Breaking Free From Organized Crime—“I Was a Yakuza”
“PAPA, when you come home, let’s go to the meetings together. Promise me, won’t you?” I received this letter from my second daughter while I was in prison for the third time. She was regularly attending the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses with my wife. As the letters from my family were my only source of comfort, I promised her that I would do as she asked.
‘Why am I leading a life of crime that takes me away from my family?’ I thought to myself. I recalled the days when I was very young. Father died when I was only 18 months old, so I do not even remember his face. Mother remarried twice after that. Such family circumstances affected me deeply, and in high school I began to associate with hoodlums. I became violent and often got involved in fights outside the school. When I was in my second year of high school, I organized a group of students to fight with another group. As a result, I was arrested and sent to a correctional institution for a while.
I was like a ball rolling downhill toward a life of violence. Soon I formed a band of delinquents, and we would hang around the office of a yakuza group. At 18, I became a full-fledged member of that group. When I was 20, I was arrested for various acts of violence and was sentenced to three years in prison. First, I served time in the Nara Juvenile Prison, but my behavior did not improve. So I was sent to another prison, one for adults. But I got worse and finally ended up in Kyoto in a prison for hardened criminals.
‘Why do I keep committing such crimes?’ I asked myself. As I look back, I realize that it was due to my foolish reasoning. At the time, I thought that such behavior was macho, proof of my masculinity. When I was released from prison at the age of 25, fellow mobsters looked up to me as a somebody. Now the way was open for me to go up the ladder in the criminal world.
My Family’s Reactions
I got married about that time, and soon my wife and I had two daughters. My life did not change, though. I kept going back and forth between my home and the police—I was beating people up and practicing extortion. Each incident helped me win the respect of my fellow gangsters and the trust of the boss. Finally, my older yakuza “brother” made it to the top of the gang and became the boss. I was elated at becoming the number two man.
‘How do my wife and daughters feel about my way of life?’ I thought to myself. They must have been embarrassed to have a criminal for a husband and a father. I was imprisoned again at the age of 30 and then again when I was 32. This time, the three-year term in prison was really hard on me. My daughters were not allowed to come and visit me. I missed talking to them and hugging them.
About the time I started to serve this last prison term, my wife began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Day after day she wrote to me about the truth that she was learning. ‘What is this truth that my wife is talking about?’ I wondered. I read the whole Bible while in prison. I considered what my wife was saying in her letters about a hope for the future and about God’s purpose.
The hope of humans living forever in Paradise on earth was appealing because death really scared me. I had always thought, ‘If you die, you are the loser.’ As I look back, I realize that it was fear of death that pushed me to injure others before they could injure me. My wife’s letters also made me see the emptiness of my goal of climbing the ladder in the gang world.
Still, I was not moved to study the truth. My wife dedicated herself to Jehovah and became one of his baptized Witnesses. Although in my letter I had agreed to go to their meetings, I was not thinking of becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I felt as though my wife and daughters had gone far away from me, leaving me behind.
Getting Out of Prison
The day finally came for me to go free. At the Nagoya Prison gate, many gangsters lined up to welcome me. In the large crowd of people, however, I was looking only for my wife and my daughters. Seeing my daughters, who had grown considerably in three years and six months’ time, I was moved to tears.
Two days after going home, I kept my promise to my second daughter and attended a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was surprised to see the cheerful attitude of all in attendance. The Witnesses warmly welcomed me, but I felt out of place. When I later learned that those who had greeted me knew of my criminal background, I was puzzled. I felt their warmth, though, and was attracted by the Bible-based talk that was given. It was about people living forever in Paradise on earth.
The thought of my wife and daughters surviving into Paradise and of me being destroyed distressed me very much. I meditated seriously on what I would have to do to live forever with my family. I began to consider breaking free from my life as a gangster, and I started to study the Bible.
Breaking Free From My Criminal Life
I stopped attending gang meetings and quit associating with the yakuza. It was not easy to change my way of thinking. I drove around in a big imported car for the sheer enjoyment of it—it was an ego trip. It took three years for me to trade my car for a modest model. I also had a tendency to seek an easy way out of things. As I learned the truth, however, I could see that I had to change. But as Jeremiah 17:9 says, “the heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate.” I could say what was right but had a hard time applying what I was learning. The problems I faced seemed like a big mountain. I became troubled, and many times I thought of quitting the study and giving up the idea of becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Then, my Bible study conductor invited a traveling overseer who came from a background similar to mine to give a public talk in our congregation. From Akita, 400 miles away, he came all the way to Suzuka to encourage me. After that, whenever I became tired out and thought of quitting, I would receive a letter from him, asking me whether I was steadily walking in the way of the Lord.
I kept praying to Jehovah to help me break free from all my yakuza ties. I had confidence that Jehovah would answer my prayer. In April 1987, I was finally able to withdraw from the yakuza organization. As my own business took me overseas every month, away from my family, I changed my job to janitorial work. This left my afternoons free for spiritual activities. For the first time, I received a pay envelope. It was light, but it made me very happy.
When I was the number two man in a yakuza organization, I was materially well-off, but now I have spiritual riches that do not fade away. I know Jehovah. I know his purposes. I have principles to live by. I have true friends who care. In the yakuza world, gangsters were caring on the surface, but no yakuza I knew, not even one, would sacrifice himself for the sake of others.
In August 1988, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism, and the following month, I began spending at least 60 hours a month telling others about the good news that had changed my life. I have been serving as a full-time minister since March 1989 and have now been given the privilege of serving as a ministerial servant in the congregation.
I was able to rid myself of most of the relics of my yakuza life. There is one that remains, though. It is the tattoo on my body that reminds me, as well as my family and others, of my yakuza past. Once, my oldest daughter came home from school crying, saying that she wouldn’t go to school anymore because her friends told her that I was a yakuza and had tattoos. I was able to talk the matter out with my daughters, and they came to understand the situation. I am looking forward to the day when the earth will be a paradise and my flesh will become “fresher than in youth.” Then my tattoos and memories of 20 years of yakuza life will be things of the past. (Job 33:25; Revelation 21:4)—As told by Yasuo Kataoka.
[Picture on page 11]
I long for the day when my tattoos will be blotted out
[Picture on page 13]
At the Kingdom Hall with my family