In 2011 a Belgian photographer was allowed entry into one of Japan’s Yakuza families. Over two years, he captured the lives of those living in the underworld.
The Financial Times said last week that they are renowned for their strict code of conduct, full-body tattoos and occasionally operatic violence, but a split in Japan’s largest group of yakuza gangsters has confirmed their rapid decline as a force in Japanese life.
It emerged that thousands of the Yamaguchi-gumi — a group accounting for one yakuza in every two — have broken away to form their own gang based in the city of Kobe. Similar splits have led to violence in the past, but rather than showing the profitability of the yakuza gangs as before, analysts said the current divisions show the groups are struggling to survive.
It is estimated that a hundred-man yakuza operation today might clear about $1m a month after costs — enough to generate a modest living for its members, but nothing like the riches of old, helping to explain the fall in yakuza membership from 80,900 in 2009 to 53,500 at the end of 2014.