Japanese mafia launch website

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The website has a corporate song and lots of videos showing members performing good works

Japan's most notorious organised crime syndicate have launched a website to improve their image and gain more members.

The Yamaguchi-gumi homepage welcomes visitors with a sign reading, "Banish drugs and purify the nation league".

It also features a video depicting gang members on a pilgrimage to a shrine and a corporate song.

There are other pictures of the group helping out after the Fukushima earthquake.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Chief Kenichi Shinoda has spent time in jail for killing a rival with a samurai sword

The Yamaguchi-gumi is Japan's largest yakuza group, similar to the Italian mob and Chinese triads. It is allegedly involved in a range of activities including prostitution, extortion and white-collar crime.

The yakuza are not illegal and the Yamaguchi-gumi have their own headquarters with senior members handing out business cards.

They have historically been tolerated by the authorities, sometimes with corrupt police overlooking their crimes and are routinely glamorised in fanzines.

No context

Experts believe that the latest move into digital media is an effort to present a more friendly image.

According to police reports, membership has been falling in recent years and in 2013 dropped to an all-time low of 60,000.

A shakily-shot video of members making their new year pilgrimage to a shrine is accompanied by a song extolling the virtues of the Ninkyo spirit, an ideal of masculinity that battles injustice and helps the weak.

"The Yamaguchi-gumi is like all yakuza groups in that they make their money from racketeering, protection money, gambling, extortion, real estate development, labour exploitation, waste disposal, sports, the entertainment business, and the nuclear industry," said Jake Adelstein, author of an forthcoming book entitled The Last Yakuza: A Life In The Japanese Underworld.

"The website has no context or any real mention of the crimes they have been involved with or industries they control. That's not the purpose of the website. The point of the website is to demonstrate that the Yamaguchi-gumi is actually a humanitarian organisation," he added.

The website is not the gang's first foray into media - last year it began publishing a magazine for its members that included a poetry page, senior members' fishing diaries and a message from the boss.

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