Shrine concessions face ruin through guilt by association
It’s bon-odori week. And as the drums beat out the old familiar cadence, the grounds of temples and shrines are lined with concessions dispensing draft beer, yakitori and edamame (green soya beans).
The stall-keepers who operate such concessions may work at such jobs for as few as 80 to 100 days out of the year—perhaps 130 days, if travel and preparation times are included. What’s more, they might have to pay out as much as 12,000 yen per day for “teko” (young helpers) on busy days, leaving their own net income at around 7,000 yen on average—not nearly enough to raise a family.
To make matters far worse, one impact of the organized crime exclusion laws that went into effect from last October may drive these stall-keepers, known as “tekiya,” out of the business for good. In Shukan Shincho (Aug 16-23), crime writer Atsushi Mizoguchi reports that the anti-gang ordinances make it easy to ban the tekiya, who are said to have traditional ties to the underworld.
While only one of the 22 designated organized crime groups in Japan, the Nishi-Ikebukuro-based Kyokuto-kai, is regarded as a tekiya-centric gang (with the other, more common variety being the “bakuto,” or gambler-types), the tekiya are said to have links to several of the other major yakuza organizations through “blood-ties,” which may date back many decades.
Article 3, Section 3 of the aforementioned laws can be cited to keep tekiya from setting up shop. Such action was in fact taken last October at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, where stall operators were assigned spaces for four days during the coming new year.
The action was protested a month later by a letter from the president of Mikuro Kikaku, an event planning company, sent with cooperation from the central body of the association of groups representing members of the former outcast class.
The letter stated the stall-keepers’ livelihood would be damaged and urged the police allow them to continue their business. Applicants were obliged to pay a fee and provide documents to facilitate personal background checks by the police.
During the Toka Ebisu festival held each January in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture, some 500 concessionaires—which are alleged to have ties to the Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate—operate for three days. Police estimate that if each of the 500 concessions turns over 30,000 yen per day, that will make for a total of 45 million yen in sales for the three days. But Mizoguchi supposes that after stalls pay for for cleanup, electric power, etc, the gang’s total cut from the 45 million was probably around 800,000 yen. By the time that amount was spread around to the involved parties, it was barely enough to been worth the effort.
“When I was a kid,” Mizoguchi reminisces, “I used to stand in front of a stall watching the operators’ animated face and gestures with an awed expression. More recently I don’t see their caustic sales style.”
Now, he writes, it’s become “winter” for the tekiya.
And not just due to the laws. Convenience stores and 100-yen shops are also full of the kind of brick-a-brack or cheap novelties in which tekiya once monopolized. Or, you can see such goods being offered as bonus products or incentives on TV “infomercials,” whose narrators make their pitch in an animated style remarkably similar to the tekiya of yore.
Except for summer fireworks events and the occasional shrine festivals, tekiya are becoming an increasingly rare sight. But their street stalls are in a league apart from garage sales or bazaars. Indeed, Mizoguchi says he prefers to deal with the tekiya, who, whatever else one can say about them are pros who know their business. And who don’t deserve to be treated as hardened criminals.
Once the tekiya have been “killed off” for good, he warns, the atmosphere of the “omatsuri” as Japanese knew it will die out as well.