Hierarchy of the Yakuza

The Yakuza is a Japanese transnational organized crime syndicate that was founded in the 17th century by the Kabukimono (vulgar people who stole money from townsfolk and did not pay at restaurants). The Yakuza's name comes from the number 893 (yattsu, ku, and san in Japanese), a losing hand in the baccarat-like game of Oicho-Kabu. While the Yakuza is not as well-known as the Mafia in North America, it boasts 1,500 groups and 102,000 members, while there are only 100 Mafia families with 4,500 members.


Yakuza gangsters illegally displaying their tattoos

The Yakuza originated with the Kabukimono hoodlums of Tokugawa-era Japan in the 17th century. The Kabukimono were known for dressing awkwardly, wearing their hair and beards in unusual styles, and for being violent, rude, and troublesome; many of them were ronin - samurai who no longer had a home to live in, or a cause to fight for. The Yakuza would also be influenced by the practices of the tekiya, peddlers of stolen or illicit goods who were allowed to carry swords and open stores by the Edo government of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The Yakuza would evolve into semi-legal organizations such as labor unions by the 20th century, with the most powerful of these families being the Yamaguchi-gumi gang. The Yakuza made large investments in mainstream companies, and they were not involved in theft, burglary, armed robbery, or other gang crimes, instead focusing strictly on business. In addition, the Yakuza was known to avoid drug dealing and extortion, instead buying small stocks from business owners and investing in their companies to make more money. Some Yakuza gangs dealt extensively in human trafficking, however, promising Western and other Asian women respectable jobs with good wages (and, occasionally, a glamorous lifestyle) if they would move to Japan, before forcing them to become prostitutes or strippers.

The Yakuza's public relations was impeccable during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, as they provided aid to victims of natural disasters such as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, allowing for refugees to use their offices and sending food trucks to impacted areas. The Yakuza was involved in daily life in Japan, and it operated behind the scenes, with few of its gang members attracting poor publicity. However, membership declined after the government passed anti-gang laws, leading to many gangsters heading overseas.

In the United States, the Yakuza formed a base in the Hawaiian islands, and it also had a presence in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Arizona, Virginia, Chicago, Seattle, and New York City. Meth was smuggled from Japan to America, while guns were smuggled from America to Japan. The Yakuza also had operations in other countries across the world, mostly in countries with a Japanese diaspora.

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