Monday, January 21, 2008

Sakazuki & Yakuza

I have mentioned before how Saké is part of many different ceremonies and rituals in Japan. Yet did you imagine that Saké is also part of a ritual involving alleged organized crime?

A "sakazuki" is a small to medium-sized cup for drinking Saké and it used only for drinking Saké. As I discussed previously, it is traditional to share Saké at weddings performed in accordance with Shintoism. This custom is generally known as "sakazuki-goto." Yet Sakazuki-goto is not restricted to weddings. It is sometimes used by others to solidify their friendships or bonds. And one such group that uses this ritual is the Yakuza.

The Yakuza, often labeled the "Japanese Mafia," are members of traditional organized crime groups. The origin of the Yakuza extends back hundreds of years and their exact origin is shrouded in mystery and dispute. The Yakuza adopted a traditional hierarchy of "oyabun-kobun." The kobun (literally translated as "foster child") owes their allegiance to the oyabun (literally translated as "foster parent").

This relationship was formalized by a sakazuki-goto, sharing of Saké from a single cup. The kobun would keep the sakazaki as a sign of their loyalty to the oyabun. Those who perform sakazuki-goto with the oyabun are considered to be part of the immediate family and thus ranked in terms of elder or younger brothers. The kobun may perform also the sakazuki-goto with their own underlings. This creates small, affiliated gangs, which have a lower overall ranking in the larger organization. Many Japanese Yakuza movies depict sakazuki-goto scenes.

A sakazuki-goto is not limited to performance within a particular Yakuza organization. It can even be conducted to ally different Yakuza groups.

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