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Yakuza finger-cutting ritual fades as gangsters turn to geezers

Shinji Ishihara on the cover of his book 'Risking My Life To Protect You'
Shinji Ishihara on the cover of his book ‘Risking My Life To Protect You’

Last week, police in Toyama arrested four members of a criminal syndicate affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi for allegedly kidnapping a rival boss and severing one of his fingers.

According to Tokyo Sports (May 22), such a ritual is a fading act, made less common as gangsters get on in years.

“Cutting off a finger doesn’t have any value anymore. Yakuza are short of money — and, at the end of the day, that’s what counts,” says Shinji Ishihara, a former boss in the Yamaguchi-gumi who now authors books, such as “Risking My Life To Protect You.” “Gangsters from days back would cut off a finger, which is an example of how the world of the yakuza is aging. It’s a serious problem.”

In the world of organized crime, the finger-cutting custom is a deep-rooted act to show responsibility for a transgression. In the case in Toyama, the source of the conflict was a decision on the part of the Takada-gumi to defect from under the Yamaguchi-gumi to the rival Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi.

So then it came to pass on March 15, when Koshin Odake, the 69-year-old boss of the Haga-gumi, and three other gangsters kidnapped the top boss of the Takada-gumi. During the incident, the suspects beat the Takada-gumi boss and cut off one of his fingers.

Confirming Ishihara’s assertion that digit-dicing is a fading custom cannot be done easily. However, there is no doubt that Japan’s underworld is getting long in the tooth.

Last year, the National Police Agency released a white paper that said 26 percent of gangsters and affiliate members in 2014 were in their 40s, a substantial decrease from the 40-percent figure in 2006. Meanwhile, one in five gangsters is over the age of 60.

According to Ishihara, recent nationwide legislation is cutting into the money-making activities of gangs — which is making day-to-day life challenging. “You can’t use an alias to play golf or stay at a hotel,” he says. “Therefore, young people aren’t entering the world of the yakuza.”

Without new recruits, gang numbers are dwindling and influence is fading, with the result being graying ranks.

“It’s to the point where upper-level members can’t say to elderly members of affiliate gangs, ‘Go ahead and retire,'” Ishihara says.

Source: “Toyama no yubi tsume jiken kara mieta…boryokudan sekai ni mo korei-ka mondai,” Tokyo Sports (May 22)