Organized crime syndicate’s M.O. is looking a lot like Team Rocket’s.

In movies and video games, there’s often a romanticized, or at least dramatic, view of where yakuza get their money from. Whether its pulling bank heists, stealing diamonds, gathering protection money from swanky bars staffed by sexy hostesses, relieving corrupt businessmen or politicians of their ill-gotten gains, or just shaking down dudes on the street, the yakuza are generally shown making money through their tough-guy attitudes and street smarts, going beyond the boundaries of the law but also beyond the capabilities of timid civilians content to walk the straight and narrow path laid out by civilized society.

But here in the real world, a yakuza lieutenant has just been arrested for a crime that doesn’t have much in terms of panache: stealing Pokémon cards.

The Tachikawa Precinct of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police have announced the arrest of Keita Saito, a 39-year-old kanbu, or officer, within the Takinogawa Family of Japan’s second-largest organized crime syndicate, the Sumiyoshi-kai. The arrest stems from a break-in that occurred sometime between sundown on December 29, 2022, and sunrise the next day in which Kuboshita broke into an office in the town of Ogano in Saitama, the prefecture bordering Tokyo to the north. During the break-in, 29 pieces of property with a total value of roughly 252,000 yen (US$1,625) were stolen, with the haul including 25 Pokémon cards.

Also arrested in connection to the robbery was 56-year-old Hidefumi Kuboshita, who has no specified employment and has not been publicly disclosed as having a connection to any organized yakuza syndicate, for what the police say was a planning/direction role in the robbery. Kuboshita is currently denying the charges, but Saito has admitted that he did break into the office and steal the items. Two other men are also being sought in connection to the robbery, who the police say were recruited for the job through online messaging.

▼ Kuboshita can be seen wearing a surprisingly cute T-shirt to get arrested in, while Saito, with his unassuming demeanor, does sort of look like someone you might expect to see entering a Pokémon card game tournament.

Though Japan has been experiencing a startling increase in collectible card thefts recently, it’s still unusual to see a full-fledged yakuza member, and one who’s above the lowest rung of the organization, no less, busted for this sort of crime, prompting online reactions such as:

“So even the yakuza are into Pokémon.”
“Instead of catching ‘em all, he got caught.”
“That guy really doesn’t look like a yakuza.”
“Are they sure he’s a member of the yakuza, and not Team Rocket?”
“Yakuza going after Pokémon cards is so lame.”
“So does that mean there’s someone in the yakuza whose job is to appraise Pokémon cards?”
“This feels like a school bully going around and stealing other kids’ Tamagotchis.”
“If you’re surprised to see that the yakuza will do things like this, you’ve been playing too much Like a Dragon.”
“If you take into account that the yakuza have connections to game stalls at festivals where they scam kids out of their allowance money, it’s not so surprising to see them doing this too.”

Cool-factor questionability aside, Pokémon cards are lightweight, liquid (in the “easily convertible to cash” sense), and difficult to trace, all of which are going to be seen as pluses by potential thieves. Considering that yakuza have shown little hesitation to trying to make money through sexy Photoshopping and late-night sea cucumber harvesting (and no, the latter is not a euphemism related to the former), they’re unlikely to see swiping Pokémon cards as a revenue stream that’s beneath their dignity, so card shops and individual collectors may want to start rethinking and tightening their security protocols.

Source: TBS News Dig via via Yahoo! Japan News via Jin, Sankei News via Hachima Kiko, YouTube/日テレNEWS, Twitter
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