A man in his 30s, a former yakuza, dropped by to see Yukako Fukushima, 41, a prosthetics maker, to tell her some good news.
“I got a job thanks to you,” said the man, who was wearing a pinkie Fukushima had made for him.
Fukushima helps people who have left the underworld as an employee of Kawamura Gishi Co., based in Kita Ward, Osaka.
After an antigang law took effect in 1992, the number of people who left the criminal life behind and became legitimate members of society shot up.
At the time, Fukushima was working for another company making prosthetics for people who had lost body parts to illness or accident. It was around this time she noticed that stern-looking men, who turned out to be yakuza, were gradually increasing among her clients.
When they leave the mob they are often stripped of cash by their cohorts, and finding employment can be hard if they lack a pinkie — a sign that they were once active in the underworld.
On condition that they leave the yakuza, Fukushima makes pinkies for the former mobsters at a discount from the usual price of ¥150,000, a practice she has maintained since going to work for Kawamura Gishi.
Made from special silicone, the artificial pinkies have fingerprints and realistic-looking nails. Mixing four paints — red, blue, yellow and brown — she can make more than 1,800 skin tones. When attached to a real finger, it is hard to see where the artificial pinkie begins.
The nail is moderately hard while the skin is soft and elastic. The only thing missing is body warmth.
From head to toe, including breasts and faces with artificial eyeballs, made for those from young to old, there isn’t anything Fukushima can’t fashion.
Because fake pinkies can’t bend, Fukushima adjusts the curve of the fingers by closely observing the habits of each client.
“I try to observe the small behaviors that they show, including when they work,” she said, pointing out that the reporter interviewing her has a habit of holding his notebook with his left hand when he jots down notes.
It’s a habit he picked up to make it easier for him to observe the faces of the people he interviews.
Observing and communicating with the client is important to Fukushima, who studied hotel administration at a vocational school as well as psychology to bring out the client’s true feelings.
At times, former yakuza talk rough to her, demanding that she make their pinkie before her other orders.
But Fukushima is not intimidated.
“I won’t make one for a person who can’t wait their turn,” she responds.
Fukushima’s fame spread nationwide by word of mouth and orders started pouring in from places outside Osaka.
To make sure her clients have actually left their gang, an Osaka Prefectural Police officer interviews each one first. The officer also introduces her to potential clients who want an artificial pinkie.
When she first started her work, some people mistakenly believed she was supporting the activities of yakuza. But after she was awarded twice, in 2004 and 2012, for her activities by a government-affiliated center aimed at eradicating yakuza in Osaka, people started to understand what she was doing.
The former yakuza who recently found a job regularly gets in touch with Fukushima. He has remarried his former wife and is reunited with his child.
The story is not always so positive. Another former client wrote that he was serving a fresh prison term, which broke her heart.
As more local governments introduce ordinances against yakuza, the number of people seeking her help is on the rise.
At her workplace, where polishing machines and plasters clatter, two pinkies — one from the first joint up and the other from the second joint up — sat on her desk.
Fukushima, who has produced more than 200 pinkies, always gives them directly to the client, never by mail.
“I don’t want them to forget that pinkies are just an accessory that gives them a chance (to return to normal society),” Fukushima said. “Attitudes and the way they talk are something they need to work on on their own.”