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Basic Information

The yakuza are organized crime syndicates originating in Japan. There are currently three main families or syndicates of yakuza, and several smaller organizations.

These mafia-esque organizations are known for being very strict and severe. A yakuza member who fails in an important task may be expected to cut off a digit of his own finger to atone for his failings. Thus, a truncated or missing finger may be an indicator that someone is a yakuza (and also something of a screw-up). Another common indicator is full-body tattoo work, with many yakuza having sleeves and torso tattoos hidden beneath their sharp-looking business suit - this practice of full body tattooing, known as irezumi both feeds into and from the strong Japanese taboo against tattooing.

Much like the mafia, a yakuza boss is known as oyabun (which translates very closely to "godfather") with the footsoldier's title of kobun having a reciprocal meaning. It is not unknown for the tattoos for an honoured kobun to be preserved after death by his oyabun and exhibited as a memorial in an appropriate place. Unlike the mafia's origin as displaced nobility, the yakuza trace their origins to the "untouchable" caste of feudal Japan - albeit the travelling, mendicant branch known as tekiya rather than the settled eta.

See also Black Dragon Society, Black Ocean Society, Criminal



Game and Story Use

  • An NPC with a secret past might be revealed when the PCs see his telltale body-clues: either a tattoo visible when his sleever or collar rides up, or if they notice that both of his pinky fingers are missing a digit or two. The later, of course, implying either incompetence or at least that he needed to atone for his actions at some point in his past.
    • You could have all the PCs make blind perception checks against a very high difficulty in every scene the NPC is in, with the hope that eventually, after the NPC has been in half a dozen scenes, some PC will get a critical success and notice the detail that had eluded them previously.
  • A yakuza crime boss would make a powerful and intimidating big bad evil guy or other villain.
  • Gangs of yakuza could be good mooks or thugs if your bad guys need some muscle.
    • Being well-dressed, they could pass for a corporate bodyguard, businessman or salaryman until their jackets come off. The PCs might underestimate them before that happens.
    • At the risk of being a bit of a stereotype, it's pretty easy to justify some levels of martial arts to give them a little added punch.
  • Any Western gangster movie could be easily ported to an Eastern setting, with the yakuza filling in for the mob.
  • Interesting to see how they get on with the Vor'y - two tattoo obsessed organised crime groups who - in the Russian Far East at least - probably share a border. Loud nights in Vladivostok indeed…
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