All in a day’s work for a medical supply dealer.

Although they come in a vast variety of shapes and colors now, it was only a few months ago that the lion’s share of face masks in Japan were the plain old tighty-whities.

▼ Kids love them too

They certainly got the job done, but you’d have to imagine that anyone in the business of making and selling these things was well accustomed to the mundane. At least that was the case until about nine months ago, when demand for masks rose so sharply people were getting into fistfights in the street.

Almost overnight, facemasks replaced bubble tea as the hottest commodity in Japan and with it came the resellers – and with them came the gangsters.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, in the months of April and May of this year a high-ranking member connected to the Yamaguchi-gumi yakuza family placed an order for over 2.8 million masks from a trading company in Tokyo.

The government had already placed a ban on face mask resale which would clear out a lot of the yakuza’s law-abiding competition and give them a near monopoly on the face mask resale black market.

▼ Dramatization of the face mask resale black market

However, something far more powerful than government regulation thwarted their plan in the end: market forces. It wasn’t long until manufacturers caught up with demand and before anyone could say “my glasses are fogging up,” Japan was drowning in a sea of face masks. This stuck the yakuza group with millions of tiny cloths that were rapidly hemorrhaging value.

So, they did what any fan of Scorsese movies would expect an organized crime group would do in this situation and allegedly began threatening an executive of the trading company to take them all back. The exec, who is in his 20s, must have been a hard nut to crack, because when regular threats didn’t work they allegedly held him against his will inside a sex shop for 11 hours.

“Wise guy, eh? I’d smack that smug look off yer face if I wasn’t social distancing.”

After the suspects relentlessly insisted that the 70 million yen (US$670,000) in masks he sold them were defective for hours on end, the young exec somehow found a way to escape his sex dungeon and went straight to the police. The cops then swooped in and arrested the boss and two other yakuza members.

The suspects all deny the charges against them and the police are currently investigating all the details of the case. Meanwhile, many readers of the news were glad to have confirmation on something they’ve long suspected.

“Buying resold masks is supporting the yakuza…”
“So, this is what resellers are like? Scary…”
“This is like something out of the 1970s.”
“I wonder if these guys are really yakuza. It’s not a good look for them.”
“They were just trying to make money like anyone else. Nothing wrong with that.”
“The yakuza are probably sitting on a bunch of PS5s right now then.”
“That company is a little suspect too I think. How did they have so many masks at that time?”
“Haha! The yakuza tried to cash in on the face mask boom but got burnt.”
“I always knew the yakuza were involved in all this resale garbage.”

And so ends another tragic tale of face mask retail. To any youngsters out there dreaming of a life in the medical supply distribution trade, and all the fast cars and sexy adventures it entails: please stop and consider a more stable line of work like test pilot or bomb disposal technician.

And to the makers of the Yakuza game series, please consider basing a mission on this incident in the next game you release…if you haven’t already that is. I only got through two of those.

Source: NHK News Web, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2, 3)
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