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When referring to the infamous Japanese criminal organization, which sentence would be correct?

The yakuza member picked up his glasses, scooped some of the jewelry and loose change into his pockets, and whistled a tune as he excitingly strolled away from the scene.

or

The Yakuza member picked up his glasses, scooped some of the jewelry and loose change into his pockets, and whistled a tune as he excitingly strolled away from the scene.

Yakuza seems like it's a proper noun so I'm inclined to say it is capitalized, however, I've seen lots of media in which they do not capitalize the term. This even includes works from Japanese companies, so it makes me wonder if the word should be capitalized or not.

Thank you in advance for answering!

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Tough question. Note that yakuza can mean an organisation, japanese organised crime, or a member of such group. I am ignoring the individual member/individual meaning of yakuza.

Wikipedia's article capitalises Yakuza everwhere. Encyclopaedia Britannica's article does not capitalise yakuza. Collins Dictionary's entry has yakuza uncapitalized, so does American Heritage Dictionary, Random House Unabridged, Oxford Living Dictionaries, Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Wiktionary. I've seen no dictionary capitalise it.

All example sentences at Oxford Living Dictionaries and dictionary.com do not capitalise yakuza. See them by clicking on link.

This Google NGram shows the frequency of the word both capitalized and uncapitalized, they are neck and neck for a good while, when around 2000 uncapitalised yakuza seems to become more frequent.

I don't know anything about the yakuza, whether they're one monolithic and official organisation, or scattered bands of criminals with different ideologies. Furthermore it's hard know whether yakuza is just the term used for Japanese organised crime.

The only advice I can give is to pick one and stick to it. The majority seem to keep it uncapitalised from what I've seen.

  • FWIW the yakuza are not monolithic - they are made up of different kumi (literally, 'classes' or divisions, but more 'families' or gangs). Yamaguchi-gumi is the biggest. These kumi names definitely require a capital letter - I believe they bear the surnames of their founders. (Some families use the kai suffix rather than kumi.) – tmgr Jan 21 at 15:29

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