The Yakuza is an organized crime network of Japanese origin which is now worldwide. The Yakuza is a gigantic organized crime syndicate that has operated in and around Japan for hundreds of years. It has been one of the most powerful organizations on since the late 18th century, and its members are both respected and feared by the populace. Originally from Japan in the 2020s the organization reached out and have been established worldwide.
The word "Yakuza" comes from Sammai Karuta, a Japanese gambling game. In which getting 19 points is the ideal. If you drew the number 20 which was Eight (Ya), Nine (Ku), and Three (Za), it was called "good for nothing".
The Yakuza has spread globally as successfully as the Japanese corporations. In the Yakuza there are only two paths, death or prison. They are among the most violent of all organized crime groups and possibly the most widespread. It has a larger membership than the Mafia. They are based in the Osaka region back in Japan. Due to extensive infiltration of the local police in Japan by the Yakuza, the National Police Agency (Japan's FBI) has been unable to crack the Yakuza which is made worse by the pressure placed on the overworked police by the Yakuza-influenced Osaka corporations.
It is involved in a wide variety of criminal activities, from smuggling to gambling, the drug trade to prostitution, and so on. Unlike the Triads who invest a large part of their profits back into the community, the Yakuza like the Sudams and some of the Mafia organizations shows no concern for its community and is concerned only about making money.
Despite uncertainty about the single origin of yakuza organizations, most modern yakuza derive from two classifications which emerged in the mid-Edo period (1603–1868): tekiya, those who primarily peddled illicit, stolen, or shoddy goods; and bakuto, those who were involved in or participated in gambling.
Tekiya (peddlers) were considered one of the lowest social groups during the Edo period. As they began to form organizations of their own, they took over some administrative duties relating to commerce, such as stall allocation and protection of their commercial activities. During Shinto festivals, these peddlers opened stalls and some members were hired to act as security. Each peddler paid rent in exchange for a stall assignment and protection during the fair.
The tekiya were a highly structured and hierarchical group with the oyabun (boss) at the top and kobun (gang members) at the bottom. This hierarchy resembles a structure similar to the family as the oyabun was often regarded as a surrogate father, and the kobun as surrogate children. During the Edo period, the tekiya were formally recognized by the government. At this time, the oyabun were appointed as supervisors and granted near-samurai status, meaning they were allowed the dignity of a surname and two swords.
Bakuto (gamblers) had a much lower social standing even than traders, as gambling was illegal. Many small gambling houses cropped up in abandoned temples or shrines at the edge of towns and villages all over Japan. Most of these gambling houses ran loan sharking businesses for clients, and they usually maintained their own security personnel. The places themselves, as well as the bakuto, were regarded with disdain by society at large, and much of the undesirable image of the Yakuza originates from bakuto; this includes the name Yakuza itself.
Because of the economic situation during the mid-period and the predominance of the merchant class, developing Yakuza groups were composed of misfits and delinquents that had joined or formed Yakuza groups to extort customers in local markets by selling fake or shoddy goods.
The roots of the Yakuza can still be seen today in initiation ceremonies, which incorporate tekiya or bakuto rituals. Although the modern Yakuza has diversified, some gangs still identified with one group or the other.
By 2020, the Yakuza had spread throughout the world, much like the Japanese corporations. They were now major Yakuza clans in the NUSA and the EEC. Within the NUSA, Night City became the base for the rest of Northern California. The Kanzaki clan was the main family in charge of all their operations. This served as a port for their illegal imports from Osaka and Kobe.
During the formation of the Yakuza, they adopted the traditional Japanese hierarchical structure of oyabun-kobun where kobun (子分; lit. foster child) owe their allegiance to the oyabun (親分, lit. foster parent). In a much later period, the code of jingi (仁義, justice and duty) was developed where loyalty and respect are a way of life.
The oyabun-kobun relationship is formalized by ceremonial sharing of sake from a single cup. This ritual is not exclusive to the Yakuza—it is also commonly performed in traditional Japanese Shinto weddings, and may have been a part of sworn brotherhood relationships.
During the World War II period in Japan, the more traditional tekiya/bakuto form of organization declined as the entire population was mobilised to participate in the war effort and society came under strict military government. However, after the war, the Yakuza adapted again.
Prospective Yakuza come from all walks of life. The most romantic tales tell how Yakuza accept sons who have been abandoned or exiled by their parents. Many Yakuza start out in junior high school or high school as common street thugs or members of bōsōzoku gangs. Perhaps because of its lower socio-economic status, numerous Yakuza members come from Burakumin and ethnic Korean backgrounds.
Yakuza groups are headed by an oyabun or kumichō (組長, family head) who gives orders to his subordinates, the kobun. In this respect, the organization is a variation of the traditional Japanese senpai-kōhai (senior-junior) model. Members of Yakuza gangs cut their family ties and transfer their loyalty to the gang boss. They refer to each other as family members - fathers and elder and younger brothers. The Yakuza is populated almost entirely by men and the very few women who are acknowledged are the wives of bosses, who are referred to by the title ane-san (姐さん, older sister). When the 3rd Yamaguchi-gumi boss (Kazuo Taoka) died in the early 1980s, his wife (Fumiko) took over as boss of Yamaguchi-gumi, albeit for a short time.
Yakuza have a complex organizational structure. There is an overall boss of the syndicate, the kumicho, and directly beneath him are the saiko komon (senior advisor) and so-honbucho (headquarters chief). The second in the chain of command is the wakagashira, who governs several gangs in a region with the help of a fuku-honbucho who is himself responsible for several gangs. The regional gangs themselves are governed by their local boss, the shateigashira.
Each member's connection is ranked by the hierarchy of sakazuki (sake sharing). Kumicho are at the top, and control various saikō-komon (最高顧問, senior advisors). The saikō-komon control their own turfs in different areas or cities. They have their own underlings, including other underbosses, advisors, accountants and enforcers.
Those who have received sake from oyabun are part of the immediate family and ranked in terms of elder or younger brothers. However, each kobun, in turn, can offer sakazuki as oyabun to his underling to form an affiliated organisation, which might in turn form lower ranked organizations. In the Yamaguchi-gumi, which controls some 2,500 businesses and 500 Yakuza groups, there are fifth rank subsidiary organizations.
Yubitsume, or the cutting off of one's finger, is a form of penance or apology. Upon a first offense, the transgressor must cut off the tip of his left little finger and give 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. This practice has started to wane amongst the younger members, due to it being an easy identifier for police.
Its origin stems from the traditional way of holding a Japanese sword. The bottom three fingers of each hand are used to grip the sword tightly, with the thumb and index fingers slightly loose. The removal of digits starting with the little finger moving up the hand to the index finger progressively weakens a person's sword grip.
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 distinctive appearance.
Many Yakuza have full-body tattoos (including their genitalia). 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 handheld tools with needles of sharpened bamboo or steel. The procedure is expensive, painful, and can take years to complete.
When Yakuza members play Oicho-Kabu cards with each other, they often remove their shirts or open them up and drape them around their waists. This enables 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-sleeved and high-necked shirts. When new members join, they are often required to remove their trousers as well and reveal any lower body tattoos.
- Mihoshi Oni (Former member and hitwoman for Yakuza)
- "The Knife" (Yakuza hitman)
- Himari Kamimura (Ex-Yakuza Slave)
- Sakamoto Koji (Ex-Yakuza Member)
- Ohashi Fujita (Yakuza member and hitman from Okinawa, Japan)
- Savage Doc (Has ties to the Yakuza families in Night City)
- Hazumi Ihara (Yakuza's daughter)
- Jigen Kyusho (Leader of the Winter Dragon Yakuza clan's Night City branch)
- Hichigo Kanzaki (Yakuza oyabun from Kobe, Japan and currently based in Night City, United States of America)
- Hitome Kanzaki (Hichigo Kanzaki's wife and the mother of Shin Kanzaki and Yasume Kanzaki)
- Shin Kanzaki (The oldest son of Hichigo Kanzaki and Hitome Kanzaki, and the older brother of Yasume Kanzaki)
- Yasume Kanzaki (The youngest daughter of Hichigo Kanzaki and Hitome Kanzaki and the younger sister of Shin Kanzaki)
- Yamaguchi-gumi (Kobe, 50% of Japan)
- Sumiyoshi-kai (Tokyo)
- Inagawa-kai (Kanto Region)
- Aizukotetsu-kai (Aizu,in the Fukushima Prefecture)
Yakuza go into extensive body tattooing, which is used to identify what clan they are affiliated with. Body tattooing is seen by the Yakuza, like the street gangs see their "Colors". Though they don't publicly display them, the Yakuza are proud of their tattoos.
Failure is not accepted among the Yakuza and if one fails, a digit (piece of a finger) must be removed in a ritual called the Yubitsume. Among the Yakuza, they are exceptionally courteous and the smallest breach in conduct results in either Yubitsume or a mob war. They are big on gift-giving and Yakuza that are visiting always pay tribute to the clan or gang chiefs.
One of the oldest of Yakuza traditions is centered around body tattoos, which signify family allegiance. Each family has its own special set of markings which distinguishes it from all other Yakuza families. For example, as its symbols, a family might choose the geisha, the cherry blossom, and the chrysanthemum. The dragon, a symbol of the Yakuza as a whole, is a symbol of all Yakuza families as well.
After a new soldier performs his first valuable service for the family, the family head sends him to be tattooed. Each family maintains its own tattoo artist especially for this purpose. This first tattoo covers the small of the soldier's back and colorfully incorporates as many of the family symbols as the tattoo artist sees fit. As a soldier performs more and more valuable services, he is constantly sent back to the tattoo artist to have the size of the original tattoo expanded.
By the time the soldier rises to the top of the ranks, his entire back is covered with the tattoo, into which the symbols of the family have been spun and re-spun many times over. Even though the rise of 3327' s syndicates has lessened the importance of the family structure, the ritual tattooing is still practiced. Usually, soldiers are tattooed with the family symbols of the underdairnyo to which they have been assigned, though syndicate head Sebaru has created a whole new set of symbols for his followers.
Although their activities are outside the law, the Yakuza have always been respected by the Japanese people as much as they have been feared. This respect is due to the crime syndicates self-appointed role as a supplemental police force, an "alternative good," a capacity in which they have served for more than 100 years. This "protection of the populace" manifests itself in two ways.
First, the Yakuza has always used all of its available muscle to stamp out non-Yakuza approved crime. And since the Yakuza code of honor does not approve of random street crimes or common thefts, these types of crimes were once very rare in Japan. Before 3327's arrival, Japan's extremely low crime rate was a testimony to the power of the Yakuza. Those who were foolish enough to attempt to make a living as a common mugger or pickpocket soon found themselves strangled by Yakuza assassins and dumped in the ocean.
Second, the Yakuza was always available to the average Japanese citizen as "justice for hire.'' When a citizen believed he had been wronged by another, he could go to the local Yakuza boss (everyone always knew where to find him) and present his case. The boss would then decide whether or not there was any validity to the claim. If the boss decided that the claim was indeed valid, he would order his soldiers to exact justice upon the wrong doer for a fee, the amount of which was based upon the victim's ability to pay.
Here is an example of how this might work: suppose a crooked businessman had sold a farmer some bad insurance, which later failed to compensate the farmer for seasonal damage to his crops. The farmer would then go to the local Yakuza daimyo, who would hear his case. Uthedaimyo was convinced that the farmer had been wronged, he'd send out some soldiers to visit the businessman and exact justice. In this case, the soldiers would probably threaten to kill the businessman unless he himself paid the farmer the complete costs of the crop damage plus another 50 percent of the costs for his trouble. Out of this 50 percent, the Yakuza daimyo would get 20 percent for his services. The penalties exacted by the Yakuza soldiers under these circumstances could range from small payments to death.
Before the reorganization, public sympathy for the Yakuza extended all the way up to the authorities, who frequently declined to investigate Yakuza activities and prosecute captured soldiers. In return for this protection, however, the Yakuza had to stay within certain "invisible barriers." Murder was always frowned upon by the authorities, and soldiers who became too violent or uncontrollable would usually end up behind bars.
Yakuza in the Real World
The Yakuza have had mixed relations with Japanese society. They function as a police force in their areas of operation, to help reduce crime (that would be their competition). They also provide protection to businesses and relief in times of disaster. These actions have painted Yakuza in a fairly positive light within Japan. However, gang-wars, and the use of violence as a tool have caused their approval to fall with the general public.
Yakuza in the Media
The Yakuza have been in media and culture in many different fashions. Creating its own genre of movies within Japan's film industry, the portrayal of the Yakuza mainly manifests in one of two archetypes; they are portrayed as either honorable and respectable men or as criminals who use fear and violence as their means of operation. Movies like Battles Without Honor and Humanity and Dead or Alive portray some of the members as violent criminals, with the focus being on the violence, while other movies focus more on the "business" side of the Yakuza.
The video game series Yakuza, launched in 2005, portrays the actions of several different ranking members of the Yakuza throughout the series. The series addresses some of the same themes as the Yakuza genre of film does, like violence, honor, politics of the syndicates, etc. The series has been successful; spawning sequels, spin-offs, a live action movie and a web TV series. There are numerous movies from Japan, USA, and son on that have portrayed Yakuza in different ways, this list contains a small example of the most popular media consisting of the crime organization.
- Black Rain
- Battles without Honor and Humanity
- Dead or Alive Series
- The Outsider
- Battles Without Honor or Humanity
- Ghost in the Shell
- The Yakuza
- Ichi The Killer
- Beyond Outrage
- The Yakuza in the real world can only be found in Japan and they rarely venture out of the country. The few times Yakuza left Japan was not to establish bases or settlements, but more for importing drugs, guns, or prostitutes in Japan.
- The Yakuza, while not particularly caring, do not wish for chaos in Japan and if needed they do actually help people during Tsunami or Earthquake disasters.
- The Yakuza keep to themselves and try to never involve bystanders, unless they are directly involved with them. Going into massage parlors, bars, or restaurants owned by the Yakzua doesn't mean you are in danger, they will leave you alone unless something breaks than actually might blame you and ask you to pay. The Yakuza have a lot of in-fighting, but it does not extend to the outside world.
- Ironically the Yakuza despite being played up as the most dangerous crime organization in the world, they are not dangerous unless directly evolved. Directly evolved meaning if you reached out to them for drugs, guns, or prostitutes.
- The Yakuza make it known that they do not welcome anyone who conducts petty crime. Pick pocketing, robbery, bar fights, and so on are just a few examples they do not tolerate. In the minds of the Yakuza they are above that idea of petty crime and do not need to part take in it.
- PASQUARETTE, C. Pacific Rim Sourcebook. 1st ed., Berkeley, CA, R. Talsorian Games, 1994.
- TANAKA, N. Nippon Sourcebook. 1st ed., Japan, Yellow Submarine, 1994.
- PASS, G. Protect & Serve. 1st ed., Berkeley, CA, R. Talsorian Games, 1992.
- RAMOS, J. Eurosource Plus. 1st ed., Berkeley, CA, R. Talsorian Games, 1995.
- PONDSMITH, M. Night City Sourcebook. 1st ed., Berkeley, CA, R. Talsorian Games, 1991.