A different karate man

Today’s Kojō-ryū came into existence when sometime after 1945 Kojō Kafu opened a dōjō in Naha City Tsuboya, together with his oldest son and 7th generation Kojō Shigeru (1934-?). Shigeru himself, together with Matayoshi Seiki (1933-1975), practiced for about five years with Miyagi Chōjun, whose oldest daughter’s husband also bore the Kojō family name.

Matayoshi Seiki was born in Naha Tsuboya as the second son among three brothers and three sisters. Because he lost his eldest brother in the war, Matayoshi took over his role. His parents’ household was so poor he could not even go to school. Since he was 7 or 8 years old he attended the dōjō of Miyagi Chōjun, founder of Gōjū-ryū Karate-dō. By the time he was 18-19 years old he repeatedly got into street fights against American soldiers. While making a living as a bouncer he didn’t gang up but independently practiced karate all the time.

Yakuza in Okinawa are a post-war phenomenon. After first signs of a post-war revival began to appear, like minded persons started to band together since around 1952. Matayoshi, gradually noted by his surroundings, formed the Naha-ha by gathering his karate fellows and others based in Naha City. Even after he had become the boss of the Naha-ha he continued to work hard in practicing karate. Around the same time the Koza-ha based in Okinawa City was formed by Kishaba Chōshin.

During the so-called 1st Okinawa Dispute (1961) Matayoshi was nearly killed twice by Shinjō Yoshifumi (nickname Mintamī), the successor of the Koza-ha. The first time he was taken to Nishihara airfield remains of the old Japanese Imperial Army. After having been beaten with a brand new hoe handle, which broke from the beatings, he was pulled around tied to the back of a car with a chain. The second time he was shot from behind when he left his home. However, as he survived both attacks, he came to be called the “immortal man”, the “man not afraid to die”, and “star”.

Taba Seiko, one of the leaders of the Naha-ha, formed the Futenma-ha. Around this time yakuza from the mainland began to intervene in the conflict.

After the Koza-ha split into the Yanbaru-ha and the Awase-ha, the Naha-ha, Futenma-ha, and Yonbaru-ha united and they entered into conflict with the Awase-ha. This is the so-called 2nd Okinawa Dispute (1964), in which the Awase-ha was destroyed by relentless attacks from the Yonbaru-ha.

The 3rd Okinawa Dispute (1966) broke out when the Naha-ha and the Yonbaru-ha united and entered into conflict with the Futenma-ha. The Futenma-ha ended after Taba was shot to death.

In the later 1960s Gibo Toshio launched the Okinawa Branch of the Tōseikai (the later Tōakai or “East Asia Friendship Enterprises Association”, a largely ethnic-Korean yakuza group based in Tōkyō)

Lower right: Matayoshi Seiki (1933-1975).

Lower right: Matayoshi Seiki (1933-1975).

In 1970, at the eve of Okinawa’s political return to mainland Japan and with the intention to prevent the advance of the mainland yakuza syndicate known as Yamaguchi-gumi, the Naha-ha and the Yonbaru-ha formed the Okinawa Rengō Kyokuryūkai. Nakamoto Zenchū became president. Matayoshi Seiki and Shinjō Yoshifumi, whom Matayoshi tried to kill after the two assassination attempts, both became board chairmen.

Matayoshi himself said ”Now in this situation Okinawa people cannot be at each other’s throats. If me and Mintami (i.e. Shinjō Yoshifumi) do not join hands, Okinawa will be under the mainland yakuza, which are the real enemy”.

Not long afterwards, Uehara Yūkichi of the original Yonbaru-ha established the Uehara-gumi and made himself independent from the Okinawa Rengō Kyokuryūkai. This led to the 4th Okinawa Dispute. In the early morning of Thursday, October 16, 1975, Matayoshi Seiki left 6 a.m. for a walk with his Tosa dog. He was followed by a bodyguard car of 3 henchmen. About 1.5 kilometers from home, at the entrance of the Shikina cemetery, Matayoshi riding his motorcycle and holding the dog leash in his left hand, a white car overtook the bodyguard car and Matayoshi was shot from behind by two assassins belonging to the Uehara-gumi. Four of the five Colt 45 caliber bullets struck Matayoshi in the chest and abdomen. He died instantly. Shinjō Yoshifumi was also shot to death by members of the Uehara-gumi.

In the later 1970s, the Uehara-gumi and the Ryūshinkai, a branch of the “East Asia Friendship Enterprises Association”, entered in affiliation with the Yamaguchi-gumi.

In the earlier 1970s, Tawada Shinzan had become the 2nd president of the Okinawa Rengō Kyokuryūkai. In the 1980s he made brothers with the leadership of the Yamaguchi-gumi, thus ended the 4th Okinawa Dispute. Tawada was shot to death in 1982 by members of the Okinawa Rengō Kyokuryūkai. His successor as third president in 1983 became Onaga Yoshihiro, under who membership reached 1,000.

In 1990 the Okinawa Rengō Kyokuryūkai split up into the Kyokuryūkai and the Okinawa Kyokuryūkai. In 2011 they merged again and relaunched as Kyokuryūkai. It is today the only group that is designated as Yakuza (bōryakudan) in Okinawa prefecture.

© 2015 – 2016, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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