Yakuza in Japanese means gangster. A twenty thousand strong clan, the Yakuza are transnational organized crime syndicates.
Photographer Chloe Jafe is a photographer who took up a project in 2013 to photograph the women of the Japanese Yakuza clan. In Japanese society, no woman can become a Yakuza on her own. She, however, becomes an undeniable part of the clan once she marries a Yakuza member.
Intending to know more about the Yakuza women, in particular, Jafe had to find a way to break into the circle and be accepted as a known face in the clan. The only way she could do that was to become an escort to the Yakuza men.
We know that the Japanese are cultured and disciplined. They are particular about how they raise their kids and mutual respect is a big part of their lives. This was evident from what Jafe was expected to do as an escort. There was nothing sexual about the job at all. All that was needed was for her to dress up, serve sake to the men and listen to them talk. It showcases how lonely a Yakuza life can get.
However, for Jafe the end was not the Yakuza men. She wanted to photograph the Yakuza women and understand their role in the whole scheme of things. The first hurdle that needed to be overcome was to earn the trust of the Yakuza men. The household of a Yakuza ran like a typical Japanese family. The men took the decisions and the women followed. So for the women to even agree to be photographed had to be the men’s call.
The role of a Yakuza woman is that of a consultant, a chef and a finance controller. Of course, the role that each woman plays in the clan is directly proportionate to her husband’s hierarchy. Jafe was able to photograph the Yakuza women once she gained the trust of their husbands.
One of the most striking features of these photographs is the tattoos that adorn the bodies of the women. More than aesthetic pieces of art on the body, the tattoos for the Yakuzas are protection.
One of the most important pictures that Jafe captured was an intensely emotional moment in-between a couple. They were all talking and in an instant, the man got up and walked towards his wife and hugged her, tears in eyes.
Yakuza’s life is not easy but neither is a life outside the circle once one had been a Yakuza member.