The Yakuza

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The Yakuza

The Yakuza and their reputations
The yakuza origins can be traced back to the time of transition of Japan from feudalism to a modern state in the later 19th century around the time of the Meiji restoration. As a result of this transition, a pool of samurais without power, hooligans and landless peasants formed the supply of the Yakuza. (Varse, 2003) Yakuza, 8-9-3 is a losing combination in the card game hana-fuda and hence later on used to describe gamblers who were born to lose and was of no use in society.

The Yakuza have different identities, to some they are violence specialists, to some gangsters, to some extortionists, to some gamblers, to some the Japanese mafia. While it is not wrong to have such impressions on the yakuza, this not completely true as there is so much more behind the yakuza than just being violent gangsters. Also according to Siniawer, he does not want to call the yakuza, “gangsters” because sometimes “it may evoke romantic images of Prohibition-era bosses”, which will inaccurately depict the yakuza.

The yakuza are essentially different from the (Sicilian) mafia, in the sense that the perception of the mafia as an unambiguously predatory entity locked in bloody combat with the state, which are exemplified by such crimes as the assassination of the Italian prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. This was different with the yakuza who proudly displayed the name of their gang, and its crest, and crest at the entrance. (Hill, 2003: 6-7) This is also shown in movies like Brother, in which the Cuban mafia could not understand the way in which the Japanese carried out their operation methods and were eventually out played by the yakuza for a while.

The yakuza are also made up of different groups of people. The more prominent groups are mainly the Bakuto and Tekiya. Bakuto were usually gamblers who were in charge of running gambling dens since the 18th century. Tekiya were deception masters as they were the ones who would usually sell items at extortionate prices. The yakuza would sometimes call themselves kyokaku (men of chivalry). The Yamaguchi-gumi proclaimed themselves as the moral descendants of Japan’s noble warriors, and the last upholders of the nation’s traditional values, like samurai in business suits.
Fig 1. Daimon of the Yamaguchi-gumi

Yakuza Organization and Structure
Like any organization, the Yakuza also have their form of organization and structure. Instead of having a formal relationship between the chief and the associates like the capo, consigliere, associates in the mafia chain of command, the yakuza have a different system, which is the oyabun-kobun relationship. Oyabun means, “father role”; kobun means “child role”. This relationship has to be accepted by every man who is accepted into the yakuza. With this, he must promise unquestioning and undoubting loyalty to his boss. There’s this old Japanese saying that “If your boss says the passing crow is white, then you must agree.” The kobun also did all the household chores for the oyabun. In the olden days, when the kobun did the chores and shopping, he would also try to get in good terms with the local businessmen and he would even help to clean the streets in his neighbourhood. All this was essential to the yakuza, as it will allow him to earn the respect of the people in the neighbourhood. With the increased respect, it will also allow for smoother transactions for the yakuza later on in their career. According to Hill, “ This system of artificial kinship relationships is by no means unique to the yakuza in Japan. Liza Dalby, in her participant observation study of geisha, noted that a similar system of mother-daughter and sister-sister links” (Hill, 2003: 68). Fig 3. The yakuza hierarchy

Also in the yakuza ranks, there are usually no females in them. There is this belief to never send a lady to do a man’s job. Men were preferred...
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