“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” Genesis 6:11

My first introduction to the world of yakuza was at a Japanese hot spring where a sign discreetly indicated that anyone with tattoos was prohibited from using the facility. This directive was a euphemistic way of saying that yakuza were not welcome. After all, it was easy to enforce such restrictions upon a certain dark segment of society who are readily identified by their rather unique and prominent tattoos known as “irezumi.” I soon learned that there were other means for picking out yakuza, or Japanese gangsters, in society. For example, they are sometimes missing a part of a finger and they often drove large foreign cars like Cadillacs, which were very scarce in Japan.

Yakuza are members of a large organized crime syndicate in Japan with its roots dating back to the Edo Period (1603-1868). Their criminal activities usually center around extortion, racketeering, human trafficking, drugs, gambling, questionable real estate practices and even arms smuggling. Different yakuza factions focus on different enterprises with some of these extending beyond the borders of Japan. The yakuza reached their zenith of influence in the 1960s with a membership of more than 200,000, but since then their numbers have significantly dropped. This decline is primarily due to the enactment of several laws restricting their activities and changes in market opportunities. The present number of yakuza is estimated to be roughly 28,000 members; the island of Kyushu has historically served as their prime recruiting ground. Approximately 60 percent of yakuza members come from burakumin, or members of the traditional outcast class, and 30 percent are recruited from Japanese-born Koreans.

The Japan film industry created a popular genre of movies centered on the yakuza world. Several manga series have also picked up on this theme and, together, they romanticize the underworld activities of these Japanese gangsters by emphasizing their strict codes of conduct and rigid hierarchical structure. Yakuza gangs tend to mimic the senior/junior (sempai-kōhai) relationship pattern common throughout Japan, but do so on an exaggerated scale as members are required to cut their family ties and transfer their loyalties to a gang boss. Sometimes this fealty is demonstrated through the partial or complete amputation of the left little finger in a ritual known as yubitsume, which is also used as a form of penance for any perceived failure. Some yakuza now wear prosthetic fingertips to hide this distinctive mark and avoid attention.

A propensity towards violence was one of the initial indicators of man’s fall and departure from godly behavior. The first crime recorded in scripture following man’s eviction from the Garden of Eden was Cain’s extreme violent act of murdering his own brother. Violence among mankind then escalated to such an extent that God felt it necessary to exercise judgment on the entire earth in the form of a flood because it “was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” (Genesis 6:11) Pride and violence are sometimes linked together in the Bible (Psalm 73:6) because a self-centered independence from God (pride) can potentially unleash horrific actions normally condemned in civilized societies. The yakuza are well-known as occupants of the dark underworld in Japan, but another form of darkness occupies the hearts of all mankind and it is only the grace of God that curbs its full manifestation.

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