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The life of a yakuza explained

Flash Sep. 29-Oct. 6
Flash Sep. 29-Oct. 6

In recent weeks, Japan’s vernacular media has been evaluating the potential impact of the surprising dissolution of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the nation’s largest organized crime group.

Though the coverage has been comprehensive, there is still no clear understanding about what it actually means to be living a life of crime.

In an effort to shed a little light on the dark underworld, weekly tabloid Flash (Sep. 29-Oct. 6) speaks with a few gangsters to learn about monthly dues, drugs, severed fingers and much more.

Upon entry to a gang, a member will purchase a gold-plated pin for around 5,000 yen.

“But once a gangster reaches executive-level of, say, a third-tier gang the badges are 18-carat gold — and run 100,000 yen a pop,” says a member of the Yamaguchi-gumi.

As he rises up the ranks of the gang, however, the pin changes.

“If you get up to the top, badge is platinum and affixed to a gold chain — a gift from the oyabun (boss),” the aforementioned member says.

The finger-cutting ritual, which serves as a means of atonement for a blunder, is a well-known facet of thug life. Another gangster says that it often follows a lower member failing to send money upward within the gang, a process known as jonokin.

“For gangsters without cash, they’ve got to remove a finger,” says the gangsters. “The location is often the roof of a hospital so he can be sewn up quickly.”

The digit is then preserved with formalin inside a glass jar.

“But it’s pretty rare now,” continues the gangster. “It’s a serious burden. Nowadays, if you don’t look like a normal person it is difficult to do business.”

When it comes to jonokin, many readers may wonder: What kind of money are we talking about? Well, an upper boss might be on the hook for one million yen each month. “In the Yamaguchi-gumi, a fourth-tier executive must pay between 400,000 and 500,000 yen monthly,” says the aforementioned Yamaguchi-gumi member. “Being in an old gang is expensive.”

In Tokyo, a second-tier gangster might be required to pay 250,000 yen. A rookie without a title will fork over a mere 10,000 yen.

It may surprise some readers to find out that many gangs frown on the dealing of drugs. But there is no shortage of gangsters getting arrested for the possession and sale of stimulants.

“It is strictly forbidden,” says the aforementioned gangster. “A lot of guys get kicked out for it (dealing). However, there is a lot of selling behind the scenes.”

They do it for easy cash. One gram of stimulant drugs can be purchased for 8,000 yen and sold for 30,000 yen.

“There are a not a lot of businesses where one can make that kind of money,” continues the gangster.

In the yakuza world, cash is king but a bank account can be useful. However, financial institutions have recently been getting increasingly strict about not serving gangsters.

Shinobu Tsukasa of the Yamaguchi-gumi
Shinobu Tsukasa is the top boss of the Yamaguchi-gumi

“If the bank finds out you are a gangster, your money will be frozen,” says the same gangster. “Then you have to go down to the bank and pull out your cash, and your bank book will be taken.”

As well, hiding one’s identity to open an account is a criminal offense.

“So what you can do is get married and then open an account after changing your name to that of your wife,” the gangster continues. ” .”

Readers may also be surprised to realize that the mobster existence extends beyond gambling, drinking, fighting and playing with prostitutes. There is also…housework.

“Young yakuza have to answer phones, cook meals and clean the office,” says a gangster based in the Kanto area. “One of your jobs is remembering the favorite foods of the executives.” (K.N.)

Source: “Mada mada shirita yakuza Q&A,” Flash (Sep. 29-Oct. 6, pages 90-91)