French Photographer Chloé Jafé Uncovers the Hidden Lives of Yakuza's Women


Photographer Chloé Jafé’s latest series uncovers the underground subculture of Yakuza women. Although the notorious Japanese criminal organization is embedded in the local culture, it is very hard to gain access to this world. Hidden behind the country’s everyday business dealings, the Yakuza is defined as a man, so the women in this community have ambiguous roles which orbit their male counterparts.  To be able to reach and document these women, Jafé had to gain approval from the male Yakuza bosses first. The project highlights the traditional “irezumi” a Japanese tattoo that covers part or most of the body, and is done by hand with a wooden handle and a needle. This technique is an extremely painful process that can take years to complete, and is a test of the person’s tolerance.


Because the tattoos are so intertwined with gang culture in Japan, the stigma surronding tattoos is very strong, with institutions banning customers that have any ink. Although these unique designs are forcibly hidden from society, the subjects of Jafé’s series were proud to share their tattooed bodies. Beyond the portraits of these women are the structures that keep them confined to their Yakuza counterparts. Financially and emotionally dependent, these women’s experiences and stories are laid out bare in this immersive series. The entire series will be released as a book in November by Japanese publisher Akio Nagasawa titled “I Give You My Life.”

Words: Paola de Oliveira
Photography: Chloé Jafé