Yubitsume (指詰め?, "finger shortening") is a Japanese ritual to atone for offenses to another, a way to be punished or to show sincere apology to another, by means of amputating portions of one's own little finger. It is almost exclusively performed by the Yakuza, the prominent Japanese criminal organization.
The act of committing yubitsume is also referred to as yubi o tobasu (指を飛ばす?), meaning "finger flying" ("he made his finger fly").
The ritual is thought to have originated with the bakuto, itinerant gamblers who were predecessors of the modern Yakuza. If a person was unable to pay off a gambling debt, yubitsume was sometimes considered as an alternate form of repayment.
In Japanese swordsmanship or Kendo, the little finger's grip is the tightest on the hilt. A little finger-amputee was therefore unable to grip his sword properly, weakening him in battle and making him more dependent on the protection of his boss.
To perform yubitsume, one lays down a small clean cloth and lays the hand onto the cloth facing down. Using an extremely sharp knife or tantō, the person cuts off the portion of his left little finger above the top knuckle on the finger or the tip of the finger. He then wraps the severed portion in the cloth and submits the "package" very graciously to his oyabun (boss), who is also referred to as a kumicho (Godfather).
If more offenses are committed, then the person moves on to the next joint of the finger to perform yubitsume. More infractions could mean removing portions of the right little finger when no more joints of the left finger remain. In some cases a person expelled from a yakuza gang might be required to perform the yubitsume ritual.
The finger of the yakuza directly responsible for an offense is called an iki yubi, "living finger", while the finger of the yakuza that is directly in charge of him is called a shinu yubi, "dead finger".
In popular culture
A yubitsume scene is a staple of Japanese Yakuza-eiga, or Yakuza movies.
Yubitsume was portrayed in a more humorous (if perhaps less accurate) light in a skit on the TV show Saturday Night Live. The skit featured an American character, played by Chris Farley, who unwittingly went on a game show while on vacation in Japan. Not speaking Japanese, the protagonist was horrified to see the other two contestants that incorrectly answered a question have a finger chopped off as a penalty.
The Yubitsume ritual is also seen in the movie Showdown in Little Tokyo, starring Dolph Lundgren, and Brandon Lee, and the book Shimotsuma Monogatari (Kamikaze Girls in the United States), where the main character's father took a portion of the money for his family. He then proclaims, "Not that one, that's my piano playing finger!"
In the 2001 movie Ichi the Killer, the character Kakihara cuts off the tip of his tongue with a sword after a Yakuza boss tells him a finger alone will not be enough to pay back for his crimes of brutally torturing an innocent member of his group. There is a similar scene in the Korean movie, Oldboy.
Lady Vengeance, a 2005 Korean film, features a scene where the female protagonist cuts off her pinkie finger in front of the parents of a young girl she is complicit in kidnapping in an attempt to seek forgiveness. She proclaims that she has committed an unforgivable sin and will continue cutting off her fingers until they forgive her. The parents are aghast and quickly rush her to the hospital after she separates her pinkie finger on their dining room table.
In the oneshot Horror manga Mr. Sarubato's Rowdy Classroom by Waita Uziga, the students are forced by their mentally unstable sensei Mr. Sarubato to have one of their limbs severed by him as punishment for inappropriate behavior in class. As a result, many of the students in his class have missing limbs or other body parts depending upon the seriousness of the offense.
In the 2006 movie The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, a Yakuza member starting the final race is shown to be missing four fingers (the ring and little finger on each hand).
William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer contains a passing reference to Yubitsume.
In the 1990 movie Darkman, the underworld boss Robert G. Durant uses a cigar cutter to remove the fingers of his rivals. In the opening scene, each time he made a point to a rival mobster, he cut off a finger. When he got to point three, he said that he had seven more points to make, before cutting off the third finger.
In an episode of Archer, "Drift Problem," Pam refers to members of the Yakuza as "those pinky-less bastards."
In the 2010 film Predators, one of the characters is Hanzo, a Yakuza assassin who does not speak much throughout the film, and when asked why, he responds, "Because I talk too much" and showed that he is missing the ring and pinky fingers of his left hand, revealing he had committed yubitsume.
In the Battletech novel Lethal Heritage, the Yakuza status of Shin Yodama is called into question because "he still has all his fingers". Another character points out this simply means he is very good at his job.
In Season 5, Episode 2 ("Bloodlines") of the TV show Burn Notice, a character surmises that a Japanese man is a member of the Yakuza due to a missing finger. It is later revealed that he is indeed a member and lost a finger due to falling asleep on guard duty.
In Season 8, Episode 13 ("Die By the Sword") of the TV show CSI: Miami the act of yubitsume is briefly depicted by the member of a Japanese gang with several members having missing fingers.
- Kaplan, D.; Dubro, A: "Yakuza", page 14. University of California Press, 2003