When a Yakuza cuts off their finger, it is referred to as “yubitsume”. This is a traditional form of apology historically associated with the Yakuza crime syndicate. However, that’s not to say that it isn’t performed at all anymore. Barbaric as it is, this ritual is still practiced by some members of the organization today.
The origins of yubitsume can be traced back to the Edo period (dating from 1603 to 1867) when the Yakuza first began forming. During this time, the Yakuza were involved in a lot of gambling and other illegal activities; disputes and conflicts were commonplace. To help avoid bloodshed and maintain order, the Yakuza developed the practice of yubitsume as a means of resolving disputes and restoring harmony between rival factions.
Yubitsume involves cutting off the top portion of the little finger (or more if the act is performed multiple times). The little finger is preferred as it is often considered the least useful finger. It is also said to weaken the grip one has when holding a sword, thus making the individual weaker and more reliant on their boss (oyabun) for protection. Once removed, the severed finger is wrapped in a piece of paper and presented to the person or group that the member has offended. This acts as a symbol of their apology and remorse. In some cases, the finger can even be pickled in sake and given as an offering.
Yubitsume Symbolism & Sentiment
The act of yubitsume is symbolic. It represents the individual’s willingness to make a sacrifice for the good of their organization and community. It’s a way for gang members to take responsibility for their actions and show that they are at least willing to make amends. It also serves as a reminder of mistakes made and can be considered a warning to others not to repeat them.
In modern Yakuza times, yubitsume is not believed to be a common practice. It’s mostly a leftover tradition that is occasionally followed by some older members of the Yakuza or by specific factions/clans. The practice has also been discouraged by the Japanese government & police force due to its dangerous nature.
How is Yubitsume Performed?
Yubitsume is typically self-inflicted and performed by the individual Yakuza member who is seeking atonement for their actions. A typical process would involve the following steps:
- The individual prepares by cleaning and sterilizing the area on the finger where the cut will be made. A small altar or offering to the person or group they are apologizing to may also be prepared.
- A sharp blade (such as a tanto) is used to make a clean cut at the base of the finger, typically removing the top portion in a single motion.
- The severed finger may then be wrapped in a piece of cloth or paper. It would then be presented as an offering to the clan oyabun or those the member has offended. Occasionally, the finger can be pickled in sake to preserve it.
- The member could then recite a formal apology or make a statement of remorse, expressing their regret for what has transpired.
Yubitsume is a painful and dangerous process. It’s not uncommon for the member to require medical attention after the act. Yubitsume is also an outdated practice and a reminder of the criminal nature of the organization. It is not something that should ever be attempted, glorified or romanticised.