The yakuza's tentacles reach into many different areas, principally corporate extortion, gambling, smuggling, loan sharking, money laundering, narcotics, real-estate, sports, entertainment, stock manipulation, tourist scams, sex tours, prostitution, slavery, pornography, and gun running.
Sex-related enterprises are the yakuza's bread and butter, and they cater to the wild side of Japan's overworked, buttoned-down "salary men." The yakuza smuggle truckloads of pornographic films and magazines into Japan from Europe and America. They control prostitution rings throughout the country, commonly holding young women from other Asian countries captive as indentured servants and forcing them to work as "comfort workers." The Japanese euphemistically refer to the act of prostitution as "selling spring," and Japanese johns have a taste for very young women, as demonstrated by the national obsession with young women in school-girl outfits complete with short pleated skirts and knee socks. The yakuza buy unwanted female children from China--where the law restricts couples to only one child and the cultural preference is for boys--for as little as $5,000 and put them to work in the mizu shobai (literally the "water business"), the yakuza's network of bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
China is not the yakuza's only source of young women. Many of the yakuza's prostitutes come from the Philippines, where girls from impoverished villages are tricked into going overseas with promises of respectable jobs at good wages. Once they arrive in Japan they are put to work as strippers and hookers by their yakuza masters. Frequently these girls succumb to the demands of their yakuza pimps because they can earn much more money than they ever could in the Philippines. The running joke among the Philippino streetwalkers in Japan's big cities is that whenever they send money home to their unknowing families, they write glowing letters, describing in detail their jobs as "receptionists."
Sex tours are also popular in East Asia, and the yakuza have their hands in that trade as well, organizing vacation tours to cities like Bangkok, Manila, Seoul and Taipei, where sex hotels offer prostitutes to suit any fantasy.
Yakuza also satisfy the desire of would-be gun owners in Japan, where guns of all kinds are prohibited. Yakuza members themselves are the prime market for firearms, and they favor the sleekest automatic handguns from Europe and America, often trading drugs for weapons. The yakuza specialize in the production and sales of methamphetamine (given the frenetic pace and competitive atmosphere of Japanese society, speed is the national drug of choice) and the yakuza frequently use it to barter with Western arms suppliers.
The yakuza also make millions of dollars a year through corporate extortion, and the sokaiya (shareholders' meeting men) are the masters of this enterprise. Sokaiya will buy a small number of shares in a company so that they can attend shareholders' meetings. In preparation for the meeting, the sokaiya gather damaging information about the company and its officers; secret mistresses, tax evasion, unsafe factory conditions, and pollution are all fodder for the sokaiya. They will then contact the company's management and threaten to disclose whatever embarrassing information they have at the shareholders' meeting unless they are "compensated." If management does not give in to their demands, the sokaiya go to the shareholders' meeting and raise hell, shouting down anyone who dares to speak, making a boisterous display of their presence, and shouting out their damaging revelations. In Japan, where people fear embarrassment and shame much more than physical threats, executives usually give the sokaiya whatever they want.
But Japan is also a society where directness is considered rude, and even the criminals make their threats known in a circuitous, outwardly polite manner. Threats come in many disguises. Some sokaiya pose as business magazine publishers who encourage their targets to take out ads or buy subscriptions in exchange for favorable reporting about the company. Since these sokaiya will follow through on their threats and print a magazine or newsletter filled with condemning articles, company executives usually pay up rather than face the bad press.
Another sokaiya scam is to set up booster clubs that solicit donations for non-existent causes. They also throw gala events to which the invited businessmen are expected to bring cash gifts for their hosts. Such events have been known to net more than $100,000 in a single night. The sokaiya have also organized beauty pageants for the purpose of shaking down corporate "sponsors," and sokaiya golf tournaments come with pricey entrance fees for their corporate players. These corporate racketeers have also been known to sell blocks of tickets to theater events at grossly inflated prices. Anything to extort money out of legitimate companies in the most polite and indirect way possible.