Asian Gangs

Japanese Organized Crime

The Yakuza

Known as YAKUZA by its members and BORYOKUDAN by the Japanese Police, organized crime in Japan, which was always traditionally local, and fragmented, has changed radically. Consolidated into much larger, more powerful groups since World War II, the Yakuza has now spread beyond Japan with powerful members taking up residence in Hawaii, Guam, Thailand, Hong Kong, the Philippines and the Continental United States. Japanese organized crime now touches almost every area and level of crime including gambling, prostitution, extortion, loan-sharking, pornography, book-making, weapons smuggling and drug trafficking.

The origin of many of today’s gangs in the United States can be looked upon as a strong similarity to that of the Yakuza. The Yakuza’s origin can be traced as far back as the year 1612, when men known as kabuki-mono (the crazy ones), got known by the local authorities. Their odd clothing style, distinctive haircuts, bad behavior and carrying long sword got everyone's attention, fast. After Japan’s civil war (1863-1868), hundreds of thousands of samurai warriors were left unemployed. Without enough jobs to fill the void, many turned to crime to support themselves. These were known as the ronin.

Like many gangs of today, to protect their towns, neighborhoods and families from the destructive ronin, groups known as the machi-yokku formed. The machi-yokku were tightly knit and spent their free time gambling. These folk heroes are the predecessors of the modern day yakuza.

Most Yakuza members are not reluctant to be identified as such. Like the Crips, Bloods and many other gangs in the United States, young hoodlums, proud to call themselves Yakuza, acquire guns and tattoos and swagger about in exaggerated clothing, while the older and upper echelon members attempt to give the appearance of respectability.

The organizations are predominately male. Since the Yakuza is highly secretive, they do not trust women to remain tight-lipped about Yakuza business.

Tattooing is the traditional identification of the Yakuza. The tattoos cover large portions of the body but none are visible when a man is fully clothed. While the tattoos were originally used for identification and for intimidation, most Yakuza now claim they only acquire the tattoos for show.

Another custom of the Yakuza leaves many of them readily identifiable under almost any circumstance. The Yakuza has long required members who have caused their leaders to suffer embarrassment or financial loss by getting arrested or losing a load of contraband, to lop off the tip of their little finger – usually the left hand. Subsequent failures might result in the lost of other knuckles.

The Yakuza are generally known to be gamblers spend a lot of time in cities such as Las Vegas, Nevada and Atlantic City, New Jersey. If they are encountered, they may be in possession of a deck of playing cards consisting of only ten (10) cards. These cards are not known to be used by the Japanese general public who use another type of playing cards similar to those used in the United States and other parts of the world.

The Yakuza frequently travel in tour groups and travel documents should be closely examined to determine frequency and routes of travel. A common method of operation for a Yakuza member is to smuggle narcotics into the United States and to return to Japan with a load of hand-guns or pornographic material. Both items are illegal in Japan and are in big demand, thus creating huge sums of revenue for the organization. Travel documents should also be scrutinized so as to determine if the age and appearance of the bearer fits his position of employment and would his position afford him the luxury of extensive travel.

None of the aforementioned characteristics are conclusive proof that an individual is a member of the Yakuza and like the gangs in the United States, it is not against the law to be a member of the Yakuza. However, also like U.S. gang members, you should suspect criminal activity.


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Robert Walker

This page was last updated on 03/14/2014

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