Photos from Inside the Yakuza Crime Syndicate That You’ve Never Seen Before

WARNING: Some images in the slideshow above are not suitable for all readers.

The Yakuza is one of the biggest and toughest organized crime syndicates in the world, based in Japan. There are believed to be at least 100,000 Yakuza gang members in Japan alone. They are known for having their bodies covered in intricate tattoos—a point of pride, and a feature that identifies them to other members of the organization—brutal violence, and making billions of dollars trafficking arms, illegal gambling rings, and blackmail.

One photographer, Anton Kuster, spent two years with the Yakuza in Tokyo and captured extremely intimate glimpses into the inner circle’s biggest secrets.

Kuster has since released a book called Odo Yakuza Tokyo, in which he describes the things he saw during his time with the feared crime family. According to Kuster’s website, the book is currently completely sold out.

One practice that Kuster writes about is the Yakuza ritual that they perform to apologize when they have offended their leaders. They will cut off their own fingers, usually their pinkies as a sacrifice for their lives, or the lives of younger members.

High-ranking members of the syndicate are well known figures, and are practically treated like royalty—both within the crime ring and by people he passes on the street.

New recruits are given training in hand-to-hand combat and meditation, and traditions are handed down and preserved from the older generations.

The Yakuza has been around since the 1600s, and is still going strong today. Their influence has grown so strong and vital that they are ingrained into the inner-workings at all levels of society.

Kuster writes:

“As they have mastered to walk the fine line of doing both good and bad, they have carved a path for themselves that is so intertwined with Japan as a country, that projections sometimes describe a society without Yakuza to be worse than with.”

See an intimate glimpse of the Yakuza in the slideshow above.