Asia Times | Japanese mob muses in the bubble tea sector



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When you join the cool kids and pay $ 5 for that trendy cup of trendy tea in Tokyo, are you making a financial contribution to yakuza, Japan's notorious gangsters gangsters?

This is a question many have asked recently, after the weekly magazine Shukan Post published a story titled "Yakuza and Tapioca."

The Asia Times has confirmed that the gangsters are, in fact, engaged in the bubble tea trade. But when you look at the economics of the industry, you probably should not be shocked by the involvement of the mafia – the product itself is a robbery.

Hard faces tapioca

The Shukan Post article claimed that a chief of a large yakuza group – of which at least 23 – capitalized on the bubble tea boom in Japan and set up a store in an entertainment district near a major subway station Yamanote. The Yamanote line is the pulse of the city, circling the main districts of Tokyo in an endless loop.

The godfather is quoted saying that it is a very easy sector to enter. You do not need special skills, you just need to rent space, buy dried and cheap tapiocas from abroad, make tea with milk and spend a little at the store. He claimed that it only took $ 20,000 at most to get everything up and running, which means the deal could pay off in a few weeks.

Contrary, say, to job control, drug trafficking, or prostitution, bubbly tea is hardly a typical gang business. But looked at in terms of pure economy, can be a good move, since tapioca has become the great thing in Tokyo.

At weekends, Japan's declining population of teenagers lines up in front of the newest store and fills their Instagram feeds with pictures of tapioca drinks swaying with colorful straws. The trend is generally seen as originating in Taiwan, but bubble tea is popular all over the world.

Tapioca is an almost pure starch extracted from the root of cassava. It is usually sold as flour, flakes and also in pearls. Your standard cup of bubbly tea in Japan is usually made up of sweet milk tea or soy milk tea, with a layer of black tapioca pearls.

According to folklore of gangsters, the yakuza love pearls – the real type – that tattooed toughs sometimes insert under the foreskin to turn their penises into the equivalent of ribbed condoms. But tapioca pearls are not pearls. Why do wiseguys want to intrude on a business that will hardly reinforce their badass reputation?

Gangster Diversification

A veteran source at the Kano area police division, which deals with organized crime, has confirmed the Shukan Post story.

"Absolutely," he told the Asia Times. "They have been for a while. It's probably more lucrative now that bubble tea is fashionable. "

The detective went on to explain that, traditionally, yakuzas were divided into two types: tekiya, who were street traders, and bakuto, who were professional players. In modern times, the lines have become very blurry and the yakuza now engages in illegal gambling, smuggling, drug selling, fraud and extortion, regardless of the original orientation of his group.

However, there are still some traditional yakuza groups that run the many traditional Japanese festivals behind the scenes, collecting money from yakitori (meat skewers), okonomiyaki (Japanese Pizza) and other streets eat in exchange for "renting" space for them.

Sometimes the yakuza's low-ranking infantrymen run their own stalls and the bubble tea stalls have been steadily gaining in recent years.

From the third-generation leader of the dreaded Yamaguchi-gumi, Kazuo Taoka (1913-1981), Yakuza was urged to diversify sources of revenue. Taoka once admonished his men: "Make sure you have a legitimate job too!"

And Susumu Ishii, the second-generation leader of the Inagawa-kai, advised his crew to be financially prudent, and once said, "It's better to be a salaryman if you can" – pointing to the benefits of a steady income.

The yakuzas of today are venture capitalists of a certain kind. They go where the money goes. That is why they created IT frontrunners during the internet bubble between 1999 and 2002 and later made huge incursions into the Japanese stock market until the financial meltdown of 2008.

The "Sharks Emperor" – yakuza chief Susumu Kajiyama – raised nearly $ 1 billion of consumer credit companies that were illegal, but modeled on legitimate companies, to the corporate records and uniforms that office women wore .

He washed a portion of these funds, buying a chain of Takoyaki stands – fried octopus in dough balls. This reporter proved takoyaki made by gangsters. It was not bad either.

Bubble tea is a rip off

Meanwhile, young Japanese people drink bubble tea by the gallon. "The pearls are chewy and sweet as caramel and refreshing," said a young woman buying a drink in Shimokitazawa.

The boom has been a mixed blessing to local merchants – customers often leave their unfinished bubble tea cups on the streets or on top of vending machines because garbage cans are missing. Clearing this mess is a pain to traders. In that sense, bubble tea can be more of a nuisance than yakuza.

But for those who sell things, the profit margins are unbeatable.

The cost of a drink, including straw, container, milk tea and tapioca, can be kept under 100 yen ($ 1). The sale price is about 500 yen ($ 5). This suggests that regardless of whether the seller is a yakuza or not, you are being robbed.

Still, locals should think twice before getting into business with any entrepreneur of bubble tea with suspicious tattoos and with one missing finger or two.

"In all the prefectures of Japan, especially in Tokyo, there are exclusive laws to fight crime, which makes it a crime to consciously do business with the yakuza, pay them or divide profits with them," warned the Kano area detective.

He explained a three-stroke rule. The first time, there is a warning. The second time, you or your business name are released, which almost always results in the closing of bank accounts, the termination of the mobile contract and sometimes the expulsion of your residence. A third time can end your arrest.

With all that has been said: come alive!

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