Why Japan’s Yakuza Members Cut Off Their Fingers as Punishment

Losing a finger is probably the last thing anyone would accept as a risk for joining some organization. The practice, however, is common for Japan’s Yakuza, which happens as a form of punishment for various offenses.

The word yubitsume, which literally translates to “finger-shortening,” functions as a means for a Yakuza member to show remorse for an offense committed.

For starters, the ritual involves cutting the topmost portion of the left pinkie with a very sharp knife or tantō. The offender then wraps the severed joint — often elegantly — and submits it as a “package” to his oyabun, or immediate boss.

Succeeding offenses apparently result to amputation of the rest of the portions. When none is left, the right pinkie is the next option.

Yakuza members showing their presence at the Sanja Matsuri festival in Senso-ji, Tokyo, Japan. Image via Wikimedia Commons / Jorge (CC By 2.0)

The rationale behind yubitsume can be found in traditional Japanese swordsmanship. In practice, the last three fingers — the pinkie, ring and middle — are used to grip the sword tightly, while the thumb and index fingers grip more loosely.

As such, yubitsume believes that the removal of one’s fingers starting from the pinkie progressively weakens his sword grip. Interestingly, the ritual starts with the left finger due to the pervasive belief against left-handedness in East Asia.

Following yubitsume, it is presumed that the offender — now vulnerable with a weakened grip — must rely more on the group, with activities such as hand-to-hand combat and handling firearms becoming more difficult, according to a study exploring the practice.

In the traditional setting, the offender must amputate his finger without any assistance from another Yakuza member, making the ritual even more horrifying. Hence, physicians may encounter one seeking assistance all by himself, sometimes with the request to reattach the severed portion.

Former Yakuza members who have since returned to greater society are not exactly welcome, however, especially when they’re missing parts of their finger or fingers altogether. On top of the fact that lost digits already complicate manual labor, they often struggle with finding work out of stigma.

Photo: Screenshot via The Australian/YouTube

For this reason, the practice somehow led to an increase in the demand for prosthetic fingers in the last decade. Shintaro Hayashi, who makes body parts for accident survivors and silicone for breast cancer patients, told ABC News in 2013:

“I started to see a gradual increase in people who were asking for prosthetic pinkies. They weren’t the standard small, medium or large, but custom-made pinkies.”

A scene from the film “Black Rain” depicts the practice as the character Sato shows he is sorry:

Feature Image via YouTube / Aishado

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