Fukuoka yakuza group graying after crackdown

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Police officers enter the house of Satoru Nomura, the head of the Kudo-kai yakuza group, in Kitakyushu on Sept. 11, 2014.

KITAKYUSHU — Members of a Kitakyushu-based yakuza group are graying, just like the rest of Japanese society.

Eight years after the arrest of its top leaders, Kudo-kai has lost many of its youngsters and is struggling to attract new recruits. The average age of affiliates in the group’s Fukuoka Prefecture stronghold now stands at 54, up 9.4 years from 2013, a year before a police crackdown began. Only two of the group’s prefectural members are in their 20s.

On Sept. 11, 2014, the Fukuoka prefectural police arrested Kudo-kai chief Satoru Nomura on suspicion of homicide, with an eye on wiping out the largest organized crime syndicate in the Kyushu region. As part of a strategy dubbed “Operation Summit,” the police also arrested the group’s second-in-command, Fumio Tanoue, and intensified its attempts to crush the organization.

From 2014 to July 2022, the police had arrested 474 Kudo-kai-affiliated individuals.

In 2021, Fukuoka District Court sentenced Nomura to death and Tanoue to life in prison for their involvement in four assaults against civilians. Nomura and Tanoue — now 75 and 66, respectively — both appealed the sentencing.

According to the prefectural police, Kudo-kai now has 250 members nationwide, with 200, or 80%, based in Fukuoka Prefecture. Numbers declined rapidly from 540 at the end of 2013, following the operation .

Average age rose from 44.6 in 2013 to 54 at the end of 2021, while the number of members in their 20s declined from 33 to just two during the same period. About one in six of the group, or 33 individuals, are 70 or older.

Multiple dissolutions

Since the start of the 2014 operation, the police have forced the dissolution of more than 10 groups affiliated with Kudo-kai and have shuttered at least 24 of its offices.

A 70-something leader of one of such group once served as a Kudo-kai official. But he reportedly decided to dissolve his coterie because the crackdown made it difficult to gather funds, prompting multiple departures from the group, investigative sources said.

In February, the group to which Tanoue belonged also effectively ceased operating following the death of its leader. In 2003, the group injured more than 10 people by lobbing a grenade into a Kitakyushu pub owned by the leader of a movement that aimed to eliminate yakuza gangs. However, in recent years many people have left the group, leaving the boss in his 70s as the sole member.

Even for the groups that remain, about half the members are either in prison or under detention. The police believe many groups lack candidates to succeed the current bosses.

Non-yakuza group on the rise

The Fukuoka prefectural police are increasingly wary about groups expanding their activities to other prefectures. According to sources, two Kudo-kai-affiliated groups in Fukuoka City are fostering delinquent groups not formally part of the yakuza organization and thus not covered by the Prevention of Unjust Acts by Organized Crime Group Members Law.

In the Kanto region in particular, young people with no connection to Fukuoka are joining such groups, reportedly attracted by the organization’s violent image, according to sources.

“We need to strengthen our knowledge of groups that aren’t officially part of yakuza organizations,” a senior prefectural police official said.