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“Yakuza.” The word conjures up a host of images from noble anti-hero to vicious thugs to shrewd businessmen manipulating Japan’s financial institutions. While it may be hard to separate fact from fiction with these underworld gangs, one image–that of the sacrificed finger–is utterly real.

In fact, ex-yakuza members can have trouble fitting into normal society due to their missing digits. Fortunately for rehabilitated citizens, there are a few companies that can give them new fingers! Well, kind of…

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Usually when people think about silicon and body parts, the first image to spring to mind is that of, um, artificially endowed women. But it turns out that silicon is used in a wide range of prostheses, and a skilled technician can make nearly any body part you need from ears to feet to, you guessed it, fingers. Yukako Fushima, a technician at Osaka’s Kawamura Gishi, is far more than just “skilled.”

Having helped over 150 ex-yakuza members, Ms. Fukushima recently received an award from the Osaka police for her efforts in rehabilitating members of Japan’s underworld. Using carefully molded silicon, the technician applies between 12 to 13 colors, creating new digits that look stunningly real. But that’s not the end of her work.

▼ Ms. Fukushima in a rare moment of not making someone’s life awesome

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While Ms. Fukushima is in the business of making prostheses, she says her hope is that these ex-yakuza are able to develop relationships where they can reveal their true history. “All I can do is repair what is visible. But the ideal is that people not just hide their fingers, but develop relationships with others who will accept them when they say, ‘You know, in the past…'” It seems that her hopes are generally coming true, as she’s received numerous visitors and letters of thanks expressing gratitude for help transitioning to a normal life.

Still, there’s no denying the importance of “passing,” as illustrated by one of the sweetest comments we’ve ever heard. “People have told me, ‘I was finally able to hold hands with my child.’ Your hand is right at a child’s eye level, so your pinky finger really sticks out, you know.”

If that doesn’t make your eyes all misty, you may have a heart of stone.

▼ An example of Ms. Fukushima’s work

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Fortunately for people looking to get out of Japan’s underworld, Ms. Fukushima isn’t the only one making these hyper-realistic silicon fingers. The Tokyo company Aiwa Gishi has made prosthetic fingers for over 300 ex-yakuza members, though, like Ms. Fukushima, this is hardly the bulk of their clients. Both companies also serve people who may have lost digits in accidents or who were born without them. As one technician at Aiwa Gishi pointed out, not having a finger can get you associated with the yakuza–even if you’ve couldn’t so much as name the local boss.

▼ A technician from Aiwa Gishi and prosthetic hands

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While it is certainly admirable to see so many people working hard to get their lives back on track, the cost cannot be underestimated. According to one news report about Aiwa Gishi, a single finger can put you back around 200,000 yen (roughly US$2,000). The fingers are made by taking a mold of the finger left on the other hand and then painted and modified to look as realistic as possible. It seems that the fingers don’t merely look real–they’re also semi-functional! Customers are able to type–or even play the piano!

You might be wondering why so many of these ex-yakuza members are missing fingers. It seems that once you join, you’re almost always in for life. But while some criminal gangs won’t let you out with your life (the yakuza are not quite so strict), they will demand your finger. Called yubitsume, the finger-cutting ritual can serve as punishment, though it is demanded of members trying to leave the group. So even if you decide that a life of crime really isn’t for you after all, quitting isn’t very easy–and you’ll still be marked forever as a one-time member of Japan’s underworld.

▼ Best Halloween props ever!

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Which, as you can imagine, makes the services provided by Kawamura Gishi and Aiwa Gishi all the more important. Many companies, even pachinko parlors, won’t hire people with missing fingers since they may have yakuza ties, so the prostheses are necessary to help ex-members find jobs.

So, for those of you out there trapped in the Japanese underworld, here’s your chance to get out! We just hope you saved enough money for the new pinky…

Sources: Naver Matome, YouTube, Excite, Ameba, Sankei News, Aiwa Gishi
Images: Kitatenman Science Cafe, YouTube, Kawamura Gishi