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Japan Subculture Research Center

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Things you never wanted to know about the yakuza, but the Japanese just had to ask


Apr 9, 2010

Ever have a nagging question about the yakuza you hoped to have answered but didn’t know where to ask? Know that you’re not alone–even Japanese people themselves find the group slightly mysterious and arguably intriguing despite, or perhaps because of, their fearsome role in society. But where to go to get those questions answered? The Internet, of course! Here is an amusing selection of those small curiosities and their replies from some armchair anthropologists.

A question posted to Japan’s infamous home of trolls, the 2chan BBS:

If you strike the lottery for over ¥100 billion, will the yakuza come to your house?

Answer: Not to anyone’s knowledge, but one poster puts it best: “お前ら、当たってから心配しようぜ” (“You guys should just worry about it when it happens.”)

Some from the more reputable Goo:

Is it a good idea to date a yakuza’s daughter? What about her friends?

Answer: If you’re shallow and care about appearances, then probably no. But why not meet her parents before you judge?

For yakuza, are the penalties lighter for killing another yak than for killing a normal person?

Answer: The question received mixed reactions, with one person commenting that perhaps a lighter sentence in the case of two gang members may have to do with the fact that the victim provoked the murderer. Another refutes, saying that “without a doubt,” organized crime members will get a lighter sentence for killing each other than for killing non-members.

Jake’s view:  There still is a tendency to view yakuza upon yakuza violence as something that is treated more lightly by the courts. However, if you’ve read Tokyo Vice, you’ll know that the bet I made on the outcome of one yakuza’s trial proved to be way off because I was sure that the courts would be more lenient.  It was a costly mistake. At the same time, I would say it’s a safe bet to say that when the yakuza kill a normal person “katagi” that the law is very harsh with them.

Could you imagine a bunch of gangsters sitting around making these?
Could you imagine a bunch of gangsters sitting around making these?

Do yakuza make New Year’s pine decorations?

Answer: Probably not. While carpenters tend to make the decorations and there may be some with seedy connections in the profession, the majority of pine decorations are likely clean.

Why are there no women-only organized crime groups, even though such things exist for bosozoku?

Answer: One hypothesis is that, because yakuza are from a more classic era, they would likely not allow it. Another user guesses that there’s really no benefit to having a female-only crime group. (There is, however, apparently a(n adult?) movie called “Onna Yakuza“)

In a fight between Al Qaeda and the yakuza, who would win?

Answer: All votes are for Al Qaeda.

Jake’s view: Both groups have a capacity for producing “suicide bombers.” In the old days, a yakuza would think nothing of going on a probable suicide mission against a rival gang group if the oyabun (father figure) asked him to do it.  Even now, I still think they are a bunch of tough dudes. And they’re smarter. Plus they know how to use a sword. In close combat, I vote for the yakuza.

If the yakuza disappeared, who would be worse off for it?

Answer: People who work in business districts would have trouble, with no one around to control chinpira punks who commit petty crimes and regulate the presence of Chinese organized crime.

Jake’s view: That’s the standard answer and one which the yakuza always use to justify their existence–it’s why every Yakuza fan magazine has a section on foreign crime.  In reality, Chinese organized crime works under the yakuza not over them.  It only took the TMPD and Immigration to do a couple of large sweeps of Kabukicho in the 2000s to effectively castrate “the Chinese mafia.”  Deportation will always be an effective tool in keeping down the “foreign mafia.”

What nagging questions do you have about these infamous thugs? JSRC can likely provide more reliable speculation than most online message boards!

11 thoughts on “Things you never wanted to know about the yakuza, but the Japanese just had to ask”
  1. I quite had to laugh about the Al Qaeda vs. Yakuza question. cool!

    question that interests me: I happen to take a lot of photos around Shinjuku and Ikebukuro stations. Often enough Yakuza look-a-like, if I may say so, hang around there, and I rather quickly pocket my camera when I see them looking at me.
    None the less, what might happen, if I would post a photo showing one of them on flickr? I check my pics before hand anyway for privacy concerns, even though I am not sure, how strict the laws in Japan are on that.
    Is there any need to be feared to be “tracked down” by them in any case? As we know from Jakes Book, they know how to use google ^-^ Thanx!

  2. “In a fight between Al Qaeda and the yakuza, who would win?”

    I’m pretty sure this very much depends on the territory.

  3. So the Japanese and Japanese ethnic Koreans can be yakuza, but the Chinese and other foreigners cannot? Is that correct? Has there ever been any exceptions to this?

  4. As to the female yakuza –
    I know that in the US, violent crimes are committed by men – as of 1995, an 11 to 1 ratio of men vs. women. I’m guessing that this is a mainly social factor and further guessing that there aren’t female Yakuza, simply because there aren’t enough violent women out there.

    1. There was a Onna-Oyabun but it wasn’t due to a woman being violent to be a yakuza. Her husband was an Oyabun but he had died and she took over. It was the fact, that women get emotional and like to gossip and eventually information will lurk out possibly to her friends making her more even vulnerable, yubizume anyone?? That’s why women weren’t even allowed. This was and still is what they believe a man job while their wives are at home comforting the kids….sadly.

      1. I think you’re speaking of Taoka’s wife. i think women could be yakuza bosses if the society wasn’t so closed.

  5. Here is a question that I asked before but didnt get a answer to it or at least not a good one.

    Are there any gajins that have ever made it in the Yakuza? A character by the name of Jo Kodama comes to mind…any others?

  6. re: yakuza and alqaeda…

    even the US government has trouble beating al qaeda…don’t think yakuza would have much of a chance.

  7. Phil: I’d imagine the immediate answer you’d usually get is that many yakuza are reportedly actually from Korean descendants, something I’m sure Jake could answer more about. As an aside, I have heard of a Kiwi in the Chiba area who is either in the yakuza or works closely with them in collecting shobadai and doing other nasties. No confirmation on that, though.

    1. Phil: Sarah is right. The yakuza are opportunity employers. There have been Taiwanese yakuza and the Sumiyoshikai had an Iranian yakuza mid-level boss. And Goto-gumi had an American working for them for a few years. In many ways, they’re probably the most equal opportunity employers in Japan (lol)–unless you’re a woman.

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