Japanese mobsters, often called "the Japanese Mafia" in the West, euphemistically as "anti-social organizations" and "violent groups" (暴力団, bōryokudan) by most Japanese, and "ninkyo dantai" (任侠団体/仁侠団体, "charitable/chivalrous organizations") by themselves. The term refers solely to the members of crime organizations, not to the organizations themselves, which may take many different names. The yakuza insist that their organizations originated in Robin Hood-style outlaw groups and vigilante groups during Japan's feudal era, but scholars believe that they are in fact descended from roving bands of Ronin who harassed and extorted the local peasantry. Despite being stereotypical of Japan, yakuza are actually ethnically Korean in incredibly disproportionate values, being 1% of Japan's general population yet 30% of the yakuza.
Yakuza resemble The Mafia in that they are very organized crime syndicates, with strict codes of behavior and etiquette, and encompass many levels of ritual and formality. Unlike the Mafia and the Chinese Triads, though, they are not secret societies, and often operate openly, even so far as to maintain offices and carry business cards. Like their Western counterparts, though, they derive most of their profit from extortion, protection rackets, human trafficking, and the like. Yakuza like to maintain that they provide a service to the community, which in return owes them both respect and money. A consequence of being ultra-violent while maintaining a strict honor code is that in fiction they sometimes get to have Samurai traits, or at least katana.
The stereotyped yakuza character matches the real-world profile fairly closely: he is heavily tattooed (so identified with criminality that many bathhouses forbid people with tattoos on the premises), male, and may be missing a finger (either as a loyalty test or as punishment, contrary to myth however, plenty of anime was inspired by western animation and retains Four-Fingered Hands). He wears an expensive suit and dark sunglasses, and walks with a distinctive swagger that announces his profession. While he claims a benign interest in the community, he is as likely to be as violent and destructive as his Western counterpart, especially if he feels he is not receiving the respect he deserves.
Yakuza are so prominent in Japanese culture that they have even spawned an entire genre of films which are as distinct from western gangster films as the yakuza are from western gangsters. While many of these films are little known in the west, movies like Tokyo Drifter and Battles Without Honor and Humanity pioneered many tropes that western audiences have since come to associate with martial arts and action pictures, and their influence can be detected in productions as diverse as Kill Bill and Cowboy Bebop.
Female yakuza are very rare in the male-dominated Japanese society, but if one appears, she is definitely a Dragon Lady.
As Japan Takes Over the World is quite typical for the genre, expect Yakuza to to appear quite often in most cyberpunk fiction.
Anime and Manga
- The final arc of the second season of Black Lagoon, "Fujiyama Gangsta Paradise," centers around a war between two rival yakuza groups triggered by the death of one of their bosses, a war that Russian mob boss Balalaika wants to use to gain a foothold in the Japanese underworld. The yakuza, as befitting of the show's tendency to take Refuge in Audacity, play every mafia movie cliche in the book to the hilt, but unfortunately for them, Balalaika is a Magnificent Bitch and doesn't play by their rules. And then, Rock and Revy meet up with Yukio Washimine, the girl who is about to become the leader of one of these groups...yeah, it doesn't end well.
- In Blood+, Mao Yahana's unseen father is a Yakuza; she steals money from him so she can afford to follow the heroes all over the world.
- Yakuza show up a few times in Darker than Black, but mostly just wind up getting beaten senseless in large numbers.
- In one episode of Full Metal Panic!! Fumoffu, Sousuke helps strengthen one group, the Mikihara-gumi (whose boss is Ren's dad), against the predations of another group, the Ryujin-kai, by giving them Training from Hell and equipping them with weapons and military-grade powered armor/Bonta-kun replica costumes. Yes, you read that right.
- For bonus points, Sousuke goes through the training in his Bonta-kun armor (i.e. through most of the episode), with Kaname acting as his "translator".
- In Gantz, two Yakuza are among the first group of hunters.
- The main character of Gokusen is a schoolteacher whose coworkers do not know she is the granddaughter of a powerful oyabun (yakuza boss).
- The "very nice men" that start the plot of Hayate the Combat Butler. Ironically enough, they are more honorable than Hayate's Parents themselves. Of course, that's an extremely low bar.
- Given that Section 9 works for Interior Security, yakuza don't make many appearances in Ghost in the Shell, usually only in the role of supplying real terrorists with illegal goods. They feature more prominently in Innocence, but appear as nothing but a gang of regular thugs.
- Bleach has 7th Squad lieutenant Tetsuzaemon Iba, who is patterned after a yakuza, complete with shades and the tattoo taking up most of his back space.
- As president of the Shinigami Man's Association, he seems to have carried this trait over to a degree. Meetings of the association consist of the various male lieutenants wearing similar glasses and leaving their haori draped open across their shoulders.
- Higurashi no Naku Koro ni has the local Sonozaki family. One of the main characters, Mion Sonozaki, is a Yakuza Princess of the family.
- There are two Yakuza girls in Kujibiki Unbalance and while one is a rough tomboy cardshark, the other is an Ojou Kid Samurai with a katana.
- Love Mode: Reiji Aoi is tall, dark, and, at least once, mistaken for yakuza. The fact that his business include a variety of shady businesses probably doesn't help matters much.
- Somuku Kanou in Okane ga Nai runs a yakuza-approved Loan Shark business in Shinjuku.
- Ritsu Kasanoda of Ouran High School Host Club is apparently a young yakuza boss. Also in the episode introducing Renge, she drags two students that are of Yakuza families to play the role of baddies in her elaborate movie of the Host Club.
- In the Paranoia Agent episode "A Man's Path", a corrupt policeman goes to desperate lengths to pay his debts to the Yakuza.
- The mythical permutation of Yakuza is seen in a Yojimbo inspired episode of Samurai Champloo, in which one Yakuza family is presented as being run by a kindly and benevolent patriarch who created the organization to be a refuge for social outcasts. On the other hand, the opposing group were common thugs, and this type of Yakuza sometimes shows up as the villain of the episode (i.e. the sex slavery ring was implicitly run by them, given the reference to one mook losing a finger if guilty of further incompetence).
- In Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei, one of the teachers at the school is shown to have a Yakuza tattoo on his back, which freaks the protagonist teacher out. One episode shows the main characters trying to avoid being caught doing something embarrassing which can be photographed and used to shame them. Said teacher is shown having the ability to deftly avoid any camera which tries to photograph him.
- About half the main cast of Seto no Hanayome, including the heroine, are yakuza mermaids. (You heard me.)
- Being a light comedy, they're played positively enough to be samurai-ish. They have a few swordspersons around, and San uses a Japanese pun to riff on 'chivalry'. That and they never do anything Yakuza-ish because they're too busy screwing up Nagasumi's life.
- Episode 7 of Trapeze deals with a yakuza member who has a phobia of sharp objects and eventually starts wearing ski goggles to protect his eyes.
- Yakuza-apparent are mooks in the Mai-HiME Destiny light novel series.
- Though it's not openly mentioned, Sei from Burst Angel is implied to be a yakuza leader, or at least a Yakuza Princess.
- The manga Sanctuary combines Yakuza with the Government Procedural, with its two Magnificent Bastard heroes—an up-and-coming Yakuza leader and a junior member of the Japanese parliament—working together to remake Japanese society from the top down and bottom up.
- Akagi deals with illegal gambling in post-WWII Japan, Yakuza included.
- Gungrave - tale of unrequited romance & mafia "friendship"... and stars an undead cowboy assassin who can only function if filled with blood.
- The crime sindicate the protagonists fight in Heat Guy J works a lot like a yakuza syndicate, despite the italian names everybody on it has.
- Katekyo Hitman Reborn: Although taking place in Japan, they originate in Italy. However, shortly after Dino's introduced they pretend Tsuna's been kidnapped by a Yakuza gang, and the name Reborn gives Gokudera and Yamamoto is a real Yakuza... who the two proceed to beat up looking for their boss ("What'd you do with Jyudaime?!")
- All of the manga Tokyo Crazy Paradise is centered around the Yakuza- more specifically their young leader Ryuji and his female bodyguard Tsukasa.
- In the Yu Yu Hakusho manga, Yusuke's Hot Mom, Atsuko Urameshi, has some kind of... connections, shall we say... with the local yakuza. Specifically, she gets her buddies to intimidate Yusuke's principal into letting him back into school after he comes back to life. The anime version Bowdlerised this away.
- There's a big organization of them, the Jugondou, in the Ga-Rei manga. They even have supernatural ties, including connections in... Transylvania?
- Yakitate!! Japan has a baking battle to determine the successor to a Yakuza family.
- In Tekkon Kinkreet, the yakuza act as unwelcome agents of change in Treasure Town.
- Kagetora from Psyren is a yakuza, from the outfit to the sunglasses to the manner of speech. Rather than tattoos, his body is heavily scarred from fighting.
- Otaha of Karas was a yakuza enforcer before he got killed and turned into Karas.
- Kochikame: Goshogawara is the boss of a family of Yakuza who don't do anything. Well, they do look out for Sailor Moon collectibles for their boss.
- Ichi the Killer: just about every character; the majority are actively in an organization, others are either ex-yakuza or had/have some other 'professional' connection with them.
- In one episode of Durarara!!, the reporter goes to some of them to ask about the strongest man in Ikebukuro, and there's some discussion about how they have business in the area but pretty much stay out-of-sight unless the various delinquent wars get so bad that they need to intervene.
- One particular Yakuza group, Awakusu-Kai, becomes a lot more prominent in the later Light Novels when Izaya exploits some in-fighting and frames Shizuo for the murder of three of their men.
- Underneath all of the Science Fiction and Western trappings Cowboy Bebop is essentially a classic Yakuza story, pitting a "noble" yakuza (Spike) against a "nihilist" yakuza (Vicious)
- In Holyland, Yuu's Roaring Rampage of Revenge after Shinichi is attacked extends to attacking drug pushers, which leads to one of these telling Masaki to put a lid on Yuu's activities lest the latter wants their attention.
- The seme in Kazuma Kodaka's manga Kizuna, Kei Enjouji, is the Heroic Bastard of a Yakuza boss, and has the perfect Yakuza looks except for the tattoo. Enjouji himself didn't know about this until his mother died and he got a letter telling him the truth. His heritage bites him badly once when some mooks run over his uke, Ranmaru, when they were actually trying to kill Enjouji and Ranmaru pulled a Diving Save for him.
- For worse, one of Kei's rivals for Ranmaru's love is his half-brother Kai Sagano, the legitimate heir to their Yakuza clan. And then he starts falling for his bodyguard, a rather Badass Yakuza guy named Masanori Araki, who has been his caretaker ever since Kai was a child. Your mileage will heavily vary on his being Squick or not.
- The erotic-comedy manga Dance 'Til Tomorrow has some pretty funny scenes when the main character discovers his theater troupe is practicing in an office building shared by Yakuza. After accidently disrespecting their boss, they manage to placate him by offering half-price tickets to their next play. Hijinks Ensue when he shows up with ten other serious-looking Yakuza, scaring the actors so bad most of them forget their lines. While remaining totally stoic during the play, the boss tells them afterward he found it hilarious. So much so that he winds up attending every showing. He later becomes a casual acquaintance of the protagonist, at one point helping him collect debts from people by using his intimidation tactics.
- The Haguro family from Wolf Guy Wolfen Crest. The son of the leader, Haguro Dou, is the Big Bad and Complete Monster extraordinaire.
- They make an appearance in chapter 7 of Neko-de Gomen!.
- Almost everybody in Gekkoh
- While the word "Yakuza" is never used in either version, Chojiro Tokumatsu from Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V is obviously a Yakuza leader. The most powerful man in the Neo Domino prison (even the guards are terrified of him) he is nonetheless a Noble Demon whom the heroes are able to ally themselves with.
- Tatsu, the main character of The Way of the Househusband, used to be a high ranked yakuza before meeting and marrying salarywoman Miku. Now he is a House Husband who tackles domestic chores and housewife duties with the same attitude (and, to an extent, similar methods) he had when in his previous career.
- In the Dark Knight Universe, the Joker was apparently a member (or at the very least bears a tattoo of a large red dragon on his back), as opposed to his usual depiction as having mafia ties. Probably because we already knew about Gotham's mafia (pretty much ripped from The Godfather), and the Joker had to be a wild card. (Hence the name.)
- The Yakuza are one of the many crime factions in Gotham City in the main DCU.
- They have grown into almost a symbiotic relationship with the Judges of Hondo Cit in Judge Dredd, both hating but ultimately having to rely on the other.
- The King of Hell's Kitchen has a yakuza group hopped on MGH trying to take Hell's Kitchen for them after the fall of the Kingpin. In this story, the Yakuza are played like a bunch of greedy thugs with tattoos and katanas. Daredevil wasn't amused
- In Kyon: Big Damn Hero the Organization is funded mainly by this, and also it's the background of Tsuruya's family.
- The Prince by Neverending Odyssey is a Death Note AU where Light Yagami is kidnapped by the Yakuza when he's eleven years old and this harsher upbringing ironically results in him being much more merciful and careful when he adopts his Kira persona.
- In Drunkard's Walk S, dimensional traveler Doug Sangnoir makes use of the Minato-area yakuza organization the Minato-kai to get sufficient (and sufficiently good) false paperwork and ID that he can live "aboveboard" in Tokyo. He notes that this is not an uncommon tactic for him in worlds with governments that are organized and centralized enough to require it.
- Pretty much every single Japanese character in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
- The Bride goes after O-Ren Ishii, the queen of the Yakuza, and her personal army, the Crazy 88, in Kill Bill Part 1. The Yakuza also feature heavily in O-Ren's tragic Backstory, with Boss Matsumoto and his men, who killed O-Ren's parents when she was just a little girl which prompts her rise as the Lady of War boss we meet.
- In the film Crows: Zero, the father of the protagonist Takaya Genji is a powerful Yakuza boss. Genji later befriends Katagiri Ken, a lowlife in a rival Yakuza organization.
- The majority of Takashi Miike's films are about Yakuza, including the live action adaptation of Ichi the Killer.
- Black Rain. The protagonist makes a deal with the local boss to take down the antagonist. The boss makes a point out of the antagonist's dishonourable behavior.
- The Yakuza. Duh.
- A lot of Takeshi Kitano's movies feature him playing a yakuza, including Sonatine, Boiling Point, Kikujiro,Brother and Outrage.
- Battles Without Honor and Humanity deconstructs Yakuza films in a particularly brutal way by telling the story of post-war Yakuza betraying everyone and everything for money and power. It also memorably depicts many of the traditions of the Yakuza in a less than favorable light; for example, the traditional pinky sacrifice turns into a pinky tug-of-war with a chicken.
- The Dolph Lundgren film Showdown In Little Tokyo.
- Johnny Mnemonic, based on the William Gibson short story, features the Yakuza as the primary antagonist, seeking the information stuck in Johnny's head. Takeshi Kitano slums as a Yakuza bigwig in the film.
- Predators has a Yakuza member among its cast (who is mute through most of the film - not because of not speaking English, but because he already lost two fingers for talking too much)
- The Street Fighter and its sequels portray the Yakuza as the main villains.
- War features the Yakuza fighting the Triads in San Francisco.
- William Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy contains many references to the Yakuza, which has become a major international force. In "Johnny Mnemonic," the Yakuza send a vat-grown cyborg assassin to kill the main character.
- In Charles de Lint's Cyberpunk novel Svaha, the Yakuza (or, to use in-universe slang, the "yaks") are the primary antagonists—in Canada.
- In the Choose Your Own Adventure book Mystery of Ura Senke, the Featureless Protagonist main character can be kidnapped by the Yakuza when s/he gets too close to finding the MacGuffin (a Japanese tea bowl that is worth millions of yens and is the treasure of the Ura Senke tea ceremony academy).
- Mentioned in Snow Crash. As part of his sales pitch, a Mafia recruiter points out that the Yakuza is often called the Japanese Mafia, but the Mafia is never called the Italian Yakuza.
- Time Scout's The Syndicate is composed of The Mafia, The Mafiya, and these guys. Their control of Japanese construction made them, effectively, the most powerful people in Japan. They even show up as tourists on the Time Terminal, occasionally.
- The Daily Show interviewed Jake Adelstein (he was also interviewed by 60 Minutes), a reporter who wrote a book about a particular Yakuza boss who was able to secure a visa to get into the US and receive a liver transplant, and then got livers for some of his friends.
- An episode of CSI: Miami revolves around the Yakuza, but for some reason insists on never using the word and instead referring to them as "Sakiru." This is the least of the errors in the episode.
- The Law and Order episode "Gaijin" involves a murder committed in New York City by the Yakuza.
- The Leverage team inadvertently ends up having to con the Yakuza when they try to shut down a sweatshop in "The Runway Job."
- A Time Trax episode deals with the Yakuza.
- Deadliest Warrior had the golden age Mafia [1920s] fight against the golden age Yakuza [post WW 2].
- The Body of the Week on one episode of Quincy was an LAPD detective investigating a Yakuza group that was working out a gun buy from The Mafia. Said detective was stabbed in the heart with a tanto (a dagger shaped like a miniature katana). As luck would have it, Quincy's Japanese-American assistant Sam Fujiwara knew some people...
- Japanese Trip-Hop artist DJ Krush was a Yakuza member before beginning his musical career. Actually, he once found a severed finger wrapped in paper on his desk; after discovering that it had belonged to his best friend, he decided to leave.
- There are persistent rumors that rock/pop/ vocalist Gackt is either a member or somehow in massive debt to the Yakuza.
- On similar lines, there are rumors that Japanese hardcore punk band Gism have Yakuza ties and will go after producers of bootleg records and merchandise. Similar rumors exist about Dir En Grey.
- Not only them: the Yakuza has deep ties to all of the Japanese music industry independent of genre, style, band size, or notoriety. Visual Kei in particular is infested with Yakuza.
- Though always officially denied, New Age musician Kitaro is rumoured to have connections to the Yakuza, with his fame at least partially being due to their influence. These rumours are, in no small part, due to his first wife being the daughter of a former leader of one of the more influential clans.
- The Ryu ga Gotoku series (or as it's more commonly known, Yakuza) is about a former yakuza by the name of Kazuma Kiryu who took the fall for his blood brother's not unjustified killing of the patriarch of their family, and ten years later returns to the Kamurocho district (a fictionalisation of the real Kabukicho in Shinjuku City, Tokyo) after his release from prison, where he quickly finds himself being pulled back into the Yakuza underworld. One of the recurring themes of the series is its portrayal of Kiryu as a kind of Quixotic figure, for whom honour, justice and care for the little guy are not just PR spin but something he genuinely practices, and how that leaves him caught between the older generation who might as well be feudal warlords and the newer generation who find maintaining even a thin veneer of civility and values a hindrance to the pursuit of power.
- Furio Tigre, from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations, has connections with Yakuza (or the Mafia in the translation). Mostly, he owes a Yakuza/Mafia boss a large sum of money after almost killing his beloved granddaughter in a car crash. For worse, the girl has sorta fallen for him, so he uses her in his plans.
- Dee Vasquez also had her own Yakuza thugs in the first game.
- And one of your clients in Apollo Justice is the son of a Yakuza boss.
- Members of the Yakuza play roles in the Grand Theft Auto games, especially in GTA3 and Liberty City Stories.
- In the original Japanese versions, the Piantas in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door were modeled after Yakuza, but in the localization they were switched to the more recognizable (in the Western world anyway) mafia stereotype.
- Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army has Satake and the Kantou haguro-gumi, but they're good guys. A bit quick to agitate, but good.
- Team Rocket in Pokémon Red and Blue and Gold and Silver.
- Red Steel basically revolves around a Civil War within the least evil Yakuza clan.
- The Yakuza shows up from time in various Mafia Wars missions.
- The Ronin in Saints Row 2 aren't; they don't uniformly follow Bushido, aren't without a Lord yet certainly aren't samurai. As a Japanese criminal organization, what else could they be?
- Johnny Gat even goes so far as to refer to the head of the organization as "the Oyabun".
- Maple Story. oddly enough, features bad guys resembling the Yakuza in Zipangu, a Japan themed world. In the original version they were pretty dark, using guns , katanas and nunchakus to hurt you. The American version replaced those with squeaky hammers and cat mittens.
- The Gokudo-kai in Police 911.
- The Azai Corporation in G Senjou no Maou plays a huge part in the game, as the main character's motivation is to repay his debt to them.
- Sampaguita, the 3rd game of the Yarudora series, has them as one of the antagonist factions which are after the main heroine, Maria Santos. And they're certainly not above hitting a girl.
- In Rainbow Six: Take-Down Missions in Korea, a Yakuza gang are orchestrating a series of seemingly unrelated terrorist attacks to cover the expansion of their activities into South Korea.
- The events of Persona 3 are kick-started the leader of the "Krijio Group" believed that the world should be destoryed and called the Shadows for this purpose of fulling a prophecy that does such. His son and granddaughter are out to right his wrongs and created the Specialized Extra-Curricular Execution Squad, a team of Persona users to stop him, of which the granddaughter is a member of. Instead what they believe to be stopping him is just expediting the process.
- The Yaki pirate faction in the X-Universe are explicitly Yakuza IN SPACE! (Fun fact: the word "yaki" means "many yakuza" in Japanese.)
- There is an urban legend that Bob the Builder cannot be shown in Japan as he only has four fingers on each hand—which could be misconstrued as a finger cut off by the Yakuza.
- Likewise, this is usually cited as the reason why Donkey and Diddy Kong have gone from four fingers on each hand to five.
- This is actually the reason Mudokons were retconned into having three fingers instead of four in the Oddworld series.
- Ditto Theme Park, and allegedly, The Simpsons. Trimming down to four fingers on each hand has been a staple technique of animation for decades, so this is probably bogus.
- Featured in The Simpsons, after Homer hires the Mafia to protect Marge's pretzel business, her rivals engage in some tit-for-tat by hiring the Yakuza, leading to the memorable quote, "They'll kill ya five times before ya hit the ground!!!" The Yakuza and the Mafia then have a big gang brawl on the Simpson lawn. The pint-sized Yakuza leader just stands ominously during the brawl, prompting Homer to resist taking shelter before finding out what he's going to do. After Homer retreats inside, we see the little Yakuza doing backflips through the Simpsons' window.
- Briefly mentioned for a joke in a South Park episode:
Officer Barbrady: I'm sure you're wondering why we're standing in a pile of money with no pants on. I can assure you it has nothing to do with the Japanese Mafia.