Yakuza – All about the Japanese mafia


Have you ever heard of the Japanese yakuza mafia? Do you know how organized they are? What are your codes of conduct? How do the Japanese stare at the yakuza? In this article we will see everything about yakuza.

Yakuza [ヤクザ] is the name of the largest criminal faction in Japan and the world. It is also known as gokudō [極道]. There are more than 100,000 members around the world belonging to the Yakuza crime syndicate.

Definition – What is Yakuza?

For The Japanese police and press, this criminal organization is called Bōryo[暴力団]kudan, whose meaning is “Violence Group”, but members often refer to as Ninkyō dantai,[任侠団体] which means “Chivalrous Organization”.

Yakuza have a code of conduct and are very organized as the ancient samurai. Its members follow a code of rules based on loyalty and loyalty, they also have some obligations such as not hiding money from the group, not seeking the police and never disobeying the order of a superior.

According to the members themselves, they do not commit crimes and perform activities legally. Although some commit crimes, many make investments and offer protection for some establishments.

Origin – How did the Yakuza Mafia come about?

It is believed that yakuza appeared in the mid-Edo Period (1603 – 1868). They were divided into 2 groups:

  • Tekiya [的屋] Muscats or merchants who sold illicit, stolen or poor quality goods;
  • Bakuto[博徒] – Players who were involved or participated in gambling involving cards and dice;

The name Yakuza derives from the junction of [八] Ya [九] Ku [三] Za which is a numerical sequence 893 [八九三]. The numerical sequence is considered the worst type of hand in a Japanese deck game like hanafuda [花札].

Notice that everything is involved with games, even the tattoos that yakuza gang members wear, became popular because of the Bakuto who tattooed the whole body and showed off during gambling.

The Tekiya also influenced the activities carried out by yakuza members. During Shinto festivals, the muscates opened tents and hired some members as security guards. Usually the gang generates its income through protection for merchants.

Yakuza - all about the japanese mafia

yakuza crimes and activities

Yakuza members do not usually commit murders and robberies too much like the traffickers in Rio de Janeiro. They are organized men who may fit into the category of politicians and religious leaders.

That’s because many yakuza members live in the middle of society discreetly and have a social life like any other. They are not persecuted by the police and are not usually escaped.

Many yakuza families have their homes in prominent places, mansions full of security guards, some own companies or control businesses. Not even weapons are common among yakuza members.

The Japanese mafia is involved in crimes of extortion, swindler, prostitution, gambling, money laundering, arms and drug trafficking, and more sophisticated white-collar crimes.

Many merchants and companies maintain relationships with Japanese mafía groups. According to a report by the National Police Agency in 2014, more than 22,000 people were arrested linked to yakuza groups in Japan.

There is no official data on the values moved by the Japanese mafia, but estimates is that the Japanese mafia moves “billions of dollars” a year illegally in Japan.

Generally yakuza members command bars, hostess and massage houses in red light neighborhoods like kabukicho. They are quite discreet, so usually don’t have much to comment on their activities.

Yakuza isn’t so mean

Of course, some groups engage in drug trafficking, human trafficking, prostitution and many others. But it’s not so scary, it’s considered a semi-legitimate organization and have helped many.

For example, after the Kobe Earthquake, Yamaguchi mobilized to provide relief services (including the use of a helicopter) that arrived first than the government’s own help. This was widely reported and commented.

The yakuza repeated its aid after the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku in 2011, with groups opening their offices to refugees and sending dozens of trucks with supplies to affected areas.

Many unions with Yamaguchi-gumi officially prohibit their members from engaging in drug trafficking. They make large investments in well-known and legitimate companies, also have ties to the real estate market and banks.

Yakuza - all about the japanese mafia

They often attend local festivals, such as the Sanja Matsuri, where they carry a sanctuary through the streets displaying their elaborate tattoos. Sometimes they party for children, or participate in festivals setting up their own tents.

As a matter of principle, theft is not recognized as a legitimate yakuza activity. This is in line with the idea that their activities are semi-open; theft, by definition, would be a cowardly activity. 

Central activities such as merchandising, loan sharking or managing bookmakers are typically managed by members outside the yakuza, who pay protection fees for their activities.

Even so you should be careful not to annoy a yakuza member. Usually they are grumpy and do not like to communicate with strangers. Don’t even think about hunting a fight, otherwise you can literally die.

I had a friend of a friend who crashed into an expensive car from a yakuza member. The guy who was Brazilian simply fled town to avoid having to pay. Do you believe the yakuza member tracked him down?

Family and yakuza structure

The yakuza crime syndicate is a family like the old mafias. Members live in the favor and honor of the group that adopts a traditional Japanese hierarchical structure known as oyabun-kobun.

Kobun [子分] literally means adopted son, who are members who owe their loyalty to the oyabun [親分] who is the adoptive father of the family. The system follows a moral code of justice and duty called jingi [仁義].

Yakuza gang members cut off their family ties and transfer their loyalty to the gang boss who is also called a kumich[組長]o that means boss.

Saiko-komon is a kind of senior consultant and sohonbucho is a head of headquarters that lies below the kumicho. Shingiiin takes care of legal matters, while kaikei [会計] is literally the accountant.

Waka-gashira [若頭] and fuku-honbucho [副本部長] are responsible for executing a number of groups in a region. Each group is run by a shatei-gashira[舎弟頭].

The group members also use a general hierarchy entitled brothers as a religion. Kyoudai [兄弟] is used for older brothers and shatei [射程] for younger members (siblings) of the group.

Yakuza - all about the japanese mafia

The largest families of yakuza

There are many families scattered throughout Japan. The main ones are listed below:

Yamaguchi-gumi [六代目山口組] – Established in 1915 is the largest family of yakuza, has more than 40,000 members and is divided into 750 clans. His Oyabun (leader) is Kenichi Shinoda.

Sumiyoshi-rengo [住吉会] or Sumiyoshi-kai [住吉会] – It is the second largest family with more than ten thousand members divided into 177 clans. His current Oyabun is the Shigeo Nishiguchi, Osomuya Tanaka. He’s yamaguchi-gumi’s death enemy.

Inagawa-kai [稲川会] – It is the third largest family with more than 7,000 members and is divided into 177 clans. Your current Oyabun is kakuji inagawa. He was the first to operate outside and within Japan

Towa Yuai Jigyo Kumiai [東亜友愛事業組合] or [東亜会] – It is the fourth largest family with more than 1,000 members and is divided into 6 clans. Your current Oyabun is the Satoru Nomura. She was the first to be raised in Korea.

The Rituals and customs of yakuza

When a yakuza commits some offence or wants to show repentance, he amputates his own finger in a ritual called “yubitsume“.

Many yakuza have the body full of tattoos. These tattoos, known as irezumi, are often still handmade, that is, the paint is inserted below the skin using non-power manual tools with bamboo or steel needles. The procedure is expensive, sore and can take years to complete.

When members play Oicho-Kabu cards with each other, they usually take off their t-shirts or open them and tie them around their waist. This allows them to display their tattoos to others.

Yakuza - all about the japanese mafia

This is one of the only moments when yakuza members display their tattoos to others. They usually keep them hidden in public with fulfilled manga shirts and high collar.

Due to the association with Yakuza, the Japanese have developed a prejudice regarding tattooing, but this does not prevent them from being seen as great works of art around the world.

Of course there are still many other curiosities and facts about the Japanese mafia. I also recommend playing games like Yakuza, watching doramas like My boss my hero and some movies to delve into culture.

Finally I’m going to leave a report on R7 talking about yakuza. Just remembering that the media usually generalizes things.

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