Ex-yakuza-turned-novelist takes stock of life after prison in Japan



Garyo Okita, author of “Mushoboke”, is seen speaking about the novel in Amagasaki City, Hyogo Prefecture on October 8, 2021. (Mainichi / Kenji Tatsumi)

KOBE – After 14 years in prison, a 44-year-old former yakuza who has returned to the company is afraid to speak even to young people working in convenience stores. He starts looking for work and reunites with his family, but things don’t go quite as planned.

So goes the story of the novel “Mushoboke”, which roughly translates to “blunted by prison life”. Published by Shogakukan Inc., the book attracted attention for the way it portrayed the life of a former yakuza after his release from prison. The Mainichi Shimbun spoke with author Garyo Okita, 45, to hear his thoughts on the book.

The basic premise is as follows. After graduating from high school, protagonist Sosuke Jinnai goes from a motorcycle gang to an organized criminal group. One day, he lets his wife understand that he has “a big job to do”, and, under the orders of the leaders of his group, he is going to shoot the head of a rival gang. He was then charged with attempted murder and sentenced to prison.

For the shoot, he was promised 50 million yen (about $ 443,000) and a high position in the organization. But he is kicked out of the group shortly after being taken to a detention center, and his wife files for divorce. After 14 years indoors, Jinnai is holding a smartphone for the first time in her life, and her young children are now 21 and 18.

Okita is originally from Amagasaki City, Hyogo Prefecture, in western Japan. Like Jinnai, he joined a local organization that was part of the Yamaguchi-gumi yakuza group when he was 16. He stole cars and committed other crimes, and went to prison twice for a total of about 12 years. While incarcerated, the group disbanded. Right before he turned 40, he went straight. Okita says he wrote the book based on his experiences.

While the main character’s work as a hitman is a fictional setup for the book, there are some real representations visible in the work as well.

A scene from the dramatic adaptation of “Mushoboke” is seen in this image courtesy of Asahi Television Broadcasting Corp. Sosuke Jinnai, left, is played by Yukiya Kitamura, while a prison guard is played by Itsuji Itao.

In her prison life, Jinnai has an infatuation with “high class KitKat level candy”. This is based on Okita’s actual experiences. When he was 30 and was spending New Years Eve in prison, a guard handed out KitKat chocolates. It was a special gift, unlike the things usually handed out in the prison. Some inmates were surprised to disbelief. Okita smiled and said, “It makes you wonder how they can be so happy for something like that, doesn’t it? I wanted to write it in a way that makes people laugh out loud. ”

Jinnai is clumsy. But he does his best to lead his life. He shares this part of himself with Okita.

After his release from prison, unemployed Jinnai visits an interior construction company run by a former head of the criminal organization. There, he lambasted his former boss for the unfair way he was kicked out of the group, telling him, “You’ve wasted my life, aren’t you going to take responsibility for it? As his terrified former boss apologizes, Jinnai barks at him, “Are you going to hire me or not?” After some initial perplexity, the former boss agrees and Jinnai begins working in the interior construction company.

He works hard. While feeling isolated, as if he’s been left behind by the company, he earns a daily salary of around 8,500 yen (around $ 75). “Until then, I had overcome everything by just saying, ‘I’m a yakuza,’ Okita said.“ But, in order to live, you have to work. Losing your job in your 40s is scary. Even a former hitman has a life and a family. Without romance, I wanted to portray the difficulties of living and existing as a yakuza coming out of prison. ”

When he was around 25, Okita cried while reading Jiro Asada’s novel “Poppoya” (translated as “The Station Master” in English) in prison. The experience made him want to become a novelist capable of moving.

To learn to write, he copies novels. There were times when, 13 hours a day, he would hold his pencil and write. To make sure he didn’t waste the few notebooks he had, he wrote tiny ant-sized characters, which meant he could write three rows on one line.

He made his debut as a novelist at the age of 40. “Mushoboke”, his twelfth work, was adapted into a drama which first aired on Asahi Television Broadcasting Corp. and other stations in October. By the time he left the yakuza, Okita was making a living working in a transport company for 9,000 yen a day (about $ 80). But now he can live like a novelist.

Police repressions and the increase in social movements rejecting violent groups have led to a sharp drop in membership of anti-social groups. At the end of 2011, there were some 73,000 members and associate members. But by the end of 2020, the membership had fallen to around 25,900.

But not all of these people were able to reintegrate into society. Their past arrests can be known from online records, leading them to be rejected by those around them. Because they also have no work experience, many people, even if they find a job, struggle to keep it.

“It’s hard for a former yakuza to make a living after being released from prison,” Okita said. “Obviously we reap what we sow. But, if people work hard, then it works somehow.”

(Japanese original by Kenji Tatsumi, Kobe Office)



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