Where and how did the Yakuza come to be? What has allowed the yakuza to grow to such great numbers in a subdued society and how far does their influence extend? In modern day Japan, there’s an ancient brotherhood of gangsters that date back to the Edo Period, know as the Yakuza. Their semi-legal crime organization controls a vast and nation wide criminal empire like none other in the world estimated to have 80,900 active members worldwide in 2009. They are the most disciplined and hold one of the largest most formidable crime syndicate the world has seen to this date, rooting it’s connections deep within Japan’s right wing government.
Despite that, the yakuza claim their core objective is to serve as guardian angels of the Japanese people, calling themselves ninkyo dantai, literally translating to chivalrous organization. Yet every few hundred meters in Japan you will see an anti bouryokudan (yakuza referred by the police) poster set up by police. Yakuza bosses will openly appear on national television asserting their affiliation with their yakuza clans. With its existence so well recognized this goliath criminal entity can not be brought down. Economists would even admit Japan’s economy is being held up by the “…
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unique symbiosis between the yakuza, the people and the state [and it] extends to the point where it could be said that they form the triangle of society; remove one corner, and it collapses. ” With all it’s present negative notion of notoriety inflicted by the Japanese media and police, where and how did the Yakuza come to be? What has allowed the yakuza to grow to such great numbers in a subdued society and how far does their influence extend? The yakuza’s complex crime syndicate dates as far back to the Edo period, but it is a mystery as to who and what their actual identities were.
The more commonly accepted theory is that they were the kabuki mono, (crazy ones) also knows as hatamoto yakko (servants of the shogun although they had no real connection) were boisterous ronin vagabonds who abused their samurai status and aimlessly wandered cities across Japan seeking pleasure in means of crime, anything to alleviate boredom. These eccentric ronins formed gangs with fearsome names to scared off townspeople, robbing and plundering villages and small cities throughout Japan.
Their “crimes ranged from simple dine and dash to cutting down civilians for amusement. ” Contrary to conforming ways of dressing, kabuki momos were odd due to their unique clothing style, one of which the custom of wearing a sumptuous and vibrantly designed color kimono was adopted. An unorthodox hairstyle, bad behavior, heavy use of slang, and a long-sword were among some of the trait that distinguished the kabuki mono. The second and the most preferred theory by present day yakuza themselves is that their ancestors were the machi yakko, servents of the town.
Although little evidence shows the tie between the two, these were folk heroes that were regular peasants who put matters into their own hands to take a stand against destructive kabuki monos for the well being of their family and friends. Their heroic actions against far superiorly trained samurais were in some ways viewed as England’s Robin Hood counterpart. Like the modern day yakuza they had a strong bond between “members” and spent most of their spare time gambling.
The machi yakko “…were the predecessors of the modern day yakuza, and while the connection may lie in legend only, the machi-yokku play a large role in the [manifestation of the] romantic image the yakuza gangster holds today. ” (http://altman. casimirinstitute. net/yakuza. html) With the early half of the 1700 spent on setting up a legitimate police force to put down the kabuki mono, the modern yakuza comes to surface in latter half of the 1700 century as bakuto (gambler) and tekiya (peddlers). The bakuto provided borderline legal services such as gambling, private protection, and prostitution.
The Tokugawa allegedly accepted these arrangements because they preferred these underground businesses in the hands of an organized and competent distributor. As outlaws of society, they operated alongside Japanese towns and highways engaging in daring gambles with passing by customers. Above all, the bakuto enjoyed playing traditional games such as dice, hanafuda, and oicho-kabu. The word yakuza received its names from the worst possible hand combination in oichokabu, (a game equivalent to blackjack) priding themselves to be no good to anyone and a menace to society.
One of the most iconic looks of the yakuza are their elaborate full body tattoos that were said to be embraced during this time when the bakuto carved their skins to create beautiful engravings. As large groups of them gathered together they would at times organized themselves into groups to operate activities such as loan sharking. In contrary to the illegal business of the bakuto, the tekiya were by definition legal, yet they often times engaged in illegal vending, distributing contraband goods across the countryside.
They had a shady reputation for selling faulty goods and their means of selling were typically deceptive. It was with the tekiya that they created the relation of oyabun-kobun (father role and child role), a strict code laid down by the gang to obey the hierarchy, that remains a prominent feature of the yakuza culture today. The members at the bottom are to strictly obey the orders or the oyabun and it needed were to be ther bosses’ teppoudama (rifle bullet) terminating their target. Marked as the lowest of society, discriminated as scums, both the tekiya and the bakuto had a lot in common.