The Sanja Matsuri is one of the most famous festivals in Japan, attracting millions of visitors every year, but a lot of people probably don’t realize just how deep the yakuza-Sanja connection is. According to an article in the Asahi Shinbun Newspaper, some 70 percent of the groups that participate in the festival are controlled by yakuza. After an incident a couple of years ago in which a man paid money to a yakuza gang to be allowed to ride on top of a mikoshi (in violation of the festival’s rules, and apparently an act of sacrilege), the police investigated 30 some-odd groups of local residents who carry mikoshi. They found that more than 20 of them were headed up by members of yakuza syndicates.
The festival is apparently a source of funds for the yakuza groups, who siphon off money from the associations, as well as being an opportunity to do some PR work. Most of the yakuza come from the Yamaguchi-gumi or the Sumiyoshi-kai.
I’ve seen the one openly-yakuza mikoshi group before, but I never noticed that they have the name of their gang, the “takahashi-gumi” and “godaime” (fifth generation [of the gang]) written right on the front of their jackets.
The theme of today’s photos is “happy yakuza.”
Editor’s note: this post was originally published in July 2009 and has been updated.