The Yakuza: Japan’s Notorious Organized Crime Syndicate

You’ve probably heard of the Yakuza in movies or video games, but what exactly are they?

The Yakuza are Japan’s notorious organized crime syndicate.

They are deeply ingrained in Japanese society and their activities range from illegal gambling and racketeering to prostitution and drug trafficking.

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the history of the Yakuza and some of their most famous members.

The History of the Yakuza

The yakuza trace their origins back to two separate groups in feudal Japan: tekiya and bakuto. Tekiya were peddlers who travelled from village to village, selling their wares while living on the outskirts of society. Bakuto were gamblers and often associated with sumo wrestlers (who were also considered outcasts). These two groups eventually coalesced into what we now know as the yakuza.

The Meiji Period saw a sharp increase in tekiya activity, which led to a crackdown by the government. Many tekiya members were arrested and jailed, which caused the Yakuza to split into two groups: those who supported obeying the law (ninkyo) and those who believed that violence was necessary to get ahead (violent criminals). This split has persisted throughout Yakuza history.

During World War II, the yakuza engaged in various activities such as smuggling rationed goods, running black markets, and providing protection for businesses.

After the war, they expanded into legitimate businesses such as real estate and construction. However, they still retained their connections to illegal activities such as gambling, drugs, and prostitution.

In recent years, the yakuza have been in decline due to increased police scrutiny and public pressure. Many of their traditional businesses such as gambling and protection rackets have been disrupted by changes in technology and society. However, they still retain a significant presence in Japanese society and continue to be involved in various illegal activities.

Yakuza Structure

The yakuza are structured in much the same way as traditional Japanese corporations, with an emphasis on hierarchy and order. At the top of the organization is the oyabun (the boss), who holds absolute power over his subordinates, known as kobun ( which means “child”). The oyabun-kobun relationship is modeled after the traditional Japanese father-son relationship and is symbolized by a ritual in which both parties drink sake from the same cup.

Yakuza Tattoos

Yakuza tattoos are one of the most visible aspects of the gang. They are large and elaborate, covering much of the body. They often include traditional Japanese motifs such as dragons, cherry blossoms, and samurai warriors. Yakuza tattoos are a symbol of power and status within the gang. They also serve to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies.

Famous Members of the Yakuza

Over the years, there have been many famous members of this organized crime syndicate. One of the most well-known is Kazuo Taoka, who was the godfather of Japan’s largest yakuza syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi. He was nicknamed “The Bear” because of his large build and aggressive personality. He was also known for his business acumen and his ability to resolve conflicts through negotiation rather than violence.

Another famous yakuza member is Susumu Ishii, who was nicknamed “The Dragon.” He was the godfather of a rival syndicate called Inagawa-kai and was known for his flashy lifestyle and his love of luxury cars and expensive clothes. He was also an accomplished businessman and ran a successful construction company.

The Modern-Day Yakuza

Nowadays the yakuza are involved in a wide variety of activities, both legal and illegal.

On the legal side, they are involved in everything from construction to real estate to finance.

On the illegal side, their activities include smuggling, human trafficking, racketeering, and drug dealing. In recent years, they have also been active in cybercrime.

They also have a long history of philanthropy; for example, they were among the first to provide relief after the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

The Yakuza are unique in that they are openly accepted by Japanese society, even though their activities would be considered criminal in most other countries. They are often seen as Robin Hood figures who help those in need and provide protection for those who can’t protect themselves. This acceptance has allowed them to operate fairly openly in Japanese society.

In recent years, the Yakuza have been on the decline due to increased pressure from the government and police force. New laws have made it more difficult for them to operate freely, and public opinion has begun to turn against them. As a result, their membership numbers have been steadily declining.


While they may be notorious criminals, there is no denying that the yakuza are a fascinating part of Japanese culture with a long and storied history. They are unique in both their structure and their relationship to Japanese society. Even though they are in decline, it is unlikely that they will disappear completely anytime soon.

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