Japanese vocabulary: crime words

Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, but not without its share of problems. For the most part, these problems amount to stolen bicycles and umbrellas (I had my own bicycle stolen last fall). However, recently I played through 龍が如く3 (Ryuu ga gotoku 3 / English title: Yakuza 3) on Playstation 3–great game, by the way–so I had a chance to polish my crime vocabulary. Here’s a list of crime-related words which may or may not have been found in the game.


[chinpira] – A small time gangster or a thug.


[takari] – A shake-down, where a group of people threaten some vulnerable person into giving up their wallet/money/etc. The (infrequently used) kanji is 集り, meaning to “gather.”


[katsuage] – A shake-down. This word is basically the same as たかり, but with more of a slangy nuance. One of my friends reports this word is associated with ヤンキー types and isn’t used much any more. (kanji: 喝上げ)


[suri] – Pickpocketing. (kanji: 掏摸)
Note: a “pickpocket” (the person who engages in pickpocketing) is also called a スリ, but the kanji is different (掏児).


[toichi] – This is a loan that compounds interest at a rate of ten percent (一割 / ichiwari) every ten days (十日間 / toukakan).


[shajou arashi] – Stealing things (like navi systems or CD players) from cars.


[kuchidomeryou] – Hush money. This word has been on TV a lot with the Sumo gambling story.


[nomi koui] – Speaking of gambling (賭博/tobaku), ノミ行為 is another related word you should know. It refers to bookkeeping bookmaking (taking bets), or in the context of stock markets it can mean bucketing (taking purchase orders from people without actually making the transaction).

Note: The person who takes the bets (the bookie) is called a 胴元 (doumoto).


[akisu] – Literally: empty (空) nest (巣). This crime is when a person breaks into houses when no one is at home to steal things. (shortened from: 空巣狙い / akisu nerai)


[poi sute] – “poi” is the onomatopoeic sound of tossing something casually on the ground. Hence, this word means littering.


Hittakuri sign

"Watch out for purse snatchers"

[hittakuri] – 引っ手繰る [hittakuru] means to snatch something away from someone. So hittakuri usually refers to the crime of purse snatching. (Ladies, avoid carrying your purses on your road-side shoulder!)


[shinogi] – This word refers to any of the many ways illicit groups like yakuza make their money, typically things like bodyguarding, drug dealing, high rate loans, scams, etc. It probably comes from phrase 糊口を凌ぐ [kokou o shinogu] which means “to eke out a living”.


[ore ore sagi] – This is a kind of telephone scam that has been happening a lot in Japan in recent years. A scammer calls someone and poses as a relative (usually a son), then explains some terrible predicament they are in and how they need the target to send transfer a large sum of money to their bank account. “ore ore” means “it’s me, it’s me” and is a phrase the caller uses to gain the targets trust.

極道 vs. 堅気

This is an interesting pair of words that you would certainly want to know to be able to play 龍が如く. 極道 [gokudou] or the extreme (極) path (道) is the word that refers to people who live illegitimately as gangsters/bookies/etc. 堅気 [katagi] or sturdy (堅) spirit (気) refers to regular people who live honest lives.

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