Category Archives: Yakuza and the Gaijin

27
Apr

The Yakuza Night World, Business and Pleasure

-by Tyler McPeek

Drinking out in Japan’s Nightlight Wonderland

The Yakuza Night World, Business and Pleasure:
Levels, Systems, Workers, and Management of Japanese “Mizushobai,” a First Look

This is the sixth article in my yakuza series.  These works should be considered as "fictional memoir" in nature.  Please read disclaimers in the first and subsequent articles for more information on the fictional nature of the characters described in this series.  Due to previous mention of the industry and details here and there, and especially after my last article on “Yakuza Women,” I’ve been asked to attempt a comprehensive explanation and taxonomy of the Japanese mizushobai, or “water trade.”  I can tell you this is a herculean task.  The system is so layered, so complex, and so massive that I fear it requires a series of articles.  Anyhow, I’ll try my best to simplify it into a manageable strata, in one post, without repeating information outlined in earlier posts on the yakuza’s many money making and social activities—which weave in and out of the night drinking world, sometimes inseparably so.  I’ve worked at a number of “bars” (though the word doesn’t do the diaspora justice), owned and managed my own place, known countless owners of various establishments, seen the world through at the side of yakuza partiers and businessmen/protection racketeers, and drank my way across the country in all variety of different watering holes.  Take my word for it, I’ve drank in many countries, and Japan has the most complex array of different places to drink in the world, bar none.  In this article, I’ll cover: shot bars, restaurants, izakaya, hostess bars (standard, kabakura, high end, etc—this is the biggest category), host clubs, Russian/Eastern European show pubs, foreigner bars, dance clubs, theme bars, public drinking party events, karaoke bars and boxes, soft prostitution clubs, geisha clubs, and ryokan.  Some of these are broad categories, but taken as a whole, this is a fairly good representation of the drinking options available in Japan.  Due to the bulk, I’ll have to explain each of them briefly.

18
Nov

Yakuza Women

-by Tyler McPeek

This is the fifth article in my yakuza series.  I’ve decided to address the issue of yakuza women.  As always, I’m speaking from my personal experiences, but I’m also trying to dispel some of the misconceptions as best I can and to address the topic honestly and have fun with it if possible.  See earlier articles for further disclaimer on this article series being best regarded as "fictional memoir."


An account of women in the yakuza, at this point in time and form my point of view (see earlier articles in the yakuza series for caveats on the non-research oriented and personal nature of my accountings), can only be composed of individual case studies, as the path to being a woman who runs with the yakuza is not standardized or usually membership oriented.  It’s an informal and organic process that lands a woman in a yakuza pack.  A woman’s status with the yakuza can be girlfriend, wife, prostitute, mistress, near member, any various sort of employee, a member of a female counterpart gang, groupie, or victim.  Though honor and faux notions of bushido chivalry can be deeply engrained in the psyche and creed of various gangs, their bosses, and their senior members, respect for women generally is very low.  Women are tools, subordinates, possessions, mothers, daughters, homemakers, and slaves.  It’s a paradox of course, but when you are among the yakuza, the women that you encounter are subservient, yet tough, compelling, and powerful.  Sometimes they are sad and obviously victimized, but others seem to have a taste for the debauchery, the lifestyle, the organization, and the ceremony.  Being successful as a mama-san (chief, possibly part owner of a hostess club) or chi-mama (manager or head hostess of a club) almost always routinely involves some business and personal relationship with the local organizations.  It can be a shortcut to funding, protection, security, and solid financial management.  To run a stable of hostesses is to be part of the night life that is the yakuza’s playground.  For prostitutes or clubs that run soft prostitution (sanctioned and priced menus, verbal or written, of sexual touching, feel-ups, fingering, hand jobs, and oral sex) or for full-blown soapland or other all-the-way brothels, nearly always means the women and management are owned to a degree by the yakuza.  The same can be true for host bars or male prostitutes, but the numbers are dwarfed by the female sex and companionship trade.  In any case, the male trade is not the focus of this article.

23
May

How the Yakuza Make Money: Extortion and Strong Arm Tactics

-by Tyler McPeek

This is my fourth blog post about the Japanese mafia (yakuza) and the third about yakuza money making efforts.  For disclaimers about the sources of my knowledge being personal, rather than research-based, and information that is left out of these posts for purposes of loyalty and safety, see the introductions to the earlier posts on this topic.  These posts are based on “field research” and not on academic expertise; they are local and not national in their focus.  They are best regarded as "fictional memoir."  This time I’m talking about the bread and butter of the yakuza way of life as a profession, and here’s where I’m going to have to ruin some of the mafia mystique and romanticism surrounding its membership exclusivity.  Sometimes one can be a yakuza just by acting the part of a yakuza.  At the end of the day, it is more of a state of mind and an attitude, a way of living on the edge of an otherwise highly structured and inescapable societal structure, than it is about an official membership to a particular family or any sort of ideology about what it means to be Japanese (which they have been trying to sell to the public for years).  So, if you don’t give a fuck and you don’t give a fuck who knows you don’t give a fuck, and if you can handle your business and take what you want from life, regardless of the law and right out in the open for the world to see; if you don’t mind intimidating people and you never break character… you just might be a yakuza, at least to the general public—which is what really matters.  Being recognized by the corporate yakuza structure that is “yamaguchi-gumi” or “sumiyoshi-kai” or one of the other national organizations is not the most important thing for an individual who wants to live the life of a Japanese outlaw and be regarded as a yakuza–being able to manipulate others and be recognized by non-yakuza as being yakuza-like is far more important, in my humble opinion.  Having rank within the structure is just something that happens eventually to those who find themselves on the outside of the society.  It’s the last job option or the first for most people, never in between.  “Yakuza” tends to be something you know you are, or one day you realize you are and always were, it’s not something you leave a career in hotel management or airplane maintenance for.  Intimidation and extortion is the essence of making money with the “yak” attitude.  It’s nasty, to be sure, but it’s brute force of will, to take money from people and offer (usually) nothing in return.  To just walk up to someone and say “give it to me” is so un-Japanese that it can be very effective, but only if you have the right attitude.  It’s rarely about a gun or violence, it’s just the threat of “or else.”  I’m choosing extortion to discuss here, because it is something that almost anyone might be able to do, at any level, and it seems to exemplify the ugly and strong essence of what it means to be a mobster in Japan.  You need to 1) speak the right way, that means not like anyone else in Japan, but rather like only yakuza speak 2) have the right look, mostly in the face and eyes, but clothes and the right vehicle don’t hurt and 3) have absolute confidence that can only come from nothing to lose and nowhere else to turn.  I’ll illustrate with a few strong-arm tactics that I’ve notice for getting money from people.  Drunk salarymen, middle-aged women, the elderly, and small business owners are all fair game, let alone anyone stupid enough to borrow money or get involved in gambling debts at the back room mahjong parlors (see the “cheating pachinko” post for a fine example of how bad an idea that can be).

16
May

How the Yakuza Make Money: Drug Smuggling and Sales

-by Tyler McPeek

This is the third installment of my blog posts about the Japanese mafia (yakuza).  For disclaimers about the sources of my knowledge being personal, rather than research-based, and information that is left out of these posts for purposes of loyalty and safety, see the introductions to the earlier posts.  These posts should be regarded as "fictional memoir."


Drug smuggling is, predictably, a major business in Japan.  Still, compared to other developed nations, drug use is not as widespread among the general public, so it would be fair to call it a sub-culture activity.  Most of the yakuza I’ve known don’t do drugs as adults, but most of them tried everything from huffing chemical vapors to whatever else they had access to in high school.  Drug dealing and use in Japan is a very serious crime with a very bad reputation.  Compared with the United States, for example, it’s regarded to be a much more taboo activity.  Also, little distinction is drawn between drugs like marijuana and heroine or experimentation and addiction.  This has resulted in a rather nasty consequence, that those who partake of illegal drugs take a kind of reasoning that if they are willing to smoke marijuana, they might as well try more serious and more addictive drugs, since they see little distinction in terms of risk and public shame.  While marijuana and hallucinogens (mostly mushrooms, but also some other LSD/ecstasy-type stuff have been legally sold in specialty shops—though they are still hard to find) have a fair popularity, a type of crystal methamphetamine called “syabu” / シャブ is probably the most popular drug in Japan.  In my estimation, the reasons for this are three: easy to smuggle with no odor and only small quantities required to get high for long periods, easier than other drugs to manufacture, and highly addictive.   The profit margin for syabu is high, and the availability to criminals looking to profit from it is also high (I will get to the reasons for this shortly).  Syabu can be smoked with a glass pipe or aluminum can or it can be injected using small, insulin needles.  It is easier to inject than heroine, because it dissolves in normal purified water easily and doesn’t require any heating, thus a thinner needle can be used, such as disposable insulin injection needles.  Smoking it is usually done by beginners or casual users.  Regular users will be more concerned with the quality (which is not as relevant for smoking) and will invariably prefer injection, as the effect is quicker, stronger, more efficient, and requires less syabu to achieve the desired effect.  While it all looks pretty much the same, quality can be tested by dropping a small crystal in a glass of water and watching the degree of violence with which the crystal swirls around in the glass.  For these varied reasons, syabu is the Japanese drug of choice for both sales and consumption.  I’ll focus on syabu in this post, though there are a lot interesting things to say about use and sales of other drugs in Japan.  Also, the sale of marijuana and hallucinogens in Japan is not as much the realm of the yakuza as syabu is, and therefore not as relevant to the current topic.

14
May

How the Yakuza Make Money: Introduction and “Cheating Pachinko”

-by Tyler McPeek

This is the second installment to my blogging about the yakuza organization in Japan.  I’ll preface this again by saying that what I write here is based on my personal experience with yakuza friends and acquaintances in Japan.  This disclaimer is important for two reasons: 1) my experience may very well not be representative of what experts and journalists have written about the yakuza as a national organization.  My personal experience is simply what I know to be true of the Hokuriku area branch and to a lesser degree other area branches of the Yamaguchi-gumi / 山口組.  2) This material is original and not based on any kind of research, but rather wholly on personal experience.  That is to say, it is meant as a piece of public interest and entertainment.  I’m not a reporter, and am also not trying to write a Wikipedia-type article.  Having said that, I should also mention again that while I’m not fictionalizing my material in any way, I am forced to leave out some details for reasons of loyalty to friends and for safety.

13
May

Yakuza and the Gaijin, My Experience

-by Tyler McPeek

People have been asking me to write about some of my experience with the Japanese mafia (better known as the “yakuza” / ヤクザ / 893).  I came up in Japan in the Hokuriku Region, specifically Ishikawa-ken.  Since I know a lot of these people very well (and some of them are notorious in my area), you’ll excuse me for declining to mention people by name and leaving out a few other details of specificity.  This article, and anymore that I may write in the future on this subject, are more for learning purposes and public interest, and not at all to upset friends and acquaintances–for obvious reasons, if for not out of loyalty and respect alone.  The reader may consider this and all other articles in this series to be "fictionalized memoir" or just plain "fictional memoir."  The "I" in these articles can be regarded to be the first person character that I am creating for this work, no more autobiographical than any other character the writer might create and write about, utilizing real world experience of the writer, to the best of one's ability, to give the fictional world texture, grit, and accuracy.

The crowd that "I" knew well (I’ll not use the word “affiliated” with) was a group of people from the Yamguchi-gumi / 山口組, or the ‘Yamaguchi syndicate’ for lack of a better translation.  It should be noted that none of the people I knew/know ever referred to themselves as “Yamaguchi” anything, but rather only by their regional affiliation, which was in reality an arm of the Yamaguchi organization (the biggest and most powerful in Japan–Wikipedia puts it at 50% of all yakuza in Japan.  I would put it at more than that, but it is a difficult percentage to define, for reasons that have to do with how you define “yakuza” at the fringe, which I will explain in more detail in another post).  In fact, the word “yakuza” was a word that was used more outside the organization than in.  The Yamaguchi syndicate’s crest is pictured below.

Yamaguchi-Yamabishi

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