Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 14:07 GMT

Japan: The Yakuza Society in Japan

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 12 September 2002
Citation / Document Symbol JPN39827.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Japan: The Yakuza Society in Japan, 12 September 2002, JPN39827.E, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

According to an article in the Organized Crime Registry, the Yakuza, or "Japanese Mafia", is an all men's society of individuals who are involved in unlawful businesses such as gambling, drugs, prostitution and loan-sharking (n.d.).

An article in The Crime Library describes the organization of the Yakuza Society as follows:

Current Yakuza members fall under three general categories: tekiya (street peddlers), bakuto (gamblers), and gurentai (hoodlums).


The yakuza are proud to be outcasts, and the word yakuza reflects the group's self-image as society's rejects. In regional dialect, ya means 8, ku means 9, and sa means 3, numbers that add up to 20, which is a losing hand in the card game hana-fuda (flower cards). The yakuza are the "bad hands of society"...


Like the Mafia, the yakuza power structure is a pyramid with a patriarch on top and loyal underlings of various rank below him.


The guiding principle of the yakuza structure is the oyabun-kobun relationship. Oyabun literally means "father role"; kobun means "child role." When a man is accepted into the yakuza, he must accept this relationship.


The levels of management within the yakuza structure are much more complex than the Mafia's. Immediately under the kumicho (supreme boss) are the saiko komon (senior adviser) and the so-honbucho (headquarters chief). The wakagashira (number-two man) is a regional boss responsible for governing many gangs; he is assisted by the fuku-honbucho, who is responsible for several gangs of his own. A lesser regional boss is a shateigashira, and he commonly has a shateigashira-hosa to assist him. A typical yakuza crime family will also have dozens of shatei (younger brothers) and many wakashu (junior leaders).


If a yakuza member displeases or severely disappoints his boss, the punishment is often yubizume, the amputation of the last joint of the little finger. A second offense will require the severing of the second joint of that finger, and additional offenses might require moving on to the next finger.


In the past, choice recruits came from the traditional bakuto (gambler) and tekiya (peddler) classes, but today a rebel spirit and a willingness to commit crime for an oyabun is all that is necessary to join the yakuza ranks. Most new members currently come from the bosozuku (speed tribes), street punks known for their love of motorcycles.

This lowering of standards has led to the Japanese National Police Agency adopting the term boryokudan (the violent ones) for the yakuza, lumping them in with other criminal groups. The yakuza, who treasure their ancestral ties to the old samurai, reject the term and consider it an insult (10 Jan. 2002).

According to an article on the MSNBC Web site, the Yakuza are involved in high-level financial fraud, extortion and bribery of politicians (31 Aug. 2002). The biggest yakuza group in Japan is the Yamada gumi (Organized Crime Registry n.d.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


The Crime Library. 10 January 2002. Anthony Bruno. "The Yakuza." [Accessed 9 Sept. 2002] 31 August 2002. Mike Brunker. "Asian Gangs are Brothers in Crime." [Accessed 5 Sept. 2002]

Organized Crime Registry. n.d. Miyuki I. Sundara. "Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia." [Accessed 5 Sept. 2002]

Additional Sources Consulted

Crime and Justice International [January 2000-March 2001]

IRB Databases

Jane's Intelligence Review [January 2000-March 2001]

Internet sites including:

The Asia Foundation

Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies

United Nations Crime and Justice Information Network

United Nations International Drug Control Programme

United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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