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September 3, 2012 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Photographs of a Yakuza gang and a description of their way of life in an interview with Anton Kusters. Includes the photography advice: "To not take photos was a sign of weakness."
posted by michaelh (42 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can't be the only one who read that as Ashton Kutcher.

"This week on Punked, Ashton loses two fingers when he brings shame upon a Yakuza family..."
posted by bpm140 at 1:14 PM on September 3, 2012 [26 favorites]


I did the same, bpm140. And, I forgot to add these two links to the photographer's site that have more information and more pictures:

http://www.antonkusters.com/projects/yakuza/

http://www.antonkusters.com/category/projects/yakuza/
posted by michaelh at 1:17 PM on September 3, 2012


Noted without comment:
AK: The gang really went out of their way to minimize violence. Part of what I noticed about the Yakuza was that they felt as if they were almost “part” of society, like society wasn’t society without a criminal element, but this also made them very conscious of their role within society. [...]

S: One of the first things I think of when I hear “mob income” is violent extortion. How did the gang make its money if it avoided violence?

AK: They were involved in a lot of white-collar crime. In the past there had been violent turf wars, but Shoichiro, the street boss, told me “We can get the most money out of the economy.”

One of main sources of income they had was debt collection. They would actually go and buy entire loan databases and pay off the money people owed. Of course, after that happened, those debts were just transferred over to the yakuza.

Also, after Fukushima [the nuclear disaster], they helped rebuild some houses; only it wasn’t a simple philanthropic relationship. These people now owe the gang.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 1:18 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


They would actually go and buy entire loan databases and pay off the money people owed. Of course, after that happened, those debts were just transferred over to the yakuza.

Japan, I see your yakuza and raise you Sallie Mae.
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:25 PM on September 3, 2012 [14 favorites]


They may be largely white-collar these days, but

as a show of loyalty he had his original full-body tattoo burned off with hot coals and replaced with a new tattoo. It took 100 hours to complete. They called him “The Master of All Pains.”

That's still a fair bit outside the normal white-collar day. :)
posted by anonymisc at 1:27 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


How much does it cost to have the Yakuza apply pressure to web designers who think it is appropriate to make the text in an article jump every few seconds?
posted by b1tr0t at 1:27 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


How much does it cost to have the Yakuza apply pressure to web designers who think it is appropriate to make the text in an article jump every few seconds?

You could simply threaten them with a finger query.
posted by hal9k at 1:39 PM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Burn off with hot coals? Are you fucking kidding me?
posted by ZaneJ. at 1:40 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, cold coals aren't as effective.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:06 PM on September 3, 2012 [22 favorites]


Burn off with hot coals? Are you fucking kidding me?

It's steampunk laser tattoo removal.
posted by localroger at 2:15 PM on September 3, 2012


I seem to recall an article about the Yakuza a few years ago where people were saying they were welcome in the neighborhood, very helpful, and their presence helped keep violent crime rates down.

Though I couldn't swear the article hadn't been written at gunpoint, so YMMV.
posted by Foosnark at 2:20 PM on September 3, 2012


In crowded Shibuya about this time last year I got shouldered from behind by someone moving past me. I was startled as people there walk through crowds very carefully. The guy who did it was about my height - I'm 6'3" - with broad shoulders, in a good tailored suit, and hair styled into a perfect Elvis pompadour. He was carrying a large attache case in one hand and moving determinedly in a straight line through the crowd, forcing aside anyone in his way. I don't know who he was going to see but I don't think that the person was going to enjoy the meeting.
posted by Blue Meanie at 2:26 PM on September 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


This worries me about Ireland at the moment. Debt collection is the only business that is booming. And there are bugger all safeguards.
posted by stonepharisee at 2:26 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


The '$2' bills in http://stewardmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/antonkusters_yakuza_lime_056_L10081411.jpeg aren't actual $2 bills, I don't think - the picture on it looks all wrong. Are they using fake $2 in strip clubs there? (The idea makes me think of the tokens some arcades use instead of quarters.)
posted by rmd1023 at 2:35 PM on September 3, 2012


Now that's what I call ORGANIZED crime!
posted by sendai sleep master at 2:36 PM on September 3, 2012


The '$2' bills in http://stewardmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/antonkusters_yakuza_lime_056_L10081411.jpeg aren't actual $2 bills, I don't think

Yeah, the one in her mouth doesn't have anything on the back. Interesting.
posted by Huck500 at 2:44 PM on September 3, 2012


people were saying they were welcome in the neighborhood, very helpful, and their presence helped keep violent crime rates down.

Similar to the situation in Las Vegas when casinos were run by the mob. It would be bad for business to have petty crime on the streets so the mob made sure it was a very safe place for visitors and residents.
posted by binturong at 2:48 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


people were saying they were welcome in the neighborhood, very helpful, and their presence helped keep violent crime rates down.

It is perhaps not a super plan to be the one seen as outspokenly against the Yakuza already in control of their neighborhood.
posted by zippy at 3:07 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's a pretty damning indictment of the current setup, when gangsters are openly endorsing the economic system to make profits.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:18 PM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Our ethnic criminals can take lessons on basic comportment from the yakuza.
posted by Renoroc at 3:28 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


While I was living in Japan, I met one guy who I figure was connected. Wore a lot of golf shirts and casual slacks, had a punch perm, drove a caddy and lived in a very large new house (by Japanese standards) just outside of Nara-shi. Seemed like a nice guy, and was really interested in hanging out with foreigners. He still had all his fingers, and I never saw his back, so I can't say for sure.

This was during the big late-90s war between the Yamaguchi-gumi and the Nakano-kai. At the time, the Nakano-kai were condemned by their opponents (during their frequent press conferences [!]) for involving and injuring civilians in the conflict. This, however, may have been a PR exercise on the part of the Yamaguchi-gumi and a way of maintaining the myth of the Yakuza as a sort of street authority with roots in the Edo period.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:31 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


In an episode of Sons of Anarchy they burn a guy's tattoo off with some kind of welding rig. Prett coll that the Yakuza go for the more ritualistic and time honored method of using hot coals. Strange that the Italian mafia doesn't really have tattoos as signifiers. I think I would prefer to join a more under the radar organization, without elaborate marking rituals, if I had a choice.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:36 PM on September 3, 2012


Are they using fake $2 in strip clubs there? (The idea makes me think of the tokens some arcades use instead of quarters.)

I think you may be on to something.

I've yet to go to a Japanese strip club, but friends who have have told me that there was no money/ tip exchange like in American strip clubs. That there is no tipping culture in Japan might have something to do with it, but I think it has more to do with that the smallest bill form of currency here is 1000 yen (about USD 13$). Pocket change for mob bosses, but a night on the town could get very expensive for your average joe or lower-level Yakuza.

Hostess bars like kyabakura are much more common and popular than strip clubs. Pretty girls will shower one-to-one attention on guys for the evening as long as the guy keeps buying himself (and her) drinks sold at exorbitant prices.
posted by Kevtaro at 3:43 PM on September 3, 2012


The title of your post is like a fine tawny port. Bravo.
posted by boo_radley at 3:56 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I seem to recall an article about the Yakuza a few years ago where people were saying they were welcome in the neighborhood, very helpful, and their presence helped keep violent crime rates down.

Since he published his latest book a couple of years ago, Jake Adelstein has been on a "yakuza are just misunderstood" schtick, which has seeped into the general pop-culture understanding of Japan, and I think this is important.

Take the word "yakuza" for example. It's not really a word that's mentioned in polite company. I've never heard it used, and if people do talk about the mafia they use the words "borokudantai", which can be roughly translated as "crime syndicate", although the word "boroku" means "violence" ("dantai" means group or organization).

It's not just that polite people will not mention the mafia - it's more to do with the fact that the mafia are scary, and if you cross them there is no help for you. Japan is not an especially violent society, so the mafia are regarded as "kowaii", or scary.

While the mafia may regard themselves as being an integral part of society, and there may be, in the aftermath of Fukushima, the modern myth of the Robin Hood mafioso who goes around bureaucratic logjams to deliver food and supplies to those in need, it's all just a bunch of PR.

And Kusters is providing great PR here. But when reporting on Japan, it can be really hard to get your stuff into print unless you cover certain stereotypes: Japan as anime powerhouse; Japan in terminal decline; a government that deceives its population about Fukushima; and, of course, the noble, loyal yakuza.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:57 PM on September 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


Yeah, I can't be the only one that spotted the creepy similarities between Yakuza operating standards and corporate interests here in the states, right?

Big man plays golf? Check. Debt acquisition? Check. Citizenry dealing with them via out of sight out of mind tactics? Check. Pretty chilling stuff.

When I was younger, like most boys, I got a real kick out of gangster media. I still do from time to time, but these days it's more like watching a train wreck and less like distant boyish admiration.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 3:57 PM on September 3, 2012


Are they using fake $2 in strip clubs there? (The idea makes me think of the tokens some arcades use instead of quarters.)

Many strip clubs in the US also have fake money. You buy it with a credit card. Kinda hard to tip a dancer on your expense account any other way.

Cept in NY they are $20 not $2 . Wo knew the yakuza were so cheap.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:42 PM on September 3, 2012


New Yorker article about Jake Adelstein and the Yakuza.
posted by Pantalaimon at 5:13 PM on September 3, 2012


shoot, I thought the article is free.
posted by Pantalaimon at 5:14 PM on September 3, 2012


shoot, I thought the article is free.
the podcast apparently is
posted by juv3nal at 5:22 PM on September 3, 2012


Suddenly the strangeness of the yakuza performing "community service" in the aftermath of the tsunami makes a lot more sense. They own those houses now.

A friend of mine goes to Japan a lot for martial arts training and appears to have been duped into the whole "noble yakuza" thing, having assumed that they were helping repair homes after the tsunami because they view themselves as part of the community and regularly engage in charitable activities, rather than because they're strong-arming the folks that they're supposedly helping out. And, of course, assuming he knows more about Japanese culture than I do, I believed him.

The explaination in this article makes waaaaay more sense.
posted by asnider at 5:38 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I can't be the only one that spotted the creepy similarities between Yakuza operating standards and corporate interests here in the states, right?
William Gibson has been suggesting those same similarities since the early '80s. In the Sprawl series, the corporations are much more violent in Count Zero than the Yakuza in Mona Lisa Overdrive. The difference is mostly one of scale. In the Sprawl world, Corporations and AIs have grown far past the human scale, but the Yakuza still operate at something closer to human scale. So things like politeness and not killing everyone still matter to them. Corporations and AIs don't care about human morality because they are mostly isolated from individual humans and so have no reason to really care. Things get interesting when the AIs want to interface with the humans, and have to find a suitable metaphor to mediate the interaction.

Hook up the Yakuza and Big Business and you've pretty much got shadow Fascism.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:02 PM on September 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


AJE had a short show about this: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/08/201282115458449808.html
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 8:58 PM on September 3, 2012


I've always wondered how tipping works in strip clubs in Canada.
posted by kmz at 11:17 PM on September 3, 2012


Are they using fake $2 in strip clubs there?

Yes they are, it's explained here.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:48 PM on September 3, 2012


Once or twice a year my wife and I will spend an evening sipping wine on the balcony of our apartment enjoyed a local Yak-yak or Yak-cop confrontation. Just across the road from our building, at street level, there is a shady Chinese restaurant that is clearly some kind of front for Chinese mafia, and every now and then, a big American car will roll up, usually a white Cadillac or Lincoln, and out of it will appear a tall fellow in a cream suit wearing a short-brimmed hat and gold mirrored sunglasses. With him there are always a couple of young punks wear black suede vests embroidered with brightly-colored metallic Chinese dragons, and they will get into an hours-long growling/grunting argument with the owner of the restaurant. From what I can hear, it's usually about "respecting our authority" and "do you know who the fuck I am, who I represent?" and repeated references to Yamaguchi this and Yamaguchi that. Highly entertaining (we're on the 7th floor.) Once, on one of those rare days in February when it snows in Tokyo, these two men stood literally nose-to-nose and yelled at eachother for in excess of three hours without moving. The snow fell around them and piled up on their shoulders, while the chimpira circled like caged tigers at their heels, shivering in the cold and rubbing their arms to keep the circulation going. Then, about a year ago, I saw Mr Cream Suit and Hat surrounded by four police officers just in front of the Chinese place, arguing with them in an extrememly belligerent manner. The entire time, the officers were impassive and spoke only a little, in calm and measured tones, but their cars and bikes had locked him in and he wasn't going anywhere. About then I saw that the trunk of his car was open and there were some very suspicious-looking boxes inside. A few of Mr Cream's juniors truned up on bikes and started screaming at the police, but the Big Man told them to fuck off. I watched them as they hung around half a block down the street, pacing around in circles, clearly in a state of extreme anxienty, yammering away on cellphones. By this time, there were maybe 8 or 10 cops, including a couple of plain-clothes detectives checking out the boxes in the car. Not long after, a lawyer showed up and started giving Mr Cream some advice. The police arrested him and took him away. Haven't seen him since.

But yeah, Yakuza are criminals, and dangerous at that. They might try o market themselves as something else, something more romantic - and in many ways, their lifestyle is romantic, poetic, dramatic, for they live on a certain edge - but ultimately they are still antisocial criminal organizations who murder and steal, abuse and extort.
posted by jet_manifesto at 2:45 AM on September 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


But yeah, Yakuza are criminals, and dangerous at that. They might try to market themselves as something else, something more romantic
Seconded. These are people who are deeply invested in their own mythology and see themselves as noble misfits who don't prey on those who don't come to them first for some illegal need -- gambling, drugs, women, money loans, etc. But the truth is that they will take any advantage they can of anyone to make money -- protection rackets, forced illegal evictions, intimidations, arson, sex trafficking, etc.

I knew personally a restaurant owner who said he could barely make a profit because he had to pay his local yakuza so much per month. I knew Filipina women from my church who were trafficked and made to pay off the "debt" they incurred from their smuggling into Japan. And I remember a case in my old neighborhood where an old man addicted to gambling was deep into yakuza loan sharks; they helped him take out life insurance on his ten year old granddaughter and then tried (unsuccessfully) to make it look like an accident when they killed her.
posted by jfwlucy at 7:42 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always wondered how tipping works in strip clubs in Canada.

I can answer this question, but it might derail the thread a bit. MeMail me if you're interested.
posted by asnider at 8:51 AM on September 4, 2012


Strip club tipping etiquette! There's no thread safe from the Achewood Completeness Theorem.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:50 AM on September 4, 2012


Strip club tipping etiquette! There's no thread safe from the Achewood Completeness Theorem.

The thing about Canada is that our ones and twos are coins. And people didn't magically starting tipping in fives or higher just because lower denominations aren't in bill form.

Since the thread seems mostly done, I'll just post the thing here instead of doing it over MeMail.

At the strip clubs I've been to (which, admittedly are few and have all been in the same province), the strippers go around at the end of their set with a bucket between their legs. Some of them will roll up an autographed poster into a funnel. You toss your coins at the funnel (which then allows the coins to drop into the bucket). If you, um, score then you get the poster or some other prize (sometimes, at least). I've seen others do without the funnel and you're supposed to aim for the vulva. If you hit her with a coin, you win a prize.

After that spectacle is done with, they'll go around the stage collecting all of the coins that missed. They usually have a magnet on a pole of this purpose.

Frankly, it seems way more degrading than just tipping with paper money and I'm kind of surprised that strip clubs don't force their patrons to buy fake bills for tipping (which the dancers can then cash out for real money at the end of their shift).
posted by asnider at 12:38 PM on September 4, 2012


Takeshi's "Brother" gave an interesting and complicated flavor to the Yakuza.

I understand that yakuza gangs in the Tokugawa era were sort of like vigilantes, who operated as buffers between farmers and thugs (or ronin) that preyed upon them. They had a code, as the saying goes. The Japanese version of Robin Hood, perhaps with a bit more grit, in a niche between common folks and organizations that exploit them...that's their theory.

I liked the comment about how the gangs were homes to dispossed young men. I can see that as a strong draw for any culture, maybe moreso to a young Japanese man.

Also, I wouldn't be quick to poo-poo the notion that the yakuza are principled. I reference my opening comment about Takeshi's movies for context--after all, they are criminals. If you think about how they have moved into the area of buying loans, you can see how they have adapted to modern times. Who owns the loan influences the debtors.

Now, about the definition of criminal.....
posted by mule98J at 11:08 AM on September 5, 2012


There's a common saying in Japan that for some young men the only chance they have to succeed in life is to either join the army or the yakuza.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:18 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


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