Daughter of Yasuhiro Tendo struggles to get away from the ‘mob’ lifestyle

Tendo has a personal style that’s impossible to pin down. She doesn’t stand out  awkwardly, but she doesn’t come close to the impeccable sartorial coordination  of the Tokyoites around us. She wears a diamond-encrusted Hermès watch but  carries a big, battered canvas satchel. Her hair is sharply cut, and her makeup  is expertly applied, yet she hides it all under a baseball cap. “My appearance  is like me: mixed up,” she says. “I don’t want to be part of the yakuza world  anymore, but I’m not ready to join mainstream society. I still find it hard to  trust people on either side.”

Tendo was raised in a clandestine realm of  violence and ill-begotten wealth. Descended from medieval gamblers and street  peddlers, the yakuza came into full force during the U.S. occupation in postwar  Japan, when demand for black-market goods escalated. For years they ran rackets  in corporate extortion, real estate, and loan-sharking. In recent times,  authorities have been cracking down, forcing the gangs to find sources of  overseas income, such as sex-trafficking and weapons.

Given that Japan  is generally one of the world’s most law-abiding nations, the yakuza are  especially sinister figures in the national psyche. For Tendo, laying bare her  “sordid past” is her way of trying to reconcile her conflicting feelings about  who she is. “I hate yakuza. I’ve seen all the ugly things they do,” she says.  “But I loved my dad, whatever his crimes. He raised me, and I have his yakuza  blood.”

Lowering her voice so a man with a glistening comb-over can’t  hear, Tendo tells me how her early life was dominated by her volatile father. He  was the head of a gang allied with the largest yakuza syndicate, the  Yamaguchi-gumi. She remembers discovering what a “big boss” he was: When she was  6, she opened the door to find a gangster dripping blood. He was clutching a box  for her dad, which contained the finger he’d just hacked off his own hand. “The  man was my dad’s underling who’d done something wrong,” she says. “Dad started  hitting him. I couldn’t believe my father was still angry with him, even though  he’d cut off his finger to say sorry.” Tendo hid behind her mom, but she’d seen  enough to know that her dad, Yasuhiro Tendo, wielded a terrifying power.