The Yakuza as a whole is the largest criminal organization in the world. Unlike other criminal organizations, the Yakuza is in general not interested in maintaining a low profile. Instead, members often dress in flashy clothing, or wear pins or other insignia identifying their clan. In Japan, Yakuza houses often have signs indicating their purpose. This is not the case, however, in the United States. Here, the Yakuza have adopted a much more discrete, low-key persona.

The origins of the Yakuza are dicult to trace. The various gangs that make up the organization often tell different stories, and those stories are di erent from “official” histories. However, the majority of origin stories involve some kind of an “outsider” a ronin (dispossessed samurai) or kabuki-mono (“crazy one”) for example. It is possible Yakuza members adopt flamboyant lifestyles to honor these origins.

The Yakuza have a very complex, hierarchical management structure. Simply put, however, at the top of the hierarchy is the supreme boss, called the kumicho. Underneath him are saiko-komon (“senior advisors”) and wakagashira (“First Lieutenants”), who are involved in running particular regions or cities, often with a number of gangs. Each of these gangs is, in turn, run by a shateigashira (“Second Lieutenant.”) In addition to this hierarchy is the sometimes more important principle of oyabun-kobun (“father-child.”) Simply put, this is loyalty between a superior (oyabun) and subordinate (kobun.) The subordinate must provide unswerving loyalty to the superior; in return the superior must provide protection and guidance to the subordinate. This principle is very strongly ingrained in the Yakuza.

Yakuza members follow several important rituals. The first is the ritual of initiation, which is how a person joins a gang. Rituals vary, usually depending on the focus of the gang, but most involve an exchange of sake. Another ritual is irezumi, or full-body tattoos. These tattoos may be shown or concealed, depending on circumstances. The final ritual is Yubitsume. This ritual is used as a form of apology or penance, and involves cutting off the pinky finger on one’s dominant hand.

San Francisco has several Yakuza gangs, all operating out of Japantown or the Western Addition. The gangs are arranged in a tiered fashion; typically, new recruits join the lowest-tier gang, the J-Town Rat Pack. Those who demonstrate the necessary skills, drive, and most importantly loyalty, are promoted into the middle-tier gang, the Black Tigers. Those who excel there can be promoted to the highest-tier organization, the Shadow Keepers.

Each of the gangs has its own area of specialty. The J-Town Rat Pack focuses on traditional Yakuza activities: prostitution and gambling. The Black Tigers focus on pornography (print and film) and extortion. The highest-tier gang, the Shadow Keepers, are mainly responsible for gathering, collating, and disseminating information, legal and otherwise. Thus, they deal with industrial espionage, covert information gathering, and high-tech crime. They are also rumored to be the “wetworks” arm of the Yakuza, responsible for contract killing and elimination of potential threats. Even Yakuza members aren’t sure who is a Shadow Keeper.

The Yakuza owns and operates Blue Sun as a front company. It’s located in Japantown and provides high-quality translations of Japanese anime, manga, and adult media. The company was founded in 1990 by Koji Toren, who was the head of Yakuza operations in San Francisco at the time. His Yakuza successor, Kenichi Tsokoda, is the current CEO of the company. Blue Sun’s catalogue includes an impressive list of content providers and a diverse range of demographics. It has distribution partners in major U.S. cities including Las Vegas, New York City, Miami, and Chicago. The company employs over 300 people in San Francisco, including artists, translators, voice actors, and production crews, and reported over $75 million in revenue last year.

The Yakuza in San Francisco are part of the Yamaguchi-gumi family, which is based in Tokyo. The wakagashira for San Francisco is Kenichi Tsokoda. His shateigashira are Tomi “Tommy” Morita, who runs the J-Town Rat Pack; Goro Watanabe, who runs the Black Tigers; and Sato Hisoka, who runs the Shadow Keepers. Tsokoda is a very intelligent and driven man. He is aware of the local supernatural community, as are his second lieutenants and possibly a small number of Yakuza below them. The majority of the membership, however, is not aware.

The Balance of Power
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Shadows of The City JohnThompson JohnThompson