By Hollander (a pseudonym)
Posted on August 10, 2008
Japanese gangster Kakuji 'Seijo' Inagawa was best known for founding a notorious yakuza syndicate based in the Tokyo-Yokohama region. The Inagawa-kai has around 9,500 members, divided into over 300 gangs, and thousands of associates. It was one of the first yakuza groups to expand its operations to outside of Japan. Japan's yakuza have published adresses, often in the best areas of a city, with gangsters proudly bearing namecards and corporate insignia. Like the Yamaguchi-gumi, the Inagawa-kai is structured in traditional pyramid fashion, but the syndicate enjoys greater discipline and tighter organization while at the same time remaining more flexible. Most of its members were drawn from the bakuto (gamblers) and illegal gambling has long been Inagawa-kai's main source of income.
Seijo Inagawa was born near the port city of Yokohama in 1914, he never attended school. He was recruited in the yakuza as an enforcer when he was a teenage judo student. During the second world war Inagawa organized a small street gang to harass and intimidate the Koreans and Chinese who controlled the city's black market and protection rackets. In 1949 he formed the Inagawa-gumi, his gang was now almost equal to that of his early mentor Masajiro Tsuruoka, the reigning oyabun (godfather) of Yokohama.
By the 1960s Inagawa's influence had spread to the capital Tokyo and the northern island of Hokkaido. His major source of revenue came frome the lucrative casino gambling rackets, which he single-handedly controlled. Continued police harassment compelled Inagawa to seek legitimacy through political channels. In its fight against the communists the Japanese government frequently overlooked the misdeeds of the yakuza whose symphaties were tied to the political right. Even today yakuza bosses are on first-name terms with corporate presidents and senior politicians. Former prime minister Yoshiro Mori gave a speech at a wedding attended by Seijo's son Yuko Inagawa, at the time the boss of Inagawa-kai.
In 1963 Inagawa changed the name of the gang and petitioned the authorities to grant it political status. By 1964 more than 2,700 yakuza stood under his command. When freed in 1969, Inagawa had been incarcerated in Fukushima prison, he discovered that his once powerful gang had been decimated by internal feuds, defections, and police arrests. Under the guidance of legendary Yoshio Kodama (photo left) an alliance was forged with the Yamaguchi-gumi, by far the largest yakuza syndicate.
In 1973 the powerful combine Yamaguchi/Inagawa controlled virtually every yakuza gang in the nation. Inagawa had branched out into loan sharking, gun smuggling, drug dealing, and other forms of vice. The police estimated that in 1979 the illegal activities were fronted by 879 legitimate businesses; constructionfirms, restaurants, golf and country clubs, and entertainment companies. The combined yearly income was US$200 million. Seijo Inagawa oversaw his criminal empire from a lavish hotel suite in downtown Tokyo.
After the aging Inagawa retired in 1986 his second in command Susumu Ishii became the new kumicho (boss). Ishii joined the Inagawa-kai in 1958 and rose to the numer two position, but he was imprisoned for illegal gambling from 1978-1984. He was released from prison at the start of Japan's 'Bubble economy'. A time of skyrocketing land and stockprices in the economy that peaked from 1986 to 1990. Susumu Ishii, once described as the world's richest gangster, led the Inagawa-kai's move into real estate and stock. Through various loans, banking deals, and real estate scams he accumulated assets of over US$ 1.5 billion. But his health declined rapidly, in September 1990 he retired as boss.
He was replaced by Yuko 'Toi' Inagawa, son of the founder. Ishii died in 1991 over 5,000 people attended his funeral at the Ikegami temple in Tokyo. Toi Inagawa controlled the syndicate from 1990 until 2005, when he died of illness in May 2005. A clear succesor has not emerged, but his son Hideki Inagawa is seen as the most likely candidate.
When Seijo Inagawa, the elder statesman of the Japanese underworld, died on December 2007 at the age of 94 the street gang he once started was one of the most powerful and richest organized crime groups in the world.
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