Friday, 25 October 2013

Calling all genteel gangsters

Imagine you're a Yakuza boss, and things aren't going so well lately. Yakuza comrades (so-called kyodai and shatei: big brothers and little brothers) are dropping out of your family like hefty, tattoed flies. The prosthetic finger tips you gave them haven't mollified them. Perhaps you were a little hasty to make them say sayonara to their little finger tips, but that's the way it's always been. 'Yubitsume', or punishment by finger-chopping, is a centuries-old safeguard against treachery. A man grips the sword with his thumb on one side of the hilt and fingers on the other: as you chop off his fingertips his grip on the sword gets progressively weaker and he becomes more dependent for his safety on his group of allies.

But the group is declining: members numbered around 67,000 in 2011 but dwindled to 62,000 in 2012. So what can you do to persuade your fellow gangsters that the Yakuza is still worth being part of; that the police crackdown on businesses that associate with you isn't going to affect your prospects? Then it hits you; how about a magazine written by the Yakuza, for the Yakuza? Perfect!

Earlier this year the Yamaguchi-gumi, one of the Yakuza's most powerful branches, published the Yamaguchi-gumi Shinpo, an intra-Yakuza magazine. Its pages feature interviews with Yakuza bosses and inspirational words from Kenichi Shinoda – the head of this Kobe-dwelling syndicate – and perhaps you'd expect these things. More interestingly, its pages brim with fishing diaries of senior gangsters, and haiku. I guess that sometimes when you're not busy doing all the things that a good gangster should – blackmailing, intimidating, hustling, gambling – you miss a good haiku. Sometimes you wish that you had more time to pursue a pastime as peaceful as angling, and devour descriptions of your seniors' catches.

So, genteel gangster, Yamaguchi-gumi Shinpo is for you. Stick with the Yakuza: we still represent that strong, traditional Japan that you miss. But make sure still to be on your best behaviour; it's hard to write poetry with too many fingers missing.

No comments:

Post a Comment