Think Memoirs of a Geisha meets modern-day Japan with a twist. A Yakuza twist. For those of you not familiar with the term yakuza, they’re essentially the Japanese equivalent of the Italian Mafia. Or the Russian Bratva. The yakuza (also known as gokudo), are members of organized Japanese crime syndicates who are frequently represented in the media as glamorous sake-drinking mobsters with a penchant for full body tattoos. While there certainly is some truth to the stereotypes, it’s hardly the whole picture. The yakuza is the world’s largest criminal organization and have a strong reputation for upholding strict codes of conduct for being very organized in their dealings.
You can’t choose what family you’re born into. Such was the case with Shoko Tendo, who grew up the daughter of a yakuza boss. Her best-selling book Yakuza Moon is the quintessential tale of growing up amongst privilege and power, then losing it all when her father was sent to prison and her family fell into terrible debt – all when she was just the tender age of six.
By the time Shoko was 12-years-old she was already a nightclub regular, drug addict and standing member of a girl gang. Bullied by classmates and abused by her father upon his return from prison, she spent eight months in juvenile detention hall as a teen prior to her slow and painful ascent into adulthood. Trying to gain a sense of responsibility, Shoko became a bar hostess in the ‘80s during Japan’s rising bubble economy, forming many relationships with wealthy club patrons (some who wooed her with lavish gifts and others who abused her).
Life brought another hardship when Shoko’s mother died, which led to her first suicide attempt. She also endured a series of rough romantic relationships and broken marriages with several yakuza members. Despite having endured severe beatings (including one that scarred her face and required corrective surgery) along with other forms of mental and emotional abuse, Shoko is a survivor. While her tale is dark, there are moments of light throughout as she highlights both the good and bad times in her life, sharing her personal journey and physical transformation as she was tattooed from head to toe, and how her tattoo of a geisha with a dagger in her mouth inspired Shoko to see change and empowerment.
Shoko no longer lives in the shadows of the gangsters that she was formerly controlled by. Instead, she walks in the sunlight and enjoys her liberated existence as a writer, and perhaps the most important role she’s ever played in life: as a mother. Even though her yakuza ties have long been cut, Shoko will always remember where she came from: “I had a hard time as the daughter of a gangster, but looking back I wouldn’t have lived my life any other way. I am proud that my father was a yakuza. I know his is a world that has no proper place for women. But I have his DNA.”