If you’ve binged watched the incredible ‘Daredevil’ Netflix series, you’re probably familiar with the name yakuza (if you haven’t watched this magnificent piece of super hero lore what are you waiting for?). The big bad group who apparently have their hands in everything are notorious for making our blind crusader’s life a living nightmare. But the yakuza are more than just a fictional organized crime group, they are actually the real deal. That’s right, the yakuza walk, breathe, and are responsible for instilling fear in the hearts of many people around the world. Get ready because on today’s list, we are about to share with you some little known facts about 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.
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.
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.
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".
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”.
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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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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