John Campbell's interview with Jerry Collins was an interesting watch. And only in part for Campbell's immediate post-interview piece to camera where he seemed to want to dump everything he could remember; "he was wearing a blue tshirt…"
Jerry Collins' story sounds fantastical. Harried and followed by a gang of Brazilians, who have a long-standing grudge against foreign rugby players, Collins, armed with two large knives, entered the basement food market of a department store, stood behind the counter babbling incoherent Japanese and waited for the police to arrive.
While I watched the report last night tweeted the only person I would trust with questions about Japanese gangs, Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice.
@hadyngreen I don't think his claims are implausible.— Jake Adelstein (@jakeadelstein) March 25, 2013
It's a short reply but means that there is some validity to what Collins' has claimed.
The Yakuza have been "legalised" in Japan to a certain extent. With the old "gangs" now running legitimate (or semi-legit) businesses.
To give you an idea of the scale of organized crime front companies in Japan, in Tokyo alone, there were over 1,000 at the end of 2010. And those are simply the ones that the police were able to identify. If you include new venture companies that were bankrolled by the yakuza behind the scenes, the numbers go even higher. A noted economist once called the yakuza Japan’s second largest private equity group…
[In 2011], in Tokyo and in Okinawa, organized crime exclusionary laws (暴力団排除条例-boryokudan haijojorei) went into effect, thus making all of Japan a lot less yakuza friendly; it’s the start of the Big Chill. The laws vary in the details, but they all criminalize sharing profits with the yakuza (aka Japanese mafia) or paying them off. The laws were designed to help crush the front companies and cooperative entities that increasingly bring in major revenue for organized crime.
In other words, if you pay protection money to the yakuza, or use them to facilitate your business affairs, you will be treated as a criminal. You may be warned once, your name released to the public, and fined or imprisoned, or all of the above, if you persist in doing business with the yakuza.
However, what is particularly vexing to the yakuza, is that any payments to the yakuza are criminalized. For example, if the yakuza are blackmailing you or extorting cash from you and you pay them off, you are no longer a victim–you are also a criminal under the new laws. Thus, for most people the benefits of throwing yen at the yakuza to keep them quiet start to fade. Blackmail/extortion is a huge money maker for the mob in Japan. Roughly 45% of all people arrested for the crime (恐喝/kyokatsu) in Japan are yakuza members (circa 2010). Hush money is big business but only when people will pay you to hush up. When they start going to the police as soon as you try to shake them down, the business model falls apart.
The new rules has started to push the Yakuza out of their "traditional" revenue gathering activities and the unintelligent mob thug seems to be whittled away.
These days the price of a standard civilian hit-job can run as high as $2 million [USD]. That’s not the price to get the job done―that’s the price if one of your underlings gets caught. The whole inflationary spiral started with one dumb yakuza stiffing McDonald’s on the price of a cheeseburger in Kyoto a few years ago…
A 38-year-old Yamaguchi-gumi member had ordered burger combo at a drive-through in Kyoto. He picked up his order, but then claimed since his meal had gotten wet in the rain, he owed nothing, and drove off clutching his burger and fries. (It’s unclear whether it was a plain hamburger or a cheeseburger, accounts vary, but it was definitely not a happy meal.) Several days later, a bill arrived at the Yamaguchi-gumi headquarters in Kobe from a very angry McDonald’s manager. The organization paid.
With the Yakuza uneasy in the area of petty extortion the gaps are there for other groups to jump in and I imagine that this is where Collins' Brazillians are sitting.
Gambling is huge in Japan as the constant sound of Pachinko machines will tell you. A gang running extortion or intimidation against sports people makes sense. It makes even more sense for that gang to go for foreign players, who may not understand the current crack down on organised crime. Players with little Japanese and few local networks; like Jerry Collins.
I am going to assume that the gang does exist and isn't a fabrication. I'm also going to assume that Collins was telling the truth when he said he wasn't on drugs.
Why this gang would continue to harass him after his contract was over and why he would even still be in Japan is another story. According to Campbell: "A misunderstanding with a gang had escalated suddenly and very dramatically to the point where [Collins] feared for his life and threats against his life were made." This implies Collins was in contact with the gang and was perhaps even exchanging money with them (protection/extortion/bribery etc).
That last paragraph is speculation of the highest order, bordering on fiction, and I added it only by way of brain dump. Frankly, when the story came out I placed all of my chips on "drugged out former player with mental issues". There are still a lot of holes in this story, the biggest being why didn't Collins go straight to the police?
Nothing seems to add up to a whole and I suspect that the full story may never be extracted or pieced together.