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Inside the Yakuza

Photographer Anton Kusters was given an unprecedented level of access to one of Tokyo's infamous Yakuza families and the results are incredible. While simply hearing the word "Yakuza" conjures images of men with full tattoo bodysuits and missing pinkies in most people's minds, not to mention a healthy level of fear/respect, the lay person really knows very little about the world in which these men live.

Over the course of three years—nine months of which was spent trying to convince the crime family to allow him to come into their world—Kusters' photos pull back the curtain and capture the family members (this is the term that Kusters always uses) in their most intimate moments. The most striking photographs, from out point of view, are the ones documenting the tattoos worn by the family members. One shot (the second one in the gallery below) shows one of the men in the process of getting tattooed via the traditional tebori method. Regardless of how tough this man may be in all other aspects of his life, his face is strained in the same way that anyone would be while going through the excruciating pain that is having their ribs tattooed.

After a round of golf Kusters was able to accompany the members to a communal bath house, or osen. For years tattoos have been banned from the traditional bath houses, more than likely as a way to prevent members of the Yakuza from attending, but many times families are able to rent the houses out for themselves. The result is a photo (photo #5 in the gallery below) that would still be considered immensely taboo within Japanese culture.

Kusters has documented his time with the Yakuza in a book entitled "ODO YAKUZA TOKYO," as well as on his blog. The stories he has to tell, and the pictures he has to show, are unlike any we have ever seen. Learn more about the project here. Enjoy a sampling of the photos in the gallery below.