Yakuza: The Mystery Behind the Japanese Mafia

  • We all have heard of the word “Yakuza” but some only have a faint idea of what it really means. The majority of Japanese people are unaware or scared when asked about this word, which has become a taboo, somehow. So, who are they and why does the Japanese society fear them?

    Organized Crime Syndicates

    The Yakuza, also known as “gokudo,” is one of the biggest organized crime syndicates in the world. Originated in Japan, this group of people takes part in several businesses of almost every field, both legal and illegal, from real estate to money laundering and human trafficking.

    The Yakuza Organization

    The Yakuza have a family-like structure: this relationship is called “oyabun-kobun”, where the oyabun takes the role of the father and the kobun becomes the son. This hierarchy is very strict and must be respected by all means. Disrespecting the oyabun or disobeying his orders will possibly end in punishment. The most common among them: the obligation to amputate a part of one’s little finger. This is called “yubitsume.” It also works as an apology – sending your finger to the “kumicho” (the boss) as a way of begging for his forgiveness.

    The Origins

    The word “Ya-Ku-Za” means 8-9-3, a losing combination in a traditional Japanese card game named Oicho-Kabu (おいちょかぶ) that is similar to Blackjack, with the difference that in Oicho-Kabu the goal is to reach 19 instead of 21. The sum of 8, 9, and 3 is 20, which is good for nothing in the game. This is where the name comes from – those who are “good for nothing.”

    The exact origins of the Yakuza are unclear, but some rumors affirm that it all goes back to the Edo period (18th century) when federations of gamblers and street traders evolved in time to become criminal syndicates. Others believe that they were masterless and homeless samurai (Kabukimono 傾奇者) from the early 17th century who began grouping together, thus creating families.

    Criminal Art

    One of the most iconic Yakuza trademarks is a full body suit of ink. They symbolize the different clans’ badges and represent the person’s bravery because of the pain he endured during the process of getting those tattoos.

    When most Japanese people see tattoos, they associate them to the Yakuza and disapprove of them. In fact, a former mayor of Osaka even asked the employees working at the Osaka City Government to erase tattoos on their bodies if they had any.

    Now you know better. If you see too many tattoos on a Japanese, he is probably a member of the yakuza. But do not panic! They would never hurt those who are not involved in their business.

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