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Last Updated: Monday, 5 December 2005, 13:30 GMT
Japanese yakuza boss goes to jail
By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Tokyo

The boss of Japan's most powerful organised-crime syndicate has been jailed after losing an appeal against a conviction for illegal gun possession.

Yakuza boss Kenichi Shinoda, who only took over as boss of the 40,000-strong Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate in July, turned himself in to police on Monday.

His imprisonment casts doubt over the future role of the yakuza, who dominate many illegal businesses in Japan.

Until last week all the talk was that Shinoda would shake up the shadowy world of the yakuza - perhaps even ignite gang wars.

He had skilfully out-manoeuvred his rivals to take over the dominant Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate in July, then set his sights on expanding out of its stronghold in Osaka, Japan's second-largest city, into Tokyo.

All his plans have now been thrown into the air by the Supreme Court, which rejected his appeal against a six-year sentence imposed last year for illegal possession of weapons.

Image change

This is not the first time Shinoda has been behind bars. In the 1970s he spent 13 years in jail for killing a rival with a samurai sword.

In recent years, though, the yakuza have been toning down their gaudy image - the distinctive short hair-styles, the elaborate tattoos, and most famously, the chopped-off little finger. Shinoda epitomised the more sober style.

The police have now compiled a detailed register of yakuza membership, and have recently been putting more pressure on their illegal activities, like drug-trafficking, gambling and prostitution.

Some yakuza have been moving into legitimate businesses like real estate. They remain wealthy and powerful, but less so than in the past, and now the largest yakuza syndicate must learn to manage without its new boss.

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