How Tatsuya meets his Yakuza
big brother. I hope you enjoy the glance into my main character's past.
1.8K words, average reading time ~ 10 min (at 200 wpm)
PG. Death of main character's father, abandonment.
yakuza, tradition, dark backstory, fate, side stories, world ember, pre-Rise
10 Years Ago
From America, Mom calls sobbing that the doctors won’t let her attend Dad’s funeral. She asks how I'm holding up. I lie not wanting to distress her. Since she doesn’t have energy to talk long, she insists her brother will come with a plane ticket for me.
She’s trusting the family that wouldn’t acknowledge Dad?
And her health is worse than I’d been told?
At my father’s wake, I sit alone. His co-workers and the neighbors stop by. When a few dare to ask if someone will watch over me, my mute nod gives the reassurance they seek.
Two Days Later
The phone company disconnects service. Looking through the mail, I figure it must have been the final bill Dad allowed to slip. There aren’t notices from the new hospital yet, so I have no idea where Mom was transferred to.
My outlook is bleak. Because I’d dropped out of school the year before, the teachers and social workers wrote me off.
Weeks pass with no word from this supposed uncle. The landlord offers to take me to an orphanage. But I’m not an orphan! At least, I hope I’m not.
Unable to find a job at fourteen, because of child labor laws, puts me between a rock and a hard place. No amount of begging works. Even the host clubs turn me away. “Come back when you’re older. With your looks, you’ll rule the nightlife.”
Out of desperation, I lift the wallet from a salaryman who’s passed out on the sidewalk, using my ill gotten gain to buy food. The stockpile doesn’t last long, despite stretching it out.
Bill collectors pound on the door. First, it’s the utility companies. Then threatening voices come. They turn the electricity off after that. At least the water works and I have enough blankets to keep warm at night.
A date etched in my mind. People avoid the number four because it sounds like the word for death. Normally I don’t put heed to superstitions. But today sucks so badly, I blame being out of food on the doubled unlucky digit.
The class in middle school that warned us about the Japanese mafia gives me one last option.
Clutching an umbrella in the pouring rain, I hoof it over to the combini to snag one of the yakuza fan magazines. The mob groups aren't out in public in many neighborhoods. But they're well known enough they have comics and subscriptions published by big companies here in Tokyo. Steeling my courage to answer the ad on the back page, I use my remaining cash to buy a ticket to the entertainment district, Kabukicho.
The address leads me to a well kept white building in a wide alley off the main drag. An insignia that reminds me of a crane hangs beside what must be the kanji for the clan name. I only recognize one of the symbols, but can sound out the romanized pronunciation underneath—Hiragi Kaikan
Jeez, it’s true they label their buildings, operating a published headquarters just like a respectable company.
The realization doesn’t stop my hand from shaking. Pressing the buzzer, I stare into the security camera through the rain pelting my clear umbrella.
Ferret-like narrowed eyes meet mine as they peek through a crack. “State your business.”
Closing my umbrella I give a deep bow, putting my hands together in a prayerful position. “Let me join the Hiragi Clan.”
“Forget it, boy. Go home.” The door slams.
So I ring the bell again. As the metal door opens, I drop to the most debasing and vulnerable of positions, the dogeza. On my knees, I put my head to the wet ground. “Please.”
The man growls, but the opening is wider this time. “We don’t recruit kids. I said, go home.”
“There’s nowhere else to go.” My voice cracks, betraying my desperation.
“You won’t hack it. Think of your parents.”
“My dad’s dead, Mom’s in another country. I haven’t had a decent meal in weeks.”
“You can’t return to normal life once you join.”
“I already stole to survive, Sir.”
He sighs. “What about school? You won’t be able to graduate.”
“Haven’t been back in a year.” Rough cement digs into my knees and palms as my soaked clothing clings to my skin. Shivering dislodges drops from my long hair.
From inside another man’s voice calls. “Otsuka-kun why are you keeping our guest outside in the rain?”
Daring to look up, I spot shined shoes and a tailored suit.
The guard’s words and sweeping gesture contradict his predatory gaze. “Please, come in.” With a tightened mouth, his triangular face holds no friendliness. The confident stance, close cropped hair, crisp white shirt, and complicated necktie knot indicate perfection and control. Two aspects I lack.
Am I fresh meat?
To hide my gulp, I recover my umbrella.
Fighting nausea, I force my feet to step into an office with a tiled floor and dark wood accents, give a bow of gratitude and succumb to a chill deeper than the spring rain.
A stocky man in a three-piece suit tilts his head. “Who is this?”
Hesitation earns me a flick on the ear from ferret eyes. “Answer.”
“U…Umeji Tatsuya, Sir. I wish to join.” My respectful bend is the deepest I’ve ever given.
“His bow is sloppy. What do you think Otsuka-kun?”
“No one else will want the brat.” Ferret eye’s emotionless words send another shudder down my spine.
That night Otsuka sees to my needs. “If I’m gonna sponsor you, you gotta look the part.”
Dragging me along, he has me measured for a suit and grabs dinner, before dropping me off at the gang office to meet the other initiates.
“Tomorrow, you’ll wish you’d never met me.”
I already do, because I owe him more than can be repaid.
To my surprise, the tailor has the suit ready in the morning. Otsuka swings by so we can pick it up. As I get in the Lexus sedan, his knuckles turn white on the wheel and his voice grows thick. “Boy, this is your last chance. I’ll drop you anywhere in the Tokyo area, no questions asked. You don’t want this life.”
My head droops. “If I had anywhere else to go…”
I half expect him to drive like a maniac, considering the emotion he showed. Pulling onto the street, he returns to cold, clinical control. “From here on out, show no hesitation or vulnerability. You have to become the best of the best fast, so you don’t slow me down. Embarrassment won’t be tolerated. Understand?”
I've spent the past months being trained to defend myself and learning the ways of the clan. Today is the big day.
Inside the boss’s house, a mixture of traditional woods and furniture exude an upscale feel. Touches of elegance greet the eye, from the orchids in bloom on the tokonoma to the suits of samurai armor on display. Upgrading the old structure to have modern amenities, such as the heated floors warming my slippered feet, must have cost a fortune.
Members usher me and the five other initiates to a large spartan room, showing off the luxury of open space. Being the best dressed one for the occasion makes my stomach tighten, since it signifies Otsuka's expectations of me. At the far end sits an ornate built-in altar covered in offerings of salt, fish, rice, and sake. Kneeling formally on the tatami, we wait.
When the oyabun strides in with the presence of an emperor surveying his kingdom, everyone bows deep until he’s seated on a silk cushion. We initiates keep our eyes averted while the boss speaks with quiet command. “Today when you drink sake, you swear to uphold our code of honor as descendants of the samurai. You promise never to reveal our secrets, violate the women or children of your brothers, be personally involved with narcotics, withhold any money from your superiors, or go to the police unless you turn yourself in to protect those above you.
“You commit to put this new family ahead of anyone or anything else, including your wives, children, even your own lives. While the Hiragi Clan does not ask you to cut ties with your blood kin, it may be in your best interest. Your duty is to live with this relationship for the remainder of your life.*”
The boss calls initiates’ names one by one, sharing a cup of sake with them. They repeat the ritual with their sponsor, who becomes their kyoudai
Fighting the twitching in my fingers, I try to ignore my numbing legs and the oppressive unease.
Is calling me last a test?
Tingling, stiff legs cause me to plop down ungracefully in front of the boss.
Otsuka kneels to the side. As he pours sake into the miniature cup, I can feel his glare.
Wrinkles carve the hands of the boss about to own my future. With purpose and grace, those fingers lift the drink. Less than half remains when they turn the vessel toward me. Stilling my tremors, I put the rim to my lips, gulping it down. His fragile face doesn’t look like he should command life and death, until I meet those callous eyes. My throat burns not from the alcohol, but his gaze.
The vessel accidentally clinks on the low table bringing a flick to the ear from the man to my side.
“Otsuka-kun, can you make something of this boy?” the boss asks. He’s not spoken about any of the others. Crap.
“Not if he doesn’t have more control, Oya-san.”
That brings a chuckle from the old man. “You were nervous too.”
Not asked to speak, I tamp down the words bubbling up inside to reassure them I’ll do my best. I’ll have to demonstrate it.
Another gentleman settles beside us, pouring for my sponsor who accepts the drink and places it back on the table with only a swig left.
Show no fear.
Knocking it back, the liquid tastes bitter this time.
Silently sliding the cup into place links my fate with that of the Hiragi Clan and my new kyoudai.