25 Little Known Facts About The Yakuza

Posted by , Updated on May 22, 2024

If you’ve spent considerable time immersed in the gripping ‘Daredevil’ series on Netflix, you’re probably familiar with the term “yakuza” (and if you haven’t started this enthralling superhero saga yet, what’s holding you back?). This menacing organization, ever-present and fear-inducing, is infamous for making our favorite blind superhero’s life a veritable nightmare. However, the depiction of yakuza isn’t limited to a fictional underworld syndicate; it indeed reflects a real societal underbelly. The yakuza are real living entities in the world, instilling fear in countless lives globally. Get ready, because today, we’re going to uncover some lesser-known aspects of the yakuza.

This gigantic network of organized crime syndicates originated in Japan and most of its members still operate in this East Asian country. The yakuza is arguably the most famous and largest mafia in the world but in fact, few people know what exactly yakuza is, when it was formed, how it is divided or what activities it is involved in. As this Japanese underworld is also surrounded by a number of myths and legends, we decided to do a bit of a research on this topic and compile a list of 25 little known facts about the yakuza (yay).

Though most people may only associate the yakuza with crime, deadly fights among cliques, brutal vendettas and other violent acts, did you know the yakuza has also been involved in beneficial and relief efforts to help people affected by devastating natural disasters? Or do you know what the links between the yakuza and the sumo wrestlers are? And how about their bizarre rituals such as cutting off fingers? This and much more coming up…


A single origin for the yakuza remains somewhat unclear but it is believed to have derived 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 gambling.

yakuzaSource: en.wikipedia.org, image: flickr.com

Currently, there are more than 58,000 active yakuza members in Japan. However internationally, the yakuza has over 102,000 members, making it the largest organized crime group in the world.

yakuzaSource and image: en.wikipedia.org

The yakuza consists of 3 main syndicates, the largest of which being the Yamaguchi-gumi with over 55,000 members divided into 850 clans. The Yamaguchi family operates internationally and they even became a target of sanctions by the US government in a crackdown on organized crime.

Police ArrestSource and image: en.wikipedia.org

The Japanese police, and media by request of the police, call the yakuza “boryokudan" which means “violent groups", while the yakuza call themselves "ninkyo dantai" which means "chivalrous organizations".

yakuza Source: en.wikipedia.org, image: flickr.com

The yakuza is populated almost entirely by men, and there are very few women involved in the group. Yakuza women are called “ane-san” which means “older sisters”.

japanese womanSource and image: en.wikipedia.org

The sumo and the yakuza have long been intertwined. Failed sumo wrestlers often end up as yakuza enforcers and some ex-sumo wrestlers have even become yakuza bosses.

sumoSource: guardian.com, image: en.wikipedia.org

Yakuza members are notorious for their full-body tattoos. These tattoos, known as irezumi in Japan, are still often "hand-poked", that is, the ink is inserted beneath the skin using non-electrical, hand-made and handheld tools with needles of sharpened bamboo or steel. The procedure is very expensive, painful, and can take years to complete.

Yakuza tattooSource: en.wikipedia.org, image: youtube.com

Yakuza is also active in the United States. Its members are known to operate in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas, Arizona, Virginia, Chicago, and New York City but their activity is mostly relegated to Hawaii that serves as a midway station between Japan and mainland America to smuggle drugs and firearms.

Hawaii Source: en.wikipedia.org, image: flickr.com

Yakuza has always been involved in politics in Japan. A number of high profile politicians including some ministers and even prime ministers have been proved to have had links with the organization.

yakuzaSource: hybridtechcar.com, image: en.wikipedia.org

The yakuza comes with several bizarre rituals. Yubitsume, for example, is cutting off of one's little finger as a form of penance or apology. Its origin stems from the traditional way of holding a Japanese sword. The removal of the finger weakens a person's sword grip, making him rely more on the group for protection, thus reducing individual action.

YubitsumeSource: en.wikipedia.org, image: flickr.com

After World War II, the number of yakuza members increased to about 184,000 (the highest number ever recorded). American troops who occupied Japan after the war saw the yakuza as the biggest threat against their forces.

soldiersSource: okinawan-shorinryu.com, image: en.wikipedia.org

If you enjoyed our post on the yakuza, then you might also enjoy these extremely notorious gangsters.


According to the U.S. State Department of Treasury, the Yamaguchi-gumi are worth 80 billion dollars, which makes them one of the wealthiest gangs in the world.

moneySource: journeyto1000.com, image: flickr.com

In 2013, Yakuza published their own magazine. Named “Yamaguchi-gumi Shinpo”, the magazine contained haiku poetry, articles on fishing and entreaties to its readers to perform good works. Publicly unavailable, the magazine was distributed among the members in a bid to raise morale amid tougher anti-gang laws and a slew of bad publicity surrounding the yakuza.

magazineSource: guardian.com, image: flickr.com

Yakuza often engage in a unique form of Japanese extortion known as “sokaiya”, a specialized form of protection racket. Instead of harassing small businesses, the yakuza harasses a stockholders' meeting of a larger corporation. They simply scare the ordinary stockholder with the presence of yakuza operatives, who obtain the right to attend the meeting by making a small purchase of stock.

Yakuza Source: en.wikipedia.org, image: commons.wikimedia.org

Yakuza also engage in relief efforts to help people affected by natural disasters. They have engaged in relief efforts following major earthquakes and tsunami including Tohoko 2011 and Kobe 1995. Such actions by the yakuza are a result of their knowing of what it is like to "fend for yourself," because they are also considered "outcast" and "dropouts from society".

earthquakeSource: en.wikipedia.org, image: commons.wikimedia.org

Bob the Builder has five fingers instead of four in Japan. Local authorities decided to give him the extra digit so Japanese children would not think he was a member of yakuza.

Bob the BuilderSource: news.bbc.co.uk, image: opencage.info

The intricately tattooed skins of yakuza members are sometimes peeled of their corpses and sold on the black market to be displayed in galleries.

Japanese TattooSource: buzzfeed.com image: en.wikipedia.org

To become a member of the Yamaguchi-gumi family, one needs to pass a written exam that tests the potential member´s knowledge of gangster lore and rules.

written examSource: weirdasianews.com, image: flickr.com

The word yakuza can be divided into three words: ya – ku – za which means three numbers: 8 – 9 – 3 which is the worst combination you can get in Oicho-Kabu, a traditional Japanese card game similar to Baccarat.

cardsSource and image: en.wikipedia.org

Katana, the traditional Japanese sword originally used by samurais, still plays an important role in yakuza. A number of people including some prominent politicians and businessmen have been killed with the sword by yakuza. In 1994, for example, Fujifilm vice president Juntaro Suzuki was murdered with katana after he refused to pay bribes.

KatanaSource and image: en.wikipedia.org

New recruits to yakuza are required to take a subservient role to more experienced members. The initiation ritual for a new recruit is a ceremony based around sake, known as “sakazukigoto”. The initiate sits opposite his “oyabun” (meaning “father”). The newcomer gets a smaller portion while his sponsor’s cup is filled to the brim, reflecting their status.

sakeSource: listverse.com, image: flickr.com

Yoshio Kodama became the first yakuza godfather after he united its factions. After his involvement in a number of scandals including the Lockheed Scandal, Kodama was the target of an assassination attempt by film actor Mitsuyasu Maeno, who tried to fly a plane into Kodama's house kamikaze style but the attempt failed.

Yoshio KodamaSource and image: en.wikipedia.org

There are major differences in the activities yakuza families are involved in. Many syndicates, notably the Yamaguchi-gumi, officially forbid their members from engaging in drug trafficking, while some syndicates, notably the Dojin-kai, are heavily involved in it.

drugSource and image: en.wikipedia.org

When the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was launched in Japan in 1990, the government ordered the consoles to be shipped at night to reduce the risk of potential robbery by the yakuza who considered the consoles a valuable commodity.

Nintendo Source: techeblog.com, image: en.wikipedia.org

The yakuza are sometimes considered the true heirs of the samurai. Both are organized into a strong hierarchal systems based on honor and subservience. Both regard violence as an efficient way to get things done. And both have a strong sense of tradition and pride.

samuraiSource: factsanddetails.com, image: en.wikipedia.org