Organized crime, forceful loan sharks and debt collectors, drug deals gone wrong. These are some of the things people think of when they hear the work “yakuza.” Often depicted on the large screen as well-dressed men who want to rise up through the ranks, those who call themselves yakuza are part of Japan’s organized crime ring, involving themselves in various kinds of criminal activities that would lead them to doing heavy jail time if caught or sold out. However, even when heavily involved in the underworld of crime, many of them still paid attention to their lives outside of the ring.
Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster’s Daughter is a woman’s life story during the 70’s and 80’s of Japan how her life changed all because she was the daughter of a yakuza boss. Ever since she was just a child, Shoko Tendo had to deal with the lifestyle that followed her, from hearing nasty and malicious rumors about her family, being shunned and tormented by both students and teachers while she was at school, and enduring the countless abuse from those she loved, including her own father. In her early teenage years Tendo told the story of her rebellious and delinquent ways as a yanki, and her experiences getting high off of paint thinner and hard drugs. As she got older, her life would seem to be on the right track to improvement, but then reality would hit her in the face, literally, in the form of various kinds of abuse she endured from different men.
Tendo left nothing to the imagination, getting right to the point when she shared her experiences, both the heart-warming and the dirty and gritty. Her writing style is raw and harsh, often going into detail about events that would make one’s shoulder shudder and send an icy cold tinge through their body. Many who’ve read it found it uncomfortable to read at times because Tendo practically took her life and written it onto paper, but that’s what kept me wanting to read more. From describing how debt collectors came by and destroyed her childhood home, to the bloodied, bruised and scared damaged she suffered at the hands of her lovers, those who like reading about one’s journey from hell and back will truly enjoy Tendo’s tale.
It was the height of summer, and there were days when the heat was enough to melt the asphalt on the street. The heavies sent by the loan sharks couldn’t care less. They ripped out all the air-conditioning units in the house and piled them up in the garbage along with a bunch of other household appliances, all in full view of the neighbors, of course. Our large-sized American refrigerator was left lying on its side, its doors hanging open to reveal nothing but empty white racks. The wooden parquet floors were so damaged that they didn’t lie flat anymore, creating a kind of bizarre optical illusion that the ground was moving.
Every day without fail, the debt collectors would fling open our doors or windows and yell in at us. I knew there was no point in arguing, but one day I cracked under the pressure. After one thug had just hurled a string of abuse at my mother, I brought my fist crashing down on the kitchen table.
“Who the hell do you think you’re threatening? If you keep on talking to my parents like that, you stupid assholes, then that’s it.”
“Fucking kid!” he spat back.
So this was what is was like to have no money. I wanted to cry with frustration.
Without wanting to give away major points and details about the emotional and complex life, the moment Tendo decided to have a tattoo done by a traditional Japanese tattoo artists, that’s the moment when she took her life in her hands and began to take control, not letting her past come and haunt her anymore. Accompanying the book are photographs submitted by Tendo herself, giving us a small window on what parts of her life actually looked like, including a photo of her tattoo.
After reading Yakuza Moon, it personally gave me a deeper understanding about exactly what kind of life a yakuza would be involved in, and what kind of torment and suffering their family may have to go through.
Yakuza Moon: Memories of a Gangster’s Daughter by Shoko Tendo is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other major bookstore. For those who like visuals and images, there is also a manga/graphic novel adaptation of Tendo’s life story. Regardless of which one is purchased, it’s still well worth the read.
(Image from Amazon.com)