Several elements of yakuza, or Japanese mafia, initiation rituals can be traced back to the rituals used by ancient samurai warriors.
During a yakuza initiation ceremony, the initiate will sit across from his organizational father figure, or “oyabun”, while a mix of sake (Japanese alcohol), salt, and fish scales is prepared. Due to the massive size of the yakuza, the oyabun may or may not be the supreme boss of the entire organization, and may rather only be the initiate’s regional boss. Even though the supreme boss may not be physically present at the initiation ceremony, his approval is still required before the initiate can be accepted into yakuza ranks.
When the sake mix is ready, the glasses of the oyabun and initiate are filled. To represent his status at the table and within the organization, the oyabun’s glass will be filled to the brim, while the glass of the initiate will receive much less. Each man will drink from his own glass before exchanging glasses to drink from the glass of the other man.
It is believed that the sake mixture represents the blood of each man, and by drinking from the glass of the other, the initiate becomes bonded to his oyabun as a son is bonded to his father. Absolute loyalty to his oyabun and the yakuza is required. Members are even required to put the needs of the yakuza over the needs of their own wives and children.
The loyalty that runs through the yakuza can be seen in another ritual as well, the “yubizume”, which is the amputation of fingers. More specifically, when a boss is displeased with the service of a subordinate, he may require the subordinate to amputate the last joint of his pinkie finger. Further disappointment might be met with the amputation of the next joint and eventually on to the next finger in progression from the pinkie to the index finger.
While largely symbolic today, the act of self amputation, from pinkie to index finger, made sense when men in Japan still carried swords. When a person holds the traditional Japanese sword, the pinkie finger is the most powerful finger in the group, with the index finger playing little to no part in proper sword handling. By slowly removing the joints of the fingers, from the tip of the pinkie to the index finger, the boss who ordered the amputation makes his subordinate more and more dependent on him by making him less and less able to grip a sword. Basically, this was a way to symbolically “shorten the leash” around the neck of the member, so to speak. Now that guns have replaced swords, this ritual holds little practical purpose.
It should be mentioned that yakuza rituals, as with other mafia type rituals, are highly adaptable, and may be changed at the whim of the man in charge. Being highly adaptable is what has allowed the yakuza to survive for so long, since initiation rituals can be conducted anywhere, even in prison cells, depending on the needs of the organization. So long as the supreme boss is willing to accept an initiation ritual, the ritual can be as simple as the oyabun needs it to be.
Anthony Bruno. The Yakuza. Tru TV.