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Pop Culture in Japan: Yakuza and Yamamba

Yakuza With membership estimated at around 80,000, the yakuza is believed to be a far bigger criminal organization than America's Mafia. Organized crime in Japan is exactly that: a highly stratified, efficient and surprisingly tolerated everyday operation, raking in trillions of yen from extortion, protection rackets, prostitution, gambling and drug peddling.

Part of the reason that the seven major yakuza syndicates (who keep offices, like regular companies) have prospered is that they have acted as an alternative police force, containing petty crime and keeping violence within their own ranks. Favours, financial and otherwise, granted to high-ranking politicians and businesses, have also gained the yakuza protection and their romantic, samurai -value image has been boosted by countless movies.

It's highly unlikely that your path will cross with a yakuza, unless you take to hanging out in the dodgier areas of cities like Tokyo and Osaka. Younger gang members, called chimpira, can often be spotted by their tight perm hairdos, dark glasses and appalling dress sense. Other giveaway signs to look for are missing digits (amputation of fingers, joint by joint, is the traditional form of punishment for breaking the yakuza code) and full body tattoos.

Yakuza Just as easy to spot, and not that much less scary, are the Yamambas, teenage girls who have adopted the Japanese witch-like look of bleached hair, white face make-up and funky gear (catch those astuzoku shoes again). These same slaves to fashion might also have a baby in tow, in which case they're referred to as yan-mamas (young mothers).

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