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Yakuzas F.A.Q.

Sorry, I couldn't find yakuza-related books written in English. "Black Rain" is a good movie for Japanese yakuza. If you can see Japanese comic/Japanimation, "Emblem Take Two" is also useful.

Here is a short description for traditional Japanese yakuza

1. What the name "yakuza" mean?

8-9-3. The word "ya" means "8," "ku" means "9," and "za" means "3."

The name comes from "Oicho-Kabu," a Japanese gambling game like blackjack. Instead of 21, 19 is the strongest in Oicho-Kabu. Suppose that two cards are dealt to a gambler, "8" and "9", which make 17, a rather strong hand. But he decides to draw a more card. And comes "3", leaving a sum of 20. Now all is over. His hand is useless.

This is the origin of the name "yakuza," useless hands in the society.

2. How yaks organize themselves?

First, there are two types of yakuza, family yakuza and lone yakuza.

The former is yakuza who belong to some families, like mafia.

A familiy is structured as a real family in old traditional Japan. A family has a Father. It has also many children of the Father. There can be some brothers of the Father. The Father is the head of the family. All other members serve to the Father. In return, he protects every members in his family. Every members never fear to die for family and Father.

If someone wants to become a member of a family, he must become a child of the Father. To do so, the newcomer and the Father drink a small amount of sake (Japanese alcohlic beverage) from a same cup. This ceremony is called "Sakazuki."

Sometimes, a strong child has his own children, consisting his own new family. For example,

                    Big Father
            |           |            |
          child       child       child / Small Father
                                |               |
                             child            child

A very powerful family can have a long chain of sub-families, child-families, grandchild-families, and so on. A typical family has 20-200 members, so the whole family group may count thousands of members.

A lone yakuza has no family to belong. He has no companions to help him. Because yakuza is a organized business, going alone is not an easy way to live. No families permit a lone yakuza to operate in their territories. A competent yakuza can survive several years. Only a few genuine yakuza manages to build his own new family from zero.

3. What is "katagi"?

"Katagi" is the opposite comcept of "yakuza." Usually all non-yakuza people are considered to be katagi. It is prohibited for yakuza to slay katagi people.

4. How yaks recognize each other?

Anyone can easily tell low-ranked yakuza from the katagi. They are so conspicuous. High-ranked yakuza are difficult to tell. Their behavior and fashion are moderate. But their rank is so high that their faces are known to all yakuza.

To recognize yakuza's families, there are "daimon," family emblems. Each family has its own daimon, and family members have small badges of their family daimon. High-ranked members are permitted to have golden badge. Daimon is the primary identifier of yakuza families.

5. What yaks do?

Protection racket is the most important money source of yakuza. Other sources are varies from family to family. It depends on the origin of the family.

There are four major origins of yakuza. Yakuza operation is basically based on the origin of their family.

  1. Bakuto
  2. Tekiya
  3. Uyoku
  4. Gurentai

"Bakuto" means "gambler." Throughout the Japanese history, gambling has been illegan, thus in yakuza's territory. Owners of gambling houses, bankers and bodyguards formed Bakuto yakuza. The primal activities of Bakuto yakuza are gambling houses (of course), bucket shops, loan shark, collecting debt etc.

"Tekiya" means small merchants who opened street stalls at festivals. When a festival was held in a city, many Tekiya merchants gathered there. Tekiya yakuza was the boss of such Tekiya merchants. Each merchant paid small fee to open his stall. In return, Tekiya yakuza protected them during the festival. As Japanese society was industrialized, Tekiya yakuza expanded their protection racket. Now they have their strong territories in cities and demand protection fee to all shopkeepers in their territories.

"Uyoku" means political right. They are nationalists, traditionalists, monarchists (emperor), and anti-communists. They believes the Pacific War was the holy war to protect Asian nations from Western imperialism. They also hate megacorps. Big media corporations are the primal target of Uyoku yakuza attack. Their money sources are in mystery, but it is rumored that they have strong connections with politicians.

"Gurentai" means "city thugs." They are grouped violent thugs. Bakuto/Tekiya families often have their long traditions. Gurentai don't. They have no policy, so do anything for money. Corporations use Gurentai yakuza for various purposes. They are so useful.

Prostitution, drug dealing, blackmailing and badger game are also yakuza's common activities.

6. What yaks do not?

Theft and robbery are considered "shameful." They intimidate and blackmail instead.

Murdering katagi people was strictly prohibited by code of honor. The code, however, is often ignored today. Murder for insurance money is not rare recently.

7. What yaks hate?

To be insulted. Disgracing himself.

A yakuza cares his reputation very much, because his income relies on how he is feared by others. When he is made light of, he ends.

8. I'm now threaten by yakuza. What can I do to escape?

Hire another yakuza. Competent one is desirable. He will negotiate and solve your problem in peace.

Of course it is not free. The more competent yakuza you hire, the higher commission rate he demands. But whole expenses will be lower at last.

9. Tell me yakuza titles and slangs

Oyaji - Father

Kyoudai - Brother

Shatei - Small brother

Ojiki - Uncle (Father's Brother)

Wakashu - Child

Kumicho - The head of a family, Father

Waka-gashira - The chief of children in a family usually No. 2 in the family

Shatei-gashira - The chief of Kumicho's brothers in a family ranked higher than Waka-gashira, but with less power

Kanbu - Executive member in a family permitted to have a golden badge of daimon

Dosu - Katana, sword

Chaka/Hajiki - Guns, especially pistols

Shabu - Drug

Shima - Territory, protection racket

Nomiya - Bucket Shop

Kiritori - Collecting debt

Yusuri - Blackmailing

Tsutsumotase - Badger game

Senso - War Between Yakuza Families

Teuchi - Armistice

Satsu/Pori - Police

Fuda - Search/arrest warrant

Musho - Prison

Otsutome - The term of imprisonment

Kagechofu - Money paid to a imprisoned yakuza from his family

Since I posted the yakuza article, I've received many questions via mail. I re-read my post and found many mistakes and lacks caused by my poor ability to write in English. It seems better to post clarifications and some additions than to answer individually.

1. What is a bucket shop?

I must apologize for the improper use of the word. I searched a small Japanese-English dictionary and found the word "bucket-shop" for the word "Nomiya." But my further research revealed the dictionary was not so precise.

Nomiya is a type of private gambling house, specialized in horse racing.

In Japan, horse racing is one of a few legalized gambles, permitted only to some governmental organizations. In fact, horse racing is very popular in Japan, partly because other gambles are prohibited.

Nomiya uses the result of such public horse races. Players call nomiya and make his bid before a race. After the race, they pay or receive money according to his lose/gain. In general, nomiya's odds are better than official one. Remember all private gambles are illegal in Japan, no exception for nomiya.

The secret for good management is rejecting to pay. Because bidding are made via phone, there are no evidence of customer's bidding. Sometimes a nomiya rejects to pay though a player won the game, saying "you bade to another horse, I suerly heard." When he protests, yakuza reveals its true nature to intimidate him. Because nomiya is illegal, such a player cannot call police for help.

Of course, sometimes a bold gambler comes, and rejects to pay when he loses the game. Intimidating such a player and collecting debts are also yakuza's tasks.

2. What is a badger game?

An extortion scheme. A (usually beautiful) women seduces a male, then demands money when a man comes in pretending the outraged husband, threatening by violence or scandal. A yakuza is ideal for the role of such a husband.

3. You said that slaying katagi is prohibited. But yaks live on protection rackets. Can they manage their protection rackets without killing their victim?

I had the same question at first. Yes, they can. All yakuza is not skilled assassins, however, all of them are professional intimidators. They are good at finding someone's weakness. To a shopkeeper, a yakuza will irritate his business. People won't come to a shop where conspicuous yakuza are always. If he has a child, the case will be more serious. Though the code of honor prohibits yakuza to slay people, it not prohibits to rape someone's daughter.

Again, yakuza seldom kill their victims. But they are clever. If you are threatened by yakuza, you are in serious trouble. Never make light of them.

4. If yakuza never slay katagi people, why they are so militant?

Because yaks must struggle each other. It is not forbidden to slay another yakuza.

Most of yakuza wars are caused from territory struggles. However, a very small accident can trigger a sagave war between families. Because yaks hate to be seen "coward," they never surrender. They hardly even try to make a direct contact with opposite family for armistice. A small dispute can easily escalates into a total war.

Many families have combat teams that consists of skilled combatant. Some are young "Teppodama," kamikaze-style attackers. Some are hitmen. Their morale is very high without exception.

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Last Updated Sat Aug 11, 2007