In western civilization, the term Yakuza is synonymous with Japanese organized crime. However, there are various other names used to describe the Japanese crime syndicate. Here are a few of the more well-known Yakuza names.
Ninko dantai (任侠団体) is a term that the Yakuza often use to refer to themselves. The term is derived from the Japanese characters 任 (nin) meaning “responsibility” or “duty,” 侠 (kyō) meaning “chivalry” or “heroism,” 団 (dan) meaning “group” or “gang,” and 体 (tai) meaning “body” or “organization.” Together, the term ninkyo dantai translates to “chivalrous organizations” or “heroic organizations.”
The Yakuza use the term ninkyo dantai to present a positive image of themselves. They emphasize their adherence to traditional Japanese values such as loyalty, honor and a strong code of conduct. They also emphasize their role as protectors of the community.
The term ninkyo dantai is not universally accepted. Some believe it is used as a way for the Yakuza to try to legitimize themselves and their actions. There’s no doubt that the Yakuza’s reputation as a criminal organization is widely recognized. Many people do not accept the idea of Yakuza members or the organization as a whole being chivalrous. The term is likely more often used by the Yakuza themselves and any who are sympathetic to their cause. The general public and other bodies, tend to use different names to refer to the organization such as the following.
Good Actions of the Yakuza
But that’s not to say that the Yakuza never carry out good deeds. For example, the Yamaguchi-gumi (Japan’s biggest Yakuza family) have helped to enact wide-scale humanitarian relief efforts in Japan. Examples of this would be when the people of Kobe were struck by a 6.9 magnitude earthquake on Jan 17, 1995. They also provided relief in 2011 to the people of Tōhoku, following a disastrous earthquake and tsunami.
The Yakuza’s motivation for doing things like this can be debated but it does appear to align with the notion of ninko dantai and the emphasis on the Yakuza’s role as “protectors of the community”.
Boryokudan (暴力団) is a term that is often used by law enforcement agencies and the media to describe the Yakuza and other organized crime groups in Japan.
The term is derived from the Japanese characters 暴 (bō) meaning “violence” or “brutality,” 力 (ryoku) meaning “power” or “force,” and 団 (dan) meaning “group” or “gang.” Together, the term boryokudan translates to “violent group” or, less literally, “gang of thugs.”
The term boryokudan emphasizes the negative aspects of the Yakuza and other organized crime groups, such as their involvement in extortion and violence. It is a term that is often used to describe the more criminal and illegal aspects of the Yakuza and is associated with a lack of respect for the law and a disregard for the well-being of society.
The term boryokudan is not limited to the Yakuza and can be applied to any organized crime group that is engaged in illegal activities, and that use violence or intimidation to get their way. The term is often used by law enforcement agencies, the media & sometimes the general public to describe the negative aspects of organized crime and to convey the negative impact that these groups have on society.
The Anti-Boryokudan Act
To demonstrate the significance and connections of this Yakuza name with Japanese law enforcement agencies, we’ll discuss The Anti-Boryokudan Act.
This is a law in Japan that was enacted in 1992 to target the activities of organized crime groups, with a focus on the Yakuza. The law was implemented in response to increasing public concern over the activities of the Yakuza, which were seen as a threat to public safety and order. A prominent event that is believed to have contributed to the creation of the Anti-Boryokudan Act is the attack on film director Juzo Itami. The act has resulted in the dissolution of 192 organizations and is believed to have severely weakened the crime syndicates’ influence and power.
The law targets the activities of boryokudan, which is defined as any group that has a hierarchical structure and uses violence or intimidation to achieve its goals. The law prohibits boryokudan from engaging in a wide range of activities, including extortion, racketeering and money laundering. It also makes it illegal for boryokudan to maintain relationships with public officials, to operate businesses that engage in illegal activities and to engage in any other activities that are deemed to be in violation of the law.
The act also gives law enforcement agencies the power to act against boryokudan, including the ability to seize assets, arrest and prosecute members and close down businesses that are found to be involved in illegal activities. The law also requires businesses to report any suspicious activities to the police and to sever all known ties.
On the whole, this is often considered a controversial law. It has been criticized for its potential to infringe on civil liberties and for its lack of effectiveness in completely eradicating the Yakuza; their activities have been suppressed significantly but certainly not eliminated. The Yakuza still exist in Japan today, albeit in a different form.
Gokudo (極道) is a term that is often used interchangeably with the name Yakuza, but it has a slightly different connotation. The term is derived from the Japanese characters 極 (goku) meaning “extremely” or “most” and 道 (dō) meaning “way” or “path.” Together, the term Gokudo translates to “the most extreme way” or even “the path of the outlaw.”
The term Gokudo is often used to describe the criminal aspects of the Yakuza. Evoking connections to criminal activities such as violence and extortion, Gokudo suggests a lack of respect for civilized society and the law in general. It is often found used in a critical context and has been adopted by the likes of Japanese law enforcement agencies to describe the Yakuza’s negative aspects and to help portray them in an immoral light.
The use of the term Gokudo is not solely limited to the Yakuza, however. In fact, it can be used to describe many criminal organizations in a negative manner.
Finally, the term that you’re probably most familiar with. The word yakuza (ヤクザ), although we happen to use it a lot, actually has a negative meaning, essentially translating to “good for nothing.” It is a colloquial term used to refer to organized crime groups in Japan. The origin of the word is believed to have come from the card game Oicho-Kabu (おいちょかぶ), which is like the game baccarat (or baccara).
This game is played with a deck of hanafuda (花札) a set of Japanese-style playing cards. The hand, consisting of the numbers 8, 9, & 3 is referred to as “ya-ku-sa” (8-9-3). This hand is known for having a score of zero and is considered a losing hand.
Due to this association with losing, the term “yakuza” came to be used to describe outcasts or losers in society. Over time, it came to be used specifically to refer to organized crime groups that were involved in illegal activities such as extortion, gambling, drug trafficking & more.
Although widely used across western civilizations to refer to Japanese organized crime, the Yakuza themselves do not refer to themselves using this term because of its negative connotations.
Yakuza Names & How They’re Used
As you can see from these examples, the vast majority of names used to describe the Yakuza are used in a negative fashion. Whilst Yakuza members themselves do use positive terminology such as “ninkyo dantai,” names often used by civilians, journalists or the police force are much less favorable to the organization.