The George Raft of Japan
TOKYO — There were hundreds of thousands of yakuza in the postwar history of Japan. But not many had a career like Noboru Ando. Juvenile delinquent, wartime suicide diver, postwar street brawler, gang boss, prison inmate, writer, actor, singer, movie star — nicknamed the Japanese George Raft, after the 1930’s film star George Raft, famous for his crime roles — and one of the most famous people in the country.
Ando was born in Tokyo in 1926, the oldest of four children, was expelled from two schools for fighting and wound up in a reformatory. During the war he trained as a frogman equipped with explosives to attach himself to the hull of an enemy ship and blow himself up. However, the war ended before he saw any action.
He dropped out of Hosei University and took to the streets, armed with a straight razor which he used in street fights, and formed a gang of bad boy college dropouts like himself (including one young man named Joji Abe, scion of an upper class family who, after years in prison, would go on to become a prize-winning novelist — Japan’s (heterosexual) Jean Genet. Carrying Japanese samurai long swords and small arms purchased from American GI’s, Ando and his men plunged into the Shibuya outdoor market, successfully battling Chinese gangs there for territory.