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12 Things We Learned About The Yakuza That Sound Made Up, But Aren't

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Vote up the yakuza stories that sound too strange to be real.

Japanese organized crime syndicates known as yakuza have been a source of fascination for more than a century. The modern yakuza originated in 1915 and controlled illegal activity in the country until WWII, when most yakuza gangs fell apart. The yakuza were revived in the 1950s and '60s, attracting tens of thousands of members.

Today, many yakuza operate semi-openly as mostly legal and legitimate businesses. Others claim to be humanitarian organizations. But modern yakuza groups like the Yamaguchi-gumi are still involved in all kinds of illicit activity, from drug trafficking to cyber crime. And when yakuza come into conflict, things can get violent quickly. 

Vote up the things about the yakuza that sound like they're pulled from a movie.

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  • Their Tattoos Are So Valuable That They Might Be Peeled Off A Member’s Corpse
    Photo: Kusakabe Kimbei or Baron Raimund von Stillfried / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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    787 VOTES

    Their Tattoos Are So Valuable That They Might Be Peeled Off A Member’s Corpse

    In Japan, "irezumi" is a form of tattooing that literally means "inserting ink into the skin," and many consider it an art form. Yakuza began using intricate irezumi tattoos as identifying symbols in the early 20th century, when Japan outlawed tattooing altogether. 

    As artwork - and illegal artwork at that - some tattoos are so valuable that they become commodities that get passed along after their original owner dies. This has led to an underground black market economy where preserved tattoos are exchanged for money - some for millions of dollars. Some wealthy Japanese families will reportedly front the cost for a yakuza member's elaborate tattoo, with the agreement that they can collect it after the member has passed.

    The Jikei Medical University has a nearly intact body suit of a deceased yakuza member from the 1930s on display, which is "believed to have been bequeathed by its occupant in return for free medical care during life."

    787 votes
  • Some Cartoons Are Given An Additional Finger To Avoid Association With The Yakuza
    Photo: Bob the Builder / CBeebies
    2
    566 VOTES

    Some Cartoons Are Given An Additional Finger To Avoid Association With The Yakuza

    Given the yakuza's practice of "yubitsume," a ritual where an offending member cuts off their pinky finger to make amends, a hand with four fingers may be associated with the organized crime group. This makes some animated characters, particularly those in children's shows, problematic in the Japanese market. 

    In 2000, according to BBC, Bob the Builder creator Hit Entertainment agreed to give its four-fingered construction worker two additional digits for a total of five on each hand to avoid the association. However, it ended up being too costly to fix, though Bob the Builder merchandise was made with five fingers in Japan. Other cartoons, like The Simpsons have at times been featured with an additional finger.

    566 votes
  • 3
    340 VOTES

    The Yakuza Hold An Annual Halloween Party For Children

    Many yakuza operate semi-openly and claim themselves to be members of a humanitarian organization. The Yamaguchi-gumi gang in Kobe have been holding an annual Halloween party since as early as 2007. It reportedly began when children from an international school approached the yakuza headquarters in their costumes, and the yakuza had to shoo them away with 1,000-yen bills. 

    In 2017, the Yamaguchi-gumi initially suspended the celebrations due to an ongoing gang war before reversing the decision due to public outcry. 

    340 votes
  • A Japanese Porn Actor Kamikazed A Yakuza Boss
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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    288 VOTES

    A Japanese Porn Actor Kamikazed A Yakuza Boss

    Yoshio Kodama was a Japanese ultranationalist with organized crime ties, and someone who was responsible for the yakuza's post-WWII resurgence. In 1976, he was implicated in the Lockheed bribery scandal, accused of accepting $7 million in illegal payments in exchange for using his influence to help the airplane company secure government contracts. 

    Mitsuyasu Maeno was a struggling actor and occasional adult film star who attended an ultranationalist meeting with Kodama in 1971. At the meeting, Maeno came to admire him. The revelation of the Lockheed scandal made Maeno distraught and disillusioned. 

    Maeno and two friends decided to dress up in kamikaze uniforms, rented a plane, and crashed it into Kodama's home. Maeno perished in the crash. Kodama was resting in another part of the house when Maeno attacked and survived. He lived another eight years. 

    288 votes
  • The Yakuza Responded To The 2011 Tsunami Before The Japanese Government Did
    Photo: RIA Novosti archive, image #882887 / Iliya Pitalev / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
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    545 VOTES

    The Yakuza Responded To The 2011 Tsunami Before The Japanese Government Did

    On March 11, 2011, the Tohoku earthquake registered a 9.0 on the Richter scale and caused a tsunami that left 27,000 people either missing or deceased. Shortly after, yakuza in Tokyo and Kobe dispatched aid vehicles containing food, water, blankets and toiletries. Overall, they sent about 70 trucks worth $500,000. 

    The yakuza claimed that the charity was because the government was  too slow to aid the disaster's victims. Some critics argued that the yakuza had ulterior motives, but others claimed the organization did it out of a genuine desire to help people. 

    545 votes
  • 6
    289 VOTES

    During The Yama-Ichi Gang War, Newspapers Kept ‘Scorecards’ Of The Body Counts

    The bloodiest yakuza conflict on record was the Yama-Ichi war, which took place between Kobe's Yamaguchi-gumi and Ichiwa-kai gangs. It began when the Ichiwa-kai and their leader Hiroshi Yamamoto broke from the Yamaguchi-gumi in 1985. After Yamamoto attempted to assassinate the Yamaguchi-gumi's leader, it kicked off a war that lasted four years and claimed 36 lives. 

    Gangland shootings were so common that newspapers kept daily tallies of the violence, cataloging how many deaths, serious injuries, and minor injuries each side had sustained, reportedly labeling the counts "Today's Yama-Ichi War Scorecard." 

    289 votes