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 Chinese triads. Yakuza organizations often have an office with a wooden board on the front door, openly displaying their group name or emblem. Members often wear sunglasses and colourful suits so that their profession can be immediately recognized by civilians (katagi). Even the way many Yakuza walk is markedly different from ordinary citizens. Their arrogant, wide gait is markedly different from the quiet, unassuming way many Japanese go about their business. Alternatively, Yakuza can dress more conservatively and flash their tattoos to indicate their affiliation when the need arises. On occasion they also sport insignia pins on their lapels. One Yakuza family even printed a monthly newsletter with details on prisons, weddings, funerals, murders, and poems by leaders.

Until recently, the majority of yakuza income came 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 internal matters in recognized communities such as shopping arcades, schools/universities, night districts and so on. In this sense, yakuza are still regarded as semi-legitimate organizations. For example, immediately after the Kobe earthquake, the Yamaguchi-gumi, whose headquarters are in Kobe, mobilised itself to provide disaster relief services (including the use of a helicopter), and this was widely reported by the media as a contrast to the much slower response by the Japanese government. For this reason, many yakuza regard their income and hustle (shinogi) as a collection of a feudal tax.

Yakuza are heavily involved in sex-related industries, smuggling ography from Europe and America into Japan. They also control 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 unwanted girls for as little as $5,000 and put them to work in the mizu shōbai, which means ‘water trade’ and refers to the night entertainment business, in yakuza-controlled bars, nightclubs and restaurants. The Philippines are another source of young women. Yakuza trick girls from impoverished villages into coming to Japan, where they are promised respectable jobs with good wages. Instead, they are forced into becoming prostitutes and strippers. Often the girls succumb to the demands of their pimps, since they are earning more money than they ever could in the Philippines.

Yakuza frequently engage in a uniquely Japanese form of extortion, known as sōkaiya. In essence, this is a specialized form of protection racket. Instead of harassing small businesses, the yakuza harasses a stockholders’ meeting of a larger corporation. They simply scare the ordinary stockholder with the presence of yakuza operatives, who obtain the right to attend the meeting by a small purchase of stock. They also engage in simple blackmail, obtaining incriminating or embarrassing information about a company’s practices or leaders. Once the yakuza gain a foothold in these companies, they will work for them to protect the company from having such internal scandals exposed to the public. Some companies still include payoffs as part of their annual budget.

The Yakuza have a strong influence in Japanese professional wrestling, or puroresu. Most of their interest in wrestling activities and promotions is purely financial. The Yakuza have mostly gotten involved by financially supporting wrestling promotions with fading fortunes, or simple business loans. Many venues used by wrestling (arenas, stadiums, and so forth) are owned by or connected to the Yakuza, and as such, when a promotion uses one of their sites, the Yakuza receive a percentage of the gate. The Yakuza as a whole is regarded as a great supporter of both puroresu and MMA. It’s not unusual for wrestlers to receive specific instructions on what to do in their matches so as to appeal just to Yakuza members in the crowd. It is thought in Japan that it is safe to say that none of the large wrestling promotions in Japan would fold, because they would be rescued by the Yakuza. The pioneer of wrestling in Japan, Rikidozan, was killed by the Yakuza. Former WWE wrestler Yoshihiro Tajiri was asked to start a Yakuza gimmick, an offer he quickly refused, fearing that he would be targeted by the real Yakuza. Professional wrestler Yoshiaki Fujiwara is often referred to as “Kumicho” (i.e, “Godfather”) and his wrestling promotion was called the Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi. He often portrays Yakuza figures as an actor on Japanese television comedies and dramas.

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