In our latest episode of Violent Times, Mahmood goes to Japan to meet the infamous Yakuza—one of the world’s most notorious crime syndicates. While their modern identity is a fascinating mix of style and violence, the Yakuza see themselves as the cultural descendants of samurai. In recent years they've also attempted to shift their public standing with acts of charity work, such as their deployment of humanitarian aid during the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. They view these acts as being inline with the samurai's historic commitment to community.
But it’s a perception the rest of Japan doesn’t share. In recent years, many politicians and public figures have criticised the Yakuza, insisting they represent the worst aspects of a more antiquated version of Japan.
This has resulted in a public relations crisis. Members find themselves increasingly isolated from public life—blocked from everyday events such as opening bank accounts or attending their children's school events. Governments have also began more aggressively intervening in Yakuza business transitions, which threatens their financial livelihood and affectively leaves their future in flux.
Through all this uncertainty, they insist they're still proud of their past and future—and the violence they've woven through both.