Yakuza. The very word evokes mystery, fear, and style. Like the Mafia, the Narcos of Colombia, or the Asian triads, the yakuza - Japan's crime syndicate - hold a persistent fascination for law-abiding folks who can't help wondering what it would be like to live on the dark side. Make no mistake: Yakuza are criminals, and crime isn't cool except in certain movies and TV shows.
That said, yakuza are also people, and when ordinary folks cross paths with them, the results can be downright fascinating. Here's a grab bag of allegedly true encounters between regular people and the denizens of Japan's legendary underworld.
- 13,929 VOTES
A Tatted-Up Yakuza Guy Chatted With Them In A Bathhouse
From Redditor u/KuriTokyo:
I went to a free onsen [bathhouse] in Shirahama and this guy walks in covered in tats.
I thought I'd just play the dumb gaijin [foreigner] card and pretend I didn't know, but when he got in, everyone got out and it was just him and [me] looking at each other. He said, "Hurro," and shook my hand... then pointed to his missing pinkie and asked, "You know?" With a smile, I said, "Yakuza," and he laughed, put his arm around me, and called out to his buddy to get us some beer.
I was a bit uncomfortable being embraced by a naked guy, but I knew it would be one of those memories I would tell over and over again.
- 24,000 VOTES
Yakuza Helped Recover Their Lost Bike
From a former Redditor:
I lost track of my bike in a seedier area in town and a couple of yakuza noticed me wandering around. They asked if I wanted to go join them in a bar, and I replied that I was trying to find my bike.
They called up all of their people in the neighborhood and found it for me. Very polite and inoffensive.
- 32,884 VOTES
They Were Stalked Post-Breakup By A Yakuza Boss’s Son
From a former Redditor:
My brother's ex-girlfriend was involved with the son of a very powerful yakuza boss. She used to attend these huge dinners with all the powerful yakuza leaders from around the country - all that stuff.
Anyway, things eventually [w]ent sour with her then-boyfriend. After their breakup he used to do freaky things like break into her apartment and leave a single glove on her pillowcase; she was sure he would eventually get around to whacking her.
So after getting sufficiently freaked out, she eventually relented and called her estranged father, who was in government, to ask advice. He told her not to worry and that she would get a call in a day or two. Finally, a mysterious man who didn't name himself called up and asked her to tell everything that had happened between them. After running through their whole history together, for hours, the man replied, "OK, you won't hear from him again," and hung up. She never did.
- 41,891 VOTES
They Witnessed A Gang Meeting Between Rival Bosses
From Redditor u/thatsnotpc:
One time I was eating lunch with a friend... when we noticed that the other booths and tables were slowly filling up with Japanese tough guys and ex-wrestler types with no necks squeezed into black suits. Next thing we know, two skinny older guys sit down and start chatting and chain-smoking two tables away.
The entire restaurant is filled with yakuza; oh, and two white guys. We do our best to appear unperturbed/unaware.
After about 30 minutes they leave in waves driving off in various Toyota Centurys and Delicas with dark tinted windows.
We had just witnessed a meeting between bosses from different gangs. The entire experience was completely surreal!
- 52,569 VOTES
Older Yakuza Had Faded Tattoos And Were ‘Lonely, Worn Men’
From Redditor u/katsuo_warrior:
When I first moved to Tokyo - alone and without contacts in town - I was broke and lived in a 4.5-mat room upstairs from a sh*tty cafe in Shinjuku. There was no bath or shower, so every day I went to the public bathhouse a few blocks away.
There were always some old, washed-up looking yakuza guys taking baths around the time I came in. You could tell by the faded tattoos. At first they ignored me. However, after seeing me week after week, they began to recognize me. We never talked much in the bath besides a simple greeting. After bathing and dressing, we'd sit together out in the crappy lobby, drinking chilled "coffee milk" out of little glass bottles and watching... the ancient TV. It was like talking to your aging uncle who's been on his own too long. They were lonely, worn men, but they kept me company.
- 62,052 VOTES
They Performed Naked Karaoke For A Yakuza Guy
From Redditor u/howsthatforirony:
I had just moved to Japan when a friend of mine invited me to a little party for a friend of his visiting town. On the way there he informed me that his friend is famous in Japan - a member of a not-to-be-named J-pop band. I had no idea who he was, and he was a nice enough guy, but when we went to the club district in our town, every girl on the street was jaw-dropping at the sight of him and my friend was covering the guy's face, saying, "He's not here; you didn't see him."
We go to a snack bar, or in other words, an expensive place to drink where prostitutes serve you drinks, and my friend gets a call that a member of the local yakuza family wanted to come hang out. The guy shows up, and within 10 minutes he decides we're moving the party to another snack bar. He settles the tab for all of us (20 people or so), and we go to this smaller, more intimate snack bar to drink and sing karaoke.
The yakuza guy's assistant gets up to sing a song, and before I know it, he's stripped down naked and everyone thinks it's hilarious. In my infinite wisdom, I pulled a 100-yen coin (a buck) from my pocket and handed it to the guy as a joke. The yakuza guy starts busting up laughing and I'm thinking, "Good job, hows that for irony - you made a friend in Japanese organized crime."
A few songs later it's my turn to sing, and the formerly naked guy comes to me and hands me a 500-yen coin... and that's when I realized the bar had been raised. I'm freaking out and figured I'd better at least take my shirt off to appease the crowd. No sooner was my shirt off when people (mostly guys, mind you) started going for my belt and removing my jeans and briefs, and suddenly I'm naked singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in front of a Japanese kingpin and an idol. The song ended and I was quickly back in my clothes and the rest of the evening was uneventful.
I'm just glad it wasn't too cold in there so my little guy didn't get stage fright...