Yubitsume (jap. 指詰め, engl. "finger shortening"), also called yubi o tobasu, describes a ritual in Japanese culture that is performed for the purpose of apology and reparation to someone who has been offended by the performer. It involves the ritual self-amputation of the little finger or a limb thereof.

Yubitsume was almost exclusively confined to yakuza circles, but is becoming less common and has increasingly been replaced by the payment of large fines.

Yubitsume Origin

It is believed that the yubitsume can be traced back to the society of the Bakuto, a kind of predecessor organization to the Yakuza. There, if a person could not pay their gambling debt, then the loss of the little finger was considered an equivalent substitute.

The reason for this can be found in Japanese swordsmanship, where the pinky finger provides a firm grip on the hilt of the sword - someone without it would have been unable to grip their sword properly and thus be at a disadvantage in combat and more reliant on the protection of a higher-up.

Yubitsume Execution

To execute Yubitsume, one's own (usually left) little finger is placed palm side down on a clean cloth. Now the finger is chopped off by the owner himself with a sharp knife, for example a Tantō.

Depending on the extent of the insult, the cut is either already made directly above the knuckle or only the foremost finger limb alone is amputated. The severed part is then wrapped in the cloth and presented with due reverence to the leader (oyabun) of the offended person.

In the case of subsequent offenses, the next finger limb is amputated; if the little finger on one hand is already completely missing, one can continue with the little finger on the other hand, or the ring finger on the left hand can have the top limb amputated.

For practical reasons, several of the uppermost phalanges are often amputated first to preserve the functionality of the hand. While the use of traditional short swords, the Tantōs, was common in the past, later hammers and chisels were more commonly used. Nowadays, this type of ritual self-mutilation is often replaced by a fine.

Yubitsume Prosthetic fingers

Sometimes a former yakuza is prescribed yubitsume upon leaving; thus, many members (whether active or no longer) wear prosthetic fingers to avoid attracting attention and rejection in their civic life.

The wax prostheses are designed to be as lifelike as possible and cost around 2,500 euros. If the missing finger limb was hairy, hair from the client's other fingers is used for the prosthesis to make it look as authentic as possible. A prosthesis maker confirms that he can complete a finger limb within five working hours after taking the impression.

Yubitsume in popular culture

Yubitsume in literature

  • In the novel Neuromancer by William Gibson, 1984.
  • In the novel Kamikaze by Canadian author Michael Slade, 2006.

Yubitsume is often portrayed in Japanese yakuza-eiga (yakuza films). as well as in the following Western films and series, among others:

  • The Yakuza by Sydney Pollack, 1974.
  • Black Rain by Ridley Scott, 1989
  • The Outsider, 2018
  • In the American TV series Miami Vice "The Rising Sun of Death" (season 4, episode 9), 1987.
  • In the final episode series The Man in the High Castle (season 4, episode 10), 2019
  • In the British TV series Duty and Shame (season 1, episodes 4 & 8), 2019
  • In games

In Sega's Yakuza series of games, the exercise of yubitsume also occurs more frequently, such as in the game Yakuza: Like a Dragon, released in 2020, or previously in Yakuza 0.

Meanwhile, there is also the dice game Yubitsume, where each miss costs a finger.

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