The answer is Amputation of one or more fingers as a symbolic punishment.
Yubitsume is a traditional form of punishment within the Yakuza, meant to serve as a visible reminder of the transgression and a deterrent to future infractions. The severity of the punishment typically corresponds to the seriousness of the offense, with the loss of a pinky finger being the least severe and amputation of the thumb being the most extreme.
The origins of yubitsume can be traced back to the Edo period in the 17th century, a time when Japan was flourishing in arts and literature. Interestingly, the practice was not confined to the criminal world; it was also observed in the Yoshiwara red-light district of Edo (now Tokyo), where prostitutes would sever their pinky fingers to demonstrate commitment and loyalty to a favored patron.
The ritual gained prominence among the Bakuto, the itinerant gamblers who are considered the forerunners of the modern Yakuza. For these groups, yubitsume served multiple purposes: it was a deterrent against disobedience, a means to reduce a member’s combat effectiveness (thereby increasing their dependence on the gang), and a method to ensure loyalty from indebted gamblers.
By the late 20th century, yubitsume was still prevalent among the Yakuza. A 1993 government survey indicated that 45% of Yakuza members had performed yubitsume, with 15% doing it more than once. The ritual could be categorized into two types: ‘shinyubi’ (dead finger), performed as repentance for one’s own mistakes, and ‘ikiyubi’ (living finger), carried out to avoid conflict due to someone else’s actions. A notable instance of ‘ikiyubi’ occurred in the late 1960s involving a Yakuza boss, Machi Hisayuki, who offered his finger to a rival gang leader as an apology and to prevent a gang war.
The ritual itself is quite methodical. The person performing yubitsume places their left hand on a chopping block, sometimes numbing the finger with cold water or a tight cloth. A sharp knife, often a tanto (a short dagger used by samurai), is used to sever the finger. The amount of the finger removed depends on the severity of the offense, with more serious transgressions resulting in the loss of additional fingers. After the act, the severed finger is traditionally wrapped in a white silk cloth and presented to the recipient of the apology.
However, the practice of yubitsume has seen a decline since the implementation of the Anti-Yakuza Act in 1991, which aimed to weaken the Yakuza’s influence and curb violence. The effectiveness of these laws is debatable, but the popularity of yubitsume has certainly diminished. In modern times, Yakuza members, especially the younger generation, prefer monetary compensation over the traditional ritual. For those wishing to conceal their Yakuza affiliation, prosthetic fingers made of wax, costing around $2,700, have become popular. These prosthetics are crafted to look as realistic as possible, sometimes even incorporating hair from the individual’s other fingers.