Giving the Finger

Tonight being Sunday, the Hokka Hokka Tei bento shop was fairly busy. It’s a take-out Japanese lunch chain, which is near virtually every station in the country (for want of a better word I say lunch, but people eat bento anytime, especially single people, after work). There was a fairly typical South Osaka crowd milling about – a tired-looking young woman in office clothes and a grandmotherly woman, who were sitting in the two kitchen chairs provided outside, beneath the canopy (there are no tables – strictly take-away); a young man making love to his cell-phone, oblivious to the rest of us; and a young family of four and their dog, a miniature something-or-other, which looked like a Q-Tip. And me, the local gaijin. For the record, I’d ordered a sukiyaki bento, with noodles.

Into this crowd, from a noisily parked car, strode a low-level yakuza. How did I know he was a yakuza? Well, the large shades on at night and the chains clanking over the collar of the red track suit led me to think he wasn’t an ikebana teacher out for a stroll. Other clues were the way the crowd parted for him without him saying anything (yakuza exude – if you’re lucky, quietly – hostility at all times), and the way he barked his order into the back kitchen without an excuse me, please or thank-you (nor did he look in the direction of the staff). Told them he’d be “in the car” (meaning his boss’s, because no slob like that could own something that nice). The usual. A chihuahua, which the old woman had kept tucked in her coat, heard the voice, looked out and yapped at him (dogs aren’t so dumb); the woman covered his snout with her hand to shut him up, but the dog had the wiseguy pegged, and whined protectively from his mistress’s cleavage.

What struck me as odd, though, was the pinky of the guy’s left hand: it didn’t move like the others, in fact it didn’t move at all. It was also lighter than the guy’s actual skin tone. When I noticed the line below the knuckle, I realized what was up: he had a prosthetic finger, to cover up where his real one had been chopped off.

Now, it’s fairly well-known that a yakuza atones for his mistakes by chopping off – by himself – the first digit of his left pinky and presenting it to his gang boss, or oyabun (I’ve always wondered what he does with it – make a fridge magnet?). It has certainly never been an uncommon sight in many parts of town to see men with a couple of digits missing and some with no pinky at all (in fact, when I first lived here in the 90s, they were everywhere, usually hogging all the pay phones in the days before keitai). Of course, among yakuza there has never been any shame in it – it’s a sign of loyalty and atonement, after all. But now, there’s evidently a prosthesis market for wiseguys who don’t want to show off their battle scars and perhaps hide the fact that they’re mobsters. In this case, though, the guy was a bit like someone with a really bad toupée who smugly thinks that nobody knows he’s bald.

Mind you, I wasn’t going to point it out.

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This entry was posted in Blogroll, culture, japan, Osaka, 大阪, 日本. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Giving the Finger

  1. Brandon says:

    You don’t see so many yakuza in Nagoya.

  2. melodymcfarland says:

    They were everywhere in Yokosuka. In fact, a friend told me there was a major office or hangout or headquarters near where we lived. Young punks hanging out near the train station almost every night, in their black suits and sucking cigarettes. They’d just stand there trying to look menacing and I never did figure out what their point was.
    One time I was at Hasedera Shrine and there was a top dog there – unusually large guy, bald, gold tooth, derby hat, suit neat as a pin and a full-length fur coat. He had a couple of “assistants” following. I asked my Japanese friend if I should go and say Hi to him. The look on her face was priceless.

  3. Laura says:

    I really, really don’t miss running into yakuza everywhere now that we’ve left Osaka. (Here in the Northern inaka I don’t see so many.)

    How about this story? I know of an American exchange student who accidentally ran his bicycle into a yakuza’s car and scratched it all down the side. Luckily, at the time of the accident the yakuza’s son was driving the car. . .but can you imagine the horror and terror of the exchange student when he realized just who’s car he had scratched?

    Laura

  4. azumarisan says:

    (I’ve always wondered what he does with it – make a fridge magnet?) – That made me laugh out loud…never thought of it, but maybe they have a freezer full of them somewhere at the headquarters?

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