Foreign Policy Blogs

Economic cost of quake $300 billion, mobsters help victims

The economic cost of the March 11 earthquake is estimated to be between 16 trillion yen ($198 billion) and 25 trillion yen ($309 billion)–7 percent of Japan’s GDP by purchasing power parity.

This estimate comes from a government report released Wednesday. According to the Cabinet Office, this could slow Japan’s growth rate to 0.5 percent. Some economic forecasters believe the GDP may decline as much as 1 percent for the year. The office suggested that the economic pressures could be offset by reconstruction work.

The above estimate does not take into account effects from the power shortages triggered by the nuclear crisis in Fukushima. Workers are still struggling to restore power to the plant, where a neutron beam–a radioactive ray–has been spotted 13 times. Furthermore, rescue workers in Fukushima have been hindered by the nuclear crisis, as the Self-Defense Forces have had difficulty entering areas under evacuation orders. As of this writing, 25,000 people have been confirmed dead or missing.

Meanwhile, the yakuza (Japanese mafia) has been providing assistance to earthquake victims, as they had in the aftermath of the 1995 Kobe earthquake. One yakuza boss said, “We couldn’t just stand still after hearing reports there weren’t enough food or drinking water getting to the devastated areas. … What’s important is that the government couldn’t get the job done. So if we make ourselves useful, then we’ve done the right thing. That’s what our yakuza code of chivalry is all about.”

The “yakuza code of chivalry” is a bit of a myth. There is nothing chivalrous about extortion or sex trafficking, their usual rackets. While the yakuza may have been moved to act out of the kindness of their hearts, I think it more likely they are trying to generate good publicity to distract the public from their actual business.

As noted above, the economic pressures caused by the quake could be offset by reconstruction work. Construction in Japan is a 30-trillion-yen ($370-billion) industry with strong ties to the yakuza. According to a police estimate from the 1990s, gangs pocket 2 to 3 percent of construction spending. In 2007, Nagasaki mayor Iccho Itoh was shot twice in the back at point-blank range by a senior member of the Yamaguchi-gumi gang. The gangster cited the city’s refusal to compensate him when his car was damaged at a public-works construction site as his motive for killing the mayor. The actual reason was that the city didn’t hire a yakuza-backed construction company for the public-works project.

If Japan follows precedent, foreign construction firms will be quietly shut out as no-bid contracts for the lucrative reconstruction efforts will be awarded to companies with yakuza ties. The yakuza’s efforts to help quake victims may have more to do with a wish for the reconstruction contracts.



Dustin Dye

Dustin Dye is the author of the YAKUZA DYNASTY series, available through the Amazon Kindle.

He lived in Okayama, Japan, where he taught English at a junior high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program for three years. He is a graduate from the University of Kansas, where he received a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

His interest in Japan began in elementary school after seeing Godzilla fight Ghidorah, the three-headed monster. But it wasn't until he discovered Akira Kurosawa's films through their spaghetti Western remakes that he truly became fascinated in the people and culture of Japan.

He lives in Kansas with his wife, daughter and guinea pig.

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E-mail him: [email protected]