Yakuza: Kind-hearted criminals or monsters in suits?


Japan’s notorious homegrown mafia, the yakuza, is different. Sure they are a gang, but to compare them to Colombian drug lords or the Bloods or Crips of Los Angeles is not fair. Operations, publicity, and even acceptance of yakuza are on a different level than other criminal enterprises. The yakuza do care about their public image and that is reflected in their evil and good (!) activities.

An argument for evil

This shouldn’t be too hard, right? The yakuza are criminals. They are a gang that commits many illegal activities, partly because they are allowed to do so. It is interesting to note that yakuza offices are out in the public. This helps them mark their territory and no doubt is an ego boost for the local bosses. Yakuza are not going around and telling every person walking down the street of the crimes they commit. Yet even if the crimes are reported, Japan does not have legislation similar to the U.S. RICO Act; thus it is much harder to tie gang leaders to crimes their underlings participate in. Growing amounts of legislation are putting a damper in gang activities, but the mere fact they can have public property openly shows the yakuza do not consider the police a real threat.

The yakuza tend to be more sophisticated in the crimes they indulge in. It is true things like shoplifting or muggings are happening with a bad economy that has affected everyone, but things like credit fraud or business takeovers are becoming more common. This is done through various blackmail, extortion, money laundering attempts and some greased wallets of police or community organization. This shows a step away from their traditional and still much more popular bread and butter of drug dispensing, prostitution and sex industry services, gambling and hitting up local shops for protection money. Semi-legal tactics of playing loud music, constant harassment at inconvenient hours, or refusing to leave businesses are also a well used tactic for yakuza to get what they want.

In a way, yakuza are contractors. They do jobs for money, yet the jobs are not always legal. They provide a service for the public, but then attack them for not making payments on high interest loans or compensating them for false grievances. In a hard hit economy, people and businesses can turn to yakuza for money that banks would never loan. If paid back, this can be seen as a positive attribute of the gang’s services, but more often than not, something “happens” where the yakuza need more money than before and then the real trouble starts.

An argument for good

The yakuza have done their best to portray a noble image within the public sphere. They dress nicely, are respectful and talk politely – when not trying to make money. Violence for the most part happens between gang branches or non-yakuza gangs within Japan. The yakuza punish their own, sometimes infamously forcing the person who did wrong to remove the tip of a finger as a form of apology. The yakuza are even known to reduce some crime. They will often police themselves. Have you ever been through Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment district? Take a look next time. For such a crowded place you might expect an iconic police box or at least cops patrolling, but nope. Yakuza do protect places they collect money from because they don’t want other people to take that money. A petty thief or drug dealer looking for a new territory often thinks twice before operating in yakuza turf. The police catching you may be scary to a criminal, but worse is considering what the yakuza might do to you.

Perhaps the strongest argument that yakuza do good came during some of the biggest disasters in recent Japanese history. After the 1995 Kobe earthquake and the more recent tsunami disaster that hit Tohoku last year, yakuza were there to provide aid. Some have said that since yakuza have been strongly connected to the construction industry, they were just scoping out legal and illegal work for the rebuilding process, but others like to think the gang members have a heart. Gang members are people too, even if they are not the best role models of an outstanding citizen. The yakuza used their gang connections and efficiency to move supplies to unaffected areas to the people that needed food, blankets, and medicine. They even opened up offices and facilities to those affected and rented a transport helicopter for faster relief when it came to the Kobe incident. The government was much slower and less organized. When people are in trouble they want someone they can depend on and for the second time when disaster struck, the yakuza were there.

Closing words

Are the yakuza more than mere criminals? By reducing petty crime and violence they often make local streets safer. They also were there in some of the darkest moments of Japan helping out fellow citizens. At the same time they murder, sell drugs and firearms, and practice extortion, human trafficking, and scare tactics. Even with a mountain of politicians, lawyers, police and organizations trying to expel the yakuza from society, they are not leaving. In fact, because the crime syndicate turns so many wheels in Japan from gambling and sex paid by demanding Japanese customers, to raising funds for political parties, it is hard to imagine society able to operate if the yakuza did not exist. So are these well dressed thugs good or bad? For the time being, the yakuza in Japan find themselves a necessary evil.

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If the only "good" is policing themselves (which would be unnecessary if they weren't criminals) and helping out during a disaster (help funded not by charities but by ill-gotten funds), then it seems obvious to me the bad outweighs the good.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

"So are these well dressed thugs good or bad"?

Is this really a question?

"The police catching you may be scary to a criminal".

That's funny.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

In fact I heard that during the Kobe earthquake, the quickest body of people to act were the Soka Gakkai. They distibuted food, shelter and blankets faster than. j-gov hang your head in shame, the yakuza too for taking the credit for something they didn't do. Many people were interviewed at the time , even by NHK and were asked, "where did you get those supplies?"

When the answer was not the one they wanted, they asked the interviewees to amend their response.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

They are good and bad. Bit I am going with the police crack down because no matter what good they have done, they are still violating the law and NOBODY is above the law. Especially, not in Japan.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Weren't the yakuza also the first to send aid after the tsunami as well? What is the difference between an organization that breaks the law and a company that has the laws changed so they can do what they want to make money?

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

"So are these well dressed thugs good or bad?" "At the same time they murder, sell drugs and firearms, and practice extortion, human trafficking, and scare tactics."

I'm sorry, but responding during a huge disaster once in awhile is not enough to clean their slate of everything else. Instead of articles focusing on how great it was that they were the first to react after the disaster there should be more articles about how the government was so unorganized and unable to respond properly. If the government did their job right, there wouldn't be any need for the yakuza to step in and do it for them - something which I'm sure they were eager to do in order to further build the image that they aren't just murdrers, drug dealers, arms and human traffickers, extortionists, etc.

I'd also like to see some figures of just how many people were able to borrow money from them since the banks wouldn't give them loans and were able to find success and repay the money without any difficulties. Clearly the number of people who are beaten, murdered, forced into the sex industry because of being unable to repay the loans out numbers the few who weren't to the point that this is not a valid argument for their benefit to society.

How many families have they saved vs. the amount of families lives they've ruined? Everyone needs to quit romanticising them as the necessary evil. Plenty of countries around the world are perfectly fine without organized crime that is above the law like the yakuza, so why is it so necessary in Japan?

5 ( +5 / -1 )

The yakuza are criminals and should be relentlessly pursued and punished by the police. That they are not is a scandal and demonstrates the extent of corruption in this country.

Lately they have stabbed a bar owner in Kitakyushu who displayed a "no gangsters" sign and burned down several bars, not to mention their ongoing drug dealing and racketeering. By no stretch of the imagination can this be called "good".

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Perhaps the most odious aspect of the yakuza sociopaths is the manner in which they attempt to appropriate cultural symbols and in order to portray themselves as being associated with traditional Japanese culture.

And matsuri and Shinto shrine related activities where they try to maintain a high profile and prominent presence with respect to religion (particularly religious institutions connected to nationalism) is potentially the most egregious in that it can be applied to the political sphere in collusion with corrupt politicians for exclusionary aims in Japan and hostilities directed outwardly.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Japan wud be SO MUCH better without yakuza & CHEAPER to boot!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Surely the reason why there were so many casualties in Kobe was because some friendly building yakuza had made great deals on building the houses with cheap concrete and the likes.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Trafficking humans, prostitution, beating people to dead, loan sharks, etc.. Yeah, they are kind-hearted criminals.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I think they created their own myths and mystique, and the media picked up on them... so we get this pop-culture version of the Yakuza as some sort of noble band of outlaws with a moral code akin to knights of old. Forget the fact that they squeeze money from local retailers, murder people, beat people up who look at them the wrong way, and all the other crap... They need to be stomped on with some very large, hob-nailed army boots!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The Italian mafia was the same, they'd help the community in some ways while commiting crimes on the other. So being an "honerable" criminal only goes so far. 2 wrongs don't make a right...right?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

it's crips , not crypts, i suppose yakuza grew just like any other organized syndicate? out of poverty and necessity so many hundreds (1000s? ) years ago, then continued by tradition. I think this is a real approach, to understand that crime can't just be ignored or opressed away , to try and keep it livable for everyone as long as they don't shoot anyone but the ones who chose to be in there. Way better than the hypocritical system where you just legalize them after years ?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

several years ago, I once had a brick thrown through my apartment window by a Yakuza member because he thought someone else lived there, some dude who owed money apparently. I came running out and he was genuinely freaked because he didn't expect a big white dude to be living there. After numerous sumimasens, he made a few phone calls and in a couple of hours a work crew came and installed a new window..

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I came running out and he was genuinely freaked because he didn't expect a big white dude to be living there.

Easiest way to freak them out is some huge ol' gaijin rushing them cussing them out in english xD. Double-whammy Sammy?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

"So are these well dressed thugs good or bad? Bad

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"to raising funds for political parties,"

The writer states that this is one of their activities and then says

"it is hard to imagine society able to operate if the yakuza did not exist."

And then asks if they are bad?

I think he should be made to stand outside a yakuza office with its name and bakayaro on a sandwich board around his neck.

The existence of the yakuza, and the fact that police accept the use of criminals with money to police the criminals without money (stated by the writer) should be something that the Japanese govt, police force and citizens are completely ashamed about.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

One can see some them singing Karaoke on YouTube, I think.

1 ( +1 / -0 )


Good call on the "Crypts." That mistake was where I stopped reading this article. It's crips, for cripes sake, crips!

That said, if there is a gang called Crypts, I think their rivals should be named the Blades.

Real gangs are nasty business, but quasi-gangs like the Juggalos are good for a laugh once in a while.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In considering the so-called "good" aspects of the yakuza, which as far as I can see includes not being overly noisy and imposing where they don't actually have business interests (and therefore is a pretty basic entry-level adult social skill), it is important to take into consideration 2 things, 1, Japan is "safe" there are no guns and average citizens are obedient. This means the yakuza don't have to get very violent to intimidate most ppl and that they don't have to worry about someone fighting back against them violently, more than a fist, or a knife from someone really courageous. So they can intimidate for easy pickings, and they don't need guns very often to conduct their wars.

This makes them seem "well behaved" to ppl used to more "ruthless" gangs in their countries. But they will litter the st w/ bodies in an instant like the Mexican gangs if that much money and competition was at stake, and that little govt control. As they have previously in history.

The other thing to consider is jpns culture, at least that it is an old culture. There are so many highly dvpd social rules here that everyone agrees with and that does effect how crime is carried out, imo. They are a big organization w/ a lot of history that wants to brush its hair and look good (according to some social rules) before going out into the street to hurt ppl.

This is not the same as being tame, or well- behave and certainly not the same as ever being good. Just in certain situations they may have more restraint is all. These are bad and ruthless ppl.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Furthermore, having read many first-hand accounts of tossing women like luggage into vehicles to take to holding facilities where they are beaten, repeatedly raped and then repeatedly injected with speed, (something the women never took or were interested in beforehand), turning them into broken-dn addicts dependant on the yaks before then being forced into prostitution such that, not only do the yaks take most of the profits, the women must pay for their speed addiction out of their own pocket, as well as uphold the time-honored tradition of saving what little they can to buy their freedom at some undetermined date in the future when they would be unable to prostitute anymore anyway,

I just cannot imagine anyone ever calling them "good". These are dangerous ppl who will lie and steal and abuse others to make their living. (btw, the women above are often, not always, rural women from venezuela, the Phils, Peru etc, who were told they could be singers, or maids in Japan and support their families back home, some J women too tho. Basically slavery. Their passports are taken and they are rotated from snack bar to snack bar around the country to keep them dependant and also untraceable.)

The Earthquake aid is generally a ruse, either simply pr, or a way to do organized looting (the family safes washing up in Fukushima were targetted by them). In Kobe, Korean neighborhoods found property stolen because everything was such a mess and in many cases property lines were unproveable and city offices and realestate offices destryed.

The writer of this article is naive or worse. I almost want him to apologize. Yeah, the yaks at my local sento clean up after themselves, and I know they won't hassle me unless I place bets w/ them, so I don't have to live cowering in fear. What a great bunch of guys.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Perhaps you should ask their victims this question, Like the women from South east Asia forced into sexual slavery, or some person they have robbed or stolen from.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

This question can't be answered if you look at it on a personal level. Who's to judge who is BAD or GOOD? I have known some really kind, good hearted people who have been affiliated with gangs. Most of them were born into it. Most of them had to put food on the table somehow. Doesn't make them bad people.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Oh come on, bleeding hearts, the yakuza are simply law breakers who prey on the less privileged, the young and the stupid (in other words, salarymen). Who else do you think runs the prostitution and drugs rings in this country? Lock them up!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"Yakuza do protect places they collect money from because they don’t want other people to take that money. A petty thief or drug dealer looking for a new territory often thinks twice before operating in yakuza turf. The police catching you may be scary to a criminal, but worse is considering what the yakuza might do to you".

Are you for real? The police stay away from these areas BECAUSE they are afraid of the yakuza. The yakuza protect places? They scare people into handing over their money or their property will be vandalized by those very Yakuza. I`d much rather face the police, as incompetent as they seem to be.

Saying the Yakuza dress nicely and so they cant be all that bad? How superficial a point to make. I bet the women sold into prostitution fell for that too. As for speaking politely, well if you spoke back to them, youd see how long that politeness would last.

I`m embarrassed for you.

As for Jessebaybay, I could almost hear a violin playing in the background. Oh the poor loves, they just want to put food on the table (through criminal measures). I agree that a person cant help the family they are born into but lets get real and not pity people who prey on others.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

We like to point the finger at these guys, but when push comes to shove they do what needs to be done right wrong or indifferent. Some may consider them criminal, other differently, but who can judge when there are people who are supposedly good doing horrible even in various forms. We have to remember that good and evil are going hand in hand here in a society that has watched it morph into something quite odd at the crossroad. Whether they do right for whatever means, remains a conundrum in terms, but bad is bad and sometimes is some cases we as the public must never forget that or the lines get blurred. I help you today and prey on you tomorrow is not a standard to go by, but in times of crisis can a beggar be choosey? In the end, what ever you think of these guys is on you, and as you choose not to point a finger in someone else's backyard; remember this: There is a solid difference between wrong and right whether they dress nice or not!!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I Think that yakuza are anti-heroes. after-all how could they portrayed in some tv movies as good guys even though defeat their enemies by stabbing their swords into their victims or cutting people in half. "They provide a service for the public, but then attack them for not making payments on high interest loans or compensating them for false grievances." that shows how anti-heroic they are. if anyone double crosses them, they get what they're deserved with a stab or a cut.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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