We've all heard the name a thousand times before. From television shows and movies to video games and books: Yakuza. But what is it?
The origins of the so-called Yakuza are disputed at best. From lineages of the Bakuto and Tekiya, to the roving gangs of Samurai of Feudal Japan known as the Kabukimono. History seems confused on what the right answer is. Though perhaps it is simply a combination of the three.
At any rate, the modern day Yakuza are regarded as semi-legitimate organizations which tread the grey areas among Japan's law enforcement. They operate from legal premises such as office buildings and have compounds which house their members.
They are many, with one of the largest organizations, known as the Yamaguchi-gumi reportedly having over 20,000 members alone. As a whole, organized crime in Japan is reported to have a staggering 100,000 or more members.
They engage in operations such as narcotics trafficking, the employment of prostitutes, bank fraud, bid rigging, blackmail, loansharking, illegal gambling and more.
They are diverse and adaptive in terms of acquiring new business and revenue - yet hold true to traditions which date back decades, if not hundreds of years.
They consider themselves to be organizations of honour and chivalry, and it shows in the way they refer to themselves. Among one another they are the Ninkyō Dantai, or "Chivalrous Organizations."
Among police and the media, they are the Bōryokudan, "Violent groups."
Depending on which side of the fence you rest, either name might apply. But when the Yakuza get violent, it isn't nearly as bloody as many of the other criminal groups which operate internationally. Disputes seem to be settled through discussion or comparatively minor brawls and vandalism otherwise. Clubs, bats and knives are much more common than firearms and bombs.
These days, the Yakuza are in decline as Japan cracks down upon any portion of society considered to be an anomaly - of which organized crime is one. Despite this, the Yakuza remain major international players in the world of crime, and it is unlikely we will see their ultimate demise anytime soon.