The Yakuza Softball Team


Danger, racketeering, gambling, prostitutes, fast cars, violence, and softball. While the life of a Yakuza mobster probably seems like a fantastical life of assassinations, booze, and money, the reality is much more brutal. But when members want to leave the gang, they don’t exactly have a lot of options for their futures. With missing fingers and tattoos, not many Japanese businesses are willing to hire ex-mobsters. Which is why Yuji Ryuzaki founded the Ryuyukai Softball Team, exclusively for ex-yakuza members to get their lives on a new and better track.

The Yakuza are members of “mafia-like criminal organizations” who control the underworld black market and other illicit dealings in Japan. When leaving the Yakuza, it is traditional to cut off the leaving members pinky finger at the joint. It is also tradition to get tattoos and it’s impossible to go through Yakuza life without collecting a criminal record. These factors combined with harsh anti-Yakuza laws (established since the 1980s) leads many with little or no option but to return to the life of crime which they had tried to leave. 

Yuji Ryuzaki, an ex-Yakuza himself, saw this and was determined to fix things for his fellow ex-members. The Ryuyukai Softball Team was founded for ex-members with few options in normal society. With the founding of the softball team, many ex-members have been able to reinvent themselves without being dragged back to the Japanese underworld. The group has brought several ex-cons together including a mob consigliere and the man who was sent to kill him. This history doesn’t stop them from playing together and the team has become normal competitors since the teams founding in 2005. They play in hot pink uniforms to portray a friendly image of the ex-gangsters and, although many referees used to be worried about calling points or fouls against the team, they have made a name for themselves not as mean criminals but as just another softball team. In March of 2022 the team lost a game to the Parent-Teacher Association of Nakanodai Elementary School although they later won against ‘The Secret Team’ (a group of drinking friends) in July, proving how their team has been accepted into the Softball League despite their criminal past.

That’s not to say everything is a utopian solution to organized crime. There is still a hierarchical organization of the team with “former bosses on top”. Ryuzaki continues to operate in what he calls a ‘gray’ area as he keeps in touch with active Yakuza members, dealing favors and operating side hustles such as importing precious jewels. Team members also openly flash the reapings of their gangster exploits, wearing sequined baseball caps and brands such as Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior.

Collectively, the team has served over 100 years in prison but this team has kept them not only out of jail but off the streets. Ryuzaki has been able to connect ex-Yakuza members with construction jobs and various hard labor occupations which wouldn’t ask too many questions. “As long as it is known that they have left the organization, a letter of insulation or a letter of expulsion is fine. We accept anyone who has the will to reform.” stated Ryuzaki, “Last year alone, we had 22 new members join our club. Now we have 53 members in total.” His goal of rehabilitation shines not only through the founding of the team, but his devotion to its members as they often will go bowling and play badminton together. 

While opinions are split over the persistence of organized crime, the rehabilitation efforts of Ryuzaki towards his fellow Yakuza has been met with positive reactions from the local communities as well as the police. Despite still working semi-closely with the active Yakuza, the group is also known to give candy to children during Halloween and distribute supplies after natural disasters. While active Yakuza fight foreign clubs such as the Chinese Dragons to maintain control of the Japanese underworld, Ryuzaki has created an environment where retirement is realistically possible for the mobsters. With their long sleeves and hot pink uniforms, The Ryuyukai Softball Team stands as a symbol of self-improvement and provides a community of people with shared experiences who can support each other through reintegration into society.