The Yakuza: Some Real Photos by Anton Kusters

Photographer Anton Kuster‘s project YAKUZA is a personal visual account of the life inside an inaccessible subculture: a traditional Japanese crime family that controls the streets of Kabukicho, in the heart of Tokyo, Japan. Through 10 months of negotiations with the Shinseikai, his brother Malik and he became one of the only westerners ever to be granted this kind of access to the closed world of Japanese organised crime. All images © Anton Kusters – www.antonkusters.com

Tattooed hands with a digit missing. A traditional Japanese tattoo, as used often by the Yakuza, Is a very old and time-consuming process of manually sticking a stick with at the point several sharp inked needles in the skin. This has to happen at a precise angle (depending on skin thickness) and at a precise speed (120/minute), and this is a skill that only traditional Japanese tattoo masters possess. The result is an intricacy, a color palette and a pattern which is not possible with the modern way of tattooing with a machine.Master Tattooist Hori Sensei invites you, he does not accept regular clients. With him, completing a traditional Japanese tattoo takes about 100 hours, can cost up to $10,000, and a schedule of daily or weekly visits needs to be made. As a client, you have only a little say in the design of the tattoo. Hori Sensei determines what is best for you after taking time to talk to you and to get to know you. Only a few traditional Japanese tattoo experts are still alive today in Japan. - 2009

Tattooed hands with a digit missing. A traditional Japanese tattoo, as used often by the Yakuza, is a very old and time-consuming process of manually sticking a stick with at the point several sharp inked needles in the skin. Master Tattooist Hori Sensei invites you, he does not accept regular clients. With him, completing a traditional Japanese tattoo takes about 100 hours, can cost up to $10,000, and a schedule of daily or weekly visits needs to be made. As a client, you have only a little say in the design of the tattoo. Hori Sensei determines what is best for you after taking time to talk to you and to get to know you. Only a few traditional Japanese tattoo experts are still alive today in Japan.

The three highest ranking bosses of the family - the Godfather in the centre - pose for a portrait during a traditional dinner at a restaurant in Kabukicho, Tokyo - 2009

The three highest ranking bosses of the family – the Godfather in the centre – pose for a portrait during a traditional dinner at a restaurant in Kabukicho, Tokyo

Empty meeting table, right after the initial meeting, in which we got approval to start the project - 2009

Empty meeting table, right after the initial meeting, in which we got approval to start the project

Yakuza street fighter aggressively showing off his tattoo in Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo - 2010

Yakuza street fighter aggressively showing off his tattoo in Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Nitto-san, Souichirou's direct boss, in the back of the car, while driving to Niigata prison to go and pick up two members of the family that are being released from prison that morning, after being incarcerated for several years - 2009

Nitto-san, Souichirou’s direct boss, in the back of the car, while driving to Niigata prison to go and pick up two members of the family that are being released from prison that morning, after being incarcerated for several years.

Souichirou and a friend standing in front of the Godfather's car in the streets of Kabukicho, keeping an eye out - 2010

Souichirou and a friend standing in front of the Godfather’s car in the streets of Kabukicho, keeping an eye out.

Yamamoto kaicho and two other members shower in an Onsen (typical Japanese bath house) after playing in a golf tournament. Both golf and frequent visits to the onsen are very popular amongst the Japanese. Nowadays, many bath houses carry signs that deny access to people who have tattoos, in an effort to stop Yakuza frequenting them - 2009

Yamamoto kaicho and two other members shower in an Onsen (typical Japanese bath house) after playing in a golf tournament. Both golf and frequent visits to the onsen are very popular amongst the Japanese. Nowadays, many bath houses carry signs that deny access to people who have tattoos, in an effort to stop Yakuza frequenting them.

Miyamoto-san in his coffin after his death, during his wake - 2010

Miyamoto-san in his coffin after his death, during his wake.

Members paying their respects by burning incense at the makeshift altar during the traditional Japanese funeral  for Miyamoto-san - 2010

Members paying their respects by burning incense at the makeshift altar during the traditional Japanese funeral for Miyamoto-san.

The Godfather arrives at a commemoration service for a member who has died. Car traffic is redirected and he is surrounded by bodyguards, as he steps out of the car and into the place of worship - 2009

The Godfather arrives at a commemoration service for a member who has died. Car traffic is redirected and he is surrounded by bodyguards, as he steps out of the car and into the place of worship.

Members of different families paying their respects at the funeral service for Miyamoto-san - 2010

Members of different families paying their respects at the funeral service for Miyamoto-san.

The funeral service for Miyamoto-san - 2010

The funeral service for Miyamoto-san.

The Godfather rolls down his car window while leaving a commemoration service for a deceased member of the family - 2009

The Godfather rolls down his car window while leaving a commemoration service for a deceased member of the family.

Members pose in the streets of Kabukicho, the red light district in the heart of Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan. By always wearing tailored suits, the Yakuza attempt to spread an image of decency and conformity. But the underlying tension unmistakibly remains. Obvious influences are American gangster icons from the early 20th century, like John Dillinger.

Members pose in the streets of Kabukicho, the red light district in the heart of Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan. By always wearing tailored suits, the Yakuza attempt to spread an image of decency and conformity. But the underlying tension unmistakibly remains. Obvious influences are American gangster icons from the early 20th century, like John Dillinger.

In a covert training camp, young Yakuza recruits line up every morning at 5.00 a.m. on the beach to have a moment of meditation, led by master Samurai swordsman Nakata Sensei, before they start their daily training routine of close combat fighting, bodyguard training, and knife practice - 2009

In a covert training camp, young Yakuza recruits line up every morning at 5.00 a.m. on the beach to have a moment of meditation, led by master Samurai swordsman Nakata Sensei, before they start their daily training routine of close combat fighting, bodyguard training, and knife practice.

Yamamoto Kaicho, the number two boss, lies still as master Tattooist Hori Sensei completes his full body tattoo. Completing a tattoo takes about 100 hours, and a schedule of daily or weekly visits with the tattoo sensei are made. This is the second time he is being tattooed over his whole body, after the removal of his first full body tattoo severl years before. Tattoos are made by hand in a traditional way, and only few experts still possess the skill to do so - 2009

Yamamoto Kaicho, the number two boss, lies still as master Tattooist Hori Sensei completes his full body tattoo. Completing a tattoo takes about 100 hours, and a schedule of daily or weekly visits with the tattoo sensei are made. This is the second time he is being tattooed over his whole body, after the removal of his first full body tattoo severl years before. Tattoos are made by hand in a traditional way, and only few experts still possess the skill to do so.

The two bosses highest in rank in the ODO family, having coffee at a hotel bar, after it has been completely cleared first, for safety reasons. Here they are flanked by several strategically positioned bodyguards - 2009

The two bosses highest in rank in the ODO family, having coffee at a hotel bar, after it has been completely cleared first, for safety reasons. Here they are flanked by several strategically positioned bodyguards.

Young prostitute in a bar showing the tattoo on her leg - 2009

Young prostitute in a bar showing the tattoo on her leg.



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