The yakuza first began operations in Seattle around the turn of the century, when the growing presence of Japanese corporations and trade along the Pacific Rim led more Japanese citizens to Seattle. Along with the workers and executives came the yakuza, ready to cater to the various illegal needs of their long-time customers. For some time, the yakuza remained secluded in the Japanese sectors. When the syndicate eventually reached critical mass in the Pacific Northwest, new yakuza clans formed and the yakuza began expanding in force. This rapid growth led to bloody conflict with the Mafia, which came to a head when the leaders of both sides were killed. Syndicates on both sides withdrew to lick their wounds and rebuild.
The yakuza sent many new people to Seattle to resume operations, most of them recent Korean recruits. The Korean bosses began rebuilding the Seattle organization and making plans for expansion. So efficiently did they do their jobs that Akira Watada, oyabun of the powerful Watada-rengo in Japan, suspected them of placing their own advancement above loyalty to the entire yakuza. Watada began imposing restrictions on the Koreans designed to test their loyalty, making their work more difficult.
The more defiant the Koreans became about Japan’s interference in the Seattle operations, the more Watada believed that treason was brewing in the metroplex. Finally, the oyabun offered the Korean bosses an ultimatum: they would cease all operations and swear unswerving loyalty to the Watadarengo, or be destroyed. The Koreans ignored the warning.
In 2043, yakuza assassins purged Seattle of its Korean bosses and their loyalists in a single week of terror. The few Koreans not slain became the core of the Seoulpa Rings, desiring nothing so much as revenge against the yakuza.
Following the purge, Watada chose Hanzo Shotozumi as the new oyabun of Seattle. Ordered to rebuild a traditional and loyal yakuza organization, Shotozumi set about doing so with zeal. He encroached so heavily on Mafia territory that only the appointment of the ruthless James O’Malley as don of Seattle allowed the Mafia to retain its hold in the metroplex. The shadow war fostered by these two leaders continues to this day.
After O’Malley was killed in 2058, the yakuza seized large segments of Seattle’s criminal markets in the resulting confusion. The growth of the yakuza over the years made them the most powerful syndicate in the Pacific Northwest. Eventually, the success of his operations and his own ambition led Shotozumi to declare his organization independent from the Watada-rengo in Japan, creating a new Shotozumi-rengo made up of the yakuza clans present in Seattle and answerable only to Hanzo Shotozumi. This act angered Akira Watada, the aging oyabun in Japan, as well as the loyalist yakuza clans in California. Now a new shadow war is set to begin between the Seattle yakuza and the clans elsewhere. As yet, however, there have been no reprisals or assassination attempts from the shadows.
Hanzo Shotozumi has learned from the mistakes of his Korean predecessors and fortified his position. He believes he can hold Seattle so long that the other clans will be forced to accept his new organization, and he may be right.
The head, heart and soul of the Seattle yakuza is Hanzo Shotozumi, the oyabun who unified the various clans and gangs into a single syndicate with control over the Pacific Northwest. Shotozumi is Japanese-born and a strong believer in the traditional Japanese and yakuza values of honor and duty. He sees most non- Japanese as barbarians barely deserving civilized treatment. However, despite all his talk of duty and obligation, Shotozumi lets nothing stand in the way of his thirst for power. He worked his way up the ladder of the Watadarengo to become oyabun of Seattle and dreams of controlling a syndicate that encompasses North America’s entire West Coast. He considers himself a patron of the arts; he regularly attends Japanese theater performances and practices traditional ink-brush painting.
Shotozumi’s wakagashira, or second in command, is Shiro Tanaka, a loyal long-time associate of the oyabun who worked with him in Japan before coming to Seattle. Tanaka oversees the day-to-day details of the rengo’s operations, assisted by his wakagashira-hosa, Miko Ishikawa. Miko is an ambitious woman who worked hard to advance in Shotozumi’s traditionalist organization.
Toju Shotozumi, the oyabun’s cousin, is in charge of the sokaiya, the branch of the rengo that handles the yakuza’s dealings with local corporations and businesses. The sokaiya use traditional yakuza business methods such as stock buys paired with blackmail to exert influence on various corporations and so divert money to yakuza operations. Since the formation of the Shotozumi-rengo, the sokaiya are very active with many Seattle corporations, spreading and strengthening the yakuza’s web of influence.
The Shotozumi-rengo is most influential in Downtown Seattle and Tacoma, with interests throughout the metroplex. They control most yakuza smuggling operations and a substantial amount of the syndicate’s gambling, computer crime and legitimate business interests.
The Nishidon Gumi
Shotozumi’s greatest rival in Seattle is Isao Nishidon, the oyabun of the Nishidon-gumi, the oldest yakuza clan in Seattle. Nishidon took control of his organization during the purge of Koreans from the yakuza ranks. He personally killed the Korean oyabun of his clan and was rewarded with the position by Akira Watada. Though an ambitious man, Nishidon has been unwilling to throw his small group of loyalists against Shotozumi while the oyabun has such strong supporters in Seattle. He obeys the dictates of the Shotozumi-rengo for now, but remains a potential threat to the new syndicate. Shotozumi will move to assassinate Nishidon if he becomes a serious threat, and Nishidon knows it.
The Nishidon-gumi controls smuggling operations through Puyallup and Redmond, along with some hijacking and traditional protection rackets. The gumi also runs much of the vice industry in the Barrens, particularly the chip trade, against significant competition from the Mafia and the Triads.
The Shigeda-gumi is the newest in Seattle, formed from the remains of other clans decimated in the Korean purge. It is led by Oyabun Takeo Shigeda, a progressive and visionary leader well equipped for the challenge of running Seattle’s smallest and least influential yakuza clan. Shigeda sides with the Shotozumi-rengo in most matters, though he advocates modifying the ancient traditions to allow more magicians and women to operate throughout the yakuza (as they do in his own organization).
Shigeda gives his underlings more freedom than most yakuza leaders, encouraging personal initiative and judgment. This has backfired on him a few times when members of his organization took their “personal initiative” too far, but the oyabun has so far been able to rein in any rogues.
The Shigeda-gumi runs operations in the north of the metroplex, in Everett, Snohomish and parts of Redmond. The gumi competes with the Ciarniello Family in the gambling business and has considerable influence on smuggling in northern Seattle, as well as a large slice of the vice industry.
The Yakuza is an organization built on ancient traditions. Though the interpretation of these traditions has changed over the years, these “old ways” continue to sustain the Yakuza and distinguish it from all other organized criminal groups. Some of these customs—such as honor, loyalty and protecting the populace—are admirable traditions that strengthen the organization. However, other traditions—such as distrust and prejudice against foreigners, metahumans, women and magic—have severely hindered the Yakuza in the Sixth World.
These factors have led to a conflict that racks the modern Yakuza. On one side are the traditionalists, who fiercely cling to the old ways and view as heresy any talk of changing or abandoning those traditions. On the other side are the reformers, who want to strengthen or resurrect the Yakuza’s traditions of honor and service to the community while cultivating a more modern, open attitude toward women, metahumans and magic. The final outcome of this struggle seems far from certain. But undoubtedly the process of change in the Yakuza will not be easy—or bloodless. To truly understand the sources of this conflict and the modern Yakuza itself, outsiders must first discard their preconceptions about the organization. Even today, most people think of the Yakuza as a “Japanese Mafia”; they view the oyabun and their men as gangsters with katanas instead of Tommy guns. These views, sad to say, are based on movies and manga-vid fantasies—not real life. The Mafia and the real Yakuza do exhibit some similarities, but the differences between the two groups vastly outweigh those similarities.
The Yakuza’s about twice as old as the Mafia. It dates back to seventeenth-century Japan, where groups of bakuto, or gamblers (who were considered among the lowest criminals in Japanese society), first began to band together. In fact, the name Yakuza reputedly comes from the worst hand in the card game hanafuda— 8-9-3 or ya-ku-za in Japanese. The expression came to mean something worthless, and people attached it to a whole class of criminals, who adopted it like a badge of honor.
By the late eighteenth century, the Yakuza had become one of the most powerful organizations in Japan, its members respected and feared by the entire populace. Japanese commoners especially held the Yakuza in high regard because the early Yakuza viewed themselves as “protectors of the populace”—almost like a supplemental police force. That self-appointed role was an integral part of the Yakuza code, and it earned the Yakuza a reputation for honor that survives today.
Now, some traditionalists claim that the yaks were simply honorable, stand-up guys. Personally, I don’t buy it. Profitable crime was their main business—as it is today—and I think they simply figured that the best way to protect their business was to stamp out all “freelance” crime—crime that they didn’t directly run or approve. So they came down hard on random street crime and common theft. Coming down hard on common “dishonorable” criminals probably also helped the early yaks create an image of themselves as men of honor. And most important, it created good will among the population, so that when the authorities came looking for the Yakuza the local folks wouldn’t turn them in.
Whatever the reasons behind it, the Yakuza code—in the old days, at least—preached respect for the common citizen. And that respect manifested in the doctrine of “choice,” as opposed to coercion. A victim of Yakuza criminal activities had to choose to be victimized; he had to embrace it of his own free will, with his eyes wide open. For example, a patron visiting a yak-run brothel chooses to go there—no one is coercing him. A user who buys drugs from a yak distribution ring is choosing to feed his addiction, no one is forcing him to do so (by Yakuza standards, anyway).
But a sarariman getting mugged in an alley doesn’t have much say in the matter. That’s why mugging, pickpocketing and other violent crimes were anathema to the yaks of old. Some Yakuza still try to practice this part of the code by policing their areas of influence, but most have abandoned this lofty principle and simply take a cut of the street crime in their districts.
The early Yakuza also provided a “justice for hire” service to the populace. If someone believed he’d been wronged by another, he could take his case to the local oyabun (head of the local Yakuza family) and ask for help. If the oyabun decided that the case had merit, he’d send his soldiers out to “exact justice” from the wrongdoer. (The nature of that justice depended on the wrong committed, of course.) In exchange, the Yakuza would charge the wronged party a fee based on his ability to pay—often a percentage of any penalty “recovered” from the wrongdoer.
Even the local samurai class, the daimyo, weren’t beyond the reach of the Yakuza, and so the organization became the only recourse for peasants who felt their liege lords were treating them unfairly. But sometimes the landed classes would use the yaks to exact “justice” from those who’d used them unfairly, too. This practice is one of the reasons why even today, sympathy for the Yakuza in Japanese society extends even to the authorities, who often decline to investigate Yakuza-related criminal activities or prosecute its members.
justice-for-hire service. Of course, tracking down your local oyabun is a lot more difficult than it used to be. The fees for such “services” are generally much higher, too, and the concept of “ability to pay” no longer carries as much weight as in the past. However, a few Yakuza are attempting to restore the justicefor- hire practice in its true spirit. In Newark, for example, the Honjowara-gumi—under the guidance of the great reformer Okido Honjowara and his “New Way”—has adopted Sector 6 as its prefecture and protects the people of that area against random violence and against “outsiders” seeking to commit criminal acts.
As Japan began to industrialize during the Meiji Restoration of the nineteenth century, the Yakuza also began to modernize to keep pace with the changes in Japanese society. The organization began to infiltrate the construction business, the docks—it even took control of the rickshaw business. But most important, the Yakuza began to dabble in politics, lending support to certain politicians and officials. By cooperating with the government, Yakuza members gained some freedom from harassment and even official sanction in some instances. In fact, this trend continues today, as illustrated by Yakuza strength in cities such as San Francisco, which are under the control of the Japanese government or the influence of Japanese corporations.
After World War II, another wave of reform swept through the Yakuza, giving the organization its modern form. Guns replaced swords as the weapons of choice, and Yakuza members abandoned much of the ancient Yakuza code. The Yakuza began targeting ordinary citizens for shakedowns and protection rackets, not just other criminals or specific groups. And the organization recruited aggressively and expanded its operations.
The Yakuza made a concerted effort to expand and establish operations outside the Japanese homelands, especially along the Pacific Rim and in North America. Soon, the Yakuza had gained control of the very profitable drug trade in Japan and the PacRim, established new smuggling operations, and expanded its existing vice operations and rackets. The presence of gumi outside of Japan become more and more common, and eventually the Yakuza began recruiting non-Japanese members in Asian countries such as Korea. By tying its fortunes to Japanese corporations that were expanding their own global operations, the Yakuza spread throughout the world. Where the sararimen went, the Yakuza went—and inevitably clashed with established local criminal organizations such as the Mafia.
Yakuza operations in North America continued to grow at a steady pace throughout the early part of the twenty-first century. The greatest coup for the Yakuza in America came in 2036, when Japanese troops occupied San Francisco in a “friendly invasion” strongly backed by Yakuza gumi in Japan as well as those gumi already operating along the Pacific Rim.
The occupation gave the Yakuza a secure base of operations in North America, a place where they were generally unchallenged and could operate much as they did in Japan. Since the occupation, San Francisco has become known as the unofficial Yakuza “capital” of North America.
Yakuza organization is based on two ancient concepts: the oyabun-kobun relationship and the gumi or rengo. The oyabun is the head of the clan—a sort of father figure who uses his wisdom, insight and power to rule and guide the kobun under his command. A kobun is someone who has sworn loyalty to the oyabun. The kobun becomes the oyabun’s vassal, like an adopted child. In return for his total loyalty and dedication, the kobun receives a home and the support of the oyabun’s gumi. A gumi is a Yakuza clan or syndicate. Gumi may range in size from a few dozen members to as many as one thousand members. Every Yakuza gumi is organized like a corporation, with the gumi’s oyabun as head honcho. Directly below the oyabun is the wakagashira (second in command) of the gumi. The next level contains various komon (advisors), shingiin (counselors), hisho (secretaries), kaikei (accountants) and wakagashira-hosa (underlings of the second in command). The kobun and kumi-in (enlisted men) are the gumi’s street-level operatives.
A gumi’s territory is called a nawabari—literally, a “roped-off area.” The power and influence of a gumi and its oyabun determine how large the gumi’s territory is. A powerful gumi can control an entire city or even a state or small country.
A rengo is a loose alliance of different gumi that have chosen to work together for their own purposes. Usually, rengo members are less-powerful gumi—most gumi prefer to go it alone if their influence is strong enough. But even within a rengo, the oyabun of the member gumi retain control of their own gumi. The Yakuza has no ruling council like the Mafia’s Commissione—no oyabun-no-oyabun like the Mafia’s capo di tutti capi. Individual gumi may form rengo or power blocs led by a single, powerful gumi and its oyabun—but a Yakuza member’s loyalty extends within his own gumi and oyabun only. A kobun is loyal to his oyabun, and that oyabun is a law unto himself. If that kobun wants to ally himself with another, larger gumi, he can— that’s the way of the world. But he can break that alliance at any time and even go into competition with his one-time ally. This structure has led to a great variety among gumi. Some oyabun and their gumi are very traditional and follow the old ways to the letter. Others are more willing to bend or break the rules to turn a profit. And still others are proponents of the “New Way,” a movement to reform the Yakuza and ensure its survival and prosperity in the Sixth World. Only the ancient Yakuza code of honor prevents these diverse gumi from destroying one another and makes any cooperation between them possible. Even the most dishonorable gumi tend to operate within the bounds set by their peers to avoid other Yakuza banding together to eliminate them. That being said, several major power blocs exist that runners should know about. The most important is the Watada-rengo, led by the Watada family of Chiba, Japan. All the Yakuza gumi in the Pacific Northwest have allied themselves with the Watada-rengo and subordinate themselves to Akira Watada, the oyabun of Chiba and the so-called 87th Prefecture. Of course, this alliance doesn’t mean the different local gumi don’t squabble among themselves, but it does reduce the number of counterproductive turf wars.
Turf wars between rival gumi are incredibly bloody and brutal. But by tradition, the Yakuza take great care to limit collateral damage. They’ll splatter the guts of a rival kobun across the street, they’ll destroy resources, they’ll use every dirty trick in the book— but they’ll go out of their way to minimize damage to “civilians” (generally defined as anyone who’s not involved in Yakuza business). For example, a Mafia hit man might blow up a school to kill a don who’s attending his kid’s parent-teacher night. A traditional Yakuza gumi, on the other hand, would consider such an action barbaric and unconscionable for any “civilized” person. (A Yakuza hitter probably wouldn’t pass up such an opportunity, but he’d use a single sniper round to the brain rather than a kilo of C9 in the coffee cart to eliminate the target.) Unfortunately, the tradition of limiting collateral damage has begun to slip in recent years. The hard-core traditionalist gumi still make real efforts to avoid injuring civilians. But increasing numbers of less traditional Yakuza—and those who are being pushed harder by rival organizations—no longer put much effort into minimizing such damage. Typically, these so-called progressive gumi try to control such damage only when it might actually hurt the gumi more than a successful operation would benefit the organization. The Karatsa-gumi here in SanFran—sometimes called the “Neon Chrysanthemum” because they’re into bio-luminescent body decoration—will do whatever it takes to get what they want. As long as they don’t upset the Japanacorps, anything goes.
Oyabun are like heads of state. They rule their own little independent “nations,” carry out diplomatic missions and negotiations with the heads of other gumi to form and dissolve allegiances, and occasionally declare wars against competitors and rivals. The oyabun have—within their own syndicates, at least—influence similar to the unchallenged power of feudal Japan’s daimyo. Much of this power stems from the Yakuza code of honor, which requires that every Yakuza member act according to three major principles: jingi, giri and ninjo.
Jingi is respect for and deference to one’s superiors. It’s a major part of all Japanese culture, and over the years it’s spawned all manner of conventions for determining social rank and the protocols that govern interaction between individuals of different social castes. Anyone who works with the Japanacorps is probably familiar with these things, and may even have skillchips encoded with all the appropriate protocols to make sure they don’t bow at the wrong time or say the wrong thing.
The code calls on all Yakuza members to observe the requirements of jingi and act in a civilized and proper manner. Of course, the words “civilized and proper” are open to interpretation, as is exactly who deserves civilized and proper treatment. More than a few oyabun still contend that “civilized behavior is only due civilized people”—Japanese humans, in other words. But other oyabun believe that all people are due civil and proper treatment, and these oyabun harshly punish any gumi members who fail to offer such treatment to their fellow (meta)humans.
Giri means “duty” or “obligation.” It requires that Yakuza follow the dictates of honor and obedience and repay debts—sometimes in nuyen but more often in loyalty and service. Any gumi member who fails to do so brings shame on himself, his gumi and his oyabun. As a result, a Yakuza member takes the idea of duty very seriously. He will never forget a favor done for him and will always remain ready to repay that debt through his loyalty and service to the individual who did him the favor. Of course, this works both ways—if he does someone else a favor, he will consider that person obligated to repay the favor with loyalty and service. Ninjo is a difficult concept to translate. It encompasses things like emotions, feelings, sympathy and compassion. Ninjo is the quality that makes the Yakuza sympathetic to the plight of the “common man” and motivates them to serve as protectors of those who seek justice. Because this quality must be instilled in a person early in life, the concept of ninjo has fallen by the wayside in modern times, though some of the more traditional and honorable Yakuza continue to uphold it. Some Yakuza reformers are attempting to revive the idea of duty to this concept.
At the heart of the Yakuza code is the concept of total obedience to the oyabun, the head of the family. Each member of the gumi is obligated to obey the oyabun’s every order without question or hesitation, on pain of death. Failure is rarely tolerated; any Yakuza member who fails to discharge his duty to the oyabun is obligated to offer some form of reparation.
Traditionally, the most common form of reparation is yabitsume, or “finger cutting.” This tradition requires a gumi member who fails his oyabun to willingly cut off part of a finger—or, in serious cases, an entire finger. Generally, yabitsume is performed in a very formal ritual attended by the oyabun. The individual making amends ties a white cloth around the finger and is presented with a sharp knife. He then cuts off his own finger. Showing any pain or emotion during the procedure brings even greater shame than the initial failure or disobedience.
Some Yakuza members preserve their severed finger joints in small bottles of formaldehyde and keep them as reminders of the obedience they owe their oyabun.
The custom of irezumi, or “family markings,” is another Yakuza tradition that has survived virtually unchanged from the earliest manifestation of the organization. These tattoos signify family allegiance and also serve as emblems of rank and achievement.
When a new member of a Yakuza gumi has performed his first important mission, duty or service to the family, the oyabun will send him to the family tattoo artist, who gives the new kobun his first tattoo. Traditionally, this tattoo is inscribed on the small of the back and incorporates the gumi’s distinguishing symbols or emblems—usually elements from classical Japanese art, such as the chrysanthemum and the cherry blossom—as well as some type of dragon motif (the dragon is the general symbol of the Yakuza).
As a member provides more—and more valuable—services for the family, the oyabun sends him back to the tattoo artist following each achievement to have his tattoos expanded and embellished. After the tattoos cover the man’s entire back, they are extended onto his shoulders, chest, upper arms and thighs. By the time a Yakuza member achieves a senior rank in his gumi, he will appear to be a walking work of art.
The tattoos are never applied up the neck above the height of a conservative collar or farther down the wrists or legs than where the hems of a traditional kimono would fall. These precautions ensure that a Yakuza member can easily hide his tattoos. Only in the bathhouses of Japan—or that modern corp equivalent,the steam room and hot tub—will you see the extent of a Yakuza soldier’s marks of service.
The finest tattoo artists employed by the Yakuza still work in the traditional way—with bamboo needles and hours on hours of careful work that requires the subject to endure serious discomfort (which the Yakuza consider an additional sign of courage and honor). Some of the less conservative gumi have added a little technoflash to the old traditions. Light-emitting tattoos, thermo-sensitive pigments that shift colors, implanted holograms, “active tats” that appear only when the wearer activates them mentally, refractive crystals under the skin, even “living tattoos” (membrane-thin visual displays covered by transparent dermaplast) … you’ll see them all.
The Yakuza are big players in the drug and chip trade, and many gumi could teach the Commissione a thing or two about innovative ways of laundering dirty credit (I’ve seen some Yakuza cred-transfer operations that rivaled the legendary Nanosecond Buyout in their sophistication). However, the modern Yakuza’s major rackets are prostitution, gambling and sokaiya (a form of corporate extortion).
The Yakuza’s prostitution syndicates are a major innovation in the world of organized crime. Though Mafia families have cornered the market on prostitution in certain cities by “organizing” pimps and their stables, the Yakuza prostitution syndicate represents a different approach.
Under the Yakuza system, a gumi designs and builds a prostitution “industry” from the ground up, rather than muscling in on the existing prostitution market. After choosing where to operate its prostitution syndicate, the gumi imports its own “talent” and “managers” (the Yakuza very rarely use the word “pimp”) from an existing operation. The gumi usually transfers only about a hundred prostitutes to its new market, bringing in as many are needed to form a nucleus for its syndicate.
The syndicate “managers” then start recruiting among the prostitutes already operating in the area. Initially, the managers concentrate on co-opting independent prostitutes, but they also develop “pipelines” for recruiting prostitutes at bus and train stations. Only then do the syndicate managers start to recruit talent from rival pimps. The Yakuza operators usually approach this in a very businesslike manner, offering to hire choice talent away from pimps’ stables. Typically, a pimp views such an offer as an attempt to muscle in on his racket and responds with violence. As soon as the rival “businessman” threatens violence against the gumi, the gumi is free to simply wipe out the opposition without violating the precept of the Yakuza code, which prohibits approaching any “businessman” with unjustified violence. Though recruiting takes time, a gumi will begin marketing its new syndicate almost immediately. The Yakuza learned long ago about the wonders of advertising—something that few North American pimps use to their best advantage. An advertising blitz can make the new syndicate seem to burst on to the scene full grown, which attracts new clients and woos others away from competing prostitutes.
Within months of entering a market, a Yakuza-run prostitution syndicate usually controls between 60 and 80 percent of the sex trade in an area—sometimes without a single shot being fired. Prostitution syndicates rarely make the effort to increase their market share above 80 percent, simply because new independents and “start-ups” are always entering the business. And allowing a few unaligned pimps and stables to operate is generally good for the syndicate’s business. The syndicate simply recruits the best prostitutes, which look all the better when compared to the second-rate competition that shares the local market.
On the West Coast—particularly in the California Free State and Seattle—the local Yakuza gumi dominate traditionally Asian gambling games, such as mahjong, fan-tan, pachinko and the like. These games are very popular in any area with a sizable Japanese population, and they produce immense profits for the local gumi. Recently, gumi have begun an effort to get non-Japanese gamblers interested in their games. Usually, this requires that Japanese middle managers or execs bring their gaijin employees into Yakuza gambling dens for “business meetings” and other social gatherings. By North American standards, the games run by the Yakuza gambling parlors are amazingly corrupt. But the gamblers are accustomed to it and regularly put up with levels of cheating that would get a Las Vegas casino burned to the ground.
The Yakuza gumi are into high-class gambling as well. Besides smoky little gambling dens, gumi operate “exclusive clubs” that feature everything that a high-roller or a high-rollerwannabe could possibly want: high-stakes games, exotic virtual entertainments and real-time full-simsense feeds from Happy Valley racetrack in Hong Kong—all delivered direct to club patrons for a small cover fee of a few hundred nuyen.
Sokaiya literally means “shareholders-meeting man.” It’s the Japanese term for professionals who shake down companies— typically small corporations, owned and run by Japanese—for credit and influence. Typically, a sokaiya operator buys large blocks of shares in target companies, then extorts money from those companies by threatening to harass staff members and violently disrupting shareholders meetings. Traditionally, sokaiya have operated only in Japan. During the past decade, however, gangs of sokaiya have set up operations in North America—largely in Seattle and California, which host the largest concentrations of Japanese-controlled corporations in North America. But sokaiya have spread wherever suitable target corporations are headquartered and now can be found in far-flung places such as New York City, Boston and Atlanta as well.
Typically, the local gumi will denounce sokaiya in their city and claim no connection with them. But it’s an open secret that most of the sokaiya bands operate with the approval or even the direction of the gumi. What’s more, rumor has it that the leaders of certain sokaiya bands are high-standing gumi members.
As you might expect of any traditional Japanese organization, the Yakuza maintain strictly defined membership qualifications. First off, gaijin—foreign barbarians—need not apply. If you aren’t Japanese, you aren’t worthy to shine a yak’s shoes, as far as the oyabun are concerned. The Yakuza relented a bit when some of the major gumi spread to Korea and recruited Koreans. But that changed with the purges that created the Seoulpa Rings, and the Yakuza returned to its racial-purity policy. Some oyabun still point to the debacle with the Koreans as good reason not to change the status quo.
So need you even ask about metahumans? If a half-breed Japanese—half Japanese, half gaijin—isn’t quite human, how do you think the Yakuza react to what they so coyly call a kawaruhito (“changed person”)? That’s right. Metas—even pure-heritage Japanese metas—also need not apply.
These arrogant and elitist attitudes are particularly ironic considering that the Yakuza historically recruited from the lowest elements of Japanese society, from the peasant classes and the burakumin, the “untouchable” caste of Japan. In fact, Japanese nobles considered the Yakuza lowly criminals and gangsters.
Traditionally, the gumi have been closed to women as well. This is changing, but quite slowly—mainly because the Yakuza need not heed public opinion. Some North American gumi have allowed female kobun to join their organizations and a few even have women in minor positions of power (one gumi contains a female wakagashira-hosa). But the few women who do join the ranks of the Yakuza must be at least twice as capable as their male counterparts simply to attain half the respect given to their coworkers.
THE NEW WAY
Not all the Yakuza are bound by the organization’s traditional prejudices. In fact, today’s Yakuza includes a strong reform movement—the so-called New Way—whose adherents are striving to maintain or revive the old Yakuza traditions of honor and service to the community while cultivating a more modern attitude toward women, metahumans and magic.
The strongest proponent of the New Way is Okido Honjowara, head of the Nagato Combine and Honjowara-gumi in New Jersey. Honjowara-sama speaks eloquently of the need for the Yakuza to adapt to the modern demands of the Sixth World by abandoning the foolish prejudices of the past and accepting metahumans, women and anyone else who can contribute to the betterment of the gumi. And more important, Honjowara-gumi practices what its oyabun preaches by recruiting metahumans. As a matter of fact, the oyabun’s Praetorian bodyguard, the Green Serpent Guard, are all elves—and powerful physical adepts as well. The gumi within the Nagato Combine’s sphere of influence along the East Coast are beginning to come around to the idea of the New Way, but the Pacific Rim gumi are still too conservative to even consider the idea. In my opinion, such resistance is shortsighted and may cause the Yakuza to miss a historic opportunity. The Yakuza can exert considerable influence over government authorities, and so acceptance and practice of the New Way could help end the tensions between Japanese and foreigners and metahumans in San Francisco—and Japan, for that matter.
The Yakuza work closely with Japanese corporations, especially in San Francisco, where the local gumi and Japanacorps jointly rule the city. For the most part, corps do not interfere in Yakuza activity as long as gumi operate within guidelines set by the corps. And in some cases, the corps may even provide the gumi with covert assistance when dealing with local law enforcement authorities. (The principle of corporate extraterritoriality often proves quite useful for this purpose; by declaring a Yakuza activity corporate business, a corp can legally bar even the authorities from interfering in a Yakuza operation.) In return, the local gumi provide valuable shadow resources for the Japanacorps. Relations between individual corps and gumi vary from one corp to another. For example, Mitsuhama maintains close ties with several major gumi in North America and Japan. Fuchi, on the other hand, tends to ignore the Yakuza, and Fuchi North America might as well be a gaijin for all its dealings with the Yakuza. Renraku and Yamatetsu fall somewhere in the middle; they keep a fairly tight lid on the local gumi but make use of them as need arises.