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Japan Golf Courses Take Aim at Thugs

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Golfing gangsters have become the bane of Japan’s genteel country clubs, and one association of course owners has decided to do something about the “flowers of evil that spoil our greens.”

They’ve promised to bar Japan’s “tattooed men,” a euphemism for gangsters, who have been increasingly drawn to the expensive and high-status world of Japanese golf.

“We will not allow gangsters to join our clubs, not allow them on our courses, and we will not allow people with tattoos in our showers,” says a pamphlet by the Council to Rid Chiba Golf Courses of Gangsters.

The council claims as members all 108 country clubs in Chiba prefecture, a state on Tokyo’s eastern border.

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“I believe it has been an effective part of our anti-crime efforts,” said council executive Mikiji Komatsu.

He said a new edition of the 20-page pamphlet was published in October after an enthusiastic response to the original printing two years ago. About 30,000 copies have been printed.

So how do you spot a gangster with his shirt on?

“Most of them drive expensive foreign cars, and are surrounded by bodyguards or underlings,” the pamphlet says. “They wear their hair in tight, short curls or have shaved heads and wear sunglasses.

“Part of the little finger on their left hand is missing. If they are missing any other fingers you can assume that is because of an accident, and does not indicate they are gangsters. To hide their tattoos they wear long-sleeved shirts even in the summer.”

The brightly colored tattoos, often covering most of their torsos, are a trademark of Japanese gangsters, who often cut off sections of their fingers to show devotion to their boss.

Besides golfing for relaxation and amusement, the gangsters have used the courses as a setting for high-stakes illegal gambling, police say. At least one gang-related murder has been reported on a golf course.

Course operators fear mobsters can lead to a bad reputation for the course and lower the value of memberships, which can approach $1 million at the most prestigious Tokyo clubs.

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Non-members can pay up to $250 for 18 holes at some courses.

The pamphlet also explains what kind of tricks gangsters use to make golf reservations without divulging their backgrounds.

Its cartoon-style illustrations show scar-faced thugs--"flowers of evil that spoil our greens"--clubbing innocent golfers while course workers telephone the police.

“Manners are important in the sport of golf,” it says. “Please help us create a bright environment on the courses, free of violence.”

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Police estimate that Japan has about 90,000 gangsters, which are known as yakuza , meaning good for nothing. They often keep a high profile, operate out of well-marked offices and wear lapel pins to denote their gang membership.

For decades, their appearance on golf courses was looked upon as an unavoidable evil.

But while golf courses take action against the gangs, police have made little progress in uprooting the underworld.

Authorities believe the gangs have reacted to increased outside pressure by consolidating their forces, creating huge syndicates that rake in an estimated $9 billion each year on gambling, extortion, drugs and other illegal activities.

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Yoshinori Watanabe, head of the nearly 30,000-member Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest gang, was convicted of assault in 1989 for a fight on a golf course in 1984. He was given a suspended sentence, and continues to be a devoted duffer.

Other gangland golfers boast they regularly travel to Hawaii or Guam to pursue their sport.

The Chiba golf course owners’ council, formed in 1986, is one of a growing number of grass-roots organizations that have teamed up with police to rid gangsters from their neighborhoods or businesses.

“The movement began after problems with gambling of hundreds of millions of yen, and even a murder (1985 in the southern Japanese city of Fukuoka) on golf courses in other prefectures were reported,” said a Chiba police official. “Our efforts are preventive, and we think they have worked.”

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Although there has not been a great increase in arrests, fewer gangsters are being allowed onto courses, resulting in fewer disturbances for regular golfers, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We’ve been telling our younger members not to take showers at the clubs,” said the boss of one Tokyo-based gang in a recent interview. “We don’t want to frighten the regular members.”


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