How I Met the Yakuza

Starbucks, the place to find tourists, hard working salary men, and the Yakuza. It’s a Kabuki-cho Starbucks I’m sitting in, for the first time. I know, what a cliché, but could my luck be any better? I’m typing away and nipping at my Café Latte, occasionally glancing out of the window, and there he is, the most conspicuous bodyguard ever, standing at the corner of the street. Or should I say pacing? He’s shaved his head with the air of trying a little too hard to look impressive, beefy statue wrapped in a black suit and finished up with a red tie he can’t stop readjusting. I’ll leave that to him, at first I think he’s a regular salaryman, smoking away his break, but why would he be so nervous? He’s looking right and left like a nodding dog, throwing agitated glances my way and I stare back through the window. One street to the left, I spot another one, much thinner with a pair of glasses on his face. The beefy one, let’s call him Hiroshi, he’s fumbling around with his cellphone, looking up every few seconds to make sure — what? Whose bodyguards are they? I realise when Hiroshi is darting towards the door on my right, holding it open, and the guy who’s been sitting behind me the whole time, an incredibly small man in a leather jacket and a pair of sunglasses, he comes to the door and they exchange a few words. Then he sits down behind me again, keeps talking to the other suit at the table. Hiroshi walks back to his space at the street corner, accidentally knocking a bicycle to the ground and I almost can’t suppress a snort. He hastily picks it up again, looking around to make sure nobody saw that, then straightens his suit. A shiny black car darts forward into the alley, the driver’s hands clad in white gloves tight around the steering wheel, more men in suits on the back seat. The two behind me get up, are out of the door again. And then I see it, as the man with the leather jacket is standing in front of the window right where I’m sitting, I see the rings on the fingers of his left hand, and what I don’t see is his pinkie. Because his pinkie is missing. Cut off. Yubitsume. I turn to the woman next to me and quietly say, with a nod outside: “These men, are they Yakuza?” She looks at me, scandalised. “Shh. You shouldn’t say.” I shrug. Keep nipping on my coffee and look at them, at the stub peeking out of the guys sleeve where a finger should be. Yubitsume is a form of penance or an apology. When you’ve made a mistake, it’s common to chop off a joint, wrap it in a cloth and offer it to your boss. When you’re a Yakuza that is. I wonder if he’s tattooed, under those layers of clothes. Arms and back, covered in ink, forming koi, dragons, cherry blossoms. He points the men from the car towards the building right next to the coffee shop, and they leave my field of vision. Promptly, the woman gets up and claims the newly free space at the table for herself. Maybe she doesn’t want to sit next to me anymore, after I’ve been so nosy. But what’s that? They’re coming back. The guy with the missing finger slips in through the door again and stops. His place has been taken. The woman looks up and she sees him. I feel a surge of pity for her, that woman who’s not even able to say “You-Know-Who” and now she’s sitting “You-Know-Where”. She apologises, profusely. “It’s okay,” the guy says, which is the moment I see a pair of headphones lying on the table where she’d been sitting just a minute ago. I turn around. “Are these yours?” She shakes her head. “Whose are they?” I ask, scanning the room. “I don’t know,” the guy says, and goes to the counter. “There’s a lost item here.” I stand up and bring it over, hand it to the staff. “Thanks,” the guy says, and smiles at me. Then he leaves the shop again. The bodyguards are gone now, but from time to time, a couple of men come strolling down the street. All in perfect business suits. All turn left. I know where the Yakuza are meeting tonight.