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Japan’s Largest Yakuza Group Just Cancelled Halloween

Sorry kids. No candy this year.
Kenichi Shinoda, the head of the Yamaguchi-gumi. Image: The Asahi Shimbun

Every Halloween, western kids look forward to dressing up in scary costumes and going door-to-door trick-or-treating around their neighbourhoods. But if you're a kid living in a certain district in Kobe, Japan, the spooky highlight of your year could lie in receiving a big bag of candy from Japan's largest yakuza group.

Trouble is, this year, the yakuza group in question—the Yamaguchi-gumi (group)—just announced that Halloween is cancelled.


「御子様方には大変残念な思いをさせますが…」 山口組、毎年恒例の〝ハロウィーン〟を「諸般の事情により中止」 分裂問題が影響か 産経ニュースWESTOctober 21, 2015

According to a report by Japanese news website Sankei West, the Yamaguchi group stuck a poster outside their offices apologizing for cancelling their annual candy handout to kids in the neighbourhood. The yakuza group attributed the sorry turn of events this year to "various reasons," and apologized to everybody who was looking forward to the event. Never fear. They promised that Halloween would definitely be back on the cards next year.

Though the Yamaguchi group didn't explain why they'd cancelled Halloween this year, Sankei West reports that the group have been experiencing internal power shifts since August 2015. Since then, police authorities have been enforcing house searches, and keeping a close eye on the group in case internal disputes erupt.

While it could be speculated that the Yamaguchi group cancelled Halloween this year out of concern for their neighbourhood kids' health, it's more likely that they didn't want them to be caught up in any angry gangster flare-ups.

Abroad, there are a bunch of popular stereotypes for yakuza members. Those might range from someone who is heavily tattooed, or sometimes lacking a finger (some yakuza have to lop off part of their finger to repent for any mistakes they make). The yakuza conduct organized crime, and are involved in a wide range of illicit businesses: drug and human trafficking, prostitution, loan sharking, pornography, and more. Oddly, they also have a community-orientated side.

Yamaguchi-gumi boss Kenichi Shinoda upon being released from jail in April 2011. Image: The Asahi Shimbun

In 2011, after the devastating Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami disaster, some yakuza groups torpedoed into action, and were among the first to send out relief supplies to disaster victims. A similar story of swift civic action emerged from the ruins of the Kobe earthquake in 1995. While some say mobster civic activities serve are a PR stunt, long-time experts on the yakuza such as Jake Adelstein attribute their desire to help people in the times of need to "ninkyo"—a yakuza code that promotes justice and service to those who are suffering.

Justifying the distribution of candy to kids under this code is a bit harder. Who knows, maybe some yakuza just like hanging out with kids and bringing them some saccharine Halloween joy. Or maybe there's an ulterior motive at play: they're looking for their next-gen mobsters. Whatever the reasons, the Yamaguchi group's annual Halloween candy handout event has been going on for the past ten years, according to the website Mjyouka.

Kids in Kobe will just have to wait till next year for their annual Halloween candy handouts from the yakuza. For everyone else, Halloween is still on.