Popular area wasn’t big enough for the two of them.

Asakusa is a popular tourist destination in Tokyo for its convenient blend of many eras from throughout Japan’s history. And as with most tourist hotspots, you’re sure to find a wide variety of street vendors looking to capitalize on the crowds.

One such vendor is Atsushi Ogawa, who has been a fixture of Asakusa for some 15 years. He could be seen selling ramune sodas from a decorated stand on Denboin Street near Sensoji Temple with an affable demeanor and warm customer service that has endeared him to visitors who often take photos and videos to post on social media.

He has every reason to be happy too because thanks to the heavy pedestrian traffic in his area he can reportedly clear 30,000 yen ($200) a day. And the reason that the 56-year-old could secure such a lucrative spot for so long was probably because he’s also known as Katayama, a high-ranking member of the Yaneya yakuza family which is affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai.

That’s pretty good incentive not to mess with him, but it would seem on 29 September last year, someone didn’t get the memo. It was then that a 39-year-old man dressed as a ninja was handing out flyers for a ninja experience nearby and got too close to Ogawa’s turf.

According to reports, Ogawa told the ninja, “Unh-uh, Mr. Ninja, this is where I work. So, if you’re going to do that here, you’ll have to pay me 10,000 yen per month. I’m Katayama of the Yaneya Family.”

It’s unclear what happened immediately after but word apparently got to the Metropolitan Police who arrested Ogawa on 8 February. He is currently facing charges of extortion but denies them, telling police: “I was just giving him a warning because he was being impolite.” Despite his denial, his arrest alone has given police the authority to search his home and offices of his group.

▼ News report of the arrest and subsequent searches.

Reaction to the news online was largely delighted by the incident, mainly because in Japanese, Ogawa referred to the other man as “Ninja-kun” which is also the title of a popular game series on the Famicom and MSX2 from back in the day.

Most others were left confused as to why a high-ranking yakuza member was selling soda in the first place.

“Are the yakuza still doing all right?”
“Is ‘ramune soda’ slang for something I don’t know about?”
“‘The Soda-pop Yakuza & Ninja-kun’, I think there’s a series in that.”
“I’d be really worried if I was Mr. Ninja.”
“10,000 per month is pretty reasonable. It used to be 30,000.”
“How did we get to the point that the yakuza are selling drinks?”

It doesn’t seem so bad to me though. He probably enjoyed getting to work outdoors and meeting people, and as far as organized crime gigs go, it’s relatively safe, low-stress, and legal too, assuming he’s telling the truth about not extorting money from everyone around him. I have to think if I were in the yakuza, I’d jump at a soda-selling post. It definitely beats stealing sea cucumbers from the ocean in the middle of the night.

Source: Tokyo Shimbun, FNN Online Prime, Itai News
Featured image: Pakutaso
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