Yakuza | “From a very young age I had a passion for violence”: the story of Nishimura Mako, the only woman who managed to be a member of the Japanese mafia

Yakuza | “From a very young age I had a passion for violence”: the story of Nishimura Mako, the only woman who managed to be a member of the Japanese mafia
Yakuza | “From a very young age I had a passion for violence”: the story of Nishimura Mako, the only woman who managed to be a member of the Japanese mafia

Image source, Nishimura Mako


Nishimura Mako, in his early days in the yakuza, shortly after amputating his own little finger.

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Only men can belong to the yakuza.

This is one of the unbreakable principles that govern the Japanese mafia, made up of more than twenty criminal syndicates throughout the Asian country.

In its more than three centuries of history, there are only records of one woman who has completed the ritual of belonging to the yakuza.

Is about Nishimura Makowho today is 57 years old and who showed unusual rebellion from a very young age which led her to join motorcycle gangs known as bōsozoku.

Her encounter with a young member of the yakuza marked a turning point in her life: fascinated by the world of organized crime, she soon became involved in the illicit activities of this mafia.

Nishimura’s fragile appearance contrasted with his penchant for violence: “I was very good at fighting, I never lost to a man.“, he once confessed to Martina Baradela researcher at Oxford University who earned his trust after years of studying the yakuza from the inside.

His criminal history – which included everything from beating rivals to drug trafficking or trafficking women for prostitution – and his ruthless character opened doors that until then had been closed to women.

The decline of the yakuza in recent decades and personal circumstances (she is a mother of two children) led Nishimura to leave the underworld and start a normal life.

Today she runs a charity organization dedicated to helping other former members who, like her, wish to reintegrate into society.

Fascinated by the story of Nishimura and the yakuza in general, Martina Baradel (Trieste, Italy, 1988) He has built a network of contacts with organized crime figures in Japan.

Image source, Martina Baradel


The Italian researcher Martina Baradel, from the University of Oxford.

This has allowed him Form a close friendship with Nishimura Makowhich he visits frequently.

BBC Mundo interviewed the Italian researcher hours after she had a meeting with the former member of the yakuza in Gifu, 270 kilometers west of Tokyo.

How do we know that Mako is the only woman who has belonged to the yakuza?

If there had been another, it would be known. The police have the records of the yakuza members. Many women have helped or supported the mafia informally, but there is no one else like her.

It was because of her boss, who made the unprecedented decision to make her a member of the group. And it is proven that she is a full member, since she has photos of her marriage ceremony. sakazukiwhich symbolizes loyalty and commitment to the Japanese mafia.


Nishimura Mako (bottom left) with his boss and colleagues in the yakuza in the 1980s.

How did you get to her?

My fascination with the yakuza began in my undergrad, when I met members of the yakuza by chance on a beach in Japan. That initial meeting sparked a deep interest in me that motivated me to dedicate my academic career to the study of this institution.

The group that studies the yakuza is quite small, so I got to know everyone, from journalists to researchers, and my senpai (mentor) told me he was going to meet Nishimura, so he introduced us.

And what was that first meeting like?

There was a charity event for the reintegration and rehabilitation of former prisoners and she was there with the people in her group. We went to dinner and then to karaoke. She doesn’t drink, she doesn’t smoke and the first time she was cautious.

Then I went to see her again to talk some more, and later I continued to get to know her and we developed a relationship as our conversations deepened.

What led Mako to join the yakuza?

She confessed to me that from a very young age she had a passion for violence and really enjoyed fights. She began hanging out with motorcycle gangs and having violent encounters with other people, something that fascinated her.

And then he realized that he had unusual strength for his physical build, since he is just over one and a half meters tall, and weighs 45 kg.

Why was the little finger amputated?

He did it when he was quite young, at the beginning of his career, when he was about 20 years old. She took responsibility for a problem that occurred. She missed drugs or something. And then she also thought that she would look good in combination with the tattoos, since they are the two most visible symbols of the yakuza aesthetic.

Furthermore, she assures that she does not feel pain and did not mind amputating the little finger of her colleagues who did not want to do it themselves. Her skill in the ritual yubitsumewhich involves the amputation of the final phalanx of the little finger, earned her the nickname “master of finger cutting.”

How did you interact in Japanese society as part of the yakuza?

She first left the yakuza when she became pregnant. She had a caretaker’s degree and wanted to find a normal job, but Japanese society rejected her, mainly because of her tattoos, which suggest her membership in the mafia.

She always tried to hide them by wearing long sleeves, but eventually her co-workers found out and she was fired from two jobs.

And this made her return to the mafia?

Indeed. She was very upset, because she was trying to be a mother, have a good job and leave that life behind, but doors were closed to her for being different. She thought it was very unfair, so she became even more radical.

That’s when he got the tattoos all the way down to his fingertips and resigned himself to his fate. Before returning she was married for a time to a yakuza member who became a boss, so she also played the role of the boss’s wife.

Image source, Nishimura Mako


After leaving the mafia, Nishimura and other former members of the yakuza dedicate themselves to helping ex-criminals reintegrate.

When he grew up he abandoned her permanently. Is it easy to leave the yakuza?

If your boss agrees, you may have to pay something or sometimes even nothing if the boss is okay with you leaving. There are a variety of circumstances, but most of the time you can walk away without too much trouble.

It’s surprising, considering it’s a mafia.

Yes, it’s a mafia, but you don’t really have many secrets to tell. The structure is known and the police already know who your boss is, they know your address and they can go and meet whoever they want.

It is not like, for example, in Sicily, where gangsters could be hidden for up to 30 years.

Furthermore, those who leave do not betray the rest, as it is dishonorable behavior for the yakuza.

How do the yakuza and organized crime cartels compare in Italy, Latin America, and other countries?

What they have in common is that they offer private protection and have established control over territory, allowing them to govern both illegal and legal markets.

The yakuza has a governance dimension that it can maintain over time, similar to the mafia in Italy and Russia, offering dispute resolution services and controlling markets to receive protection money.

Image source, Getty Images


Originating in the 17th century, the yakuza experienced its splendor in the second half of the 20th century, but new times and police persecution have decimated this institution, whose more than 200,000 members at the beginning of the 1960s have been reduced to the point of being reduced. 10,000 today.

Considering that Nishimura is an exception, what is typically the role of women in the yakuza?

This is usually through a relationship or marriage. Although they are not officially members, they do usually do some type of work. For example, if you are the wife of a boss you cannot limit yourself to living an ostentatious life, and you are expected to mediate between the boss and younger members.

And, of course, there is also exploitation, because the yakuza operates in nightlife, prostitution, and the sex and porn industries. She (Nishimura Mako) did that too: she bought, sold and exploited women.

What have you learned from members of the yakuza?

I see that they may have made some mistakes, of course, because they are doing criminal activities, but I don’t see them as bad people.

They were simply looking for something they didn’t have. Many of them come from a background without many opportunities. In Japan, if you don’t have an education or a family to support you, it is very difficult to get a job and get ahead. So, I understand that they would try to find a sense of community and purpose in something that is not legal.

And, for most, it is better to be part of the yakuza than an informal gang, because the yakuza has some control over its members and also some kind of ideological agenda.

You’ve been researching the yakuza for nine years, mixing with them. Doesn’t it involve some risks?

Not too many. The criminal syndicates that make up the yakuza are not actually illegal, unlike in Italy with the mafia. In Japan it is not illegal to be part of a yakuza group, that is why they have offices and are distinguished in society.

Since it is not invisible or illegal, it is not as risky. In addition, we are usually introduced to a third person, which implies mutual responsibility to behave correctly. And since I am a foreigner and a woman, that works in my favor, since it would be very bad for them if something happened to me.

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