"As Joseph Castellano… put it, 'What is a Gambino crime family?… Does this Gambino crime family have an office? Does the office have a plaque on the door that says, “Gambino crime family?”' In Japan, the answers would be, in reverse order, ‘yes,’ ‘yes,’ and ‘read our rules and creed.’"
— The Dark Side of Private Ordering
Japanese mobsters, often called "the Japanese Mafia" in Greater Europe, and euphemistically "anti-social organizations" and "violent groups" by native folks. The term refers solely to the members of crime organizations, not to the organizations themselves, which may take many different names. The yakuza insist that their organizations originated in Robin Hood-style outlaw groups and vigilante groups during Japan's feudal era, but scholars believe that they are in fact descended from roving bands of Ronin who harassed and extorted the local peasantry.
Not that these are mutually exclusive descriptions, though. Tired of robbing the penniless peasants, these Ronin bands often gravitated towards more affluent cities, where they sought employment as a hired muscle. There they mingled with and frequently joined, local urban self-defense groups and mutual help societies, and this is where their claim of the service to society comes from. The fact that these groups were often indistinguishable from the petty gangs is usually blissfully ignored. The modern descendants of such gangs are the very Yakuza groups that are discussed here. Today some 70% of the Yakuza come from burakumin background and 10% of the yakuza members are ethnic Koreans (despite Koreans making up about 0.5% of the Japanese population).
There is an alternate hypothesis of their origin as descendants of legitimate organizations of tekiya (peddlers of shady or stolen goods), whose leaders were granted permission to carry swords by the Edo government. And less than legitimate organizations of gamblers, the term ya-ku-za even comes from the card game Oicho-Kabu.
Yakuza resemble The Mafia in that they are very organized crime syndicates, with strict codes of behavior and etiquette, and encompass many levels of ritual and formality. Unlike the Mafia and the Chinese Triads, though, they are not secret societies, and often operate openly, even so far as to maintain offices and carry business cards. Like their Western counterparts, though, they derive most of their profit from extortion, protection rackets, human trafficking, and the like. Yakuza like to maintain that they provide a service to the community, which in return owes them both respect and money. A consequence of being ultra-violent while maintaining a strict honor code is that in fiction they sometimes get to have samurai traits, or at least katana.
The stereotyped yakuza character matches the real-world profile fairly closely: he is heavily tattooed (so identified with delinquency that many bathhouses forbid people with tattoos on the premises), male, and may be missing a finger (either as a loyalty test or as punishment, one reason Four-Fingered Hands are rarely seen in Japanese media). He wears an expensive suit and dark sunglasses, and walks with a distinctive swagger that announces his profession. While he claims a benign interest in the community, he is as likely to be as violent and destructive as his Western counterpart, especially if he feels he is not receiving the respect he deserves.
Yakuza are so prominent in Japanese culture that they have even spawned an entire genre of films which are as distinct from western gangster films as the yakuza are from western gangsters. While many of these films are little known in the west, movies like Tokyo Drifter and Battles Without Honor and Humanity pioneered many tropes that western audiences have since come to associate with martial arts and action pictures, and their influence can be detected in productions as diverse as Kill Bill and Cowboy Bebop.
Female yakuza are very rare in the male-dominated Japanese society, but if one appears, she is either a Dragon Lady or the boss's daughter. A Yakuza princess is typically fully aware of her families' business activities and may even support them.
As Japan Takes Over the World is quite typical for the genre, expect Yakuza to to appear quite often in most cyberpunk fiction.
See also The Mafia (and its Russian cousin The Mafiya), The Irish Mob, The Triads and the Tongs, The Cartel, The Syndicate, Mafia Princess.
And then there's also the film The Yakuza and the videogame Yakuza, also known as Ryu Ga Gotoku.
In Blood+, Mao Yahana's unseen father is a Yakuza; she steals money from him so she can afford to follow the heroes all over the world.
Yakuza show up a few times in Darker Than Black, but mostly just wind up getting beaten senseless in large numbers.
In one episode of Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, Sousuke helps strengthen one group, the Mikihara-gumi (whose boss is Ren's dad), against the predations of another group, the Ryujin-kai. By giving them Training from Hell and equipping them with weapons and military-grade powered armor/Bonta-kun replica costumes. Yes, you read that right. For bonus points, Sousuke goes through the training in his Bonta-kun armor (i.e. through most of the episode), with Kaname acting as his "translator".
In Gantz, two Yakuza are among the first group of hunters.
The main character of Gokusen is a schoolteacher whose coworkers do not know she is the granddaughter of a powerful oyabun (yakuza boss).
Given that Section 9 works for Interior Security, yakuza don't make many appearances in Ghost in the Shell, usually only in the role of supplying real terrorists with illegal goods. They feature more prominently in Innocence, but appear as nothing but a gang of regular thugs.
Bleach has 7th Squad lieutenant Tetsuzaemon Iba, who is patterned after a yakuza, complete with shades and the tattoo taking up most of his back space.
As president of the Shinigami Man's Association, he seems to have carried this trait over to a degree. Meetings of the association consist of the various male lieutenants wearing similar glasses and leaving their haori draped open across their shoulders.
Ritsu Kasanoda of Ouran High School Host Club is apparently a young yakuza boss. Also in the episode introducing Renge, she drags two students that are of Yakuza families to play the role of baddies in her elaborate movie of the Host Club.
In the Paranoia Agent episode "A Man's Path", a corrupt policeman goes to desperate lengths to pay his debts to the Yakuza.
The mythical permutation of Yakuza is seen in a Yojimbo inspired episode of Samurai Champloo, in which one Yakuza family is presented as being run by a kindly and benevolent patriarch who created the organization to be a refuge for social outcasts. On the other hand, the opposing group were common thugs, and this type of Yakuza sometimes shows up as the villain of the episode (i.e. the sex slavery ring was implicitly run by them, given the reference to one mook losing a finger if guilty of further incompetence).
In Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, one of the teachers at the school is shown to have a Yakuza tattoo on his back, which freaks the protagonist teacher out. One episode shows the main characters trying to avoid being caught doing something embarrassing which can be photographed and used to shame them. Said teacher is shown having the ability to deftly avoid any camera which tries to photograph him.
About half the main cast of Seto no Hanayome, including the heroine, are yakuza mermaids. Being a light comedy, they're played positively enough to be samurai-ish; they have a few swordspersons around, and San uses a Japanese pun to riff on 'chivalry'.They never do anything Yakuza-ish because they're too busy screwing up Nagasumi's life.
Episode 7 of Trapeze deals with a yakuza member who has a phobia of sharp objects and eventually starts wearing ski goggles to protect his eyes.
Sanctuary combines Yakuza with the Government Procedural, with its two Magnificent Bastard heroes — an up-and-coming Yakuza leader and a junior member of the Japanese parliament — working together to remake Japanese society from the top down and bottom up.
Akagi deals with illegal gambling in post-WWII Japan, Yakuza included.
Katekyo Hitman Reborn!: Although taking place in Japan, they originate in Italy. note Dino does have the tattoos thoughHowever, shortly after Dino's introduced they pretend Tsuna's been kidnapped by a Yakuza gang, and the name Reborn gives Gokudera and Yamamoto is a real Yakuza... who the two proceed to beat up looking for their boss ("What'd you do with Jyudaime?!")
All of Tokyo Crazy Paradise is centered around the Yakuza- more specifically their young leader Ryuji and his female bodyguard Tsukasa.
In YuYu Hakusho, Yusuke's mom, Atsuko Urameshi, has some kind of... connections, shall we say... with the local yakuza. Specifically, she gets her buddies to intimidate Yusuke's principal into letting him back into school after he comes back to life. The anime version Bowdlerised this away.
There's a big organization of them, the Jugondou, in Ga-Rei. They even have supernatural ties, including connections in...Transylvania?
Ichi the Killer: just about every character; the majority are actively in an organization, others are either ex-yakuza or had/have some other 'professional' connection with them.
In one episode of Durarara!!, the reporter goes to some of them to ask about the strongest man in Ikebukuro, and there's some discussion about how they have business in the area but stay out-of-sight unless the various delinquent wars get so bad that they need to intervene.
One particular Yakuza group, Awakusu-Kai, becomes a lot more prominent in the later Light Novels when Izaya exploits some in-fighting and frames Shizuo for the murder of three of their men.
Underneath all of the Science Fiction and Western trappings Cowboy Bebop is essentially a classic Yakuza story, pitting a "noble" yakuza (Spike) against a "nihilist" yakuza (Vicious)
In Holyland, Yuu's Roaring Rampage of Revenge after Shinichi is attacked extends to attacking drug pushers, which leads to one of these telling Masaki to put a lid on Yuu's activities lest the latter wants their attention. Later on, he shows up again to tell Masaki to do something about the teen gangs pushing Shiromon/True before the adults have to get involved.
The seme in Kazuma Kodaka's Kizuna, Kei Enjouji, is the Heroic Bastard of a Yakuza boss, and has the perfect Yakuza looks except for the tattoo. Enjouji himself didn't know about this until his mother died and he got a letter telling him the truth. His heritage bites him badly once when some mooks run over his uke, Ranmaru, when they were actually trying to kill Enjouji and Ranmaru pulled a Diving Save for him.
For worse, one of Kei's rivals for Ranmaru's love is his half-brother Kai Sagano, the legitimate heir to their Yakuza clan. And then he starts falling for his bodyguard, a rather Bad Ass Yakuza guy named Masanori Araki, who has been his caretaker ever since Kai was a child. Your mileage will HEAVILY vary on his being Squick or not.
The erotic-comedy Dance till Tomorrow has some pretty funny scenes when the main character discovers his theater troupe is practicing in an office building shared by Yakuza. After accidently disrespecting their boss, they manage to placate him by offering half-price tickets to their next play. Hijinks Ensue when he shows up with ten other serious-looking Yakuzas, scaring the actors so bad most of them forget their lines. While remaining totally stoic during the play, the boss tells them afterward he found it hilarious. So much so that he winds up attending every showing. He later becomes a casual acquaintance of the protagonist, at one point helping him collect debts from people by using his intimidation tactics.
Kanzaki in Beelzebub is the second son of the Kanzaki-gumi oyabun or family head. It allows him to abuse the other members with complete impunity while being himself a Japanese delinquent, which the Yakuza generally despise.
In Kasei Yakyoku, the male lead Taka Itou, his younger brother Saburou and a kid named Junichirou Uchida (the brother of one of Taka's love interests) are involved with the Yakuza of The Roaring Twenties, though not entirely by choice. Taka's boss is seen on-screen, and he's a brutal Yakuza whose only sort-of soft spot is for his daughter Nami, despite having killed his own wife when she tried to cheat on him with a young Taka.
In One Piece Wanted, in the second story the main character Bran at one point come across some yakuza guys walking down the street, from whom he pickpockets a pistol he'll use later. They're depicted in the stereotypical way, one of them even has a bokuto (wooden sword) across the shoulder.
The family that the protagonist of Stop Hibari-kun goes to live with after his mother dies is a yakuza family.
The mage clans in the Anime version of Kaze no Stigma are depicted using yakuza tropes with oyabun (bosses), princesses and intergenerational conflict over clan succession. It's an example of tropes as easily recognizable cultural shorthand.
In the Dark Knight Universe, the Joker was apparently a member (or at the very least bears a tattoo of a large red dragon on his back), as opposed to his usual depiction as having mafia ties. Probably because we already knew about Gotham's mafia (pretty much ripped from The Godfather), and the Joker had to be a wild card. (Hence the name.)
The Yakuza are one of the many crime factions in Gotham City in the main DCU.
They have grown into almost a symbiotic relationship with the Judges of Hondo Cit in Judge Dredd, both hating but ultimately having to relay on the other.
The King of Hell's Kitchen has a yakuza group hopped on MGH trying to take Hell's Kitchen for them after the fall of the Kingpin. In this story, the Yakuza are played like a bunch of greedy thugs with tattoos and katanas. Daredevil wasn't amused
In Kyon Big Damn Hero the Organization is funded mainly by this, and also it's the background of Tsuruya's family.
The Bride goes after O-Ren Ishii, the queen of the Yakuza, and her personal army, the Crazy 88, in Kill Bill Part 1. The Yakuza also feature heavily in O-Ren's tragic backstory, with Boss Matsumoto and his men, who killed O-Ren's parents when she was just a little girl which prompts her rise as the Lady of War boss we meet.
In Crows: Zero, the father of the protagonist Takaya Genji is a powerful Yakuza boss. Genji later befriends Katagiri Ken, a lowlife in a rival Yakuza organization.
Black Rain. The protagonist is a New York City cop who catches the renegade Yakuza Sato, but then has to recapture him once Sato escapes custody in Tokyo. Along the way he makes a deal with the much more traditional local boss to take down Sato. The boss makes a point out of the Sato's dishonourable behavior.
Johnny Mnemonic, based on the William Gibson short story, features the Yakuza as the primary antagonist, seeking the information stuck in Johnny's head. Takeshi Kitano slums as a Yakuza bigwig in the film.
William Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy contains many references to the Yakuza, which has become a major international force. In "Johnny Mnemonic," the Yakuza send a vat-grown cyborg assassin to kill the main character.
In Charles de Lint's cyberpunk novel Svaha, the Yakuza (or, to use in-universe slang, the "yaks") are the primary antagonists — in Canada.
In the Choose Your Own Adventure book Mystery of Ura Senke, the case's MacGuffinnote a centuries-old Japanese tea bowl that is worth millions of yens and is the treasure of the famous Ura Senke tea ceremony academy is sought by many people and groups in Tokyo. One of these associations is the Yakuza, and in one of the sub-plots the Featureless Protagonist might be kidnapped by them while playing the Kid Detective role. Whether s/he gets out of there alive, it again depends on your decisions.
Mentioned in Snow Crash. As part of his sales pitch, a Mafia recruiter points out that the Yakuza is often called the Japanese Mafia, but the Mafia is never called the Italian Yakuza.
Time Scout's The Syndicate is composed of The Mafia, The Mafiya, and these guys. Their control of Japanese construction made them, effectively, the most powerful people in Japan. They even show up as tourists on the Time Terminal, occasionally.
The Body of the Week on one episode of Quincy was an LAPD detective investigating a Yakuza group that was working out a gun buy from The Mafia. Said detective was stabbed in the heart with a tanto (a dagger shaped like a miniature katana). As luck would have it, Quincy's Japanese-American assistant Sam Fujiwara knew some people...
In the J-Drama version of Hana Yori Dango, Akira Mimasaka's family is related to the Yakuza.
On one episode of the Israeli sitcom HaPijamot, the Local Hangout owner is extorted by a Yakuza member. The whole situation is Played for Laughs: the man extorting him comes in wearing stereotypical ninja clothing and says nothing but ‘Yakuza!’ when notifying the owner of the extortion with a note, and it turns out he’s actually the man dating the main female lead, Suzukinote Israelis are usually not even aware that it’s a legitimate last name, and would just associate it with the automobile company, who doesn’t speak a word of Hebrew and communicates via impromptu origami.
Hawaii Five-0: The Yakuza control many of the corrupt cops the team runs into, as well as the corrupt govenor, and blew up the car Steve's Mother "died" in. Adam, Kono's love interest, is the son of a Yakuza leader and was targeted when he tried to clean up his family's business and killed his brother who was trying to kill Kono.
There are persistent rumors that rock/pop/ vocalist Gackt is either a member or somehow in massive debt to the Yakuza.
The Yakuza has deep ties to all of the Japanese music industry independent of genre, style, band size, or notoriety. Visual Kei in particular is infested with Yakuza. There are rumors that Japanese hardcore punk band Gism have Yakuza ties and will go after producers of bootleg records and merchandise. Similar rumors exist about Dir En Grey.
At least one craft guitar and guitar gear maker, which shall not be named because no one wants to be whacked, but whose clients included a Loudness guitarist, a Loudness and X Japan bassist, and a Nightmare bassist, is operated by a blatant Yakuza member.
Though always officially denied, New Age musician Kitaro is rumoured to have connections to the Yakuza, with his fame at least partially being due to their influence. These rumours are, in no small part, due to his first wife being the daughter of a former leader of one of the more influential clans.
Much like the movie it was based on, Johnny Mnemonic has these. They also have their own mode, aptly titled "Yakuza Strike".
Unsurprisingly, due to the great degree with which the game was influenced by William Gibson, Shadowrun includes plenty of Yakuza in varying capacities. The fact that the default setting for the game is the West Coast of the former U.S. may be a contributing factor, though. Mitsuhama Computer Technologies is a Mega Corp. that started out as a Yakuza money laundering operation but long ago surpassed them.
Since BattleTech's Draconis Combine is basically a collection of Japan tropes Recycled IN SPACE!, the yakuza are quite naturally alive and well there as well. Several protagonist and important supporting characters are either members themselves or at least maintain connections, and nobody less than Theodore Kurita himself sponsored the creation of several yakuza BattleMech units to help bolster the ranks during his reforms of the Combine's military.
The Ryu Ga Gotoku series (or as it's more commonly known, Yakuza) for the PS2 and PS3 is about a former yakuza boss by the name of Kazuma Kiryu who took the fall for the killing of the captain of his clan, and ten years later returns to the Kamurocho district and quickly finds himself being pulled back into the Yakuza underworld.
And similar to the Paper Mario example above, the Pokémon dub makes them more mafia-like, with the boss being renamed Giovanni, the anime's Meowth having a New York accent, and most members given gangster-themed (instead of samurai-themed in the original) names.
The Yakuza shows up from time in various Mafia Wars missions.
The Ronin in Saints Row 2 aren't; they don't uniformly follow Bushido, aren't without a Lord yet certainly aren't samurai. As a Japanese criminal organization, what else could they be?
Johnny Gat even goes so far as to refer to the head of the organization as "the Oyabun".
MapleStory oddly enough, features bad guys resembling the Yakuza in Zipangu, a Japan themed world. In the original version they were pretty dark, using guns, katanas, and nunchakus to hurt you. The American version replaced those with squeaky hammers and cat mittens.
Furio Tigre, from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations, has connections with Yakuza (or the Mafia in the translation). Mostly, he owes a Yakuza/Mafia boss a large sum of money after almost killing his beloved granddaughter in a car crash. For worse, the girl has sorta fallen for him, so he uses her in his plans.
Dee Vasquez also had her own Yakuza thugs in the first game.
And one of your clients in Apollo Justice is the son of a Yakuza boss.
In Fate/stay night, Shirou's house is technically owned by the local yakuza. They allow him to stay there as a favor to his deceased father Kiritsugu, with whom they were on very good terms. Shirou's guardian, Taiga Fujimura, also happens to be the yakuza boss's granddaughter, though there is no indication that she takes any part in the family business.
The Azai Corporation in G-Senjou no Maou plays a huge part in the game, as the main character's motivation is to repay his debt to them.
Sampaguita, the 3rd game of the Yarudora series, has them as one of the antagonist factions which are after the main heroine, Maria Santos. And they're certainly not above hitting a girl.
Fuyuhiko Kuzuryuu from Super Dangan Ronpa 2 is the heir to the largest Yakuza family in Japan. There are two other characters with connections to the Yakuza. Kuzuryuu's dead sister and Peko Pekoyama, who is Kuzuryuu's bodyguard and hitwoman.
Mob Ties centres around several groups of Japanese mobsters.
Featured in The Simpsons, after Homer hires the Mafia to protect Marge's pretzel business, her rivals engage in some tit-for-tat by hiring the Yakuza, leading to the memorable quote, "They'll kill ya five times before ya hit the ground!!!" The Yakuza and the Mafia then have a big gang brawl on the Simpson lawn. The pint-sized Yakuza leader just stands ominously during the brawl, prompting Homer to resist taking shelter before finding out what he's going to do. After Homer retreats inside, we see the little Yakuza doing backflips through the Simpsons' window (he apologizes to them before going back outside).
Briefly mentioned for a joke in a South Park episode:
In The Batman, there was Hideo Katsu, the leader of a group called The Dragon's Fangs. Catwoman made the mistake of stealing a statue from him (not knowing that he was mobster or that the statue's true value lay in the fact that it held a data disc containing the Yakuza's secret family chart), causing Katsu to believe she was sent by a rival family. Catwoman nervously tried to give it back when she found out that was the case; fortunately, Batman was more willing to listen than Katsu was.
Archer reveals that Pam engages in drifting with the Yakuza.