars a year from extortion, gambling, the sex industry, arms trafficking, drug trafficking, real estate and construction kickback schemes. They are also involved in stock market manipulation and Internet pornography.[2][3]

The Yamaguchi-gumi has its headquarters in Kobe, but it operates all across Japan and has overseas operations. Its current kumichō (Boss), Shinobu Tsukasa, has declared an expansionist policy—even making inroads into Tokyo, traditionally not Yamaguchi turf.[5] They also have multiple groups working overseas.[6][7]


Relief support after disasters[edit]

Immediately after the Kobe earthquake of 1995, the Yamaguchi-gumi started a large-scale relief effort for the earthquake victims, helping with the distribution of food and supplies. This help was essential to the Kobe population, because official support was inconsistent and chaotic for several days.[8][9]

The Yamaguchi-gumi also provided relief in the wake of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami by opening its offices to the public and by sending supplies to affected areas.[10]


In an effort to boost morale, the Yamaguchi-gumi launched an eight-page newsletter in July, 2013. However, it was only distributed to full members. The publication bridges communication gaps and includes articles on the group's opinion and traditions, as well as columns on angling, with an editorial section written by Kenichi Shinoda.[11]

Assassination of Iccho Itoh[edit]

On April 17, 2007, Tetsuya Shiroo, a senior ranking member of the Suishin-kai (an affiliated Yakuza family to the Yamaguchi-gumi), assassinated Iccho Itoh, the mayor of Nagasaki, over an apparent dispute over damage done to Shiroo's car at a public works construction site.[12] On May 26, 2008, Tetsuya Shiroo was sentenced to death.[13] However, the Fukuoka High Court revoked the death sentence and sentenced him to life imprisonment on September 29, 2009.[14]

Decline in membership[edit]

Yakuza membership has been steadily declining since the 1990s. According to the National Police Agency, the total number of registered gangsters fell 14% between 1991 and 2012, to 78,600.[15] Of those, 34,900 were Yamaguchi-gumi members, a decline of 4% from 2010.[15] Its membership had further declined by 2013, with an estimated 28,000 members,[11] and dropped again to 23,400 members in 2014.[16]

Split in 2015[edit]

On August 27, 2015, Japanese police confirmed that powerful factions, including the Kobe-based Yamaken-gumi, the Osaka-based Takumi-gumi, and the Kyoyu-kai, broke away from the Yamaguchi-gumi and formed a new group called the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi.[17][18] Prior to the split, the organization consisted of seventy-two factions.[19] This was the first major split since the forming of Ichiwa-Kai more than thirty years ago.


On January 14, 2021, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department arrested Hiroki Sakata, a member of the Yamaguchi-gumi, in connection with a scam in 2018 where the damage was worth 60 million yen ($475,059 US dollars in 2022).[20]


When Taoka inherited the title of kumichō, it was merely a local family with only a few dozen members. It was Taoka who made Yamaguchi-gumi Japan’s largest criminal organization. He urged his underlings to have legitimate businesses and allowed them to have their own families, which became quasi– subsidiary families of Yamaguchi-gumi. He also created a structural system in the family. Wakagashira were elected as underbosses to the kumichō and some of powerful members were elected as wakagashira-hosa (deputy underbosses).[citation needed]

After the death of Taoka, the heir apparent, wakagashira Kenichi Yamamoto (kumichō of the Yamaken-gumi), was serving a prison sentence. He died of liver failure shortly afterward. Taoka's wife, Fumiko Taoka, stepped forward to fill the leadership void until a new kumichō could be selected by a council of eight top-level bosses. In 1984, the elders chose Masahisa Takenaka (kumichō of the Takenaka-gumi) to be the fourth kumichō of Yamaguchi-gumi. One of the other contenders, Hiroshi Yamamoto (kumichō of the Yamahiro-gumi), broke away from Yamaguchi-gumi with many of its powerful members and more than 3,000 of its soldiers to form the Ichiwa-kai. A bitter rivalry existed between the two groups, which led to an all-out war (the Yama-Ichi War) after the Ichiwa-kai's 1985 assassination of Takenaka and wakahashira Katsumasa Nakayama. During the war, acting-kumichō Kazuo Nakanishi (kumichō of the Nakanishi-gumi) and wakagashira Yoshinori Watanabe (kumichō of the Yamaken-gumi) briefly took the leadership role until 1989.

The Yama-Ichi War ended with the retirement of Hiroshi Yamamoto, which was arbitrated by one of the most respected bosses, Seijo Inagawa. After that, the clan elected wakagashira Yoshinori Watanabe as 5th kumichō of the organization. Masaru Takumi (kumichō of Takumi-gumi) was elected as wakagashira. He was so powerful and respected within the organization that his influence overshadowed that of kumichō to some extent.

In 1997, then-powerful wakagashira Masaru Takumi was assassinated by underlings of then-wakagashira-hosa (deputy underboss) Taro Nakano. After this assassination, they were unable to choose a new wakagashira for more than eight years. As a result, leadership of the organization became weaker. Finally, in 2005, wakagashira-hosa Shinobu Tsukasa (then kumichō of the Hirota-gumi) was chosen as new wakagashira and shortly afterward, in August 2005, Tsukasa inherited the position of the 6th kumichō of the Yamaguchi-gumi.

Watanabe retired to private life—rather uncommon in yakuza circles, as bosses usually do not retire until their deaths.[21] Under Tsukasa's leadership, the 6th Yamaguchi-gumi has resumed expansion. Kiyoshi Takayama, kumichō of the Kodo-kai, was elected as wakagashira. They absorbed the Tokyo-based gang Kokusui-kai, acquiring lucrative turf in the capital. Tsukasa was imprisoned in December 2005 for illegal gun possession, and was released in April 2011 after serving nearly six years in jail.[22][23]


In February 2012 the U.S. Treasury Department announced a freeze on American-owned assets controlled by the organization and its top two leaders.[24] The Obama administration imposed sanctions on the Yamaguchi-gumi as one of four key transnational organized crime groups, along with the Brothers' Circle from Russia, the Camorra from Italy, and Los Zetas from Mexico.[25]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The main antagonist of the 1991 martial arts film The Godfather's Daughter Mafia Blues, Kuyama (played by Ken Lo) is the current kumichō (or boss) of the Yamaguchi-gumi after the death of his father Tetsuya, who was the previous head of this Yakuza syndicate. Unlike his father (who was known as a pacifist), Kuyama is an arrogant, greedy and reckless Yakuza boss.
  • In Marvel's Earth-616, the Yamaguchi-gumi are notoriously known for being enemies of the Shogun Warriors and the X-Men's Wolverine. The Yamaguchi-gumi had two known oyabuns in Earth-616: Maikeru Mishu (who was responsible for trying to steal and control the Shogun Warriors) and Shinji Kizaki (who became Wolverine's enemy after he defeated one of Kizaki's mercenaries and even insulted him before leaving the Japan).
  • The Yamaguchi-gumi are one of the main antagonists of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. In the game, the Yamaguchi-gumi is led by Masahiro Hayamoto and his son Masahiro Hayamoto Jr., and both are priority targets for Agent 47 (the protagonist of the Hitman franchise).
  • In Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Take-Down – Missions in Korea, the Yamaguchi-gumi is involved in a bloody gang war with the Ikeshita-gumi (another powerful Yakuza syndicate that owns territories in both Japan and South Korea and which are the main antagonists of the game).


  1. ^ a b "Organized Crime Situation 2021" (PDF). National Police Agency. Retrieved 2022-03-26.
  2. ^ a b Drury, Colin. "Japan police seek to stop mobsters throwing annual Halloween parties for children". The Independent. Retrieved October 7, 2022.
  3. ^ a b Daisuke Wakabayashi and Jeff Bater (February 23, 2012). "U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Japan Organized Crime Group". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 7, 2022.
  4. ^ "Yamaguchi Gumi | JapanVisitor Japan Travel Guide".
  5. ^ a b c McCurry, Justin (28 August 2015). "Japanese police bracing for gang war as Yamaguchi-gumi mafia group splits". The Guardian via MSN. Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  6. ^ "Tokyo death sparks gang war". BBC. February 8, 2007.
  7. ^ World News Australia
  8. ^ Sterngold, James (January 22, 1995). "QUAKE IN JAPAN: GANGSTERS; Gang in Kobe Organizes Aid for People In Quake" – via NYTimes.com.
  9. ^ YASUYUKI SAWADA, SATOSHI SHIMIZUTANI. (2008) How Do People Cope with Natural Disasters? Evidence from the Great Hanshin-Awaji (Kobe) Earthquake in 1995. Journal of Money, Credit and Banking 40:2-3, 463-488
  10. ^ Adelstein, Jake (2011-03-20). "Yakuza to the Rescue". The Daily Beast. The Newsweek / Daily Beast Company LLC. Retrieved 2011-03-21.
  11. ^ a b Calderon, Justin (12 July 2013). "Japan Yakuza: How about your Mafia Magazines, ASEAN?". Investvine. Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  12. ^ "I killed mayor - Japan 'gangster'". BBC News. January 22, 2008.
  13. ^ Alford, Peter (May 27, 2008). "Nagasaki mayor's yakuza killer to hang". The Australian.
  14. ^ "Gangster escapes gallows". Straits Times. 2009-09-29. Retrieved 2009-10-20.
  15. ^ a b McCurry, Justin (February 24, 2012). "US steps up offensive against Japan's yakuza gangs" – via www.theguardian.com.
  16. ^ Hongo, Jun (August 28, 2015). "Top Yakuza Group, Yamaguchi-gumi, Shows Signs of Split". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
  17. ^ "Police brace for yakuza war after Yamaguchi-gumi splits up". The Asahi Shimbun. August 28, 2015. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
  18. ^ Adelstein, Jake (September 1, 2015). "Japan's police on alert in wake of reported yakuza group split". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
  19. ^ Jake Adelstein, for. "The yakuza: Inside Japan's murky criminal underworld". CNN.
  20. ^ "和牛など大量に仕入れだまし取った疑い 暴力団員ら逮捕". NHKニュース.
  21. ^ "Mainichi Daily News ends its partnership with MSN, takes on new Web address".
  22. ^ "Police wary as Yamaguchi-gumi prepares to fete sixth don | The Japan Times Online".
  23. ^ "Japan frees Yamaguchi-gumi crime boss Kenichi Shinoda". April 9, 2011 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
  24. ^ Wakabayashi, Daisuke; Jeff Bater (2012-02-23). "U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Japan Organized Crime Group". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
  25. ^ Cohen, David. "Combating Transnational Organized Crime". United States Department of the Treasury. Retrieved 26 June 2012.