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Yakuza (part 2 of 2)

Posted July 3rd, 2015 at 03:36 PM by Offspring
Updated August 30th, 2017 at 02:57 PM by Offspring

Here is the first part: Yakuza (part 1 of 2) - Historum - History Forums

Traditions and customs

Some members have tattoos of dragons, Chinese goddesses or various symbols of powers. These are usually located on their backs or shoulders. They often tattoo the emblems and signs of the groups they are part of. It can take up to 100 hours for a back tattoo to be done, which is why it became a symbol for resistance to pain. Initially, the tattoos were representing the fact that they don’t want to follow society’s norms. Now, they are a sign of affiliation to a certain clan.

Many members have tattoos on their whole bodies (called: “irezumi”). Usually, they are done manually, by using tools made out of bamboo and steel. The procedure is expensive and can take years. When they play oicho-kabu, they take off their shirts to show off their tattoos.

This is how the procedure looks:

Click the image to open in full size.

This is Shinobu Tsukasa showing off his tattoos:

Click the image to open in full size.

Most Japanese don’t get tattoos, because of their association with Yakuza (it's still considered by many that having tattoos makes you an outcast). People with irezumis are often banned from entering public places. Tattoo artists are often asked by the police to identify members.

According to Yakuza’s tradition, people who didn’t respect the rules were punished by getting their little finger’s last articulation cut off, possibly in order for them to not be able to imitate Dr. Evil. This was called “yubitsume”, which means: "finger shortening".

This is the aftermath of a yubitsume:

Click the image to open in full size.

If these members broke the rules again, other finger articulations were cut.
In the past, members had to do it themselves, to prove their resistance to pain. This tradition has its origins in the practice of the bakuto, who cut off the edge of the little fingers of people who didn’t pay their debts. This injury did not permit the victims to correctly hold their swords (traditionally,In Japanese swordsmanship, the little finger's grip is the tightest on the hilt; this injury made it harder for them to fight, which made them more dependent on their boss). Yubitsume was also used as a form of apology by members who made mistakes towards their leaders. [8]

Current activities

The organization is seen as semi-legitimate. Even tho they had many violent activities and a generally negative image in Japan, Yakuza was involved in many charitable actions.

After the earthquake in Kobe, on the 17th of January, 1995, when 6,434 people died, approximately 4,600 of which in Kobe, Yamaguchi-gumi mobilized to help victims. The syndicate provided food, water and diapers to the people in the affected areas. The Yakuza used scooters, boats and even a helicopter to deliver the products to the city.

The operation was successful and more efficient than the governmental operations during that period, which became a reason of pride for the members. A leader of the syndicate, Toshio Masaki, said the organization supplied 8,000 meals per day. [9]

After the earthquake and tsunami of the 11th of March, 2011, 15,883 people died, 2,643 were missing and 6,150 were injured. Inagawa-kai was the syndicate who acted the most during this tragedy, because they had strong ties with the affected area. Between the night of the 12th and the morning of the 13th, the syndicate transported 50 tones of supplied to Hitachinaka City, from the Ibaraki prefecture. They made the donations, without mentioning they are Yakuza, in order for them to not be refused. They supplied included: noodles, bean sprouts, tea, water and paper diapers. The road from Tokyo to this city takes about 12 hours to make.

The Kanagawa group, belonging to Inagawa-kai, sent 70 trucks with supplies to Ibaraki and Fukushima, to help the areas which had high levels of radiations. In total, the syndicate sent 100 tons of supplies to the Tohoku region. They went to radiated areas without any protection. One member of the syndicate asked the press not to mention that Yakuza is helping the victims, in order for the supplied to not be refused. [10]

Many Yakuza syndicates (most notably, Yamaguchi-gumi), officially ban their members from participating in drug trafficking, while some, like Dojin-kai are strongly involved in the traffic. Some groups are involved in human trafficking.

The Yakuza are often involved in a Japanese way of extorting money called: “sokaiya”. This is a way of asking protection money which avoids targeting small companies (in keeping with the hipster Robin Hoods thing). The Yakuza buy stock in a large company and, thus, own the right to attend meetings. They perturb the meetings and use blackmail: if the stockholders want the Yakuza to stop, they have to pay them a large sum of money. It’s a way of making money from trolling.

Among the companies who were guilty of bribing Yakuza members during sokaiyas are: Mitsubishi, Daiwa Securities Group, Nikko Securities, Nomura Securities Co. (the Yakuza had so much stock, they were able to proposed a member in the board of advisors), [11] Nippon Shinpan and Dai-Ichi Kengyo. [12]

Yakuza is also active in the banking industry and the real estate one. The speculative actions of Yakuza contributed to Japan’s economic crisis in the 1980s.

In 1989, Susumu Ishii, the oyabun of Inagawa-kai, bought stock worth of 225 million dollars in the Tokyo Kyuko Electric Railway. [14] Yakuza also has ties with casinos in Japan. [15]

Recently, the Japanese police started cracking down on Yakuza. The leader of the Kodo-kai syndicate, Kiyoshi Takayama, was arrested in 2010. The number 3 in the Yamaguchi-gumi, Tadashi Irie, was also arrested in that year. Encouraged by these actions, the local governments and the construction companies started opposing Yakuza more.

Kobe is one of the safest cities in Japan, because common criminals are too afraid to bring on the attention of Yakuza and avoid being active in that town.


Yakuza is among the most important organized crime groups in the world. Their history is a significant part of Japan’s and their influence and importance make it be a significant part of contemporary Japanese culture and society.

Although it’s obviously a violent and ruthless criminal organization, Yakuza cannot be only limited to that. The organization was involved in many charitable actions and the areas where the organization is most active are the safest in Japan.

Even tho, initially, Yakuza had a romantic image, presently, most of the Japanese public is against it and supports the actions of the police and local governments against it.

Yakuza sparks the interest of many people outside of Japan, due to its look (the attire and the tattoos) and its similarities to samurais and the Italian Mafia.

[8] David E. Kaplan, Alec Dubro, Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2012, p.14.

[9] James Sterngold, „Quake in Japan: Gangsters; Gang in Kobe Organizes Aid for People In Quake”, The New York Times, 22 January 1995, QUAKE IN JAPAN - GANGSTERS - Gang in Kobe Organizes Aid for People In Quake - NYTimes.com

[10] Jake Adelstein, "Yakuza to the Resecue", The Daily Beast, 18 March 2011, Japanese Yakuza Aid Earthquake Relief Efforts - The Daily Beast

[11] "Sokaiya scams hit Japan - Japanese companies ill-equipped to deal with corporate extortionists", CNN Money, 19 December 1997, 'Sokaiya' scams hit Japan - Dec. 19, 1997

[12] Ray Heath "Japan reels from Sokaiya scam", ThisIsMoney.co.uk, 20 May 2009, Pound marches on as Bank gambles with inflation | This is Money

[13] David E. Kaplan, Alec Dubro, op.cit., p.192.

[14] Jake Adelstein, “This Mob Is Big in Japan”, The Washington Post, 11 May 2008, This Mob Is Big in Japan
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