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    Apr 03, 2014

    Yakuza seeks new image to boost its ranks


    JAPAN'S biggest organised crime syndicate has launched its own website, complete with corporate song and a strong anti-drugs message, as the yakuza look to turn around its outdated image and falling membership.

    The clunky-sounding Banish Drugs and Purify the Nation League website is an offering from the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's largest yakuza grouping.

    It includes shakily shot footage of members making their New Year pilgrimage to a shrine. The soundtrack to this is a traditional folk-style song with lyrics extolling the virtues of the "Ninkyo" spirit - an ideal of masculinity that battles injustice and helps the weak.

    "Nothing but Ninkyo, that is the man's way of life," say the lyrics. "The way of duty and compassion, bearing the ordeal for our dream."

    Another video shows men with crew cuts pounding sticky rice for a New Year festival, and there are galleries of pictures showcasing the clean-up work members did in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and the 1996 Kobe earthquake.

    Yakuza syndicates are involved in activities ranging from prostitution to extortion, as well as white-collar crime.

    But unlike their underworld counterparts elsewhere, the yakuza are not illegal and each of the designated groups, like the Yamaguchi-gumi, have their own headquarters, with senior members dishing out business cards.

    They have historically been tolerated by the authorities, sometimes with corrupt police overlooking their violence, and are routinely glamorised in fanzines and manga comics.

    But periodic crackdowns have gained momentum and there is evidence that the mob's appeal is waning.

    The number of people belonging to yakuza groups fell to an all-time low last year, slipping below the 60,000-member mark for the first time on record, the police said last month.

    The website, which looks outdated, is an attempt to counter the yakuza's image as "anti-social forces" - the police euphemism for them - by showing how neighbourly members are, experts say.