Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld

Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld

Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld

Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld


Known for their striking full-body tattoos and severed fingertips, Japan's gangsters comprise a criminal class eighty thousand strong--more than four times the size of the American mafia. Despite their criminal nature, the yakuza are accepted by fellow Japanese to a degree guaranteed to shock most Westerners. Yakuza is the first book to reveal the extraordinary reach of Japan's Mafia. Originally published in 1986, it was so controversial in Japan that it could not be published there for five years. But in the west it has long served as the standard reference on Japanese organized crime and has inspired novels, screenplays, and criminal investigations. This twenty-fifth anniversary edition tells the full story or Japan's remarkable crime syndicates, from their feudal start as bands of medieval outlaws to their emergence as billion-dollar investors in real estate, big business, art, and more.


When we first stumbled across Yakuza's Path in San Francisco in the early 1980s, the Japanese mafia seemed more a curiosity than a global threat. The gangs were expanding overseas, but their rackets appeared decidedly low-level—smuggling drugs and guns back to the homeland, along with some rather clumsy attempts to muscle into the Japanese tourist industry.

As we dug into their activities, though, it became clear that the yakuza were growing in sophistication. While Japan’s crime syndicates remained embedded in their traditional fiefdoms, a new breed of Japanese gangster was emerging—both at home and abroad. We saw the gangs moving from gambling dens to the stock market, from construction gangs to real estate, and from local, feudal structures to multinational, corporate ones. Even as pundits continued to praise the success of Japan’s postwar economic miracle, few in the West understood that key portions of that nation’s financial industry—debt collection, bankruptcy management, consumer finance, investor relations—were even then heavily influenced by the yakuza.

Then came Japan’s Bubble Economy in the late 1980s, which sent real estate and stock values soaring and gave the gangs access to billions of dollars. The effect was transformative, integrating the yakuza into high finance and the corporate world as never before. The gangs never looked back, forging closer ties with bankers, brokers, and others in Japan’s business community. Twenty years after the bursting of the Bubble Economy, the popular image of the yakuza as tattooed, loudly dressed street thugs seems dangerously out of date.

One Western lawyer in Tokyo, who spends his time safeguarding a major foreign financial firm from mob-tainted business, compares the yakuza to a . . .

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