What is the origin of yakuza?

A set of hanafuda cards

The name Yakuza meaning Japanese gangsters comes from "893" (yattsu, ku, san). This name originates from a card game called oichokabu (おいちょかぶ), which is usually played with a deck of hanafuda (花札) "flower cards". (A normal deck of cards can also be used if the Kings, Queens, and Jacks are removed and the aces are regarded as 1).

A player's score in this game is decided by adding the scores on several cards and using only the smallest digit. Because 8 + 9 + 3 = 20 = 0 points, "8-9-3" means "no points". So the original meaning of yakuza (ya for yattsu, eight, ku for "nine" and za for san, "three" was "no points" or "useless". Later, this meaning changed to "useless people" or "gambling people".[1]

See also What are Japanese number puns? for how Japanese uses words as mnemonics for numbers.


Edited from posts by Jack Oatmon, KATOH Motoshi and Koji Kawakami.


  1. Origin of Yakuza by Digital Daijisen

If you have questions, corrections, or comments, please contact Ben Bullock or use the discussion forum / Privacy policy

Book reviews Convert<br>Japanese<br>numbers Handwritten<br>kanji<br>recognition Stroke order<br>diagrams Convert<br>Japanese<br>units