In Tokyo Vice, HBO max’s new extremely praised TV collection, the viewers follows the adventures of journalist Jake Adelstein within the Japanese underworld. The collection is impressed by Adelstein’s memoir of the identical identify, launched in 2009. Adelstein was the primary westerner to be employed on the Japanese information outlet Yomiuri Shimbun and within the collection he encounters corrupt cops, hostess women and the notorious Japanese mafia, the yakuza.
Critics have questioned how actual Adelstein’s account is. Nevertheless, based mostly by myself experiences as a researcher who has labored with yakuza, the illustration of them within the collection is just not too far off.
In 2017, I printed a guide on yakuza tattoos, the work was based mostly on fieldwork in Yokohama and I carried out interviews and photographed yakuza members. The collection introduced me again to my expertise with the yakuza, which was each horrifying and enjoyable.
Yakuza is the widespread identify for organised crime in Japan. The yakuza is just not one organisation, however a number of. They typically painting themselves as honourable organisations (ninkyō dantai) descending from the Samurai lifestyle.
It’s exhausting to show that the yakuza descended from samurais. However these organisations could be traced again to the late 1800s; to road peddler (tekiya) and gambler (bakuto) gangs – to lose a hand within the card recreation oicho-kabu is 8-9-3 and that’s pronounced ya–ku–sa.
A lot of my expertise with the yakuza got here flooding again as I watched Tokyo Vice and its explorations of the other ways the organisation is perceived. On the time of my go to, the clan to which my informants belonged had simply break up and there was a battle between the 2 teams which made my go to extra thrilling.
One of many tales within the collection relies on the rivalry of two yakuza households and viewers are launched to a “good” and a “unhealthy” yakuza boss. Within the collection the unhealthy boss, Tozawa (performed by Tanida Ayumi), is organising a fraudulent mortgage firm that makes cash from individuals’s debt by giving them the choice to kill themselves and pay their debt in an insurance coverage clause. The opposite yakuza boss, Ishida (performed by Shun Sugata) explains to Adelstein that making individuals kill themselves to pay their money owed is just not the yakuza method of doing enterprise.
In actual life most headlines in regards to the yakuza relate to fraud, extortion and homicide. However the members I talked to noticed themselves as morally right, stressing that they did charity work for the poor.
There are examples of those prison organisations serving to society, like throughout the 2011 earthquake and the tsunami that adopted, when it was reported that yakuza had been the primary to carry reduction provides to affected areas. Nevertheless, even the yakuza acknowledge they don’t have one of the best repute, regardless of seeing themselves as Robin Hood-type figures.
New approaches to tattoos
One other idea that’s spot on within the TV collection is among the cultural features of the yakuza, from the way in which their workplaces look to sure ceremonies but in addition their notorious tattoos. Full physique tattoos (irezumi) are quite common amongst yakuza members. Within the present, these are very correct they usually include many conventional symbols like Shinto gods, koi fish and dragons.
These symbols typically have a private that means and are usually not all the time linked to the yakuza way of life. The tattoos which can be associated to the yakuza life typically symbolize the hierarchical construction of the organisation. For instance, tattoos of koi fish swimming upstream to turn out to be a dragon is a logo of eager to turn out to be a boss.
One other attention-grabbing side is the tattoos amongst youthful yakuza members. Many select to not observe the normal tattoo fashion. As an example, one youthful member within the collection has neck tattoos, which isn’t a standard location for a tattoo. I additionally encountered youthful yakuza members that had extra of an American gangster contact to their tattoos, exhibiting weapons and RIP indicators.
The present made a number of the feelings related to working with such individuals and establishments come again to life. Strolling down the highway with a yakuza boss provides you a number of emotions. On the one hand, you’re feeling untouchable and highly effective; then again, you’re feeling like your life can finish at any second. Tokyo Vice brings me again to those emotions, not solely via its thrilling story but in addition by placing a number of effort into the main points of portraying yakuza life.