Japanese police are braced for a spike in gang violence, amid reports the country’s biggest organised crime syndicate has split into different factions, Sky News reports.

Kenichi Shinoda, leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi
Kenichi Shinoda, leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi

The division in the Yamaguchi-gumi – the biggest of Japan’s “yakuza” organized crime operations – has been sparked by a plan to move the gang’s headquarters from Kobe to Nagoya, according to The Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

Police sources told the newspaper that the syndicate severed ties with 13 affiliated groups at a meeting on Thursday.

Before that, the gang had 72 directly affiliated leaders who were in charge of their own groups, the report said.

It is claimed some of the oldest and largest affiliated gangs are among those who have been banished.

Many of these are also based in Kobe and plan to form their own syndicate using the Yamaguchi-gumi name, Asahi Shimbun said.

The Yamaguchi-gumi has been led by 73-year-old Kenichi Shinoda since 2005.

He was released from prison in 2011 after serving time for firearms offences.

According to the country’s National Police Agency, the Yamaguchi-gumi had 10,300 members in Japan’s 44 prefectures at the end of 2014.

If quasi-members are included, this figure grows to 23,400, more than 40 percent of all those involved in organised crime in Japan.

Infighting has broken out in the syndicate before, according to Asahi Shimbun.

Between 1985 and 1987, a feud among rival affiliated gangs left 25 members dead and another 70 injured.

Like the Italian mafia or Chinese triads, the yakuza engages in activities ranging from gambling, drugs and prostitution to loan sharking, protection rackets and white-collar crime.

The gangs, which are not illegal, have historically been tolerated by the authorities, although there are periodic clampdowns on some of their less savoury activities.

The yakuza are heavily mythologised in Japan, with films, television dramas and fan magazines glamorising lives of violence governed by a code of honour handed down from the samurai.

One ritual in the Yamaguchi-gumi involves the severing of fingers of members who have broken the group’s rules in some way.

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