The main yakuza gangs are Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai, and Inagawa-kai, and these three major gangs are reputed to have in excess of 50,000 members in Japan.

Major illegal activities that are allegedly run by these gangs are extortion, gambling, prostitution (especially with Thai women), and the illegal drug trade.

Scholars have traced the origins of the yakuza back to at least the year 1612, when violent bands of newly unemployed ronin samurai , known as kabuki-mono ("crazy ones") took to the countryside in newly formed gangs loyal only to themselves.

In many parts of modern Japanese culture, the yakuza are still afforded some respect, in a rakish samurai way. The gangs are thought to have close links with the police, government, far-right political organisations, and business.

In 1992, the Japanese government passed a law that attempts severe restriction of the activities of a number of "designated" yakuza (or, in the government's term, Boryokudan). These designated groups include at the time of writing:

Yamaguchi-gumi of Kobe, Inagawa-kai of Tokyo, Sumiyoshi-kai of Tokyo, Kudo-kai of Fukuoka, Kyokuryu-kai of Okinawa, Okinawa Kyokuryu-kai of Okinawa (sic), Aizukotetsu-Kai of Kyoto, Kyosei-kai of Hiroshima, Goda-ikka of Yamaguchi, Kozakura-ikka of Kagoshima, Asano-gumi of Okayama, Dojin-kai of Fukuoka, Shinwa-kai of Kagawa, Soai-kai of Chiba, Yamano-kai of Kumamoto, Kyodo-kai of Hiroshima, Taishu-kai of Fukuoka, Sakaume-gumi of Osaka, Kyokuto Sakurai'Soke Rengokai of Shizuoka, Kyokuto-kai of Tokyo, Azuma-gumi of Osaka, Matsuba-kai of Tokyo, Kokusui-kai of Tokyo, Nakano-kai of Osaka, Fukuhaku-kai of Fukuoka.

The common heirarchy of governance in a yakuza organisation is as follows:

oyabun "Godfather". Also kumicho "supreme boss"

saiko komon "senior advisor"

so-honbucho "headquarters chief"

wakagashira "number-two man"

fuku-honbucho "assistant"

shateigashira "number three man"

shatei "younger brothers" or senior boss

wakashu "young men" or junior boss

Also included in various levels of the hierarchy are:

komon "advisors", shingiin "counselors", kumicho hisho "kumicho's secretaries", kaikei "accountants", and wakagashira-hosa "underlings of the second-in-command".

The yakuza's favourite Sanrio character is Badtz Maru.

REFERENCES: TIME OUT TOKYO, ADAM JOHNSON, WINTERSWEET, THE JAPANESE DIET, THE UNITED STATES SENATE STANDING COMMITTEE ON ORGANISED CRIME, THE AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL CRIME AUTHORITY, VARIOUS MINOR INTERNET SOURCES

The tattoos are placed so that when wearing a jacket, they can't be seen, but are revealed when the jacket is removed. To elaborate on what jjgifford said, when a new member of the Yakuza is initiated, they are forced to amputate the end of their pinky finger. If they screw up, they have to cut off the rest of the finger. Also known as The Poison Fist of the Pacific Rim.

"They'll kill ya five times before ya hit the ground!"
- Agnes Skinner

The origin of the word "yakuza" is also interesting. The origin of the yakuza lies with the bakuto, professional gamblers during the Tokugawa period. In the then most popular card game, hanafuda, the combination 8-9-3 was a losing hand, and in Japanese, these numbers can be pronounced "ya-ku-za". Puns on numbers are still very popular in Japan.

The Yakuza are obviously deeply rooted to tradition and honor, much like the traditional samurai of the olden days. Full body tattooing and to a greater extent the loss of a pinky finger, both very painful procedures, are acts performed in order to show ones devotion to the "clan", similar to the way seppuku was performed by samurai.

But some Yakuza sew pearls into their penis. This sounds much more painful than shoving a sword into you stomach.

A Yakuza, if sent to jail, will sew a pearl into his penis for two main reasons:

  1. Loyalty – obviously if a Yakuza is in jail they probably did something illegal that was part of the lifestyle they’re coming from. Inserting a pearl, at the rate of one per year, shows that the Yakuza is not forgetting about where he comes from, and that he will remain loyal to his clan even through bars.
  2. His Woman – the second reason a Yakuza will add a foreign object into his penis is for his woman. With the pearls in his penis he can make up for years of lost time; the pearls will act as added stimulation during intercourse, giving the woman much more pleasure.

Now that you (as a Yakuza) have decided why you're sewing pearls into your penis it's time to get down to the real business of it, which will take an incredible amount of courage. Because you are in prison the means by which you can sew a pearl into your penis are limited. So basically you're going to have to do it with a sharpened chopstick and a fake or real pearl, it doesn't really matter which.

With your flaccid penis carefully cut into the skin, on the underside just below the head, and then carefully insert the pearl. Now, if you are lucky enough to have obtained thread and a needle, sew the wound shut, if do not have these items necessary to sew with then just bandage it up and hope for the best.

Sources:

http://www3.tky.3web.ne.jp/~edjacob/index.html
http://www.venusorvixen.com/Sheets/August/esoterica3.html

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