• Mon. Feb 26th, 2024

Japan Subculture Research Center

A guide to the Japanese underworld, Japanese pop-culture, yakuza and everything dark under the sun.

Yakuza Organisations

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The yakuza (ヤクザ)aka the Japanese mafia are quasi-legal organized crime groups in Japan. There are currently close to 80,000 members. While not illegal, the larger organized crime groups are recognized and regulated under the organized crime control laws. The groups exist out in the open with office buildings, business cards, and are celebrated in movies, comics, games and fanzines.Their primary sources of revenue are extortion, racketeering, financial fraud, blackmail, stock market manipulation, drugs, and the entertainment industry. They are called 暴力団 (boryokudan/violent groups) by the police. They refer to themselves as humanitarian groups aka ninkyodantai (仁侠団体) and claim to be civic organizations that preserve the peace in Japan and provide welfare to the needy. They were very active after the great Tohoku earthquake (March 11th, 2011) and did provide substantial aid to the victims of the disaster for the first few weeks immediately after the disaster. Part of this was calculate PR, part of it stemmed from a desire to live up to their carefully cultivated public image.

There are approximately 3,200 organized crime groups in Japan. Of these, about 1,400 are affilitated with one of the three main yakuza groups: the Inagawa-kai, Sumiyoshi-kai, and the Yamaguchi-gumi.

Inagawa-kai (稲川会): The largest group based in Tokyo. Though relatively small, the group is known for being well-disciplined and efficient. It is structured in the traditional pyramid power scheme, with the bosses at top making decisions for the group and collecting significant tribute from the lower ranks. Though traditionally bakuto, the group has branched out into other typical yakuza business such as loan sharking and construction. They were also one of the first groups to take their business international.

Sumiyoshi-kai (住吉会): Tokyo’s second main group. Unlike the Yamaguchi-gumi or the Inagawa-kai, which run its organizations in a very traditional, pyramid-like fashion (with power concentrated at the top), this group is rather a federation of gangs which grants more autonomy to each group and relies less on tribute coming from the bottom. They have a number of front companies operating in Tokyo and are often involved in the real estate business.

Yamaguchi-gumi (山口組): Japans’s largest organized crime syndicate, with nearly 40,000 members. Based in Kobe, the group grew rapidly and currently have a significant presence in the Tokyo area. There has been much friction with police in recent years due to their size and relative hostility towards the police. The Yamaguchi-gumi is the most international of all the organized crime groups and excel at economic crime. They have several hundred front companies in Tokyo alone and are extensively involved in real estate, FX trading, investments, restaurant management, construction, waste disposal, and controlling interests in most of Japan’s talent agencies and “the entertainment business.” The group has extensive political connections and has been officially “backing” the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) since 2007.  The former Minister of Financial Services, Kamei Shizuka, and the current special envoy to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, admitted in a session of the Japanese Diet to receiving a payment of over roughly  5,000,000 dollars from a Yamaguchi-gumi boss into his own bank account. He was also a close associate of Kyo Eichu, a special advisor to the Yamaguchi-gumi.

Kokuryu-kai (黒龍会): Amur River Society or Black Dragon Society. Founded in 1901, this far-right group held an ambitious imperialistic agenda for Japan: to control all of Asia. Yakuza at the time time were often sympathetic to nationalistic causes, due to both ideological similarities (a resentment of foreigners and a worship of traditional ways) and business concerns (left wing ideologies threatened to change some of the long-standing power structures of Japanese society). Gangsters and groups such as these often worked together.

Toa Yuai Jigyo Kumiai (東亜友愛事業組合): East Asia Friendship Enterprises Association. A front company for the ethnically Korean yakuza organization that is based in Tokyo. Despite its small size at 1,000 members, its activities span throughout at least 20 prefectures in Japan, and abroad.

41 thoughts on “Yakuza Organisations”
  1. I don’t know how relevant or true this is, but I heard that the name yakuza originates from the hanafuda game of oichokabu. Ya(8) ku(9) za(3) adds up to 20 which is buta in oochokabu which is the worst dealt hand… Thus implying that it amounts to nothing. Can you possibly confirm that piece of info Jake?

    1. It’s one explanation that makes the most sense. I know it is a losing hand in a game of traditional Japanese cards, or “good for nothing, useless.” Kanto yakuza use the word “yakuza”. Kansai yakuza like the word “極道” (Gokudo) which means “ultimate way.”

      1. hummm… yakuza and loser?? … you definitely have to read some books about types of personalities, deviations, behaviourism and more :/

        … you are a sheep, but they are born wolves… that’s it.

        1. No, yakuza are thought to have originated from ronin, who formed tekiya and bakuto groups. These ronin were losers, because they didn’t commit suicide after losing their master. They had no real purpose in society. Modern yakuza are also comprised of unwanted people, like Korean people. It’s definitely not wrong to say that yakuza are losers. Furthermore, yakuza themselves don’t want to be seen as wolves, but rather as dogs to herd the sheep.

          1. There are many different theories about the yakuza but really Aizukotetsukai in Kyoto founded in 1870-1880 is the only long-running organization. Most of the writing about their origins are mythological and the tekiya/bakuto division means almost nothing now.

          2. Aizukotetsu-kai was founded in 1868.
            Okubo-ikka (Matsuba-kai) was founded in the 1700s.
            There are many other Bakuto and Tekiya organizations that were formed during the Edo period.
            Please study about secondary and tertiary groups.

          3. Aizuokotetsu-kai is generally recognized as having existed continually for the longest while the Okubo-ikka only existed in name for a long time period. But thank you for reading closely.

          1. Go look up the addresses on the National Police Agency web page and go knock on the right door.

  2. i have seen the same info in “Confessions of a yakuza” by Saga Junichi. Sadly I failed to find the right page to reference it. but maybe someone who has also read it, cares to look.
    I must be in the first part, where the interview Yakuza is telling about his youth in gambling. If i find it, i will report page and give a quote.

  3. How true is it that the yakuza actually provide services for society? For example I read somewhere which corroborates with what you’ve written above that the yakuza provided help for victims of the earthquake in 1995 and 2011 long before the police or government etc

  4. Just finished listening to the audiobook and wanted you to know how much I enjoyed it. I’m an English teacher currently living in Korea. I’ve been planning to hop over to Japan for awhile now, if anything this book has helped me pick out which areas to avoid.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing this. Stay safe.

    1. Justin,
      Thanks for writing in and you deserve special thanks for putting up with my voice for over ten hours.

    2. @Justin: There are no ‘areas to avoid’ in Tokyo if you’re a tourist. It’s one of the safest capital cities in the world (even in the more sleazy areas Jake discusses). Nothing’s going to happen to you as you’re of no consequence to the business of the people mentioned in Tokyo Vice.

      1. I’d have to agree. You really have have to look for trouble in Tokyo to find it, but you can. Sometimes, it comes looking for you.

  5. Hi Jake,
    thanks for the reply about my thesis on Yakuza. I’m graduated and now, i’m the owner of orientalcrimeblog.com , website with the purpose of describe and analyze the main oriental criminal structure.
    I write for ask you an interview to put on my website. I’ve a big section on the blog dedicated on yakuza, and your website helped me a lot with the university.
    Please, if you’re interested contact on my email or by my blog.
    Thank you so much for the attention.

    Federico – Orientalcrimeblog.com

    1. I hoped it help you graduate. Please send a few short questions to me and I’ll try to answer. I’m really swamped so please give me some time.

      1. Hello,
        i am actually in 2nd year at university and I have to prepare my dissertation. I am studying Criminology/Criminal justice and Sociology
        With my teacher we thought about the Japanese Yakuza, the relation they have with the police, how the police react with them and against them…. But, I need to interview as many people as possible.
        Do you think it is possible to get contact with few members of Yakuza? If so how could I get at least an email address? Could I could contact some criminologist in Japan?

        Could you give me some information of where I could get these information please?

        Thanks in advance for your answer

        Best regards,

  6. Mr. Adelstein, good afternoon!

    I finished reading your book this week and was surprised how much the mafia is involved in the economic aspects of Japan in 2004 I lived in the area of ​​Shizuoka (Hamamatsu) and I could not understand this movement, perhaps because it is a town slightly inland over Tokyo. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you for the excellent book.

  7. […] The term “yakuza”, derived from a losing hand in Japanese cards, fittingly describes the group’s origins as gamblers (bakuto) and street merchants (tekiya). The yakuza are a patriarchal organization with strong fictitious familial ties. The pyramid structure of the group includes a top boss known as the oyabun (“father figure”) and those under him known as kobun (“children”). These relationships are established by a ritual exchange of sake in a sakazuki ceremony, and members maintain unconditional loyalty to their “fathers”.  Each smaller group controls a different region in the country, with most members belonging to one of the three main yakuza groups: the Yamaguchi-gumi (the largest gang with 40,000 members), the Sumiyoshi-kai,  and the Inagawa-kai.… […]

  8. I love this site. We do a similar site in Glasgow Scotland called…http://glasgowgangland.forumcommunity.co.uk/.
    We would like to link swap with you if you don’t mind.It would help crime enthusiasts on our website to study the Japanese crime culture.
    We also promote a crime magazine titled UnderbellyGlasgow on Amazon Kindle.
    Could someone please contact us at the given email address to discuss linking each website.
    Thank you

  9. hahah this website is right!. hi! guys!! im a trainer! from different groups of yakuza. But dont worry im not kind hahahha joke.

  10. I love this site. We do a similar site in pradeshkhabar online called…www.pradeshkhabar.com.np
    We would like to link swap with you if you don’t mind.It would help crime enthusiasts on our website to study the Japanese crime culture.
    We also promote a crime magazine titled pradeshkhabar online on Kindle.
    Could someone please contact us at the given email address to discuss linking each website.
    Thank you
    Prem dahal
    kathmandu, nepal

  11. Are Yakuza offices still a thing? I remember reading in Peter Hill that the Japanese police/government/law enforcement were making a concerted effort to prosecute Yakuza groups and members who openly display their affiliation.

  12. Good morning, I am working on a book with Yakuza characters in it. I’m hoping to actually connect with Yamaguchi-gumi or another associate group.

    Do you have any contact information you would be willing to share? Or point me in a direction to continue me research?

  13. also thanks for your ” meth head theory of japanese atrocity” didnt know but makes perfect sense – hitler did it too, and people blame the manson murders on lsd when it was the cheap ass speed- I have never seen any one there use any drugs or even pep pills, but I did hear on tour – walking through roppongi in about 04 t with our ” guide” “Adam”} that there was a new drug that the yakuza and govt had agreed on for the geijiin hostess etc girls called ” shabu” and then noone would tell me anything ever again l. are they still major people trafickers:? if so they dont go after street girls on the west coast anymore or I think I would know . great show and cant wait for season 2 even tho I read your book when it came out( my pa from shooting there in may was Micheal Manns – I was very proud of him) and slayyyyy mr Watanabe – and ergot wtf 😕 amazing x

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