Confessions of a Yakuza
Told to Junichi Saga
Kodansha International, Tokyo, New York, 1991, 253pp, $10
A life in the Japanese underworld.


t was a winter's day, several years ago, an elderly man, tall and solid-shouldered, turned up at my clinic in Tsuchiura, a town about an hour away from Tokyo by train. His face was a good deal larger than the average person's, with a forehead deeply lined with dark creases, thick purplish lips, and a muddy, yellowish tinge to the eyeballs: the kind of face that at first glance set him apart from most people.
     I got him to strip to the waist. His whole back was covered with a tattoo--a dragon-and-peony design, though the colors had faded with the years, leaving the dragon's scales pale, like stylized clouds, and its whiskers almost at vanishing point. Inside the petals of the peony stood a woman. The dragon was about to swallow up the peony, and the woman with it. Her eyes were half-closed and her palms joined in prayer, but an enigmatic smile played around her lips.
     I would have liked to photograph it if possible, but I'd never seen the man before in my life, and something about his air of absolute assurance made me hesitate, so in the end I never got around to making the suggestion.
     Examining his abdomen, I found the liver enlarged. It was obvious that there was fluid collected in the abdominal cavity. As I waited for him to get up from the examining table, I said,
     "I'll give you an introduction to a general hospital; I think you'd better get treated there."

     But he smiled slightly and said,
     "I'm seventy-three, doctor. I've done pretty much as I pleased all my life, and I don't expect to be cured at this stage."
     The inside of his mouth was black with nicotine, so that it was like peering into a small cave. His voice was low and hoarse.
     "I was a bit wild when I was young, I'm afraid, and now my body refuses to do as I say any more. So I decided to hand the gambling place over to one of my younger men and retire here to the country. You know the massage woman who lives below the embankment? I had her give me a rubdown two or three times; quite a hand at it, she is. She was the one who recommended me to come to you."


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