Every time I try to explain to people the Japanese underground racing scene or that I know a lot of big time players in Japan through passing and as acquaintance (some as even close friends), I always get the stink eye. This is usually after they've inquired about some Japanese racing group, or they've made some bold incorrect statement about it that is so incredibly blown out of proportion that it's laughable. This happens a lot at car meets, and a lot with "new car friends" who are self absorbed.
Either it's a "I don't believe you" or it's a "I fucking hate you" trip. Usually the former. That's okay, I just tell them to message some names, and if they choose to, then that's okay. If not, then whatever. Or they can look at my photos. But I never give out contact information. Only the information itself, and in very small (relegated) portions.
The point I'm getting at is that the few - the rarified few who aren't skeptical of my claims - always ask the next question.
"So, do you know the Yakuza?"
That's the question I dread most. I'd rather people didn't believe me over that, because it's easier to prove my claims than it is to try to have to explain the intricate details of some of them. But the answer, summed up in a short response is: Yes, I do know a few members.
After this point, I have to answer every nitpicking question very carefully:
How did you meet them?
"They introduced themselves to me."
Are they nice?
"They're respectful and respected. Sometimes they're not nice when they're disrespected."
And so on...
So in this post I want to make some things clear, for those who have questions.
When I go to Japan I'm well aware of the risks of making a mistake with anyone influential who is Japanese. Japanese men of power buy the services of the Yakuza, to "secure their place". This means that the Yakuza members are on their beck and call every minute of the day, under certain levels of priority.
So any elder person I meet in Japan, especially with money, I treat with a LOT of respect. I try to be a good listener, not too difficult with my broken Japanese, and most of all, kind.
That's not to say that I haven't met some who weren't Yakuza. But I've certainly met a few who were...
In Japan, street racing is seen as friendly good "wagers" and due to the competitiveness of it all, local car shops sometimes need a friendly push from their local 'Yakuza sector' to broaden their customer base. This literally means good word of mouth to neighbouring sectors about the product, and the company pays a small amount to the Yakuza. In a lot of ways, this type of dependency on a community "Robin Hood" is very predominant even in modern Japan.
The thing is, Yakuza are not without their faults, and this of course needs to be recognized. Just like any organized 'vigilante' group, there are individuals who make poor decisions and invest in illegal activity, whether directly or indirectly. I even know one member who runs an illegal (uncensored) pornography store.
In a way, the Yakuza provide a safety net for the Japanese businessman to stay safe, secure, and comfortable, while also providing the small time business owner with the money, and business, they need to prosper.
The Yakuza also give back to the community in a lot of ways through festival, arts, community, and general maintenance contributions. If that's not enough, they're usually first at the scene of a crime due to their semi-consistent patrol of city districts, when the police have a whole city to run.
So yes, some of the car culture in Japan is very much Yakuza based. Is it necessarily a bad thing? Yes. Organized crime is still organized crime.
But something tells me that without it, it wouldn't give the semi-outlaw "JDM" scene its character. The reasoning behind the outlaw was due to all the young racers in the 90's who were part of rising Yakuza and Bosozoku ranks.
So next time you want to ask me about JDM and Yakuza, I'll send you here.