The role of the yakuza in Japanese society has always been hard for Westerners to understand. Since the 1950s the mafia-like organization has been tolerated by government and the public, trusted to run gambling and prostitution rackets with a modicum of respect for social order. But as a tough economy forces the yakuza into new industries, that fragile social bargain is coming undone, the Economist reports.
As traditional revenues like gambling shrink, some yakuza have moved on to financial fraud and cybercrime—more profitable enterprises, but unpopular with the public and veteran yakuza alike. “Now," says one retired mobster, “it has lost its samurai spirit to moneymaking.” Neighborhood groups have begun to aggressively challenge the yakuza’s right to operate in the open, and a non-profit group hires out retired cops to businesses for protection—another traditional yakuza role. (Read more Yakuza stories.)