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Are the yakuza humorous? Comedian duo play yakuza for a day 苦笑い一杯


Nov 18, 2009

While the average Taro will cringe at the mention of the yakuza, it’s clear the culture and myth behind the organization still tickles the fancy of TV viewers in this clip from “HAMASHO.” Masashi Hamada, part of the well-known Downtown comedy duo, and rakugo storyteller/comedian Shohei Shofukutei are the hosts of  this a satirical late-night TV show that lead the pair around on various adventures.

(Editor note: I never realized that there is something kind of absurd about the in-your-face-out-in-the-open-ness of Japan’s yakuza problem until I did an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.  I don’t think the boy scout comparison was so off…if boy scouts got badges for extortion, blackmail, and other criminal pursuits and they all swore absolute loyalty to the troop leader, the den mother, and had their troop symbols tattooed on their bodies… Jake)

An oldie but goodie, Hamada and Shofukutei take a fairly lighthearted tour of the yakuza world, dressed as a kumicho (gang-boss ie oyabun) and a kobun (follower ie child). It is not such a crazy portrayal of the old-school yakuza.

Tattoo artist Choshiro Nakano works on a gang member

In part 1, they visit horishi (彫師 – tattoo artist) Choshiro Nakano, who has been practicing the art for over 40 years. He’s currently adding some work on the side of a 29-year-old gang member, who says it took three years to do all the work on his body so far. According to Nakano, a full-body tattoo typically takes him four years to complete and costs upwards of ¥3 million yen. Traditional tattooing techniques are typically very painful, though the man in the video says, on a scale of 1 to 10, the pain of the tattoo he’s currently getting is only about a 3 or a 4. We also see Nakano’s wife’s full-body tattoo.

Hamada and Shofukutei tell their yakuza stories

In part 2, Hamada and Shofukutei talk about a few run-ins with the yakuza they’ve had. Hamada said that once, while on a location shoot in Osaka, a Benz pulls up near him and a yakuza inside yells out that he hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before because he was up all night watching Hamada on TV. Hamada apologizes, and the man says, “Nah, that’s alright, it was funny.” Next, he pulls out an attache case from the back seat that is full of rings and offers them to Hamada. The comedian refuses, and the yakuza wishes him good luck and drives off.

Shofukutei then describes how he was once walking to get his mobile phone fixed when a gang member chatted him up and exclaimed, “I watch you on TV!” The man then brought him to the phone shop and yelled out to the employees, “Hey! Let this guy go first!” He then turned around to the other customers in the shop and asked, “No one has a problem with that, DO THEY?”

Hamada finally relates another story of when he was in Roppongi, and there were a group of bodyguards waiting outside an office building for their oyabun to come out. Hamada passed near them, and saw the guys poking each other on the chest and laughing, “Where ya hiding your gun?”

The pair meet ex-yakuza boss Atsumu Yamamoto
In part 3, they join ex-kumicho-turned-painter Atsumu Yamamoto for a dinner of yakiniku. Although the pair look a bit hesitant, Yamamoto looks rather excited to meet the comedians.

After commenting that Yamamoto is “scary,” Hamada gets up the balls to ask him if he’s ever killed anyone. Yamamoto replies that he’s been out to kill people and he’s had people out to kill him, but during his 30 years in the yakuza he was lucky to never have had to do it.

They also ask what’s up with the bald patch on his head, and Yamamoto explained that once he had a gun aimed at him, but he grabbed it and when the guy pulled the trigger it hit just the very top of his head. Yamamoto says that although he doesn’t like guns because they “dull your skills,” he’s carried them because he wouldn’t want to die without a fight.

One thought on “Are the yakuza humorous? Comedian duo play yakuza for a day 苦笑い一杯”
  1. I live in Tokyo. They hang out at my local Starbucks and tend to have informal meetings between 3 and 6 pm most days. Parked outside is usually a white Mercedes and a black Mercedes each with double tailpipes and single digit license plates. Last week I noticed a new phenomena; yakuza office ladies. These women come about ten minutes before and order the coffees and pull together seats on the porch outside for the meetings. I volunteer the extra chair but would only move if they ask. They seem too polite to ask so I just hang out. These OLs aren’t wearing mini-skits and heels like the companies in the area. They are wearing Armani Pantsuits- get to wear their hair long and make up in a darker way (Osaka style). They look sharp and not sleazy like Omotesando sales women. The most senior guy sits besides the plants slightly out of sight. What is interesting is the senior guy seldom looks thugish but often has a professorial air about him. Where do the better dressed ones shop? Istetan, Matsuya or are they select shop guys? I don’t have language ability so I am not sure what the topics are if any.

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