Slice of Life: Yakuza, Unusual Politeness

The Mafia
So after the fall festival, I learned that all of the food vendors in town are actually run by the yakuza – the Japanese mafia! It’s strange here – it seems to be common knowledge of who is mafia and who isn’t. Apparently they sell concert tickets outside of major venues and immediately after the concert starts, they drop the price down to almost nothing. But these are not the high-ranking mafia guys, they are the lower level guys, and mafia here seem to keep things running smoothly. If there are troublemakers, they are the ones who regulate and handle problems. I heard twice this week about how the mafia donated tons of supplies to people who suffered problems after both the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and the 1995 Kobe earthquake. We heard this from 2 separate adults and then happened to read something in a news article the following day as well. Some quick interesting facts from this website; “Japan has 80,000 members belonging to these criminal organizations, which the police label shiteiboryokudan or literally “designated violent groups”; membership is not illegal although the police regulate their activities, much the way the SEC regulates Goldman Sachs. Their income is largely derived from protection money, security services, financial fraud, stock manipulations, gambling, blackmail, prostitution, and loan sharking. They call themselves “yakuza.” The word comes from a losing hand in traditional Japanese gambling: 8 (ya) 9 (ku) 3(za) which adds up to 20, and is a useless hand. Thus to be a yakuza is to be “a loser.” It’s a self-effacing term. They yakuza don’t call themselves “violent groups.” They exist out in the open; they have offices, business cards, fan magazines.”

Polite but odd customs
Something interesting to me as foreigner, and something I always enjoy seeing here, is this: When someone is leaving from a full service gas station, or car dealership/repair shop, the employees (at least one, often two), go out into the street to tell the car when they should pull out, and as they drive off, the employees bow almost to a 90 degree angle! I’ve seen this so many times but every time I see it I still have to watch with interest and I think it’s very interesting how the service here is so great, yet there is no tipping or anything like that! Even at restaurants, it’s all the same – no tipping, and the employees are almost always jumping up to assist customers and if you leave a few yen behind or overpay the bill, they will run after you down the street to return it to you! It’s amazing!

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