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Yubitsume, also referred to as "yubi o tobasu" (meaning "finger flying"), is a ritual from Yakuza tradition that is performed when saying sorry just isn't enough. If a Yakuza were to dishonor himself or his superiors, he is required to cut off the tip of his left pinky finger and offer it up as an apology to the offended party. And if a yakuza continues to screw up, it might not stop at one pinky tip.
Yubitsume usually involves a specific ritual. The offending Yakuza spreads out a clean cloth and lays his hand palm-down on it. With a short sharp knife (often a tanto), he then cuts off his pinky tip at the first knuckle. The knuckle is then wrapped in the cloth like a nice "package" and delivered to his superior.
The practice originates in feudal Japan, where conventional sword grips rely on use of the pinky finger for control; after yubitsume, the offender becomes weaker and more dependent on his superiors. These days however it is not as widely practiced anymore, and replaced with simply giving the offended party loads of cash.
Sometimes in fiction the exact ritual isn't followed, but the idea is the same: self-mutilation for the sake of honor or an apology.
A yubitsume scene is a must for any work prominently featuring Yakuza.
Anime & Manga
- The picture above is from Bucho Shima Kousaku.
- In the Seinen manga Wolf Guy Wolfen Crest, the son of a yakuza boss punishes a mook who seriously failed him by taking away his finger in a horribly bloody Fingore scene; rather than using something sharp, he uses a metal ring he is wearing, grinding the poor mook's finger against the floor until it comes off.
- In Change 123, a Yakuza attacks one of Motoko's three badass fathers with a folding knife, but the blade folds down onto his thumb. The father calmly tells a horrified boy not to worry, because these guys cut their own fingers all the time.
- In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, instead of having to cut her finger off, Shion Sonozaki has to rip her own fingernails off, one for each of her sins, to earn repentance from her family, who are the Hinamizawa equivalent of the Yakuza. After that, her twin sister Mion was so shocked and depressed that she willingly ripped her own fingernails off.
- This is actually a standard punishment inside the Sonozaki family. Shion and Mion's mother Akane had to do the same after confronting Granny Oryuu on her love life (ironically, her future husband was also a Yakuza boss), and Oryuu herself did it too for something we don't know of.
- Referenced in Gokusen after the Family lawyer, a close friend of the Yakuza Princess heroine is shot by a member of an opposing group. Two of the Yakuza who are her friends/subordiantes comment that it wouldn't be enough for the rival group to make amends by sending her the shooter's pinkies and little toes; she'd demand his life.
- A Yakuza boss in the seinen manga Homunculus did this almost constantly. Most of his gang members were missing pinkies because he would remove them for insignificant reasons like interrupting a meeting. Turns out he has a Freudian Excuse from accidentally slicing his brother's finger off as a child. When the main character helps him realize his problem, the boss slices his own pinky off.
- A variant of this is s performed in Rurouni Kenshin by Houji as an apology to the other members of the Ten Swords for deceiving them Ina previous mission (which had actually been Shishio's strategy, but he told them it was Houji's idea). This is subverted as It's actually a Secret Test of Character by Shishio to gauge Houji's devotion to their cause. In the manga, the form is somewhat different as instead of cutting off a finger, Houji tears off all ten of his fingernails. It's played more straight in the anime.
- The titular character in Kabuki is made to do this after killing the Big Bad against her bosses' orders.
- An aversion in Green Arrow - the assassin Shado had all of her fingers intact, which Ollie's informant was a little surprised at hearing. He then warned Ollie it wasn't a good sign - Shado would have to be particularly Badass as to never need to make that sort of apology to her betters.
- In the last story-arc of the short-lived Manhunter series that stars Mark Shaw, Shaw's enemy Dumas has Shaw's friend Kazuo commit this ritual.
- Black Rain: The villain performs it near the end.
- Ichi the Killer (film) has an interesting variant. Kakihara cuts off the tip of his tongue instead of his finger. He's also doing it more because he's a masochist taken Up to Eleven than because he really wants to atone for his mistake.
- In the film Johnny Mnemonic, the yakuza killer had his thumb replaced with reel of monofilament wire. It is implied by his immediate superior that he had cut off his thumb in the past due to dishonor and had since turned this disability into an asset (though that's not the case in the short story original.)
- Sympathy for Lady Vengeance: There are no Yakuza in the film, but Geum-ja wants to get the point across that she's sorry...
- The Yakuza has two yubitsume incidents.
- Dirty Sanchez: The Movie. In Japan, a character has the end of his little finger on his right hand cut off with a cigar cutter.
- The first Battles Without Honor and Humanity movie has a yubitsume scene. Since the film is a ruthless subversion of Yakuza movies, they lose the finger. In the chicken coop.
- Predators features a Yakuza enforcer, Hanzo, who is voiceless for most of the film. At a certain point, Hanzo reveals he speaks English - and shows two missing fingers and explaining "Because I spoke too much."
- In Showdown in Little Tokyo one of the Big Bad's subordinates does this because he fails to prevent the heroes from rescuing the girl his boss had kidnapped and planned to molest. Too pissed off, his master just drives his katana through the lackey's chest afterwards.
- In one Discworld novel it's mentioned that Harry King, who is definitely not a mob boss, has a missing pinky on one of his hands.
- Also, in Reaper Man, Miss Renata Flitwick's father is identified by Death as missing the tip of his left pinky finger. Understandable, given the former had been a smuggler in life.
- In William Gibson's Neuromancer, when Case is trying to score drugs under the alias "Lupus", his ditzy companion asks if he's Yakuza:
Cath: How come you got all your fingers, then? I thought you had to chop one off every time you screwed up.
- Michael Slade's novel Kamikaze has multiple examples as a punishment for failing the kumicho (Godfather) of the local Yakuza.
- One Judge Dee story is about a rich old man who's fallen in love with a young street girl, and to prove his love, he goes as far as to have his finger cut off to join her gang. Unfortunately it goes downhill, which is why the judge is called in.
- In The Devils Arithmetic, the woman in charge of the prisoners at the concentration camp gets a finger shot off every time someone escapes or things get out of hand.
- Referenced as kind of a joke in the Layer Cake novel. Villain with Good Publicity Eddie Ryder is telling the protagonist about his business dealings with Japanese businessmen. The Villain Protagonist, knowing Eddie is a London Gangster, and that the business deal involves drugs assumes (likely correctly) the "businessmen" are Yakuza, angering Eddie. While the protagonist apologizes for the assumption, he makes a sarcastic reference in his narration about (paraphrased) "perfectly legitimate businessmen covered in tattoos and missing their pinkies".
- Referenced when Phoenix Force go to Japan and find themselves up against the Yakuza. A Japanese detective says that the sight of missing fingers is so common among gangsters that he suspects their bosses set them up to fail just to test their willingness to chop a finger off.
- In Charles de Lint's Cyberpunk novel Svaha, Yakuza attorney Fumiko Hirose does this shortly before setting out to avenge the murder of her lover.
- In Kamikaze Girls, Momoko's father is an incompetent low-ranking yakuza member who was supposed to get his finger cut off after a screw-up, but cried and begged so much that the boss let him off the hook. (Momoko has nothing but disdain for his cowardice.)
- Parodied in Janwillem van de Wetering's Amsterdam Cop novel The Japanese Corpse: the Comissaris is taken prisoner by a yakuza who tries to force him to do this. The Comissaris pretends to be clumsy and fumbles around with the knife until the yakuza leans over him to do it for him, at which point he spikes the guy's hand to the table with the knife.
Live Action TV
- Parodied in a Saturday Night Live skit. Chris Farley went on a Japanese game show and saw two other contestants get a finger chopped off after missing a question.
- The Tales from the Crypt episode "Cutting Cards": a pair of compulsive gamblers are determined to compete and find out who's the best in the world, but they wind up even in every game they play. They eventually come down to playing "Chop Poker," where every time you lose a hand of cards, you lose a finger from your hand. At the end of the episode neither one has any limbs left, and they're stuck in a hospital playing checkers with their noses.
- Referenced in one of the early episodes of the fifth season of Burn Notice. Michael is trying to intimidate a wounded Yakuza member into revealing where the group has stashed a group of abducted women being smuggled into the US and forced into prostitution. The Yakuza guy laughs in Mike's face, then holds up his hand, which is missing half of his ring finger, and explains that he did that to himself as a punishment for falling asleep on guard duty. He says that Michael can't scare him, and that there is no way he'll betray his own people. Sure enough, he proves to be a tough nut to crack.
- Sorta used in 1000 Ways to Die. A high-ranked Yakuza boss from Kyoto gets pissed with a terrible karaoke singer and has the dude's finger cut off... and then swallows it whole. As he chokes, one of his mooks attempts the Heimlich maneuver - but does it incorrectly and kills his boss,
- Referenced in Lupe Fiasco's song "Popular Demand"
"Young Yakuza, but none of my fingers cut,/So I can still sip Red Zinger with my pinkies up"
- In Hamell On Trial's song "Joe Brush", the title character is a great guitar player who cheats on his girlfriend, and as penance he cuts off his finger and mails it to her. He then moves away before she has a chance to get back to him "and now plays a mean slide guitar."
- Shadowrun. This has been mentioned in products that deal with the Yakuza's activities in the Awakened World.
- In one of the BattleTech "Blood of Kerensky" novels, the oyabun of a yakuza organization loyal to the Coordinator (ruler) of the Draconis Combine on the planet Edo orders an underling to do this after he takes the 'initiative' to blow up a bar that the invading Clan Warriors frequent, kills far more civilians than invaders, and in the end, allows a Buddhist monk to take the blame and sacrifice himself in order to prevent further lives lost in retaliation.
- Happens at least twice more in the course of the Black Dragon trilogy written by Victor Milan, which takes place largely on Draconis Combine worlds. One instance is unusual in that its detriments to the pilot of a Humongous Mecha are made clear (unable to grip the controls or work certain triggers), and that the ritual is later reversed by microsurgery.
- In The Dark Eye, priests of the god of wars and slaughter, Kor, cut off their left pinky finger as part of their initiation into priesthood. This is the ninth and final deep ritual cut during this initiation, all because the number nine is this gods holy number.
- A variant of this is done in Heavy Rain
- Reiko's father in Contemplating Reiko is missing the tips of the last two fingers on one hand. His character page explicitly links this to his membership in a Yakuza gang.
- During WWII, many fathers of Japanese soldiers that died on kamikaze runs cut off the top bits of their pinky fingers and sent them to the Emperor in protest of the war. They were intercepted and the Emperor never saw them.
- The Trip-hop artist and ex Yazuka member DJ Krush once found a yubitsume-severed pinky on his desk, belonging to his best friend. He soon left the group.
- The Osakan artist and prosthetics maker Yukako Fukushima is able to help ex-yakuza who have been subjected to this, by making fake pinkies for them so they can start rebuilding their lives away from gangs. She does, logically, ask her potential clients to prove her that they have left the "business".