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Yakuza Dossier

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The Yakuza

The Yakuza and their reputations
The yakuza origins can be traced back to the time of transition of Japan from feudalism to a modern state in the later 19th century around the time of the Meiji restoration. As a result of this transition, a pool of samurais without power, hooligans and landless peasants formed the supply of the Yakuza. (Varse, 2003) Yakuza, 8-9-3 is a losing combination in the card game hana-fuda and hence later on used to describe gamblers who were born to lose and was of no use in society.

The Yakuza have different identities, to some they are violence specialists, to some gangsters, to some extortionists, to some gamblers, to some the Japanese mafia. While it is not wrong to have such impressions on the yakuza, this not completely true as there is so much more behind the yakuza than just being violent gangsters. Also according to Siniawer, he does not want to call the yakuza, “gangsters” because sometimes “it may evoke romantic images of Prohibition-era bosses”, which will inaccurately depict the yakuza.

The yakuza are essentially different from the (Sicilian) mafia, in the sense that the perception of the mafia as an unambiguously predatory entity locked in bloody combat with the state, which are exemplified by such crimes as the assassination of the Italian prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. This was different with the yakuza who proudly displayed the name of their gang, and its crest, and crest at the entrance. (Hill, 2003: 6-7) This is also shown in movies like Brother, in which the Cuban mafia could not understand the way in which the Japanese carried out their operation methods and were eventually out played by the yakuza for a while.

The yakuza are also made up of different groups of people. The more prominent groups are mainly the Bakuto and Tekiya. Bakuto were usually gamblers who were in charge of running gambling dens since the 18th century. Tekiya were deception masters as they were the ones who would usually sell items at extortionate prices. The yakuza would sometimes call themselves kyokaku (men of chivalry). The Yamaguchi-gumi proclaimed themselves as the moral descendants of Japan’s noble warriors, and the last upholders of the nation’s traditional values, like samurai in business suits. Fig 1. Daimon of the Yamaguchi-gumi

Yakuza Organization and Structure
Like any organization, the Yakuza also have their form of organization and structure. Instead of having a formal relationship between the chief and the associates like the capo, consigliere, associates in the mafia chain of command, the yakuza have a different system, which is the oyabun-kobun relationship. Oyabun means, “father role”; kobun means “child role”. This relationship has to be accepted by every man who is accepted into the yakuza. With this, he must promise unquestioning and undoubting loyalty to his boss. There’s this old Japanese saying that “If your boss says the passing crow is white, then you must agree.” The kobun also did all the household chores for the oyabun. In the olden days, when the kobun did the chores and shopping, he would also try to get in good terms with the local businessmen and he would even help to clean the streets in his neighbourhood. All this was essential to the yakuza, as it will allow him to earn the respect of the people in the neighbourhood. With the increased respect, it will also allow for smoother transactions for the yakuza later on in their career. According to Hill, “ This system of artificial kinship relationships is by no means unique to the yakuza in Japan. Liza Dalby, in her participant observation study of geisha, noted that a similar system of mother-daughter and sister-sister links” (Hill, 2003: 68). Fig 3. The yakuza hierarchy

Also in the yakuza ranks, there are usually no females in them. There is this belief to never send a lady to do a man’s job. Men were preferred over ladies as they were thought to be more loyal and in the event that they were arrested, the chances of males leaking any information would be lower compared to a lady especially if the ladies were interrogated with sensitive issues were concerned. But there were exceptions in special cases. When gang boss Kazuo Taoka of the Yamaguchi-gumi was sentenced to jail, the gang and the other businesses that were managed by him were all handled by his wife, Fumiko Taoka. Hence, there will be times in which even the ladies who are closely related to the gang will actually help and play a part in the smooth running of the gang in the absence of the boss. Fig 4. Kazuo Taoka

To date, there are no fewer than 20 groups of yakuza in Japan. The largest syndicate is the Godaime Yamaguchi-gumi with a total strength of 17, 500 members as of year 2000. The next 2 largest groups are the Inagawa-kai and the Sumiyoshi-kai. (Hill, 2003: 65) These syndicates are made of families or ikka, which make up the basic units of the yakuza (Iwai, 1986: 216; Hill, 2003: 65). An accurate identification of the hierarchical arrangement of the yakuza would be: Kumi-cho (boss), waka-gashira (under-boss), saiko-kanbu (senior executives), kanbu (executives), kumi-in (soldiers) and jun-kosei-in (trainees) (Hill, 2003: 66). This hierarchical arrangement is similar to the corporate and military organizations. Furthermore according to Hill, this is “similar to the rank structures of the American La Cosa Nostra and Chinese Triads.” (Hill, 2003: 66) The surprising fact is that in Japan with about half the population of the United States, there were 110, 000 gangsters but only 20, 000 in the United States. Fig 5. Structure of the Yamaguchi-gumi

Characteristics of the Yakuza
The yakuza have several distinct traits and appearances that set them apart from the normal and average Japanese man. While they may not seem like normal Japanese men, they also do not look like your average street gangster. It isn’t easy to be a yakuza as there were rituals, ceremonies and rules to adhere to and disobedience would usually be detrimental to one’s career as a yakuza or even one’s life.

First to be a yakuza, one will have to either be recruited or to willingly join. According to Hill, “police statistics show that 80% of recently joined gang members had either left school after completing compulsory schooling or dropped out during high school.” Furthermore, there is also a high number of yakuza recruits who come from poorer families and 43% come from single parent families and 50% come from those who felt neglected. The need for acceptance and reliance can be found in the yakuza and this could be a large contributing factor to the people who wish to join the yakuza (Hill, 2003: 83)

Another way one could join the yakuza is to be “talent-scouted” by the yakuza at delinquent hangouts, game centres and street corners (Yamadaira: 1992, 141; Hill, 2003:83). Through different activities and gifts these potential recruits may eventually join the yakuza. Each person has their own reason for joining the yakuza but there are few motivational factors that lead these people to join the yakuza. One of the main factors is because they are attracted by the yakuza image, attracted by the world of giri-ninjo (obligation-compassion), a sense of recognition by others and according to Hill, “for the successful, crime pays extremely well”. There are also instances of forced membership but these are the minority.

This strengthens the stereotype that delinquents and people with problems and need acceptance will join gangs. This can even be seen in a small country in Singapore, where a large majority of youth delinquents have almost the same background as those in Japan, resulting in rioting and gang-related offences.

Upon acceptance, there will be a ceremony for his entrance into the family. Such practices are also common in mafia families. For the mafia, a new recruit would have to prick his trigger finger and smear the blood over the picture of a saint and the picture would then be burnt in the new recruit’s hands as he swears his loyalty to the family. For the yakuza initiation ceremony, sake is used instead of blood. Both oyabun and kobun sit face to face as the sake, mixed with fish scales and salt prepared by azukarinin (guarantors). The sake is then poured in befitting amounts to each status and sipped before being exchanged. From that moment on, the yakuza family is the most important family the kobun has. This similarity in initiation ceremonies show that the yakuza and other gangs are not very different and that some practices are done globally and just in different methods with the same meaning. One of which would be to have girikake, to mark important events within the group. Examples of these would be demukae (jail-release ceremonies) where in the story of Ijichi Eiji, when he performed migawari, when he went to prison in place of a superior. Such practices were not uncommon but the celebration and the result of such an act within the yakuza would usually mean a faster rate of promotion.

There are also some practices, which are specific to the yakuza only; such as the practice of yubitsume (finger amputation) usually the pinkie is amputated. According to Hill, this is “perhaps the most famous aspect of traditional yakuza culture and one that arouses considerable fascination outside Japan.” Yubitsume is done as a “pre-emptive decision of the transgressor to show atonement for his misdeeds in the hope of escaping a heavier punishment.” (Hill, 2003: 74-75) However, there is also a deeper meaning behind it. In The Yakuza, Harry Kilmer also performs yubitsume, as a form of repayment and apology to his friend Tanaka Ken for the hurt and pain he has brought onto him. A gaijin (alien), performing such an act shows that it is the meaning behind the act and not the act itself that is important. This practice originated from the samurais and the pinkie is considered to be the strongest finger when wielding the katana. With the wounded hand, the swordsman is more dependent on his master. In the modern day, this ritual is purely symbolic and one cannot simply call someone a yakuza based on the “availability” of the pinkie, as there are those who have amputated and added on a fake finger to cover up their amputated pinkie.
Fig 6. Yubitsume is progress
There were other forms of punishment such as hamon (expulsion). These were usually for very severe mistakes. When a gang member is expelled, hamon-jo (post cards) will be sent to all the gangs requesting that the expellee not be allowed into their gang. The expellee will have a hard time surviving, as he will be unable to engage in criminal activity without the risk of being an easy target for gangs to pick on as he is without the protection of the gang. Furthermore, he is unable to get a legitimate job, as no company would want to be associated or have an employee once associated with the yakuza. Such punishment is unique as it makes a living hell out of the living.

The yakuza are also known for their full body tattoos. About 70% of the yakuza are tattooed. Initially, the tattoos were meant to let ex-convicts cover up the bands that were tattooed on them as punishment. Even though tattoos are now easy to acquire, there are significant costs to having a full body tattoo. First, a full body tattoo would cost a few million yen to complete and would take up to 3 years to complete using traditional techniques. The tattoos also symbolizes endurance and to a small extent a disregard for the future, as the use of traditional needles hurt more than modern needles and the pigment injected causes fever and frequently liver damage. Another cost to the wearer is that the tattoos are permanent and because of society’s low tolerance of these tattoos, this shows that the yakuza that he is not part of the main stream society and never wants to be part of it. Different gangs may also have similar feelings to getting a tattoo. But there are few gang leaders like Hora Sennosuke who brought along about 10 of his men to have full body tattoos along with him (Siniawer, 2008: 102). Fig 7. Full Body Tattoos of the yakuza
It is also assumed that all yakuza are all lean mean fighting machines since one of the places of recruitment are at karate clubs of less prominent universities. Such abilities are also depicted in movies where the lead actor can enter a fight and take on several enemies on his own and can continue fighting on while being wounded. This is shown in The Yakuza where Ken takes on almost 10 sword wielding yakuza on his own with only a few injuries and in Predators, Hanzo a yakuza enforcer went head on in a sword versus blade battle against the alien, which he eventually killed but was killed as well. However this is usually true in movies, which would usually want to “prolong” the life of the lead actor.

Yakuza and their businesses Fig 8. Sources of income for the yakuza

The yakuza were traditionally gamblers and nothing else according to Ijichi Eiji and in the olden times if the yakuza did anything else to make money, they would be looked down upon by people (Saga, 1995: 78). But the modern day yakuza has their arm in nearly every possible profitable business, many of which are illegal in nature. The economic activities, which the yakuza derive money from are collectively known as shinogi. These activities include mikajimeryo (yakuza protection), drugs, gambling, prostitution, loan-sharking, pretext racketeering, debt-collection, jiage (land-sharing), bankruptcy management, sokaiya (black mail), fake social movements and construction. These are some of the main industries in which the yakuza have a part.

As traditional gamblers, the yakuza’s participation in gambling takes 3 distinct forms. Firstly, organizing various types of card, dice and roulette games (bakuchi). Second, illegal bookmaking (nomikoi) and lastly, involvement in Japan’s pachinko (a kind of electronic bagatelle) (Hill, 2003:105-106).

Most of the businesses that the yakuza are involved in are also what the mafias, triads and gangs are involved in. The difference could be on the scale in which there is control and involvement. But what sets the yakuza apart from the rest is that when dealing with prostitutes, according to Hill, the yakuza have no compunction about living off the earnings of prostitutes unlike the Sicilian mafia (Yamanouchi 1992a: 59; Hill, 2003: 115). This shows that the yakuza really set themselves apart from the rest and living up to their name as losers of society.

Effects of the Yakuza on Japanese society
The yakuza has affected the Japanese society in many ways and in many levels, from the state to the neighbourhood from policing to politics. This can be seen in the time between the Tokugawa to Meiji transition, where the bakuto would become providers of violence in the political realm (Siniawer, 2008: 25). According to Siniawer, the later involvement of the bakuto in politics was the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement. However, the yakuza were not the only other gangsters involved in politics. In post- World War II Sicily, mafia heads like Pino Trapani and Onorevole Calogero Volpe were also part of the parliament. These were different from the gangsters in England or the United States, which were unable to survive as a political phenomenon. Probably the fact that the yakuza were anti-communist by nature had allowed them to stay on in politics longer and more successful than other gangs. Some of the yakuza that made it in politics were Yoshida Isokichi and Hora Sennosuke. According to Siniawer, the fact that these yakuza were elected showed that in some regions, they yakuza were not regarded as being part of a shadowy “underworld” but considered to be worthy representatives of particular interests in their local communities (Siniawer, 2008: 91).

Apart from politics, the yakuza are also involved in big money scandals such as the Lockheed scandal in 1976, when yamaguchi-gumi head, Kodama was paid more than two million dollars to influence the Japanese market away from McDonnell – Douglas and Boeing and toward Lockheed. But there was insufficient evidence to charge Kodama on this incident but the police found that he had evaded more than $6million. This resulted in public outrage on the scale of the tax-fraud scheme. This shows the enormity of the yakuza in Japanese society. The power to move and influence markets in today’s society is a frightening thing and for all we know the Japanese economy could be riding on the yakuza’s decisions more than any other effect.

The use of violence from the yakuza also helps to police areas in which the local police divisions have no power over, such as protection for bars and clubs from “bad” or non-paying customers in which the police have little jurisdiction over, the protection from the yakuza will often ensure that such incidents would seldom occur (Hill, 2003: 98). The fear of offending anyone associated with the yakuza is intimidating enough to scare off any average Joe than that of the police. Furthermore according to Hill, “mafia groups are just one more means of social control and the perpetuation of the existing hegemonic structure.” Another way in which the gangs and mafias have helped out the state and police can be seen in Sicily until 1984 in which the Salvo Brothers who were identified by the police to be part of the mafia collected taxes. They were legally entitled to 10% commission of all taxes collected. But when this task of collecting taxes was passed on to less motivated and intimidating state inspectors, evasion “increased dramatically” (Gambetta, 1993: 163; Stille, 1996: 55; Hill, 2003: 32). This further shows that the intimidation from the gangs were not only present in Japan but also in other parts of the world.

The yakuza were also a form of education for the youth delinquents. According to Hills, the yakuza “internship” as an apprentice can last between 6 months to 3 years (Hill, 2003:85). In this time, the young recruits would learn proper behavior, etiquette and respect for their superiors as the punishment handed out was far more severe than what schools could hand out and eventually they may be more well behaved in public than before. This shows an effective education of the youths, which schools could not achieve.

Conclusion
In conclusion, the yakuza has put and shown themselves to play an integral part in Japan’s society, be it legally or illegally. Few gangs around the world are able to attain or impact their country like how the yakuza have and the adaptability of the yakuza in situations make them a force to be reckoned with. The image of a tattooed man and missing pinkies is a Hollywood portrayal of the yakuza but in real life they are more intricate and there is more to the yakuza than just tattoos and fingers. Despite having several similarities to the mafia, gangs and triads, the yakuza have established themselves as truly Japanese as their beliefs go back to imperial times and they are still holding on to them today. Even though the yakuza of today has changed from the yakuza of yester-years, they still try to keep the fundamentals the same. The yakuza are truly one and only, second to none.

Bibliography 1. Anthony Bruno. The Yakuza, http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/gangsters_outlaws/gang/yakuza/1.html 2. Brother (directed by Takeshi Kitano) 3. Hill, Peter B. E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and state. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. 4. Kaplan, David E. Yakuza: the explosive account of Japan’s criminal underworld. Reading, Mass: Addison- Wesley, c1986. 5. Predators (directed by Nimrod Antal) 6. Saga, Junichi. Confessions of a yakuza: a life in Japan’s underworld. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1995, c1991. 7. Siniawer, Eiko Maruko. Ruffians, yakuza, nationalists: the violent politics of modern Japan, 1860-1960. Itaca: Cornell University Press, 2008 8. Singapore Police Force, http://www.spf.gov.sg/ 9. The Yakuza (directed by Sydney Pollack)

--------------------------------------------
[ 2 ]. Siniawer, Eiko Maruko. Ruffians, Yakuza, nationalists: the violent politics of modern Japan, 1860-1960. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008, pg 1
[ 3 ]. Siniawer, Eiko Maruko. Ruffians, Yakuza, nationalists: the violent politics of modern Japan, 1860-1960. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008, pg 5
[ 4 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 6-7
[ 5 ]. Brother (directed by Takeshi Kitano)
[ 6 ]. Siniawer, Eiko Maruko. Ruffians, Yakuza, nationalists: the violent politics of modern Japan, 1860-1960. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008, pg 184
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[ 12 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 66
[ 13 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 66
[ 14 ]. The Yakuza, http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/gangsters_outlaws/gang/yakuza/1.html
[ 15 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 82-83
[ 16 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 85
[ 17 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 84
[ 18 ]. Singapore Police Force, app.subcourts.gov.sg/Data/Files/File/Research/RB10Pg1-8.pdf
[ 19 ]. The Yakuza, http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/gangsters_outlaws/gang/yakuza/2.html
[ 20 ]. Saga, Junichi. Confessions of a yakuza: a life in Japan’s underworld. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1995, c1991.pg 103
[ 21 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 74-75
[ 22 ]. The Yakuza (directed by Sydney Pollack)
[ 23 ]. The Yakuza, http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/gangsters_outlaws/gang/yakuza/2.html
[ 24 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 76-77
[ 25 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 87
[ 26 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 88
[ 27 ]. Siniawer, Eiko Maruko. Ruffians, Yakuza, nationalists: the violent politics of modern Japan, 1860-1960. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008, pg 102
[ 28 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 83
[ 29 ]. Predators (directed by Nimrod Antal)
[ 30 ]. Saga, Junichi. Confessions of a yakuza: a life in Japan’s underworld. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1995, c1991. Pg 78
[ 31 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 105-106
[ 32 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 115
[ 33 ]. Siniawer, Eiko Maruko. Ruffians, Yakuza, nationalists: the violent politics of modern Japan, 1860-1960. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008 pg 25
[ 34 ]. Siniawer, Eiko Maruko. Ruffians, Yakuza, nationalists: the violent politics of modern Japan, 1860-1960. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008 pg 107
[ 35 ]. Siniawer, Eiko Maruko. Ruffians, Yakuza, nationalists: the violent politics of modern Japan, 1860-1960. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008 pg 91
[ 36 ]. The Yakuza, http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/gangsters_outlaws/gang/yakuza/3.html
[ 37 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 98
[ 38 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 31
[ 39 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 32
[ 40 ]. Hill, Peter B.E. The Japanese mafia: yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford University Press, 2003 pg 85…...

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