Yubitsume (指詰め Japanese for "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, the little fingers' 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.
Details of yubitsume
To perform yubitsume, one lays down a small clean cloth and the person performing the ritual lays their 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 his hand was resting on and submits the "package" very graciously to his oyabun (boss), who also is 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 being expelled from a yakuza gang might be accompanied by the person being expelled having 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".
Yubitsume in 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 slices off 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.
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.
There is a similar scene in the movie, Oldboy.
William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer contains a passing reference to Yubitsume.
In the movie 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 says that he has seven more points to make, before he cuts off the third finger.
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 pinkie fingers of his left hand, revealing he had committed yubitsume.