Japan police seek to stop yakuza handing out Halloween sweets to children

Police in Japan are planning to deprive children of their trick-or-treat goodies this Halloween – but only because the gifts come from members of the country’s biggest underworld organisation.

Yamaguchi-gumi gang members, based in the western port city of Kobe, have been distributing sweets to local children at Halloween most years since 2013.

But local police, concerned about a possible turf war, are to submit a bill to the prefectural assembly that, if passed, would ban members of the yakuza from giving money and gifts to under-18s.

In previous years, children have descended on the Yamaguchi-gumi HQ, where gang members would hand out colourfully decorated bags of sweets and snacks to children dressed in Halloween costumes.

The event is thought to be an attempt by 105-year-old organisation to soften its image in response to stricter anti-gang laws and concern about public safety following a bitter split within its ranks.

The tactic appears to have backfired, however, with the assembly expected to debate the bill in September.

If passed, the bill would strengthen an ordinance and ban gang members from allowing children on to their premises or from making contact with them, according to the Asahi Shimbun. Repeat offenders would face up to six months in prison or a maximum fine of 500,000 yen (£3,700), the Asahi said.

Although similar events were cancelled last year and in 2015 on public safety grounds, local education authorities have been reluctant to warn schoolchildren not to attend out of consideration for those whose parents have mob connections.

Like other yakuza organisations, the Yamaguchi-gumi, which once accounted for about half of all Japan’s gang members and was worth an estimated $6.6 bn, is at a critical point in its history.

Overall membership of gangs fell by 2,300 from 2018 to a record low of 28,200 last year, according to the national police agency, as police crackdowns and stricter laws make it increasingly difficult to generate enough funds to pay their members.

The Yamaguchi-gumi, with 8,900 members, has been the target of police warnings of a turf war with a breakaway group formed in 2015 amid internal rows over its boss, Shinobu Tsukasa.