Gun-related crimes are rare in Malaysia, so the country was quite shocked by the recent shooting incident in Sungai Petani, where 4 masked gunmen killed 36-year old man as he was about to get into his .
Kedah police chief Wan Hassan Wan Ahmad said the deceased man has been on the police’s wanted list, and was a suspect for organised crime and drug-related activities.
This comes less than a month after a man of questionable background in a with 56 unpaid summonses was arrested by the police for road bullying.
Somehow, the Toyota Vellfire / Toyota Alphard has cultivated an image of being a preferred car for underworld figures and Malaysian politicians (how do you tell the difference between two? Triads hold elections too).
Since the Toyota luxury minivan hails from Japan, a country also known its shady Yakuza organized crime network, known for their strict discipline that make Malaysian gangs look like nothing more than street-level thugs, what sort of cars do Yakuza bosses ride in?
Yes, the Toyota Vellfire and Toyota Alphard are popular choices, as are left-hand drive Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The older generation oyabuns (godfathers) are also known to have a liking for the Toyota Century (as shown in the video below), but this is actually no longer true today.
I was once introduced to a Japanese of mixed American parentage, whose unique heritage allows him to see Japan both as an insider and outsider.
This chap, who also has a keen interest in cars explained that a lot of what foreigners think about the Yakuza and the are not true, and is the result of exaggeration by pop culture. While the image of a oyabun in a Toyota Century may be true 25 years ago, today's Yakuza is run closer like a business organization than a criminal network, and they travel in less flashy cars.
Such elaborate public ceremonies no longer take place today. It scares the neighbourhood's residents and is bad for business. Note the men's outfit and image. They can blend in at any subway station.
The world is changing very fast and the oyabuns know it. Why engage in bloody turf wars for control over drug distribution when Bitcoin mining gives you the same return? What’s the worst punishment that the court can mete out for stealing electricity?
The younger generation Yakuza leaders are not interested in violence, and they are engaged in an image rebranding of sorts, a soft approach so society views them in a more positive light. They are not white, not black, but grey, presenting themselves to society as a third option in situations where the police can’t help them.
For example, the police can’t protect you against a stalker, because technically that isn’t a crime, neither is a disruptive customer at an izakaya outlet. Their disciplined members also weed out low-level street thugs who loiter around, again this is not something that the police can’t do much about because no crime has been committed.
Nope it doesn't happen like in Tokyo Drift. The real ones don't wear leather jackets, nor spot styled hairdo. That's too American. Real Yakuzas wear black suits, and have very short hair (and definitely not yellow), to project an image of strict military-like discipline
Often times when there is a natural disaster, the Yakuza will come to the aid of the locals, sometimes faster than emergency services.
Also, after decades of hunting down the Yakuza, the Japanese authorities have now succeeded in choking a lot of the Yakuza’s underworld businesses. The brutal truth is that the Yakuzas are no longer as big nor as powerful as before, and they certainly don't make as much money as they used to, so they are downsizing their cars too.
Rather than engaging in an endless, costly war with the authorities, the younger Yakuza leaders figured that it is more profitable to operate in the legitimate sphere than in the dark one.
So long as the Yakuza don’t give problems to the government and society, the police have less reasons to confront them, and the Yakuza is free to do business like everyone else. Why stand out and make yourself a target for attacks when you can lay low and make money quietly?
Part of the Yakuza’s rebranding include adopting the image of a typical Japanese salarymen / small business owner, and that means doing their daily cash collection at pachinko parlours and night clubs in a stealthy rather than a large, obnoxious looking Vellfire.
A Yakuza member going on his rounds or just a salaryman going to work? It's hard to tell, and that's the whole point
Yes, the Toyota Prius is the other favourite car among Yakuza members. The Prius is a very common car in Japan, so nobody will think twice about a couple of Priuses parked in a shady neighbourhood.
Previously, residents will complain that when Yakuza members hold a meeting, their underlings will park their bosses’ cars along the neighbourhood’s already-tight streets, while keeping their engines running. With the Prius’ hybrid drivetrain, this is not an issue.
But these days, the Yakuza are mindful enough to tell their members to park elsewhere, and to clean up the streets once they are done, as a quiet gesture of apology of sorts. Only in Japan, where even the mafia is considerate about others and clean up after themselves.
Don't be too sure of which is the boss' car. Caption says cars are parked with the engine running, a gathering of Yakuza members is taking place nearby
The locals however, can sort of tell which Toyota Prius they should stay away from. Toyota Priuses with registration plates containing certain number combinations – 1, 7, 8, 9 – numbers preferred numbers by the Yakuza, suggests that it’s not a regular persons’ Prius.
A Toyota Prius with a license plate 1111 or 7777 or 900 or 9000 or even 8008 is not necessarily the owner of a Family Mart store. But then again, 1, 7, 8, and 9 are auspicious numbers in Japanese culture, so there’s no sure way to tell.
The news clip above is about a meeting of leaders of the Yamaguchi-gumi clan, one of the most powerful Yakuza clan. Multiple Toyota Alphards and Vellfires were seen but notice that there's also three Toyota Priuses off screen, including a Toyota Prius Alpha.
So yes, the Toyota Prius is a Yakuza bodyguard’s car.
In 2017, there was a rare shooting incident between rival Yakuza clans in Kobe, and yes it involved a Toyota Prius, which was part of a 3-car convoy that was ambushed when they entered a tight alley. The ensuing gun fight killed one man.
Although Yakuza bosses often appear in a Toyota Alphard / Vellfire, my American-Japanese acquaintance say this is only when there is media coverage. Away from cameras, Yakuza bosses may also ride in an inconspicuous Toyota Prius, because it’s just safer to blend in that way.
A Yakuza boss and his Toyota Prius Alpha, the Americans won't get it
In fact, one Yakuza boss did exactly just that, turning up in a New Year’s party in a rather ordinary Toyota Prius Alpha.
We are not sure how much of this is practiced elsewhere, but the next time you see a Toyota Prius tailing a Toyota Vellfire in Klang, don’t be too sure of which is the weaker man’s car.
Note the Prius behind
It should also be noted that the Toyota Alphard / Vellfire is not seen by the Japanese as Yakuza’s (or corrupt politician’s) car. The Alphard is among Japan’s top five best-selling car. It sells 17x more than a Honda Civic there, so it's fairly common.
Think of it as how we see the Myvi. Terrible drivers are often seen in one (hence the 'Myvi buat hal' and 'Myvi King' memes), but it’s wrong to call the Myvi a terrible driver’s car.