Insider Outsider: The Way of the Yakuza | Kyoto Journal
through Japan because of marketing and translation difficulties. . As the bakuto, they strictly followed the oyabun-kobun relationship and. The guiding principle of the yakuza structure is the oyabun-kobun relationship. Oyabun literally means "father role"; kobun means "child role. Most Japanese, whatever their status or occupation, are involved in oyabun- kobun relationships. There was an excellent example in a recent election for the .
Unlike most criminal organisations that struggle to hide in the dark, the yakuza are fairly open about their existence and their business. Where else in the world can you find a Mafia that has offices open to the public, complete with signs out front? The unique symbiosis between the yakuza, the people and the state extends to the point where it could be said that they form the triangle of society; remove one corner, and it collapses.
The above statement may sound somewhat absurd to those living in the west, who are used to a system that is harsh on organised crime. For it to make sense, it is important that we put things into a bit of perspective. The organisation that most closely resembles the yakuza is the original Mafia, the Cosa Nostra. With most of its holdings in the Mediterranean and United States, the Cosa Nostra are regarded as one of the biggest and most dangerous criminal organisations in the west.
So, how do they compare to the yakuza? The Cosa Nostra have 4, active members worldwide. The yakuza have roughly 87, - in Japan alone. For those interested in geography, this is a nation slightly smaller than the state of California and with a population less than half that of the United States. Let this sink in for a moment. Then realise that these are active members, which does not count the numerous thugs and henchmen that follow the orders of local bosses.
The yakuza form the biggest criminal entity on Earth, yet reside in a nation with one of the lowest violent crime rates in the first world - an almost absurd combination. What has allowed the yakuza to grow to such great numbers in a subdued society?
How far does their influence extend? Where did they come from, and how did they get where they are? My intention is to answer all these questions and more. The Origins of the Yakuza While scholars have not reached full agreement in the subject, the most common heritage ascribed to the yakuza is one that begins in the late sixteenth century with the kabukimono, boisterous ronin and vagabonds that walked the streets in flamboyant dress and used vulgar speech to set themselves apart from the common folk.
They referred to themselves as hatamoto-yakko, men of the shogun, but they had no such relation - they were little more than gangs formed by those samurai and soldiers left behind by a society on its way to stability and peace. The kabukimono were wild and lawless, causing trouble wherever they gathered. Their crimes ranged from simple dine and dash to cutting down civilians for amusement; they would also riot or vandalize public property to alleviate boredom.
Despite this chaotic behaviour they were loyal to one another; some even swore to protect their fellow gang members from friends and family should it become necessary. Their antics and relationships became one of the primary inspirations of kabuki theatre, an art form that is still regarded as one of Japan's national arts.
What a kabukimono may have looked like. The kabukimono faded away over time as the shogunate government became more organised and regular police forces could be established. The shogunate was aided in their efforts by the machi-yakko, civilian police forces formed by volunteers. The modern yakuza claim their heritage begins here, with these "servants of the people" and not the violent kabukimono. Certainly, the machi-yakko were much closer to the chivalric ideal of the yakuza, working to protect and safeguard the people, but there is little historical evidence to link the two.
The modern yakuza appears in the latter half of the seventeenth century in the form of bakuto, gamblers, and tekiya, peddlers. The former were closely knit groups that gave birth to the modern version of the oyabun-kobun father role - child role relationship that is the base of yakuza society today.
They provided the people with less legal services such as gambling, protection and prostitution - an acceptable arrangement for the government, who preferred such things kept orderly in the hands of a competent organisation. The tekiya peddled illegal goods and controlled the black market, travelling alone or in small groups all over Japan. They also became proficient information brokers, and some found careers as spies for the shogunate.
With time the bakuto and tekiya took control of the Japanese underworld, and on the eve of the twentieth century their organisations were close to those of the modern yakuza groups. However, they were still regarded as criminals, and the police had run out of patience with them; efforts had been made by the government to suppress them, and their growth had stagnated.
But fate was on their side. Due to certain events beginning inthe yakuza would undergo an amazing rebirth Roosevelt The Modern Yakuza Emerge The first of only two nuclear weapons deployed against fellow men The second world war ends in a complete victory for the Allies, with Japan being little more than a burnt out husk housing a starving people. Old Tokyo has been burnt to the ground by systematic fire bombing, medical supplies are worth their weight in gold and the people look to the emperor for guidance The United States install an occupational government and move thousands of troops onto Japanese soil to keep order.
Relief efforts, however, are slow coming - the majority of support is going to Europe, and Japan put second. In this country of martial law, chaos and lucrative business opportunities, the yakuza begin their rise to prominence. A black market of unparalleled size is opened by the tekiya, funnelling military supplies from both armies to the people.
Gigantic stores of amphetamines, used as combat drugs during the war, keep minds off the hunger. The occupational government, unable to cope with the crime waves, turn a blind eye to the yakuza as they begin their clean up and take complete control of the underworld. Indeed, some less ethical army representatives do business with the yakuza who provide prostitution, alcohol and drugs for the American soldiers - a business deal that would extend to US soil before long, and last for decades.
A third yakuza archetype, the gurentai, or violent groups, materialises during the post-war years. They are openly violent thugs that sell their services to the highest bidder, cracking down on socialist ideas and unions on order from the occupational government and right-wing politicians.
They intermingle with the bakuto and tekiya, and the gangs grow explosively; the modern yakuza groups are born, and begin to spread out over Japan. By the early sixties, legendary bosses like Yoshio Kodama have earned billions of dollars on drugs, prostitution, speedboat racing and construction kickback schemes.Put Relationship Marketing to Work for You - from Bill Cates
The new Japanese government, having been built alongside these criminal organisations, are forced to rely on them to solve matters with methods not available to the police.
Yakuza often wear black suits, normally reserved for funerals in Japan. Bythe yakuza have complete control over every racket in Japan. Reported crime is at an all-time low; after all, no one is stupid enough to try to steal a piece of the cake when there are tens of thousands of armed gangsters sitting around it. An understanding has been reached between the zaibatsu giant industrial corporationsthe government and the yakuza.
Money flows in all directions, and the trinity is complete. People, government and organised crime all rely on one another to function. The economical boom of the '80s make the yakuza richer than ever, and they enjoy a second golden age. This is also the time they seriously begin excursions abroad, setting up operations in Russia, Europe and the United States. American companies make hesitant contact with these new players, and the FBI starts striking deals.
The future seems bright The Yakuza Hierarchy Much like the rest of Japanese society, the yakuza have a strong emphasis on loyalty and the importance of seniority. All members of the organisation are expected to obey their seniors without question, sacrificing themselves without hesitation should the need arise. Yakuza culture states that all followers are teppodama lit. The bullet does not think for itself; it is simply aimed and released. To foster this kind of blind loyalty, it was necessary for the yakuza to implement a system of reliance.
This resulted in the oyabon-kobun relationship roughly father role - child rolepopular among the bakuto already during the seventeenth century. In such a relationship, the oyabun "adopts" kobun, offering them protection, advice and work in exchange for servitude. This may sound strange to a westerner, but in Japan such family loyalty is natural; a father is simply meant to be obeyed.
The adoption ceremony is known as sakazuki-goto sakazuki being a small sake cupand consists of the participants taking turns drinking from the same cup in what is originally a Shinto ritual.
The kobun keeps the cup after the ceremony, both as a memento and a physical contract - it has to be returned or destroyed in case of an expulsion. The kobun may later hold sakazuki-goto ceremonies of his own and thus adopt kobun of his own. Through this method the family will grow and branch off, to the point where a new family may be formed. Yakuza family hierarchy, courtesy of Wikipedia. The oyabun appoints lieutenants and advisers among his kobun and also selects external advisers that are not officially part of the organisation, such as lawyers and press contacts.
Thus the family is complete, with all important roles filled and everyone knowing their place. As a yakuza group grows, however, it becomes more difficult to keep a clear organisational layout.
Groups like the Yamaguchi-gumi, with literally hundreds of affiliate families, need a more bureaucratic system. Larger yakuza groups are constructed similarly to corporations. At the top is the group boss, referred to as kumicho family bossa rank that implies absolute authority. In descending order, the ranks below the kumicho are saiko-kanbu executive officerskanbu officerskumi-in soldiers and jun-kosei-in trainees.
Within this new hierarchy, families may exist on different levels; family heads are ranked by proximity to the kumicho, which means that a oyabun that is kobun of the kumicho will almost always outrank one who is not.
While the organisation appears complicated to an outsider, those within the group generally only need to keep track of who is immediately above and immediately below.
More complicated relations are generally settled on seniority within the group or by judgement of the next rank up; the decision, as always, lies with the boss. Yakuza Ranks and Responsibilities While the yakuza hierarchy is simple enough once you grasp the oyabun-kobun relationship and its intricacies, it is just the beginning.
Since the average yakuza organisation is built similarly to a corporation, many specific ranks and positions are used to denote seniority, responsibility and influence.
Starting from the very top of the pyramid, we begin with the kumicho. As head of the family, his word is law and his actions unquestionable. All members of the family are expected to revere and obey the kumicho, and do everything in their power to ensure that he is untroubled. It is common for the kumicho to not give literal orders but instead clue his officers in on what to do.
This way he can not be directly connected to any crime, which ensures his safety should the police come knocking. Kanbu - Yakuza Officers Below the kumicho are the kanbu, or officers, taking the form of executives, advisers and lieutenants. The higher ranks, saiko-kanbu, are generally in close relation with the kumicho. An anniversary book, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the organization, was published several years ago.
The second half is a thorough history of yashi. The book is not for sale in regular bookstores, but is intended for inner PR. Both contents and editing were most professional. It could the commemoration book of any respectable company or art school in Japan. Signboards One of the most conspicuous forms of yakuza self-presentation is the kanban or signboard. After all, yakuza is an underworld society; it has very good reason to conceal its activities and whereabouts.
However, we witness the opposite. The signboard openly announces some of the more vital information needed to locate gangs.
This was accepted, until recently, by both police and citizens. The last few years, however, have witnessed several citizen movements to banish yakuza offices, or at least to remove their signboards from residential neighborhoods. From the standpoint of my informants, some of these moves order on violation of their basic human rights; a symposium was even held in connection with this type of concern among yakuza.
As with any device of self-presentation, this too needs an audience. Yakuza business cards are usually designed with bold, decorative brush characters. The signboard and business card, of course, present more than net information. The signboard, taken metaphorically, is the face of the group. Thus, it is often said by yakuza bosses: A local court in Hamamatsu City issued a decision prohibiting more than eight members of a local yakuza gang from assembling in a building they owned, offenders to be fined one million yen per month.
Yakuza viewed this decision as a violation of their human rights. My host group decided to hold the symposium at a certain hotel in Tokyo. O-oyabun asked me if I would participate, giving me a free hand regarding any opinions I might express. Five people took part: Lasting more than three hours, the symposium was conducted like any academic seminar. It was fully recorded, and later published in the spring issue of their magazine my opinions and photos included.
Rituals Yakuza rituals, too, send ambivalent messages. As mentioned before, three deities are enshrined in tekiya sakazuki ritual: In contrast, the other deities are purely native in origin and represent the ultimate symbols of Japanese culture.
It certainly seems unusual for an outlaw organization to identify with these symbols, which are, after all, symbols of order and the absolute representatives of conventional and traditional Japanese values. But by displaying one exclusive and two inclusive objects of worship, tekiya express their double identity in Japanese society. As Shennung, one of the three mythical emperors of ancient China, he is said to have revealed knowledge of agriculture, music, medicinal herbs and the market to mankind.
Closely observed, these aspects of knowledge are related to both sedentary and itinerant societies. Agriculture is a typical sedentary occupation, while medicine, music, and the market have bivalent attributes, connected with both the sedentary and itinerant. Medicine was sold by tekiya ancestors, yashi, in their remotest history. And the market represents, more than anything, the encounter between sedentary and itinerant societies.
The self-presentation of yakuza, both for fellow yakuza and for conventional society, is only one aspect of the complex relationship between the two societies. We have nothing to say to them. Declaring, declaiming, and other forms of performing may denote a quest for communication with conventional society.
Yakuza declare themselves Japanese, very Japanese, while at the same time being both excluded from Japanese society, and excluding that society. These two faces of yakuza communication, however, are two sides of the same coin. The festival drew more than three million worshippers in three days.
This, of course, means big business. He was referring, of course, to the simulated family of tekiya. While walking with my host behind the scenes, I was able to observe a specific characteristic of the matsuri: In erecting this huge matsuri complex, tekiya form a virtual community. The complexity is expressed in both spatial and relational aspect: Their hosts are the tekiya.
The visitors come to offer prayers and to enjoy the atmosphere of the festival. They play, eat, watch performances, buy souvenirs, and return to their homes. Suspension of Disbelief My tekiya hosts once revealed to me that the goods they sell are often of low quality or even fake.
These are old traditions. A boy holding fountain-pens smeared with mud stands crying at a large railway station and tells a sympathetic crowd that his father used to work at a fountain-pen factory which was bombed by the Americans. He managed to save a few pens from the ruins. Would they buy oen so he could get back to his home town? The result is that no real cheating takes place.
Consequently, what attracted me here was not the vendors but the customers. They would never eat yakisoba of such low quality at home, but they do at the festival.
Are they unaware of the tricks? Or do they want to be tricked? What is the frame of mind of the festival visitor? This is an agreed convention. Within an agreed time and space the two sides agree to pretend and to believe in that pretence.
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The event is a ritual creating an alternative to the daily world. The matsuri is one such place: What occasionally occurs is not merely a change, but a reversal. The matsuri is where alternative worlds can be encountered or temporarily realized. Also, within the matsuri, tekiya offer the opportunity of an open encounter with outlaws. The outlaw is a popular hero of any culture, but is usually only found in literature or films. In the festival the outlaw can be personally, but safely, encountered: A mental partition is delicately, but firmly established between customer and vendor.
This, we may remember, is exactly what has always been done when encountering other figures who represent alternative worlds: In both, a partition is established which securely maintains a physical and mental distance between oneself and representative of the other world.
There is no real contact. The other remains an outside, albeit a close one. This is the same with tekiya. The visitor takes part, as both spectator and actor in the synaesthetic event called matsuri.
This event consists of sounds, smells, colors, voices, and performances of the first level, which contain the whole space of matsuri.
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Here visitors are both spectators and performers. Other performers are vendors, fortune-tellers, and so on. However, it is the vendors who are the real producers of the event, arranging the frame and structure of performance. Another is the already-mentioned announcement or advertisement performances, aimed at enticing people to buy goods. Customer are certain to gather around an artisan they can watch creating a doll, although another stall not far away may display the same, or even better merchandise, but with no performance.
This produced, during the first stages of my study, a different process of self-presentation especially devised for me. This approach later changed, as encounters became frequent and defenses on both sides were pulled down. But naturally I never entirely ceased to be a stranger, at least in some respects. This granted me freedom. I often expressed my views and at times argued about what I was told. Sometimes this surprised my partners; a Japanese would never dare to say these things to them.
I was told by some that they were grateful to me for coming to them free of the usual prejudices. However, no one can start a study of the yakuza free of prejudices. Having lived in Japan for many years, I could not have escaped the common stereotypes of the yakuza as either bearers of long-vanished values of valor and honor, or bloody gangsters.
Some journalists tend to flatter their informants, to maintain continuous access to the inner yakuza circles. Consequently, the yakuza image is often depicted in an extremely flattering way. The other extreme is to show yakuza as almost non-human, cruel creatures.
Needless to say, neither view is correct. The dialectic ink of the tekiya-yakuza world with mainstream Japanese culture may be illustrated by comparing it with the American mafia. Ranking, language, terminology, food, family codes, etc. This does not mean that their codes of behavior are entirely non-American; they have certainly adopted many aspects of the American way of life.