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Japanese Yakuza

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Yakuza – an organized crime group also known as gokudo are referred to as boryokudan in Japanese legal terminology meaning “violence groups” and sometimes called “Japanese mafia” by the Western press. In traditional Japanese form of counting Ya-Ku-Sa means 8, 9 and 3 respectively which sums up to 20, considered a worst score in Japanese card game Oicho-Kabu (meaning “good for nothing”). There are conflicting versions with regard to the origin of yakuzas, which are as follows: 1. Yakuza organizations developed during the Edo period (1603 -1837). 2.

Some scholars traced the origin of yakuzas to Kabukimono also known as hatamoto yakko. 3. Some yakuzas trace their beginnings to police groups known as machi yakko i. e. , “Servants of the town. ” According to Anthony Bruno the modern yakuza members claim their origin to machi yakko with three broad categories: a. Tekiya – Street peddlers b. Bakuto – Gamblers c. Gurentai – Hoodlums. While the street peddlers and gamblers “trace their roots back to the 18th century the hoodlums came into existence after World War II. ” Organized crime in Japan reached new levels with introduction of firearms in place of traditional swords by gurentai.

According to Genichi Nishio on the online library alternatives. com one more category of yakuza is “Uyoku” meaning political right. “They are nationalists, traditionalists, monarchists (emperor), and anti-communists” and hate mega corps thus attacking big media corporations. According to Oldmind the yakuza structure consists of freelance yakuza and clan yakuza. Freelance yakuza does not commit larger crimes and has small groups of hustlers. The clan yakuza does not permit freelance yakuza to prosper and quiet frequently makes them scapegoats or help police in trapping them.

The clan yakuza on the other hand has oyabun-kobun relationship as detailed below. Anthony Bruno states that the power structure of yakuza appears like a pyramid with patriarch on the top and loyal underlings in various ranks below him. The power structure in yakuza follows oyabun-kobun relationship, where oyabun and kobun means “father role” and “child role” respectively. Hence a new entrant must primarily accept this relationship with unquestioned loyalty and obedience to his capo (boss) and the capo in turn protects interests of kobun giving good counsel.

The figure below clearly depicts family structure in a yakuza organization. (Source: oldmind, telia. com). Retrieved on September 10, 2006 from: http://web. telia. com/~u31302275/yakuza7. htm According to oldmind, the clan’s chief is oyabun with an adviser called saiko-komon. The saiko-komon in turn has advocates, accountants, secretaries and advisers. The oyabun has children (wakashu) and brothers (kyodai); the children’s leader is called waka-gashira. He is next to oyabun in authority but not in rank and is number two. Waka-gashira ensures that oyabun’s orders are complied with.

The kyodai’s boss is called shatei-gashira, who is higher in rank as compared to waka-gashira but lesser in authority. The brothers or kyodai have their own children or younger brothers called as shatei, who in turn have their own gangs. The central theme remains that oyabun’s word is final and is to be strictly complied by every single individual of the clan. But according to Anthony Bruno, kumicho (supreme boss) is assisted by saiko-komon (senior adviser) and so-honbucho (headquarters chief) and waka-gashira being a regional boss governs many gangs and is assisted by fuku-honbucho, who in turn manages many gangs on his own.

Shatei-gashira is a lesser regional boss and assisted by shatei-gashira-hosa. A usual yakuza family consists of many shatei (younger brothers) and wakashu (junior leaders), thus the levels of management are complex in a yakuza setup. According to virtualginza, any person belonging to any class of the society, any country, a misfit, a school dropout, a refuge, an orphan or even an abandoned child can become a member of yakuza family. Kumicho acts as his father and comrades his brothers. The yakuza provides everything to a person such as money, status and authority.

There are no strict requirements to join the organization but has to strictly obey his superiors. According to Anthony Bruno, during admission a successful candidate participates in a ceremony wherein the blood from his pricked trigger finger is smeared onto a picture of a saint and the picture set on fire. The picture must burn in the initiate’s hands as he vows loyalty to the family. The initiation ceremony is symbolized by exchanging of sake (rice wine), while the sake is prepared by azukarinin (guarantors) the oyabun and the initiate sit facing each other.

The sake is mixed with salt and fish scales, poured carefully into cups with oyabun’s cup filled to the brim and the initiate’s cup filled to a much lesser level befitting his status. Both take a sip and exchange their cups, from this moment the kobun seals his commitment to the family and even his wife and children must strictly accept his obligation to the yakuza family. Punishment meted out to a yakuza member for displeasing or severely disappointing his boss is yubizume i. e. , amputation of last joint of the little finger.

Successive offenses require severing of second joint of that finger and further to next finger too. This practice has its origins to the samurai period; the amputation of last joint in the little finger weakens the grip on katana (the samurai long sword). On gripping a katana, the little finger is strongest, ring finger is second strongest, middle finger is third strongest and the index finger has no purpose served in a damaged hand. This tradition was adopted to make the swordsman more dependent on his master and obey his orders.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia stated that sake sharing ceremony is a prominent yakuza ritual and is performed to seal bonds of brotherhood between individual yakuza members or between two yakuza groups. Seppuku also known as hara-kiri is a radical version of penance. It is a ritual suicide by disembowelment committed by the yakuza for their failures. According to Adam Johnson, the most powerful syndicate in Japan is Yamaguchi-gumi with a rhombus shaped pin symbol worn on the lapel of their suits. Kazuo Taoka was the oyabun from mid of 1940’s to his death in 1981.

Surprisingly Fumiko, the widow of Taoka was made the oyabun since the successor Yakamen was in prison and was not supposed to be released till date late 1982. Under Taoka’s rule the Yamaguchi-gumi operated under same pattern as that existed 300 years earlier investing heavily on sports and other entertainment and controlling more than 2500 businesses, this included sophisticated gambling and loan-sharking. The syndicate was earning more than $ 460 million annually and was envied by other organizations such as Mafia.

With over 500 gangs and 103 bosses Yamaguchi-gumi fared extremely well with each boss earning more than $ 130,000 annually and the syndicate head earning $ 360,000 annually after annual deduction of $ 156,000 towards entertainment and office expenditure. The Yamaguchi-gumi started dealing in narcotics such as amphetamines, money lending, smuggling, pornography, rigging of baseball games, horse races and public property auctions. Other activities included seizing of real estate, hospitals, entertainment halls and English schools.

By the end of 1983 the membership reached 13,346 from a mere 587 and their control stretched to 36 of 47 Japan’s prefectures. The syndicate elected Masahisa Takenaka as the new oyabun in 1983 with a liking for his militant style as against Hiroshi Yamamoto. But Yamamoto split away by taking with him 13,000 men creating a new group Ichiwa-kai. Takenaka was assassinated by Ichiwa-kai’s men in 1985 leading a bloody gang war. Once Kazuo Nakanishi took over the reins of Yamaguchi-gumi, he wanted to avenge the death of his predecessor, thus he declared a war on the Ichiwa-kai.

The Yamaguchi-gumi in the process obtained highly sophisticated illegal weaponry such as rocket launchers and machine guns in exchange for narcotics. But police arrested the conspirators and finance controller of the syndicate Hideomi Oda along with Masashi Takenaka, brother of slain Masahisa Takenaka and the Yamaguchi-gumi was in chaos again. According to a Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority in Australia (1995) three largest boryokudan groups are the Yamaguchi-gumi, the Inagawa-kai and the Sumiyoshi-kai.

The Yamaguchi-gumi amongst them is largest with 944 affiliate gangs and 26,200 yakuza under its command. Adam Johnson stated that Japanese government passed Act for Prevention of Unlawful Activities by Boryokudan (yakuza or criminal gangs) members on March 01, 1992. The act prohibits boryokudans from indulging in acts of extortion, thus yakuza are trying to hide their actual business. With anti yakuza act in place the future of yakuza appears to be bleak. As of today the future of yakuza is uncertain.

After a prolonged discussion regarding Japan’s yakuza, it is clear that the yakuza with strong ties to its origins has tried to maintain the legacy to even modern days, but it was compelled to change and an example being adoption of firearms in place of long samurai swords (gurentai). With changing times the punishment of yubitsume may not be in vogue now. It is clear that yakuza is facing hard times and in future may even face extinction. Some argue that yakuza has Robin Hood like image and some are against the idea.

References Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2006). Retrieved on September 10, 2006 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakuza

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