The origins of Yakuza, a Japanese criminal syndicate, can be traced in both history and mythology. The members of Yakuza believe that their ancestors were ronins, samurais that have been exiled by their feudal lords and forced to roam the land. Ronins also defended villages from warlords, for what they were honored with payment from villagers. The money they acquired went toward investing in illegal gambling and shady commerce. The meaning of the work yakuza is associated gambling and a popular cards game called oicho-kabu, in which the losing hand is called yakuza and is made up of 8 “ya” 9 “Ku”, and 3 “za”.
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If to compare Yakuza from any other criminal group or gang, the key difference is that they are accepted both socially and culturally; therefore, they do not have to hide from law enforcement. About the illegal activities carried out by the organization, they have kept a relatively low profile; however, the majority of Yakuza’s activities are supported by the legal frameworks. Originated in the seventeenth century, the organization has existed for so long that it embedded into the cultural context and became recognized by Japanese society. Moreover, the position Yakuza currently holds in the social and political life of Japan is not that different from the position it occupied four centuries ago.
Similarly to the early times of Yakuza’s operations, nowadays the organization is associated with “the underground” circles. The majority of the gambling halls and nightclubs are owned by the members of the Yakuza who also support prostitution, the porn industry, own hotels, and restaurants, as well as finance the fight business. What is interesting to note is that the organization does not have much in common with a crime as people understand it today. Rather, Yakuza always tried to maintain good relationships with law enforcement as well as the general public to keep their reputation pristine and not hurting the business.
What is also particularly important to mention is that the intentions of Yakuza are not always associated with making money illegally and becoming wealthy. The organization acknowledged its care for the poor and the elderly to the extent that it established a charity to help those in need across the entire country of Japan. The most recent examples of Yakuza’s charitable work were the relief efforts after the earthquakes Jobe and Tohoku in 1995 and 2011 respectively. Also, however paradoxical it may be, the Yakuza syndicate has proven to be effective in keeping the petty and organized crime rates in the country. This, in part, is explained by the immense fear and respect of other people for the organization, which also preaches discipline and control. Very often young men that join the Yakuza were misled in life, but the organization teaches them good behavior and preaches respect for the elderly.
Of course, some of the non-legitimate activities of the organization are not examples of discipline and good behavior; however, the fact that Yakuza became an integral part of the Japanese society is what differentiates it from other criminal syndicates. The respect from the community is what gives Yakuza permission to conduct illegal gambling, blackmail, or even arms trafficking. Overall, the topic of Yakuza deserves more extensive research about the concepts of cultural anthropology and organized crime.