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Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  426 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
Known for their striking full-body tattoos and severed fingertips, Japan's gangsters comprise a criminal class eighty thousand strong—more than four times the size of the American Mafia. Despite their criminal nature, the yakuza are accepted by fellow Japanese to a degree guaranteed to shock most Westerners. Here is the first book to reveal the extraordinary reach of Japan ...more
Paperback, Expanded, 422 pages
Published February 1st 2003 by University of California Press (first published 1986)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,499)
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Patrick McCoy
Sep 25, 2011 Patrick McCoy rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan, non-fiction
I have to say that I found David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro's book on the yakuza, Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld, a fascinating alternative modern history of Japan. The book is framed in relation to what was seen as a growing yakuza threat in America, which I suspect has faded as the bubble has burst and Japan has stagnated. It's fascinating to see how they evolved from professional gamblers who were trying to recoup salaries from landowners through gambling in the early days to running insid ...more
Jul 02, 2008 Shernoff rated it really liked it
damn good book. a great primer on postwar japan, with the yakuza focus providing great narrative momentum for what really is a broader survey of contemporary japanese culture, economics, politics, and more. and it is telling of the book's accuracy+worth that, initially, the yakuza successfully had it blacklisted by japanese publishers, and that the ucal press eventually picked it up from a commercial house for the 2nd edition.
Michael Blackmer
Jan 25, 2015 Michael Blackmer rated it really liked it
Yakuza is basically written as a textbook. It surveys the last three hundred years of the Japanese underworld groups known as the Yakuza. It is amazing to see how, for a good portion of their history, the Yakuza have been an accepted part of doing business in Japanese culture. At times they have worked alongside of sitting political leaders to help accomplish the goals of government. Many of the participants in the 1940's were actually war criminals, yet the US government occupation forces made ...more
Mar 06, 2015 Danata rated it it was amazing
That was one of the most comprehensive, thorough studies on the topic, and although it took me ~15 hours to finish, I do not regret a second of it. A real eye-opener when it comes to Japanese political and economic corruption. Read this, and yakuza will no longer be "funny men" with missing pinkies: these "funny" men are a dangerous force to face even in this century.
Chris Doherty
Nov 23, 2009 Chris Doherty rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing. The corruption in Japan is unfathomable! My view of Japan has changed after having read this book. Not finished yet, but the extent of the influence of the Yakuza is chillingly horrific! How can one of the world's leading economic powerhouses allow itself to be intimidated by criminals?
Sarah Crawford
Feb 28, 2016 Sarah Crawford rated it really liked it
The Yakuza are involved in a number of areas such as prostitution, pornography, drugs, gambling, loan-sharking, trucking, smuggling, extortion, and the construction and entertainment industries. They are also not just in Japan, but have become involved in Hawaii and California. The Yakuza is also inter-twined with the right-wing movement in Japan.

The book goes into the very early origins of the Yakuza movement, going all the way back to samurai who became bandits. There were also groups in towns
Ellis Amdur
Jan 16, 2015 Ellis Amdur rated it liked it
An excellent history of not only the yakuza, but also Japan’s right wing. The latter, true successors to the samurai, have been inextricably intertwined with the gangster underground. At one time, the right wing “ran” the yakuza – now it seems to be the reverse. A startling book – one may be aware that the yakuza are a large criminal element in Japan, but this book establishes that they are not only internationally influential in the criminal world, but hold both enormous economic and political ...more
Dec 24, 2012 Michael rated it it was amazing
Really interesting look at the yakuza's history and the cultural milieu above and below ground in which they thrive. The book shows shows the weaknesses of modern society in general and Japanese society in particular to organized crime. Over-legislation with murky enforcement and an abiding obsession with "saving face" make contemporary Japanese society ripe for blackmail and exploitation on a titanic scale which this book documents clearly. I think the US connection occupies a disproportionatel ...more
Jan 19, 2013 Stefanie rated it it was ok
As an intensive study on yakuza and their connections to politics and/or international trade, it's brilliant. It's loaded with thorough information and good investigative reporting. However, as a book, I could barely keep up with it. I often drifted away during the several chapters regarding Japanese rightist politics, because I'm not familiar with it in the least. However, I was deeply intrigued with the first 100 pages that detailed the historic beginnings of the Japanese yakuza and how they w ...more
Sep 17, 2007 Nicole rated it liked it
Shelves: japan, nonfiction
A bit dry for a book about the Yakuza, which I think would make for fascinating reading. Alas, the fault is mine, I believe. What I would have found exciting would have been a book drawing heavily on the field of cultural anthropology, and a quick perusal of the authors' qualifications would have told me that they are investigative journalists - good ones even, with a lot of research - but that doesn't change the fact that we are interested in two different things. This book focused a lot (so it ...more
Rich Uncle Pennybags
For starters, this is a serious historical book and it is rather long and detailed. I think some of the people complaining about being "bored" by this book would have been better off reading something like Tokyo Vice, which moves faster and does't bother with as much background (although its veracity has also been called into question... anyway that's a different issue).

The degree to which the yakuza is entrenched in Japanese business and society is really incredible and here is a book to give y
Jun 25, 2013 Wenning rated it it was amazing
fascinating. best nonfiction i have read so far.

the book divides into three. the first section will only be appealing to history/anthropology buffs as it intricately details the evolution of the yakuza from two distinct sectors of feudal japan and its deep interpenetration with Japanese politics and the LDP (Japan's ruling party since 1955). the second section is probably the most fascinating from a cultural perspective, as it explains Japanese-style corruption with interviews, case studies, etc
Andrew S.
Aug 25, 2007 Andrew S. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lost
I read most of it -- it's great and fascinating -- how, post-WWII, America rather shittily made it easier for right-wing anti-communists (and with them the Yakuza) to have their way with a battered occupied nation seeking re-birth. I also liked the tattoos and the decriptions of Western-style excess on the part of oyabuns and their subordinates -- huge cars, giant steaks, etc. But, it was a lot of information about a subject in which I have only a passing interest. SO, I put it aside momentarily ...more
Dec 15, 2013 Arne-Jan rated it liked it
Daar waar John Dickie wat mij betreft het beste overzicht geeft over de geschiedenis van Cosa Nostra, had ik van tevoren de hoop dat Kaplan eenzelfde soort indruk zou maken. Dat is uiteindelijk niet het geval. Hoewel het boek een interessant feitenrelaas is van de verschillende Yakuza-groepen, hun machtsbasis en onderlinge strijd, blijft het wat hangen in het beschrijvende. De mystiek die er rond Yakuza hangt komt onvoldoende naar voren. Wel is zeer interessant hoe Yakuza langzaamaan ook buiten ...more
Kiani Delahoia
May 19, 2016 Kiani Delahoia rated it really liked it
This book is for those that are engrossed in the murky under world of the Yakuza.

Its a slow read, and you must be patient. The authors efforts have not gone noticed here.

Excellent reading material for the more 'cultured' person.
Feb 02, 2014 Simon rated it it was amazing
Extremely well-researched and documented it's a very interesting read to understand Japan's criminal underworld with Japan's history in the background.
Dan  Logue
An in-depth look at the Japanese underworld focusing on their emergence during the American occupation under MacArthur after WWII. With the development of the worldwide communist threat all hesitance to deal the Japanese right wing element, which had created the nationalistic society that had effectively led to Japan's involvement in WWII, is forgotten as the government uses every and all, organized crime included, to battle left wing elements. Not very well written but an interesting topic.
Jeff Becker
May 18, 2013 Jeff Becker rated it did not like it
This book is so slow and painful to read. I'm mining for interesting bits and haven't really found anything outside of how pervasive the yakuza are within Japanese society. This book is long-winded and repetitive. I got to the point of no return and and finished it as a matter of self-discipline. I skimmed large sections of chapters and don't feel like I've missed a thing.
Dec 28, 2014 Hana marked it as to-read
Available Brookline PL
Feb 24, 2014 Anthony rated it really liked it
cool, interesting. organized crime is scary.
Shawn Buckle
Sep 26, 2010 Shawn Buckle rated it it was amazing
Kaplan has to be the leading authority on the yakuza in Japan. His book looks at the evolvement of yakuza from the tekiya and the bakuto through postwar japan and their profiteering on the black market to modern day scandals like Lockheed. Their pervasiveness yet taciturn in Japan is astonishing which makes the yakuza so interesting a study.
Jay Caselberg
Jun 24, 2012 Jay Caselberg rated it liked it
Interesting enough as it goes, but the concentration at least for the first part is primarily around historical events rather than the workings of the Yakuza as such. The other thing about it is that it is dry, dry. A far more readable treatment of pretty much the same events is given in Tokyo Underworld which I am currently reading.
Feb 07, 2014 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Absolutely fascinating read. It's strange, from an American point of view, to see how accepted corruption is when it comes to the government and business. This book is well worth a read to see a key part of Japanese history and how it has spread worldwide.
James Smyth
Feb 09, 2013 James Smyth rated it it was amazing
I feel guilty for talking about Japanese politics and society before having read this book. That's how important and revelatory it is. In a way, it's the alternate modern history of Japan. That's how important the yakuza have been.Highly recommended.
Tom Menner
Exhaustive and a bit dry, though it was very interesting to read the historical roots of the yakuza and their ties to right wing political elements, and also how they shake down major corporations by disrupting stockholder meetings.
Nov 09, 2008 Esther rated it liked it
An in-depth look at the development of organized crime in Japan from feudal to modern times. When I lived in Japan we kids used to joke around about yakuza but I had no idea just how ingrained they were in politics and Japan Inc.
Nov 09, 2008 Jeffrey rated it liked it
This turned out to be far less lurid than I would have hoped. It's more a political history of modern Japan as it pertains to these gangsters, not so much a Pacific Rim Goodfellas.
Jeremy Raper
Jul 02, 2014 Jeremy Raper rated it really liked it
Pretty intriguing deep dive into the world of Japanese underworld, the yakuza.
Jul 15, 2014 Suh rated it liked it
Brilliant book. Wish I had th e attention span for it. Never finished.
Hossein Davani
Best book for know who are governer in Japan
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