Presumed origin The Kabuki-mono
Creation 17th century
Actual number 102,400 members
Principal clans 1.Yamaguchi-gumi
Activities Criminal activities and/or legitimate businesses
Yakuza (??? or ??? ?), also known as gokudo (???), are members of traditional organized crime syndicates in Japan. The Japanese police, and media by request of the police, call them boryokudan (???), literally “violence group”, while the yakuza call themselves “ninkyo dantai” (???? or ????), “chivalrous organizations”. The yakuza are notorious for their strict codes of conduct and very organized nature. They are very prevalent in the Japanese media and operate internationally with an estimated 80,900 members in 2009, the last year for which an estimate is available.
Despite uncertainty about the single origin of yakuza organizations, most modern yakuza derive from two classifications which emerged in the mid-Edo Period (1603–1868): tekiya, those who primarily peddled illicit, stolen or shoddy goods; and bakuto, those who were involved in or participated in gambling.
Tekiya (peddlers) were considered one of the lowest social groups in Edo. As they began to form organizations of their own, they took over some administrative duties relating to commerce, such as stall allocation and protection of their commercial activities. During Shinto festivals, these peddlers opened stalls and some members were hired to act as security. Each peddler paid rent in exchange for a stall assignment and protection during the fair.
The Edo government eventually formally recognized such tekiya organizations and granted the oyabun (leaders) of tekiya a surname as well as permission to carry a sword — the wakizashi, or short samurai sword (the right to carry the katana, or full-sized samurai swords, remained the exclusive right of the nobility and samurai castes). This was a major step forward for the traders, as formerly only samurai and noblemen were allowed to carry swords.
Bakuto (gamblers) had a much lower social standing even than traders, as gambling was illegal. Many small gambling houses cropped up in abandoned temples or shrines at the edge of towns and villages all over Japan. Most of these gambling houses ran loan sharking businesses for clients, and they usually maintained their own security personnel.
Shinobu Tsukasa, known as the current head of the Yamaguchi, the largest yakuza syndicate since the mid 20th century.The places themselves, as well as the bakuto, were regarded with disdain by society at large, and much of the undesirable image of the yakuza originates from bakuto; this includes the name yakuza itself (ya-ku-za, or 8-9-3, is a losing hand in Oicho-Kabu, a form of blackjack).
Because of the economic situation during the mid-period and the predominance of the merchant class, developing yakuza groups were composed of misfits and delinquents that had joined or formed yakuza groups to extort customers in local markets by selling fake or shoddy goods.
The roots of the yakuza can still be seen today in initiation ceremonies, which incorporate tekiya or bakuto rituals. Although the modern yakuza has diversified, some gangs still identify with one group or the other; for example, a gang whose primary source of income is illegal gambling may refer to themselves as bakuto.
Organization and activities
During the formation of the yakuza, they adopted the traditional Japanese hierarchical structure of oyabun-kobun where kobun (??; lit. foster child) owe their allegiance to the oyabun (??; lit. foster parent). In a much later period, the code of jingi (??, justice and duty) was developed where loyalty and respect are a way of life.
The oyabun-kobun relationship is formalized by ceremonial sharing of sake from a single cup. This ritual is not exclusive to the yakuza—it is also commonly performed in traditional Japanese Shinto weddings, and may have been a part of sworn brotherhood relationships.
During the World War II period in Japan, the more traditional tekiya/bakuto form of organization declined as the entire population was mobilised to participate in the war effort and society came under strict military government. However, after the war, the yakuza adapted again.
Prospective yakuza come from all walks of life. The most romantic tales tell how yakuza accept sons who have been abandoned or exiled by their parents. Many yakuza start out in junior high school or high school as common street thugs or members of bosozoku gangs. Perhaps because of its lower socio-economic status, numerous yakuza members come from Burakumin and ethnic Korean backgrounds.
Yakuza groups are headed by an oyabun or kumicho (??, family head) who gives orders to his subordinates, the kobun. In this respect, the organization is a variation of the traditional Japanese senpai-kohai (senior-junior) model. Members of yakuza gangs cut their family ties and transfer their loyalty to the gang boss. They refer to each other as family members – fathers and elder and younger brothers. The yakuza is populated almost entirely by men, and there are very few women involved who are called “nee-san” (??? older sister). When the 3rd Yamaguchi-gumi boss (Kazuo Taoka) died in the early 1980s, his wife (Fumiko) took over as boss of Yamaguchi-gumi, albeit for a short time.
The yakuza have a very complex organizational structure. There is an overall boss of the syndicate, the kumicho, and directly beneath him are the saiko komon (senior advisor) and so-honbucho (headquarters chief). The second in the chain of command is the wakagashira, who governs several gangs in a region with the help of a fuku-honbucho who is himself responsible for several gangs. The regional gangs themselves are governed by their local boss, the shateigashira.
Each member’s connection is ranked by the hierarchy of sakazuki (sake sharing). Kumicho are at the top, and control various saiko-komon (????, senior advisors). The saiko-komon control their own turfs in different areas or cities. They have their own underlings, including other underbosses, advisors, accountants and enforcers.
Those who have received sake from oyabun are part of the immediate family and ranked in terms of elder or younger brothers. However, each kobun, in turn, can offer sakazuki as oyabun to his underling to form an affiliated organisation, which might in turn form lower ranked organizations. In the Yamaguchi-gumi, which controls some 2,500 businesses and 500 yakuza groups, there are even 5th rank subsidiary organizations.
The three largest syndicatesAlthough yakuza membership has declined following an antigang law aimed specifically at yakuza and passed by the Japanese government in 1992, there are thought to be more than 103,000 active yakuza members in Japan today. Although there are many different yakuza groups, together they form the largest organized crime group in the world
Created in 1915, the Yamaguchi-gumi is the biggest yakuza family, accounting for 50% of all yakuza in Japan, with more than 55,000 members divided into 850 clans. Despite more than one decade of police repression, the Yamaguchi-gumi has continued to grow. From its headquarters in Kobe, it directs criminal activities throughout Japan. It is also involved in operations in Asia and the United States. Shinobu Tsukasa, also known as Kenichi Shinoda, is the Yamaguchi-gumi’s current oyabun. He follows an expansionist policy, and has increased operations in Tokyo (which has not traditionally been the territory of the Yamaguchi-gumi.)
The Yamaguchi family is successful to the point where its name has become synonymous with Japanese organized crime in many parts of Asia outside of Japan. Many Chinese or Korean persons who do not know the name “Yakuza” would know the name “Yamaguchi-gumi”, which is frequently portrayed in gangster movies.
The Sumiyoshi-rengo is the second largest yakuza family, with 20,000 members divided into 277 clans. The Sumiyoshi-kai, as it is sometimes called, is a confederation of smaller yakuza groups. Its current oyabun is Shigeo Nishiguchi. Structurally, Sumiyoshi-kai differs from its principal rival, the Yamaguchi-gumi, in that it functions like a federation. The chain of command is more lax, and although Shigeo Nishiguchi is always the supreme oyabun, its leadership is distributed among several other people.
The Inagawa-kaï is the third largest yakuza family in Japan, with roughly 15,000 members divided into 313 clans. It is based in the Tokyo-Yokohama area and was one of the first yakuza families to expand its operations to outside of Japan. Its current oyabun is Yoshio Tsunoda