Surgeon with fingers Yakuza ()Surgeon with fingers Yakuza () © Copyright

Fingering the Yakuza

In Japan, a missing little finger is a hallmark of gang associations. Removing the digit – Yubitsume – is an act of self-mutilation usually performed in atonement for an error, as a grovelling apology to a boss. Yubitsume was made famous in Yakuza films, but it’s also a real life thing, that actually happens.

Errors include failing to deliver money or failure to pay off a gambling debt. The errant gang member places their hand on a white cloth, slices off their little finger with a sharp knife, and wraps it up as a present to their superior.

Traditionally, shame has played a prominent role in Japanese society, and thus a Yakuza member who attempts to rejoin mainstream society often faces pretty serious stigma. A missing finger often makes it impossible to them to escape from their gang-related past.

Expensive replacement fingers first became available in the late 1990s after advances in plastic surgery and prosthetics. The go-to guy was Bradford-based professor Alan Roberts, or “Mr Fingers” in Japan. Roberts, Britain’s leading skin surgeon at the time, created artificial fingers so lifelike that the British NHS managed to strike a lucrative deal to export them to Japan.

Surgeon with fingers for Yakuza ()

 

Seventeen years on, prosthetics have developed hugely, and Japan is doing the business themselves, with various clinics and standalone doctors producing pinkies for gangsters who are looking to leave their shady days behind them.

Yukako “Miss Fingers” Fukushima is just one of those making her unique skills available to former Yakuza members, and she’s fast becoming the lady in demand. Not only have many of her clients gone on to find work and marriages in conventional society, but her work has also won government awards.

Fukushima maintains exacting standards for her prosthetic pinkies – they’re only offered to clients who can guarantee that they’ve left crime behind.

Buyers can choose from more than 1,000 skin shades, and will pay around £1,500. Gangsters who try to walk away from the Yakuza are typically stripped of their cash, so Fukushima sometimes offers discounts, but she insists they meet her in person to collect fingers rather than sending them through the post.

“I don’t want them to forget that pinkies are just an accessory that gives them a chance [of a normal life]”

If you’re ever in Osaka, Japan, and find yourself in need of a new little finger, look up Fukushima in the phonebook.

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