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.