Charm of Japanese bad boys, the yakuza

Yakuza tattoo
Yakuza tattoo

Tokyo crazy paradise written by Yoshiki Nakamura, who is now known by her popular series Skip Beat!, is one of my favourites. It follows the story of a gokuto or yakuza group called the Kuruyugumi and its boss Ryuji. The story is set in 2030 where Tokyo is full of mobs and ruled my advanced machines. Advancement in technology has resulted in more crimes and police are having a hard time keeping crimes in check, especially ones committed against women.

Rising crimes and not enough police force to curb criminal activities have helped yakuza gangs to grow their business. Apart from flesh and drug trade, they are involved in smuggling destructive weapons from Japan to other countries. This will not only help them make more money but they would be able to control people using these weapons. There is only one person who could stop them and that would be a yakuza group that has a moral code of honour, Kuruyugumi. Needless to say the story was packed with action, the plot was racy, there was enough romance to make you feel all warm and was funny.

After reading this series, I read another manga called Gokusen that revolves around yakuza families. Here the heiress of one of the largest syndicates becomes a teacher in a delinquent school in order reform them.

So who are this yakuza? Yakuza are organised crime syndicates with their origin in Japan. They are often involved in illegal businesses and are known to commit crimes like killing and beating people who oppose them and possession of drugs among others. It is easy to recognise a person from yakuza group. Their most striking feature is the menacing looks and scars that they so proudly sport on their bodies. Since these scars are the result of their fights with rival clans, it shows off their manliness and hence something to be proud of. Tattooes are another characteristic of a yakuza member. They tattoo their whole body, even their genitalia. Japanese call it irezumi.

They also have their own rules and strict code of honour that they stand by. For example, if you failed to carry out the duty, you repent it by cutting off your pinky. This custom called Yubitsume. They are usually dressed in yukata (Japanese traditional dress for men) but in modern times they started wearing suits.

But in both stories, you will note that though common people think of them as criminals and someone not to be meddled with, they are shown as a group who have compassion. In both the manga, the head or kumicho adopts kids who are abandoned by their families into their kumi. They are shown to possess undying loyalty to the kumi and to their leader. This is probably because they join the kumi when they are really young, like in their teens, under the kumicho. Despite their appearance, they also could be gooey inside. They cannot let go of an abandoned puppy or they even cry while watching an emotional scene in television. They probably are more normal than any of us would think, may be.

Yakuza are united by strong sense of brotherhood and family values. Though they are involved in illegal trades, some have policy to not to involve in ones that affect the public like drugs and prostitution, like Kuruyugumi. Guess it is something like a thief stealing from the rich to give it to poor, though it is not exactly that.

Guess this is what makes them charming to some. The contrast between the bad-ass mafia and kind-hearted guy who cannot leave an abandoned puppy is endearing. Women always fall in love with bad boys. Though I’m not so sure about yakuza boys, I’m sure some do fall for this type.

All these yakuza clans have structure. A larger syndicate will be combination of three or more clans that has a leader, who is the strongest. The kumicho is the head and has full command over all the kumis in area. The successor is someone who is the right hand person to the kumi or his son. The succession ceremony is done by exchanging sake.

How did they originate in Japan in the first place? We have seen mafia movies, where the hero becomes mafia head in order to protect the weak. Could yakuza be like them? Probably not.

The origin of yakuza could be from two groups – tekiya who peddled illicit or stolen goods and bakuto who were involved in gambling, dating back to mid Edo period. Tekiya later formed groups and took over administrative duties related to commerce like stall allocation and protection of commercial activities. They were later recognised by Edo government and their leaders of the organisations were given permission to carry a sword. (Back in those times only samurai and noblemen were allowed to carry swords). Bakuto were gamblers, who ran illegal gambling houses in abandoned buildings and temples and edges of villages and town in Japan. They were also loan sharks. This could have been the beginning of negative image people has over yakuza.

The modern yakuza as we see now could be from tekiya or bakuto groups. Though both are illegal, one group tries to maintain peace within their region and the other causes chaos. This just makes me want to repeat the famous question from the Tamil movie Nayagan, “Neenga nallavara ketavara?” (Are you a good person or a bad person?)

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