In my recent sick-and-stuck-at-home state, I read a book called “yakuza moon”, written by a girl whose father used to be part of the Yakuza.
This phenomenon has always interested me as many people believe Japan to be the safest country in the world, which it may well be, but they also have their own Italian mafia called the Yakuza. To make it even more ridiculous, unlike the mafia, the yakuza is not secret, they have offices with family emblems on the front and want to show civilians (who they call ‘katagi’) that they are part of the yakuza – by the way they dress, by showing off their full-body tattoos and apparently even they way they walk is slightly different. Their history as a legitimate feudal organization during the Edo-period almost makes them part of Japanese establishment.
The police call yakuza boryokudan (暴力団) which means violence group, but the yakuza like to call themselves ninkyodantai (任侠団体) which means chivalrous organization.
Most of their current income comes from ‘protection rackets’, extortion schemes in which one coerces another to pay money for ‘protection’ services. They have these in shopping, entertainment and red-light districts. Yakuza are heavily involved in the sex-related industry – they are known to buy girls from China and the Phillipines cheaply and create prostitution rings, or smuggle uncensored porn.
The problem is that they are sometimes seen as semi-legitimate – in fact, after the Kobe earthquake the Yamaguchi-clan of the Yakuza provided faster disaster relief than the government. They are not stealing money, as theft implies covert action. Also, they local business like merchandising, loan sharking and gambling houses are run by non-yakuza who pay protection fees.
They apply the typical Japanese oyabun-kobun relationship (as mentioned in those posts about Japanese society). This relationship and loyalty to a particular oyabun is formalized by sharing sake. This loyalty then comes before than of family members, and most yakuza are men. If you have something to apologize for (also leaving the yakuza) you have to cut the tip of your left little finger first – the way you hold a traditional Japanese sword, the main grip comes from the lower 3 fingers and the thumb and index finger only grip it loosely.
There are currently more than 87,000 members of the Yakuza today in Japan. They can mostly be found in port cities, such as Osaka or Kobe. The Yamaguchi clan is the biggest today, with about 50% of all Yakuza members belonging to this clan. Their headquarters are in Kobe, and the current oyabun is Shinobu Tsukasa.
Other big clans are Sumiyoshi-Rengo (about 20,000 members) and Inagawa-kai (15,000).
Although the book didn’t really satisfy me too much in gaining insight into Yakuza operations, it did show how easily a girl gets sucked into that kind of a lifestyle, bleaching their hair, doing speed, and then doing sex to get the drugs. Most of these girls find ‘salvation’ by getting a job working as a hostess bar, but that did shock me – how common it seems for Japanese businessmen to have a girlfriend on the side of their marriage they provide well for.
Japanese society is just as, if not more, messed up than any other society.