Japan begins probe against Yakuza, banks



"My boss was killed. People were killed in power struggles. People's legs were shot. A guy who was doing drugs with me died of intoxication. Suicides happened. Sudden deaths. I've seen many deaths," Shindo says. "I saw my henchmen get stabbed to death."
Shindo's body bears the scars of his old life. His chest and arms are covered in intricate tattoos, the telltale symbol of mafia membership in Japan. In an effort to exclude yakuza members from society, visible tattoos are forbidden in most public places. He often removes his shirt when baptizing other tattooed ex-gangsters.
He became addicted to crystal meth. He drove under the influence and crashed his boss's car. He shows off his missing pinkie, which was cut off with a chisel in a yakuza ritual of atonement for the transgression.
Shindo was arrested seven times. He went to prison three times, beginning at 22. By the time he was 32, he had been excommunicated by the yakuza after spending about 8 of 10 years as an inmate. He says he found God while reading the bible in solitary confinement. He studied and became a preacher after his release more than a decade ago.
New life
Today, Shindo leads a growing congregation from all walks of life.
"A lot of people with different backgrounds come here. Those who are divorced, bankrupt and cast away. There are also parents who have missing children, those whose sons are put into jail, or those who've been abandoned after prison. This is a place to restart your life," he says. "A yakuza returning to society is indeed extraordinary."
One of the newest members of the congregation is former yakuza member named Hiro, who ran away from Japan's largest crime syndicate the Yamaguchi Gumi after after five years.
"It's really hard to get back to normal society," he says.
The 37-year old has been shunned by his family and lays down a thin mat each night to sleep on the church floor. A fellow worshipper hired him as a painter.
"The life I had in the past, I never woke up in the morning as early as I do now. I lived just to earn money. To get money, I did bad things and sold drugs as well. But my new life is the important phase for me to become a better person. I changed a lot after coming to this church," he says.
Hiro believes if he didn't have the church, he'd already be back in jail. He says this is a rare chance to transform his life, in a society that doesn't easily give second chances to people like him.
Yakuza shrinking
Ex-mobsters don't have many options in Japan. Their secretive underworld is shrinking and profits are drying up from years of government crackdowns. Today, police estimate there are around 50,000 yakuza -- down dramatically from just a few years ago.

Jake Adelstein, an author and journalist in Tokyo who has written extensively about the yakuza, says the Japanese mafia keeps thugs in check. He says if the yakuza lose influence, street crime could surge in Tokyo, considered the world's safest city.