Some establishments in Tokyo prohibit the entrance to
persons with visible tattoos, because yakuzas still keep the
tradition of tattooing the whole body.
Yakuza (in Japanese: , also known as gokudō are the
members of traditional organizations of organized crime
existing in Japan. The Japanese police calls them as
bōryokudan (暴力団, literally “violence groups”), while
Yakuza proclaim themselves as "ninkyō dantai" (任侠団体
or 仁侠団体, “chivalrous organizations”).
Yakuza appearedas criminalassociations andobeyed to specific and rigorous rules. With
time, they began to influence severalsegments of the Japanese society and politics. They
were born by the beginning of the XVII century, in the great urban centres of Osaka and
Edo (current Tokyo), under the aegis of the gang leaders. Yakuza gather varied categories:
At first were professional gamblers and wanderers. To those later joined the samurais that,
starting since 1603, with the end of feudal wars and “Tokugawa Peace" kingdomfor 250
years, had seen themselves without masters,therefore threatenedof banishment.
In Yakuza’s social hierarchy, below samurais, artisans and trade men were the hinin (not
human) and eta (tainted/maculate). “Hinin" were jailers, hangmen e show-business related
people. “Eta” were related to animalslaughter jobs (in Shinto and Buddhismevery work
involving death andbloodwas tainted).
Yakuza was an exclusively malesociety.They believedthat women were made to be mothers
and take care of their husbands, that they shouldn’t stuck their noses into men’s
businesses.Another motivefor which women weren’t accepted on Yakuza is that no one
should talk about the group to outsiders, and they believedthat women weren’t strong
enough to keep quiet in case they were interrogated by the police or an enemy. That kept
going on until the 1990’s, actually there are women that operate on Yakuza and hold the
highest ranks within the groups, but to enter, depending on the function,they must go
through several tests. Actually young people and students are also recruited, for infiltration
on the so-called “domination areas”, as they don’t wear tattoos, but still they are required to
learn how to handle weapons, such as blades, nunchuks, firearms, and another.
Yakuzas are organized to the resemblance of a family,having perhaps the harshest of the
hierarchies within the underworld. The “Oyabun” (father) is the boss, the "wakashu” his sons
and "kyodai” his brothers. Everyone must own total obedience andloyalty to the oyabun,
and in exchangehe offers protection to everyone from his clan. Members must not fear
dying for their oyabun and must agree with everything he says.
There are two types of yakuza: those that belong to a clan andthe autonomous ones. As
they don't belong to any clan,autonomous yakuzas have great difficulties to operate,since
groups don’t' allowthem to operate in their territories. Clans are used to used pay them in
order to realise dirty jobs in which oyabuns don't want their clans to get involved or to work
as spies. If the autonomous yakuza is ambitious andskilled enough, he can create a group
from point zero, but generally, when he's not assassinated,he ends up joining an existing
Name Description Symbol
Created on 1915 it’s the largest family of
Yakuza, has more than 40 thousandmembers
and it’s divided in 750clans. Its current oyabun
is Kenichi Shinoda.
(住吉会, also known as
It’s the second largest family on Yakuza, with
more than 10 thousand members, dividedin
177 clans. Its current Oyabun is Shigeo
Nishiguchi. They're the death rivals of
It’s the third largest family of Yakuza,has more
than 7 thousand members and it’s divided in
177 clans. Its current Oyabun is Kakuji Inagawa.
It was the first Yakuza family operating outside
and inside Japan.
It’s the fourth largest family of Yakuza,has
about one thousand members and it’s divided
in 6 clans. Its current Oyabun is Satoru
Nomura. It was the first Japanese Yakuza being
created in Korea.
Within Yakuza members obligations these are the “top ones”:
Don't hide money fromyour gang;
No personal involvement with narcotic people;
You can’t search for law or police members;
You can’t rape another member’s wife;
Don’t disobey superior orders;
You can’t leave evidence after the crime;
Don’t kill anyonefrom the gang without permission from a supervisor.
Yakuza created a status and a code of conduct based on the relations of fidelity between the
godfather (oyabun) and his protected one (kobun). The consagration ceremony consists on
the exchange of sakecups and it represents one's entry on a clan andthe bonds of blood
created since then.
Yubitsume, or the cutting of one's finger, is a form of penance or apology. Upon a first
offence, the transgressor must cut off the tip of his left little finger and hand the severed
portion to his boss. Sometimes an underboss may do this in penance to the Oyabun if he
wants to spare a member of his own gang from further retaliation.
Its origin stems from the traditional way of holding a Japanesesword. The bottom three
fingers of each hand are used to grip the sword tightly,with the thumb and index fingers
slightly loose. The removalof digits starting with the little finger moving up the hand to the
index finger progressively weakens a person's swordgrip.
The idea is that a person with a weak sword grip then has to rely more on the group for
protection—reducing individual action. In recent years,prosthetic fingertips have been
developed to disguise this distinctiveappearance.
Many Yakuza have full-body tattoos. These tattoos, known as “Irezumi” in Japan, are still
often "hand-poked", that is, the ink is inserted beneath the skin using non-electrical, hand-
made and hand held tools with needles of sharpenedbamboo or steel. The procedureis
expensive and painful andcan takeyears to complete.
When yakuza members play Oicho-Kabu (similar to the Western Blackjack) cards with each
other, they often remove their shirts or open them up and drape them aroundtheir waists.
This allows them to display their full-body tattoos to each other. This is one of the few times
that yakuza members display their tattoos to others, as they normally keep them concealed
in public with long-sleevedand high-necked shirts. When new members join, they are often
required to remove their pants as well and reveal any lower body tattoos.
The sons’ boss is named Wakagashira,and for the brothers goes by
Shateigashira.Wakagashira comes in the secondplace on authority,coming right after the
oyabun, and he serves as an intermediary to check if orders are being followed. Shateigashira
comes in the third place in terms of authority.
Each son can create his own gang andso on, resulting in the formation of varied sub-
families. Each one obeys to the leader of its gang, but still it’s the oyabun that gives the final
word for all.
When the boss dies and there’s no one that can replacehim immediately it's his wife that
takes temporarily charge of the group.
A typical family has around20 to 200 members, what can assure to the entire clan a
number surpassing a thousandmen. The families which have yakuza members go generally
by the root name of Shibatsu, Yakasa, Shiatsuta,Tashiro, Tonaco, Shematse, Tokesho,
When an individual joins the Yakuza society many clans don't allowthat he gets out from
the group later, doubting he may leak some information.
Much of the current activities of the yakuza can be understood in the light of their feudal
origin. First, they are not a secret society like their counterparts of the Italian Mafia and the
Chinese Triad Society. Yakuza organizations often have an officewith a wooden board on
the front door, openly displaying their group name or emblem.
Until recently, the majority of Yakuza incomecame from protection rackets in shopping,
entertainment and red-light districts within their territory.This is mainly due to the
reluctance of such businesses to seek help from the police. The Japanese police are also
reluctant to interfere in internalmatters in recognized communities such as shopping
arcades, schools/universities, night districts and so on.
Yakuza are heavily involvedin sex-related industries, such as smuggling uncensored
pornography from Europe and America into Japan (as the pornography in Japan is censored
in ways Western pornography is not). They alsocontrol large prostitution rings throughout
the country. In China, where the law restricts the number of children per household and the
cultural preference is for boys, the yakuza can buy unwantedgirls for as little as $5,000 and
put them to work in the “Mizu-Shobaï”, which means water trade andrefers to the night
entertainment business, in yakuza-controlledbars, nightclubs and restaurants.