Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


The Yakuza in America

On October 3, 1991, William Sessions, then-director of the FBI, testified at a hearing on Asian organized crime before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. "The Boryokudan," he said, referring to the yakuza, "have built one of the world's largest criminal organizations ... According to a publicized report of the National Police Agency of Japan, the Boryokudan, in 1988, grossed almost 10 billion U.S. dollars in revenue, one-third from crystal methamphetamine, a relatively new and powerful stimulant known on the street as 'ice.' The Boryokudan control an estimated 90 percent of the 'ice' flow into Hawaii. The Boryokudan also smuggle guns from the United States into Japan …"

The yakuza have made their presence felt in the United States principally in Hawaii, but also in California, Nevada and even New York.

Hawaii has a natural appeal for just about everyone, but criminal opportunities attract the yakuza there more than the exquisite beaches and lush flora. Yakuza members blend in easily in Hawaii because tourists from Japan and other Asian countries flock there. They invest in high-priced real estate, one of their favorite enterprises, and use the island state as a way station for crystal meth headed for the American mainland and firearms head back to Japan. They also work with local crime gangs, funneling tourists from Asia to gambling parlors, sex shows and bordellos in exchange for kickbacks from locals.

The yakuza have also put down roots in California where they have made alliances with Korean and Vietnamese gangs and furthered their traditional partnerships with the Chinese triads. Los Angeles is particularly attractive because of the influx of young actresses desperate to get their big break in the film industry. Yakuza shills have become adept at luring these vulnerable women into porn films and prostitution. Japanese men, whether on sex tours or at home in Japan, often desire western women, particularly blondes.

Like most American organized crime groups, the yakuza love Las Vegas, where gambling—both legal and illegal—is everywhere. Showgirls and hookers are also plentiful in Vegas, and the yakuza are instrumental in steering Asian tourists to establishments owned by Americans who pay substantial "finder's fees."

Yakuza members have even been spotted in New York City, where they have made loose alliances with the American Mafia. Although cultural differences and the language barrier make a strong bond nearly impossible, the two groups have been able to cooperate in illegal gambling operations, with the yakuza channeling Japanese tourists to illicit after-hours casinos around the city.

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