Yakuza images reveal the hierarchy that structures the organization. An obsequious flunky lights a cigarette for a gang leader, who poses with the self-conscious cool of a Hollywood villain; a human pit-bull stands with a bandana tied round his head. Punctuated by gaudy street posters covered in Japanese kanji, the background landscape reveals aged prostitutes, nervous salary men, and the occasional badly beaten victim: in a key image, a major altercation has evidently broken out over a game of Go.

Female Yakuza Tale: Inquisition and Torture
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“In terms of operating style the yakuza are not back-alley outfits; they function like large corporations. Like any major business enterprise the crime groups maintain offices that prominently display each group’s logo. Members sport lapel pins and carry business cards identifying their positions within the syndicate. Some gangs even publish their own magazines and internal telephone directories. The almost 9-to-5 normalcy of a typical yakuza member’s day contrasts with that of American ethnic crime groups, which often conduct business in out-of-the-way places and at unusual hours”. Like their counterparts in the legitimate business world, Japanese crime groups appear to be highly profitable entities. While estimating income is difficult given the largely covert nature of yakuza activities, NPA speculated that in 1989 Japanese organized Crime groups earned at least Y1.3 trillion ($9.6 billion at Y135=$1.00). Of this total, Japanese police estimate that about one-third comes from the sale of drugs (primarily amphetamines), another third derives from gambling, extortion and intervention in civil affairs and the remainder comes from miscellaneous activities. Like the mafia, the yakuza power structure is a pyramid with a patriarch on top and loyal underlings of various ranks below him. The Mafia hierarchy is relatively simple. The capo (boss) rules the family with the assistance of his under boss and consigliore (counselor). On the next level, captains run crews of soldiers who all have associates (men who have not been officially inducted into the Mafia) to do their bidding.

The yakuza system is similar but more intricate. The guiding principle of the yakuza structure is the oyabun-kobun relationship. Oyabun literally means, “Father role”; kobun means “child role.” When a man is accepted into the yakuza, he must accept this relationship. He must promise unquestioning loyalty and obedience to his boss. The oyabun, like any good father, is obliged to provide protection and good counsel to his children. However, as the old Japanese saying states, “If your boss says the passing crow is white, then you must agree.” As the yakuza put it, a kobun must be willing to be a teppodama (bullet) for his oyabun.

The levels of management within the yakuza structure are much more complex than the Mafia’s. Immediately under the kumicho (supreme boss) are the saiko komon (senior adviser) and the so-honbucho (headquarters chief). The wakagashira (number-two man) is a regional boss responsible for governing many gangs; he is assisted by the fuku-honbucho, who is responsible for several gangs of his own. A lesser regional boss is a shateigashira, and he commonly has a hateigashira-hosa to assist him. A typical yakuza crime family will also have dozens of shatei (younger brothers) and many wakashu (junior leaders). A successful candidate for admission into the Mafia must participate in a ceremony where his trigger finger is pricked and the blood smeared on the picture of a saint, which is then set on fire and must burn in the initiate’s hands as he swears his loyalty to the family.

“In the yakuza initiation ceremony, the blood is symbolized by sake (rice wine). The oyabun and the initiate sit face-to-face as their sake is prepared by azukarinin (guarantors). The sake is mixed with salt and fish scales, and then carefully poured into cups. The oyabun’s cup is filled to the brim, befitting his status; the initiate gets much less. They drink a bit, and then exchange cups, and each drinks from the other’s cup.” The kobun has then sealed his commitment to the family. From that moment on, even the kobun’s wife and children must take a backseat to his obligations to his yakuza family.

The yakuza is an all men’s society. They do not trust women. The only visible woman in the group is the boss’ wife, called ane-san. Ane-san means “older sister.” All members give her the same respect as the boss because she is his wife. However, she does not get involved in the business. Her position in the group is the boss’ wife, and not a member of a group.

The yakuza do not trust women because they believe that women are e weak. They believe that women cannot fight like men, that women are not born to fight. To a yakuza member, the most important thing is courage. If there is a battle, you must be ready to fight to the death, rather than lose the battle. Yakuza members must be willing to die for their boss. They feel women are born to be mothers and to take care of their husbands. This may sound old-fashioned, but all yakuza members believe that women should stay home and take care of the children and not meddle in men’s business.

Another reason the yakuza do not allow women in their organization is that no one can talk about the group to outsiders. The yakuza do not believe that women are strong enough to keep silent if interrogated by the police or their enemies. If anyone speaks out, that will be the end of the group. For all of these reasons, the yakuza are a man’s society.

The yakuza have their own unique way of apologizing when they make a mistake, or do something wrong. It is called “Yubizume. ” Yubizume is the act of cutting off their little finger and giving it to the person they are apologizing to. In the yakuza society, if an m ember is jailed for any reason, he gains prestige when he is released from police custody

The yakuza mainly make their living through unlawful b businesses, such as gambling, drugs, prostitution and loan-sharking. Most of the money comes from gambling, most often from dice games. Each group has its own gambling room, which is usually behind a bar or restaurant. Food and drinks are served, but the e main purpose is gambling. The group chooses the gamblers. If they do not know them, they cannot gamble. The yakuza do not want the police to know about their business.

The yakuza also make money from prostitution. They hire young girls whose are younger than eighteen years old. There are many ways to make a profit from this business, but the most popular one is the “date club.” Some groups make more than a million dollars a month from this business. The date club is a men’s club. There is a membership fee of at least one thousand dollars to join. Most of the customers are the rich middle-aged men, such as doctors, lawyers, and company presidents. Club members are shown young girls’ pictures to choose from, and a date with the chosen girl is arranged. The men then have to pay a fee of about two hundred dollars for the date, and all expenses. After the date, the customer calls the club and tells them whether they liked the girl, and whether or not they would like another date. To have sex with the girl can cost at least one thousand dollars. The hiring of high school students as prostitutes is against the law. However, some high school students are willing to work as prostitutes as they can earn much more money than from any other part-time job.

Most of the money that the yakuza make is spent on the purchase of weapons. Each group has its own territory. The territory is very important to the yakuza. When they do business, they cannot break into each other group’s territory. If one group tries to break into another’s territory it must be protected, usually through violence.

In Japan, the general public cannot have a weapon without a permit, but the yakuza do not respect the law. Many citizens become victims of the yakuza’s battles. When they are fighting, each group tries to kill the boss of the other group, because a group without a boss is weak and has no power to fight. For all members, the boss is God. Without him, they cannot do anything. Whoever wins the battle takes over the group that lost and their territory.

It is easy to see why the yakuza are so famous in many countries, and feared and hated by many people. The yakuza do not follow the law. They also have illegal businesses, and have had many battles, which have killed innocent citizens. This continues to be one of the biggest social problems in Japan.

If a yakuza member displeases or severely disappoints his boss, the punishment is often yubizume, the amputation of the last joint of the little finger. A second offense will require the severing of the second joint of that finger, and additional offenses might require moving on to the next finger. A man knows that he must commit yubizume when his immediate superior gives him a knife and a string to staunch the bleeding. Words are not necessary. The origin of this practice dates back to the days of the samurai. Removing part of the smallest finger weakens the hand for holding the sword. When a katana (the samurai long sword) is gripped properly, the pinkie is the strongest finger. The ring finger is the second strongest, middle finger third strongest, and the index finger does almost nothing. With a damaged hand, the swordsman became more dependent on his master for protection. Today this ritual maiming is entirely symbolic, but it serves to make a point with delinquent kobun, and it shows that the yakuza, like their Mafia counterparts, abide by the old saying: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Like the Mafia, the yakuza in recent years have been forced to lower their standards when recruiting new members, and as a result some feel that they are neither as organized nor as powerful as they once were. In the past, choice recruits came from the traditional bakuto (gambler) and tekiya (peddler) classes, but today a rebel spirit and a willingness to commit crime for an oyabun is all that is necessary to join the yakuza ranks. Most new members currently come from the bosozuku (speed tribes), street punks known for their love of motorcycles.

This lowering of standards has led to the Japanese National Police Agency adopting the term boryokudan ({the violent ones}) for the yakuza, lumping them in with other criminal groups. The yakuza, which treasure their ancestral ties to the old samurai, reject the term and consider it an insult.

The origin of the yakuza is a matter of some debate. Some feel that its members are descendents of the 17th-century kabuki-mono (crazy ones), outlandish samurai who reveled in outlandish clothing and hairstyles, spoke in elaborate slang, and carried unusually long swords in their belts. The kabuki-mono was also known as hatamoto-yakko (servants of the shogun). During the Tokugawa era, an extended period of peace in Japan, the services of these samurai were no longer needed, and so they became leaderless ronin (wave man). Without the guidance of a strong hand, they eventually shifted their focus from community service to theft and mayhem.

Modern yakuza members refute this theory and instead proclaim they to be the descendents of the machi-yokko (servants of the town) who protected their villages from the wayward hatamoto-yakko. The official yakuza history portrays the group’s ancestors as underdog folk heroes who stood up for the poor and the defenseless, just as Robin Hood helped the peasants of medieval England.

Current yakuza members fall under three general categories: tekiya (street peddlers), bakuto (gamblers), and gurentai (hoodlums). The peddlers and gamblers trace their roots back to the 18th century while the hoodlums came into existence after World War II when the demand for black market goods created a booming industry. Traditionally the tekiya, medieval Japan’s version of snake-oil salesmen, worked the fairs and markets while the bakuto worked the towns and highways. The gurentai, by contrast, modeled themselves on American gangsters of the Al Capone era, using threats and extortion to achieve their ends. After World War II, in the governmental power void caused by the Occupation, the gurentai prospered, and their ranks swelled. They also brought organized crime in Japan to a new level of violence, replacing the traditional sword with modern firearms, even though guns were now officially outlawed in the country as a result of the surrender.

Yakuza also satisfy the desire of would-be gun owners in Japan, where guns of all kinds are prohibited. Yakuza members themselves are the prime market for firearms, and they favor the sleekest automatic handguns from Europe and America, often trading drugs for weapons. The yakuza specialize in the production and sales of met amphetamine (given the frenetic pace and competitive atmosphere of Japanese society, speed is the national drug of choice) and the yakuza frequently use it to barter with Western arms suppliers.

The yakuza also make millions of dollars a year through corporate extortion, and the sokaiya (shareholders’ meeting men) are the masters of this enterprise. Sokaiya will buy a small number of shares in a company so that they can attend shareholders’ meetings. In preparation for the meeting, the sokaiya gather damaging information about the company and its officers; secret mistresses, tax evasion, unsafe factory conditions, and pollution are all fodder for the sokaiya. They will then contact the company’s management and threaten to disclose whatever embarrassing information they have at the shareholders’ meeting unless they are “compensated.” If management does not give in to their demands, the sokaiya go to the shareholders’ meeting and raise hell, shouting down anyone who dares to speak, making a boisterous display of their presence, and shouting out their damaging revelations. In Japan, where people fear embarrassment and shame much more than physical threats, executives usually give the sokaiya whatever they want.

Organized crime groups in Japan — known loosely as the yakuza — in recent years have proven to be far more than gangs of thugs that oversee extortion, gambling, prostitution and other “traditional” gangster activities. Developments during the past year have revealed that the yakuza, having bought up real estate and stocks in the late 1980s, are playing a bigger hand in the Japanese economy. While organized crime groups for much of the postwar period have enjoyed an unusual degree of tolerance by the Japanese public as well as the police, recent scandals involving billions of yen linked to yakuza-related firms or individuals have sounded alarms in Tokyo. There is increasing concern in some business and government quarters that the Japanese underworld is developing the sort of financial muscle that could threaten the economic order.

“The exotic appearance of yakuza members and their peculiar samurai-type rituals (the top of a gang member’s smallest digit is severed and presented to his leader as atonement for a grievous error) certainly distinguish the Japanese mob from underworld syndicates based in the United States and Europe. The yakuza in recent years have diversified their portfolio of illegal activities to include loan sharking, company racketeering and extortion-type intervention in civil disputes and real estate transactions.”

“Possibly buying into the yakuza’s Robin Hood image, ordinary Japanese citizens at times turn not to lawyers and the courts but to mobsters to help them resolve civil disputes that would be extremely difficult, time-consuming and expensive to pursue through the Japanese legal system. These disputes primarily concern private and commercial debts and personal injuries, although organized crime experts also believe that the mob is involved in the settlement of most automobile accident cases. While the yakuza in these instances may be regarded as filling a need created by the dearth of lawyers in Japan, gangsters — being outside the law — also have been known to initiate traffic accidents as one means of extorting money from people.”

The yakuza’s motives rarely are above reproach. One could argue that gangsters, in fact, have learned how to exploit effectively the Japanese tendency to utilize personal relations, rather than legal measures, to resolve disputes.

This is not to suggest that Japanese police completely look the other way when it comes to the mob. Over the years Japanese law enforcement officials, who have been admired the world over for their high standard of discipline, have staged numerous raids on various yakuza offices. These assaults have tended, however, to be more a show of police muscle than a genuine attempt to shut down gangster operations.

One of the main reasons that the yakuza can operate “aboveground” is because the groups are not illegal. There are no statutes in Japan comparable to this country’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970. RICO authorizes U.S. law enforcement officials to investigate and to ultimately arrest any individual, partnership, corporation, association or other legal entity as well as any union or group of individuals “associated in fact” for engaging in a pattern of criminal activities in furtherance of racketeering. Organized crime experts also note that weaknesses in Japan’s criminal law also have made it difficult to prosecute the perpetrators of bribery, extortion, money laundering or other yakuza lines of business.

Public Acceptance – Until recently there has been an unusually high degree of tolerance by the Japanese public for the yakuza. As long as mobsters did not prove too disruptive, the police, in particular, stayed out of their way. Some analysts attribute this acceptance to the yakuza’s skill at public relations and the fact that the public has come to rely on gangsters to satisfy certain economic, political, legal or societal needs that the government cannot, or will not, address.

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