Episode 133: The Yakuza–Japan’s Mafia

This episode is brought to you by El Yucateco

On this episode of the Sofa King Podcast, we talk about the Japanese Yakuza. They are larger in power, wealth, and scope than the Italian Mafia, but in America, we don’t hear much about them. And what we do hear about them is fairly glorified and bloody, more like Kill Bill than the truth. We learned a lot researching this group, including that they are estimated to have over 80,000 members, and they date back to the 17th century, where historians claim they existed as Ronin, rogue samurai with no masters, who started clans that protected cities.

They evolved during the tumultuous years of World War II, and one man in particular helped to consolidate their power and status in modern Japan. His name was Yoshi Kodama, and he went from a black-market smuggler during the war to the wealthiest man in all of Asia. Listen in as we talk about how much influence he had on framing post-war Japan’s culture, and even how a porn star tried to kill with an airplane, Kamikaze style!

So what is the modern day Yakuza like? They run themselves as legal corporate entities, and there are multiple Yakuza family clans through Japan and the world. They follow a very strict hierarchy where each man is bound to one person above them and one person below, called an Oyabun/Kobun relationship. At the top is the Kumicho who runs the entire family and is the big boss.

We had a lot of questions about them based on what we’ve heard in the past. Why do the Yakuza take their name from the numbers 8, 9, 3? Do they really practice Yubizume and chop their fingers off when the disappoint the boss? Are they really covered in head-to-toe tattoos? How powerful is the Yamaguchi-gumi (the biggest Yakuza family)? What did photographer Anton Kusters learn about them when a Yakuza clan let him live among them for two years? Listen, laugh, learn.

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