In the hotel bar in Niigata, I'm only slowly starting to understand the extremely subtle social interaction that is continuously happening, the micro-expressions on the faces, the gestures, the voices and intonations, the body language.

As the bar is evacuated to make room for the godfather having a coffee, everything seems to be strictly organized but at the same time seems to come naturally: strangely, I don’t need anyone to tell me what to do, where to sit, when to talk or when to shut up.

It’s like I literally feel the boundaries, the implicit expectations, and I am slowly learning when I can move forward, and when to best hold back. Sitting at the table with a bodyguard looking straight through me, I drink from my iced coffee. I’m feeling the acute sensation of walking on eggshells.



YAKUZA is a personal visual account of the life inside an inaccessible subculture: a traditional Japanese crime family that controls the streets of Kabukicho, in the heart of Tokyo, Japan.

Through 10 months of negotiations with the Shinseikai, my brother Malik and I became one of the only westerners ever to be granted this kind of access to the closed world of Japanese organized crime.

With a mix of photography, film, writing and graphic design, I try to share not only their complex relationship to Japanese society, but also to show the personal struggle of being forced to live in two different worlds at the same time; worlds that often have conflicting morals and values. It turns out not to be a simple 'black' versus 'white' relationship, but most definitely one with many, many, many shades of grey.


Preparations for YAKUZA started in 2008, and access to photograph was granted in april 2009, for two years. You can read the online account of the progress of me creating the YAKUZA story over 3 years, here:  antonkusters.com/blog/?category=yakuza


The YAKUZA project yielded the publication of the photography book "ODO YAKUZA TOKYO" (a limited and a second edition), the magazine "893 Magazine", YAKUZA posters, original prints, and exhibitions worldwide. You can buy items and see an overview of all the produced work here:  antonkusters.com/things/?category=yakuza


Thanks to the ongoing support and mentorship of dear friend David Alan Harvey and the initial publication in burnmagazine.org, I've been fortunate enough to experience that YAKUZA is gaining quite some interest in the press, media and photo festivals. In the past 6 months alone, over 50 publications, both in print and online, magazine, newspaper and television, podcast and radio, have happened. I am extremely grateful to have experienced this, and I have the feeling that it is the start of many long lasting relationships. If you are interested in publishing YAKUZA, don't hesitate: contact me at anton[at]antonkusters.com

An exhaustive list of publications & appearances, which include Leica M Magazine, BBC Radio 4, The Sunday Times, D Repubblica, GEO Epoche, El Pais, Dagens Næringsliv, Blurb, The Japan Times, Chasseur D’Images, Rencontres d’Arles, De Standaard, VRT - De Laatste Show, ELLE, etc... can be found here:  antonkusters.com/appearances/?category=yakuza

ODO YAKUZA TOKYO - second edition

A video walkthrough of the very first YAKUZA exhibit in C-mine, Genk, Belgium in 2013.
(Music by Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm)