Ruthless Facts About The Yakuza (2023)

“Honor without power was a useless decoration and power without honor was the simple flexing of muscle”― H.J. Brues, Yakuza Pride

The Yakuza are an extremely old crime syndicate with origins in Japan and a presence around the world.This infamous gang isknown forits stringent code of behavior and its feudal structure, reminiscent of the Samurai of old. It’s estimated that they have 102,000 members around the globe today, making them the largest criminal organization in the entire world. Extremely different from comparable syndicates around the world, the Yakuza can seem completely mystifying to those who grew up watching The Godfather andGoodfellas, so we’re pulling back the curtain to reveal 30 facts about this complicated and fascinating criminal institution.

30. Sinister Meet Ups


The Yakuza run bars called Host/Hostess clubs where patrons can meet a hostess or a host for drinks and conversation. Seems innocent enough, but what actually happens iswomen attend these clubs to have a “boyfriend experience,” and the host convinces themto buy more and more expensive drinks, for which the host gets a commission. At the end of the night, if the woman can’t pay her tab she is made to work offher debt through prostitution. Even worse, the Yakuza have a system set up that ensures these women, sometimes as young as teenagers, are never able to pay off their debts and areforced to become sex slaves.

29. Bloody War

One of the worst Yakuza wars in history took place in 1985, though it wasbuilding for a few years prior to that. The problem started when the oyabun (patriarch/father) of Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest Yakuza organization, died of natural causes. His second-in-command was in prison and it was decided that he would become leader when he got out. Unfortunately, he died in prison. The lieutenants elected a new leader, but a man named Hiroshi Yamamoto was unhappy with the outcome. He formedhis own gang, the Ichiwa-kai, and promptly shot the elected leader to death, starting the war. By the end of the conflict, 36 people were dead andmany more were injured.

28. Political Involvement

Yakuza are particularly large supporters and donors of Japan’s Right Wing Liberal Democratic Party, which has been in power for all but five years since 1955. They also help drum up support for the party by using their influence in rural areas where workers depend on their companies for work.

27. Samurai Heirs

The Yakuza have a lot in common with another famous Japanese institution: the Samurai. Their hierarchical structures are both founded in obedience and honor, they use violence to accomplish their goals, and they believe that pride and honor are of the utmost importance. Because of this, many people consider the Yakuza to be the modern heirs to the legacy of the Samurai.


26. A Bad Hand

The Yakuza get their name from the bakutofaction. In the Japanese card game Oicho-Kabu (a game similar to Baccarat), the cards ya-ku-sa are 8-9-3, the worst possible hand one can draw.

Ruthless Facts About The Yakuza (5)Flickr,

25. Different Views

The Japanese police and media refer to the Yakuza as bōryokudan, which means “violent group.” As for internally, the Yakuza refer to themselves asNinkyō dantai, whichmeans “chivalrous organizations.” I guess I wouldn’t want to name my own group after a dead hand in a card game.

Ruthless Facts About The Yakuza (6)Shutterstock

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24. Part of Society

Yakuza members are often considered to be a normal and accepted part of Japanese society—it’s not actually illegal to be a member. The police believed that outlawing the Yakuza entirely would only make them go underground and become even more dangerous.

23. US Operation

Over the years, the Yakuza have expanded their operation into the United States, with the largest concentration of members being in Hawaii. A member of the Sumiyoshi-kai syndicate worked with Hawaiian-based gangs to smuggle drugs and organized the smuggling of American guns into Japan.

22. Criminal Origins

The Yakuza are believed to have originated during the mid Edo period (1603-1868) from two separate groups of outcasts, the Tekiya (peddlers) and the Bakuto(gamblers). Both groups were of low rank in Japanese social standings, and gradually began to participate in more organized illegal activities.

Ruthless Facts About The Yakuza (10)

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21. From Head-to-Toe

One of the most common ways that a Yakuza sticks out is from their full-body tattoos. The custom originates from the bakuto, who would cover their bodies in colorful tattoos.The tattoos are called irezumi, and they typically cover the entire body with the exception of a stripe down the middle ofthe chest. Having a tattoo is a symbol of wealth, and they also prove a man’s toughnessbecause the traditional process is extremely painful and takesmanyhours.


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20. Bit-by-Bit

A customary punishment for committing a wrong in the Yakuza involves the offending party cutting off a portion of their pinky finger and giving it to their boss. In ancient times, someone who was missing part of a finger would not be able to use their sword as freely and thus would depend on his superior for protection.

Ruthless Facts About The Yakuza (12)Getty Images

19. Pyramid

The Yakuza hierarchy is organized in a pyramid structure. The patriarch, called the kumicho, is at the top of the family, and his lieutenants, under-bosses and other minor gang members go down the pyramid.

18. Father-Son Relationship

All Yakuza clans are bound together by the oyabun-kobun relationship—roles that have been compared to master and apprentice as well as father and son. The kobun gives his oyabun complete obedience and loyalty in exchange for guidance and protection. Any clan member can be both kobun and oyabun, acting as boss to those below him and a subordinate to those above.

17. Helping Hand

For all of their criminal activities, the Yakuza are also quick to lend a helping hand in times of need. After the 2011 Tsunami, the organization was among the first to go to the affected areas. In 1995 aftera horribleearthquake, the Yakuza delivered supplies using helicopters, scooters and boats. It’s been suggested that their outcast origins make them sympathetic to people who are struggling, but some people think it’s simply a PR stunt designed to make it more difficult for the police to crack down on them.

16. Reluctant to Kill

Despite the myths that portray the Yakuza as merciless killers, they are in fact reluctant to kill unless in self defense. Instead, they prefer to use lesser methods such as yubitsume (cutting off a finger) for punishment.

15. Sex Trade and Trafficking

Human trafficking is a big problem in Japan, and most of it is controlled by the Yakuza, though it actually began as a sanctioned operation. During WWII, they worked with the Japanese government to supply women to the soldiers, and expanded into pornography, human trafficking, and sex tourism.


14.With Honor

The Yakuza do not view violent death as something terrible. Dying violently is considered poetic, tragic and honorable. They also have something of a Robin Hood complex and are known help the weak steal from the rich. These romantic ideas help paint them in a positive light with the public. See? It’s all a pubic relations game.

Ruthless Facts About The Yakuza (18)Shutterstock

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13. Divided by Three

The Yazuka organization isdivided up into three main syndicates. The largest syndicate is the Yamaguchi-gumi,which boasts over 55,000 members who are divided into 850 clans. The Yamaguchi syndicate has broad international operations, and as such drew the ire of the US government, who has hit them with sanctions in an attempted crackdown on organized crime.

12. A Positive Image

In 2012, the Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate distributed a newsletter to their regular members as a morale booster. The magazine’s front-page contains instructions for the younger members on how to behave and observe the traditional values of the Yakuza. Haikus, articles on fishing, andappeals to do good work filled the rest of the magazine,whichwas seen as an attempt to secure some fresh PR for the group.

11.Sake It to Me

The ritual of sakazuki is the exchange of sake cups between the oyabun (father) and the kobun (son). It’s the most important ritual in the Yakuza world and represents a strengthening of the bonds between both them and the organization.

10. A Man’s World

There are very few women involved in high profile roles in the Yakuza organization. The few women who are recognized in the organization are generally the wives of bosses and are referred to as ane-san, or older sister. I guess that notorious crime syndicates aren’t the first place one ought to look when searching for gender equality.

9. Cramming

If you’re turning to a life of crime in Japan because you’re sick of school, I’ve got some bad new for you. All Yamaguchi-gumi members must take a 12-page entrance exam. The test was created to make sure that its members were familiar with the law and to keep them from getting in trouble with the police.


8. Out in the Open

The Yakuza make no attempt to hide their headquarters and even have metal plaques outside identifying them. They do this to keep focus on their legitimate businesses and to allow their bosses to run things from the shadowswhile keepingtheir hands clean from being directly involved with the illegal activities.

7. Stigma

The wives of the Yakuza often get the same tattoos as their husbands to show their devotion to their spouses and to the organization. They show off the tattoos at festivals and pose for pictures, but they are still heavily stigmatized by Japanese society because of their Yakuza association, and as such they are unable to go swimming in public.

Ruthless Facts About The Yakuza (25)Shutterstock

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6.Corporate Blackmail

The Yakuza practice a form of large-scale bribery or blackmail called sokaiya. They begin by buying enough shares in a company to get a place at the table during shareholders meetings. They find out whatever dirt they can on the leadership, and politely threaten to reveal that information at a meeting unless they give them money. Since Japanese people fear being shamed more than just about anything else, the tactic is generally effective.

5. Fighting Back

Yakuza sokaiya became so bad that in 1982, the country introduced laws making it illegal for corporations to pay them off. This did little to quash the Yakuza and simply forced them to find more subtle means of carrying it out. The most successful way that corporations have found of fighting back is by scheduling their shareholder meetings on the same day. Since the Yakuza can’t be everywhere at once, it effectively reduces the number of cases.

4. Adding a Finger

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the children’scartoon character Bob the Builder only has four fingers—unless you’re in Japan. The Japanese version of Bob is drawn with the full five fingers. Why? They didn’t want Japanese children to think that Bob was a member of the Yakuza.

3. Black Market Skin

In Japan, tattoosare still extremely frowned upon because of their link to the Yakuza. Because of this, getting a tattoo in Japan is a highly expensive endeavor, as there are very few artists in the country. Occasionally, a Yakuza family will pay for someone’s tattoo on the condition that they “take what’s theirs” upon the person’s death. The “art” is so valuable that it issometimes peeled off theowner’scorpse, sold on the black market, and even displayed in galleries.

2. Samurai Sword

TheKatana, the traditional sword of a Samurai,is still usedas a weapon of death by the Yakuza. The swords have beenused in several high-profile murders such as that of Fujifilm vice president Juntaro Suzuki, who was killed in 1994 forrefusing to bribe Yakuza members.

1. Japanese Godfather

Kazuo Taoka, known as the “Godfather of Godfathers,” was the third boss of the largest Yakuza organization between 1946-1981. He grew up an orphan, and eventually took to streetfighting in Kobe under the direction of his eventual boss Noboru Yamaguchi. His signature move of clawing at his opponent’s eyes earned him the nickname “The Bear.” In 1978, he was shot in the back of the neck by a rival gang member at a nightclub in Kyoto but survived. Weeks later, his attacker was found dead in woods near Kobe. I think I can figure out that mystery.

Sources:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

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How violent are the Yakuza? ›

Over time the yakuza have shifted toward white-collar crime, relying more and more on bribery in lieu of violence, and indeed in the early 21st century they were one of the least murderous criminal groups in the world.

What crimes are the Yakuza known for? ›

These gangs controlled many businesses, engaged in sophisticated gambling and loan sharking activities, and invested heavily in sports and other entertainment. They also became involved in drugs, money lending, smuggling, and pornography.

Is the Yakuza cruel? ›

Violence for the most part happens between gang branches or non-yakuza gangs within Japan. The yakuza punish their own, sometimes infamously forcing the person who did wrong to remove the tip of a finger as a form of apology. The yakuza are even known to reduce some crime. They will often police themselves.

What do Yakuza believe in? ›

The values and social organization of yakuza are usually very conservative. They profess the traditional values such as loyalty to their boss, which they express by slicing off the tip of a finger, and strong nationalism.

Do Yakuza cut off fingers? ›

In Japan, a stunted pinkie signifies membership in the yakuza, or Japanese mafia. In a ritual known as "yubitsume," yakuza members are required to chop off their own digits to atone for serious offenses. The left pinkie is usually the first to go, though repeated offenses call for further severing.

Can girls join the Yakuza? ›

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).

Is there a yakuza in America? ›

The Yakuza is a network of highly organized, transnational crime families with affiliates in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, and is involved in various criminal activities, including weapons trafficking, drug trafficking, human trafficking, fraud, and money laundering.

Do yakuza do human trafficking? ›

The yakuza worked with the Japanese government during World War II to provide Imperial soldiers with “comfort women.” From there, the yakuza expanded into sex tourism, human trafficking of women to Japan, pornographic enterprises, etc. in addition to gambling businesses and the trafficking of drugs and weapons.

How are the yakuza treated in Japan? ›

The ordinances prohibit citizens from making or keeping up a relationship with the yakuza. The targeted acts and treatment for the violators differ between prefectures. Some prefectures only set an obligation of "endeavor" to citizens, or a penalty in which companies in violation of the law are publicly exposed.

Do Yakuza fight each other? ›

They are attacking each other and reaching epic levels of violence — throwing Molotov cocktails, and doing things that you don't normally see in modern Japan," Mr Adelstein said.

Are the Yakuza still powerful? ›

Despite the dropping numbers, the yakuza's strong influence is a force to be reckoned with. The four largest yakuza syndicates in Japan, as of 2021, consist of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai, Inagawa-kai and the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi [source]. The yakuza is generally regarded as a semi-legitimate organization.

What do Yakuza call their boss? ›

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).

What do Yakuza call themselves? ›

The Japanese police, and media by request of the police, call them bōryokudan (暴力団, "violent groups"), while the yakuza call themselves "ninkyō dantai" (任侠団体 or 仁侠団体, "chivalrous organizations").

Who runs the Yakuza? ›

Kenichi Shinoda
Kenichi Shinoda 篠田建市
BornJanuary 25, 1942 Ōita, Ōita Prefecture, Japan
Other names司 忍 Shinobu Tsukasa

Are the Yakuza extinct? ›

There are now around 39,000 active gang members across Japan (at its peak the number was more like 180,000), with membership levels steadily declining since the Japanese government introduced new legislation in 2011.

What knife do yakuza use? ›

A maguro bōchō (Japanese: 鮪包丁, lit. "tuna knife"), also known as a maguro kiri bōchō (鮪切り包丁, lit.

Which finger is best to chop off? ›

To summarize: the first finger on the hand you don't use for writing is the least important finger, and the fourth toe on the foot you don't use to kick a soccer ball is probably your least important toe.

Why do yakuza tattoo themselves? ›

The Pre-Edo period tells a story about it being used to identify criminals. Yakuza culture tells a story of lavish narratives hand-inked and illustrated over the body to cover up prison tattoo marks indicating criminals. In turn, it became a defining right of passage for young yakuza members over time.

What do yakuza wives do? ›

Unlike Western mafia wives, Yakuza wives remain outside the sphere of criminal activity. Although the women play a vital role in running the clan – managing finances, resolving quarrels and providing emotional support – they are barred from being active participants or formal members.

What do you call a yakuza boss wife? ›

In return, a yakuza boss or upper level family member calls the younger ones kodomo (子供 – children) and may use other family terms to refer to people. The boss's wife is often called anesan (姉さん – older sister).

Do yakuza get paid? ›

The yakuza mainly make their living through unlawful b usinesses, such as gambling, drugs, prostitution and loan-sharking. Most of the money comes from gambling, most often from dice games.

How big is the Yakuza today? ›

While the number of gang members in Japan is declining, a struggle for power continues between the Yamaguchi-gumi and its splinter group the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi. A report by Japan's National Police Agency says that members of designated gangs numbered 24,100 as of the end of 2021, which was down 1,800 year on year.

Where is the Yakuza most active? ›

The largest yakuza syndicates operating today are the Kobe-based Yamaguchi-gumi, which includes about half of all active yakuza in Japan; the Sumiyoshi-kai, which originated in Osaka and boasts about 20,000 members; and the Inagawa-kai, out of Tokyo and Yokohama, with 15,000 members.

Are tattoos illegal in Japan? ›

Suggestions for Tourists With Tattoos

While tattoos are not illegal, they can prevent people from getting the full Japanese experience. When using public transportation in Japan, such as trains, tourists with visible tattoos will want to keep in mind that their ink may be offensive to some of the locals.

Who do human traffickers prey on? ›

Human traffickers prey on people who are hoping for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life or have a history of sexual or physical abuse.

Are Japanese delinquents real? ›

They do exist! They're not THAT prevalent, but they are definitely a prominent part of Japanese society.

Can foreigners be Yakuza? ›

Foreigners do work for the Yakuza. In fact foreigners run some of the Yakuza groups. They are Koreans whose family migrated (by will or otherwise) to Japan in the early 20th century.

Do the yakuza help Japan? ›

' Some of the Yakuza's 'chivalrous'activities include being one of the first groups to help out in the aftermath of the devastating January 1995 Kobe earthquake and March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region.

Do yakuza target civilians? ›

Yakuza target anyone who crosses them, anyone who gets between where they are and where they want to be. The only way to stay safe from them is to make sure none of your friends or family have anything to do with them, and just turn away any time you think you see one who wants to approach you.

How are the Yakuza treated in Japan? ›

The ordinances prohibit citizens from making or keeping up a relationship with the yakuza. The targeted acts and treatment for the violators differ between prefectures. Some prefectures only set an obligation of "endeavor" to citizens, or a penalty in which companies in violation of the law are publicly exposed.

Is Yakuza kid friendly? ›

Yakuza: Kiwami, like most of the other games in the Yakuza series, is a pretty adult title, peppered with bad language, bloody violence and sex references befitting of the Japanese crime syndicate it took its name from.

Do Yakuza target civilians? ›

Yakuza target anyone who crosses them, anyone who gets between where they are and where they want to be. The only way to stay safe from them is to make sure none of your friends or family have anything to do with them, and just turn away any time you think you see one who wants to approach you.

Is Yakuza family friendly? ›

Yakuza is definitely an adult-oriented series. Drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and plenty of violence feature heavily in Yakuza's gritty underground world.

Is it possible to leave the yakuza? ›

Former crime syndicate members are struggling to find jobs after putting the yakuza world behind them. In the decade ending in 2020, some 5,900 people were able to leave crime syndicates with the help of police and others, but only 3.5% of them went on to find work.

Are there yakuza in the US? ›

The Yakuza is a network of highly organized, transnational crime families with affiliates in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, and is involved in various criminal activities, including weapons trafficking, drug trafficking, human trafficking, fraud, and money laundering.

Does the yakuza do human trafficking? ›

The yakuza worked with the Japanese government during World War II to provide Imperial soldiers with “comfort women.” From there, the yakuza expanded into sex tourism, human trafficking of women to Japan, pornographic enterprises, etc. in addition to gambling businesses and the trafficking of drugs and weapons.

Can you romance Yakuza? ›

While it may seem surprising, Yakuza: Like a Dragon has six different romance options that you can pursue. Most of these romance options have a reward, but there's also a big bonus that you'll get from dating them all.

Is anime appropriate for 7 year olds? ›

Anime seen on the Cartoon Network (or other channels that show children's cartoons) before 9pm is probably safe for most children younger than 13. If it is on after 9pm, then you know it isn't appropriate for children younger than 13.

Is Yakuza 0 violent? ›

While this could be one of the best of the Yakuza games, it full of violence and swearing, the fights are mostly tame however the heat action moves could range from enemies having their heads pushed into wall or being crushed by bicycles.

Who is the boss of Yakuza? ›

Kenichi Shinoda (篠田 建市, Shinoda Ken'ichi, born January 25, 1942), also known as Shinobu Tsukasa (司 忍, Tsukasa Shinobu), is a Japanese Yakuza, the sixth and current kumicho (supreme kingpin, or chairman) of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's largest yakuza organization.

Why is Yakuza allowed in Japan? ›

A big reason is because keeping them legal makes them easier to regulate. Yakuza groups are registered with the police as are many of the leaders and prominent figures. You can find their offices easily. The police know what crimes they make money from.


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