/yah"koo zah'/, n., pl. yakuza.
1. any of various tightly knit Japanese criminal organizations having a ritualistic, strict code of honor.
2. such organizations collectively.
3. a member of such an organization; gangster.
[1960-65; < Japn: racketeer, gambler, good-for-nothing, useless, from the name of a game in which the worst hand is of three cards marked ya eight, ku nine ( < MChin, equiv. to Chin jiou), and -za three (comb. form of sa(n) < MChin, equiv. to Chin san)]

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Japanese gangsters.

Yakuza, who trace their roots back to rōnin (masterless samurai), often adopt samurai-like rituals and identify themselves with elaborate body tattoos. They traditionally engage in such organized-crime pursuits as extortion, blackmail, smuggling, prostitution, drugs, and gambling, and they control many restaurants, bars, trucking companies, and taxi fleets in Japanese cities. In the 1980s they also became involved in land speculation, fueling the "bubble economy" that burst by the end of the decade. From a high of more than 180,000 in the early 1960s, their membership has dropped to less than half that number. They are organized into some 2,000 gangs, most affiliated under the umbrella of one of a dozen or fewer conglomerate gangs. Yakuza gangs are rigidly hierarchical and follow strict codes of behaviour.

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▪ Japanese organized crime
      in Japan, gangster, a member of a bōryokudan (q.v.), or gang of racketeers. The word yakuza, which has come to mean “good for nothing,” is derived from a worthless hand in a Japanese card game similar to blackjack: the cards ya-ku-za (“eight-nine-three”), when added up, exceed the winning number of 19.

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Universalium. 2010.

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