Thursday, May 13, 2010

Welcome to Weirdsville: A Cut Above the Rest

Here's a fun little piece I wrote sometime ago when I was doing an 'esoterica erotica' column. I found it in a drawer and thought, what the hell, might as well share it with you folks. I also, naturally, posted it to Frequently Felt.

For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘Yakuza’ comes from a loosing hand in an ancient card game, but it’s through their raking in of the chips in just about every illegal (and quasi-legal) business in Japan that they are most known for. Incredibly efficient, tremendously skillful, the Yakuza have ruled the Japanese underworld for centuries. Like their American counterparts (and unlike their Russian comrades) the Yakuza’s primary strength is through intimidation, and rarely direct violence – they usually only kill each other. Unlike our own underworld, the Yakuza’s most efficient weapon is the fear of embarrassment. To the status and face conscious Japanese, usually only the threat of being associated with the Yakuza is enough to make anyone bow in submission. For example, one of their favorite techniques is to simply check into a hotel. The staff and management, terrified of loosing business will do anything to get rid of them – which they usually do, by paying copious amounts of Yen. If they don’t, then other Yakuza might show up – making a big play of their flamboyant women, picking fights, and causing the horror of horrors to a Japanese business: embarrassment.

In an odd twist, the Yakuza are also in bed with the Japanese far right, using the fascists’ blaring sound trucks as weapons against businesses unwilling, or simply tardy, with their protection money.

Like many subcultures in Japan, the Yakuza have their own rigid code of ethics, their own rituals – in their case honed over the centuries to create a kind of social demon, guaranteed to frighten and intimidate the average Japanese citizen. One of their well-known rituals is the creation of a full-body tattoo – a sometimes shockingly beautiful work covering a member from head to foot, with only the face, hands and feet left untouched. There are many theories as to why the body-suit developed, but as to why it has remained is obvious: want to threaten some little shop-keeper and get him to couch up his protection Yen? Just allow him a sneak peak of your tattoo work. When faced with this colorful badge of status and Yakuza membership, there are very few in Japan who wouldn’t bow deep and pass along the bucks.

This symbol of Yakuza allegiance is so powerful that even today, with the influx of Modern Primitive practices and style, the Japanese still associate tattooing with the feared Yakuza. A nose ring is one thing – you’re hip. A tattoo? No way, you’d be a bosozoku (a biker, where the Yakuza often get their street-muscle) or a chimpira (a pissant, or lowly Yakuza stooge).

To gain status, a Yakuza solder or boss will add to his body suit – one beautiful element at a time, a definite qualifier for the fetish and S/M weirdness of this column. But when one of them screws up – well, again the Yakuza have a reason to be here. In a culture where perfection of body is usually associated with the quality of the person (and there the handicapped are undeservedly prejudiced against or shunned), the Yakuza have developed yet another way of proclaiming their ferocity, and at the same time terrifying their own members. After all, after you make a mistake and have your little finger neatly chopped off by our boss with a ceremonial sword in front of the heads of your local Yakuza chapter you’re not likely to make another one. Unless you’re a real fuck-up, in which case you just might keep loosing digits until you wise up – or, better yet, kill yourself.

But the one Yakuza practice that has definitely earned them a place in this space, is what they do when they get caught and have to serve time – which is rather common as Japan has an incredible arrest and conviction rate. Criminals in Japan, they say, expect to get caught – it’s just a matter of when.

All kinds of criminal groups have ways of passing the time in jail, or of demonstrating their time served. It’s common, for instance, for girlfriends of Latino gang members to get black tears tattooed on their cheeks for imprisoned boyfriends.

But certain Yakuza members go a rather extreme step further to show their jail-time. What makes what they do so fascinating isn’t just what they do, but that they manage to do it at all. Japanese jails aren’t like American pits – prisoners there are watched almost constantly, and their days aren’t just sitting and waiting.

Still, the tools are readily available: a fake (or better yet, real) pearl, and a sharpened chopstick, and balls – great big ones.

Boys, you might want to cross your legs. Ready? Take the male member of the fellow who wishes to demonstrate his a) loyalty, b) time served in jail, or c) the strapping size of said testicles, and carefully slice a small incision in the shaft of the penis. If the penis has to be flaccid or erect I have yet to discover – but both have their own degree of horror.

After cutting into the skin of the penis, carefully (like you needed to be reminded?) insert the pearl under the skin. Bandage so that the skin covers the pearl. If all goes well, then you should have a handsome lump under the skin of your penis. Some have been known to add pearls for each year served, while others – more major-league – have decided to simply insert one for each visit to jail. The penis afterwards is supposed to be lumpy when erect – and women who have encountered them have said that the pearls have added to the sexual experience. What is done to avoid infection isn’t known – as is exactly how painful the procedure is. I do know that several Modern Primitive acquaintances have played with the idea of repeating the practice, but have always failed to actually go through with it.

Aside from the fact that simply thinking of this unique way of marking time served makes me squirm, I do have to say that it makes a lovely piece of symmetry: here is a culture that uses the body to proudly proclaim themselves through brilliant tattoos, that punishes failure and disloyalty through body subtraction – ritual amputation, but then uses addition to the body through the insertion of pearls to show loyalty and dedication.

Though I also have to observe that both (failure or demonstrating honor) have a rather painful price.

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