This article contains spoilers for Yakuza 6: Song of Life and Yakuza 0
The Yakuza series is unique in the way it draws much of its fictional world from famous movies, actors, comedians, adult entertainers, and even allusions to historical events (Majima causing Japan’s Bubble Economy to burst is the kind of game content that keeps giving). But with all these references to real life, one particularly stood out to me: the overt presence of Chinese immigration.
Heihaizi—they are the children who are born outside of the One Child policy in China and left in the darkness. They have no government identification and that’s relative to the amount of rights they have. Without proper paperwork and no family money to pay the fine for disregarding the policy, these kids have no access to education, public transport, medical treatment, or jobs. Because of this, they are at risk for human trafficking and turn to crime for their survival. In Yakuza 6, this is an integral part of the main story. Why is this important?
Even in 2018, there are many Western people who couldn’t imagine that there’s bitterness amongst East Asians. Factor in America’s lack of focus on foreign politics in primary education and Japan’s quietness about their socioeconomic culture in their localized games, it’s a shock to see how Chinese and Japanese people interact within the game. Even Korean characters have their prodding at the Japanese. One of the earliest introductions to tension between the Chinese and Japanese is within the first hour where protagonist Kiryu Kazuma encounters two Triad members closing off an alley. When let through, he finds a Yakuza man surrounded by Triads. Two discreetly communicate in Mandarin that they’re going to kill him too. Upon rescue, the man relays to him that they’re not only after family men, but they’re going after civilians too.
The tension between the Chinese and Japanese didn’t have to be as straightforward as a sword to the neck either; the language barrier is also used as a symbol of tension. Triad officer Ed offers in his first appearance that his superior has an answer to the ultimatum given to their group, but his “Japanese isn’t great.” Citizens on the street warn others about roaming Triads. Even in earlier games such as Yakuza 0, Kiryu couldn’t even get close to Little Asia, the Chinese’s small ghetto in Kamurocho. That the sixth installment goes a step further and integrates human trafficking is also a lot to take in during some fictional downtime.
As a newcomer to the series, I never know what to expect with Yakuza. I didn’t think it would ever brush with reality so intimately. I’ve struggled to find many other games that showcase it so thoroughly, if at all. Something as critical as the heihaizi struggle and showing this tension is a big step on Japan’s part because it’s also admitting that Japan is not always a wonderland of progression and hospitality. Although there is a Japanese-favoring rhetoric used in a lot of these interactions (it’s a Japanese game, go figure), being able to offer these kind of visuals helps players grasp a broader understanding of Japan, China, and realities of socioeconomic climate between them.