Subject: oyabun mob boss, kobun associate
Culture: Japanese yakuza
Setting: Japan, overseas Japanese communities
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* García 2010 p90
"In spite of being one of the world's safest places, Japan also has one of the largest criminal gangs in the world. The yakuza group began to form during the Edo Period, when many samurai were expelled by their feudal lords, who no longer needed them. These wandering, homeless warriors were known as ronin. Some of them did dirty work for people from the higher classes, and others simply became criminals. Over time, they organized themselves into ronin gangs that were charged with protecting small villages in return for food and accommodation, but later on they started extorting money from the villagers and asking for more things. Another problem that developed was battles between ronin gangs who wanted to control the same area. During the years that followed, new gangs organized themselves and looked for ways to make money. The yakuza, as we know them today, acquired real power from the World War Two [sic] on, when they gained control of prostitution, gambling houses, drugs, illegal commerce, etc. Furthermore, certain extreme right-wing branches of gangs started to operate and extort money within political groups.
* De Mente 2005 p137
"When the Tokugawa shogunate fell in 1868 and industrialization began on a massive scale in 1870, the yakuza kept up with the times, adding construction and transportation to their prostitution, entertainment, and gambling portfolios. When World War II ended in 1945, the yakuza were one of the first groups to recover, running huge black-market enterprises in both goods and money. By the end of the 1950s there were more than twenty-five hundred yakuza gangs in Japan, with over one hundred thousand members. From around 1960 on, they began to invest in legitimate enterprises and to support local, regional, and national candidates for public office. "Members of yakuza gangs who owned stock in major corporations began using the threat of violence and the disclosure of inside information at annual stockholder meetings to extort huge sums of money from the companies. These individuals came to be known as sokaiya (so-kie-yah). Some companies resorted to hiring sokaiya to attend stockholder meetings to intimidate other stockholders and prevent them from asking embarrassing questions. (This is the dictionary meaning of the term. Sokai by itself means 'meeting.')"
* Axelrod 1997 p269
"The Yakuza is to Japan what the Mafia is to the United States: the Mob, the core of organized crime. The word means 'useless' or 'good-for-nothing' and is derived from a gambling term denoting a losing -- 'useless' -- card combination.
"The modern Yakuza is structured very much as a secret society. There are rituals of initiation and rituals of conduct (resembling those of the ancient samurai warriors), oaths of secrecy (violations of which are punishable by death of by the amputation of a finger), and a very special sign of recognition: elaborate tattoos, often covering large parts of the body. Rank-and-file Yakuza (corresponding to the 'soldiers' of the American Mafia) also are known for wearing very flashy clothing that strikes Western observers as a parody of American gangster movies. However, ther is very little comic about the conduct of the Yakuza. Yakuza members amount for 30 percent of the Japanese prison population and are involved in all manner of organized crime activity: gambling, drugs, prostitution, protection rackets, and the like. "The origin of the Yakuza is not clear, although it probably originated in the Tokugawa period (1600-1868). It is possible that the modern Yakuza derives from mid-17th-century urban merchant and labor groups, which protected their interests and the interests of their communities against marauding bands known as hatamoto yakko. In this early incarnation, the Yakuza were held in esteem, as knights or as Robin Hood-like defenders of the defenseless. It is also possible that the Yakuza descended from gangs of wandering gamblers."
* Kaplan/Dubro 2003 p73
"Under the steady influence of the Americans, both during and after the Occupation, the yakuza began to assume some of the characteristics of their American gangster counterparts. Yakuza who swore to uphold traditional values were as entranced with American styles as any Japanese, but as often was the case, Japanese perceptions of Americans were somewhat skewed. Since yakuza didn't know any real American gangsters, they turned to the movies instead. They seemed to focus on gangster parodies, and the result was that the characters of Guys and Dolls rather than White Heat or The Petrified Forest were their models. The kobun took to dressing in dark suits, dark shirts, and white ties. Sunglasses were de rigueur, and in the 1960s, yakuza affected crewcuts and kept them for a longer time perhaps than anyone else in the world. To match their outfits, they affected a leer and a swagger that set them apart from the ordinary citizens."
* García 2010 p90 caption
"The members of yakuza clans usually wear tattoos to identify themselves with their group. This tradition began when the first yakuza members tattooed a ring around their arms every time they committed a crime -- the more tattooed rings they had, the more powerful and dangerous they were supposed to be. Tattoos are not very common in Japan due to the bad reputation of the yakuza."
* Kaplan/Dubro 2003 p14-15
"The yakuza's tattoo originally was a mark of punishment, used by authorities to ostracize the outlaws from society; criminals generally would be tattooed with one black ring around an arm for each offense. There is, however, a nobler tradition to tattooing in Japan. Its remarkable designs, considered by many to be the world's finest, date back hundreds of years. ... By the late seventeenth century, intricate, full-body designs became popular with the gamblers and with laborers who worked with much of their bodies exposed .... The Tokugawa government, which tried periodically to prohibit tattooing, was unable to curb its popularity.
"[...] Such extensive tattooing ... became a test of strength, and the gamblers eagerly adopted the practice to show the world their courage, toughness, and masculinity. It served, at the same time, another, more humble purpose -- as a self-inflicted wound that would permanently distinguish the outcasts from the rest of the world. The tattoo marks the yakuza as misfits, forever unable or unwilling to adapt themselves to Japanese society. "As with ritual finger-cutting, the tattooing spread from the bakuto to the tekiya and other Japanese gangs, and the practice became increasingly confined to the underworld. So closely associated with the yakuza is the custom today that saunas and public baths, wanting to protect their clientele from gangsters, hang signs reading 'No tattoos allowed.' Today an estimated 68 percent of the yakuza bear some tattooing, although many employ modern electric needles, which are faster and less painful. Still, it is a mark of great respect within the underworld to have endured the torture of the traditional method."