In the 17th century, the Yakuza were loosely organized as gamblers, mercenaries and roving bandits. In the 19th century they turned to prostitution, gambling, liquor distribution, and entertainment.

In the 1930s, with the rise of ultranationalism, the Yakuza played a role in several coups d’etat, political assassinations and terrorism in occupied Manchuria.

In the silent film era, films depicting bakuto (precursors to modern yakuza) as Robin Hood-like characters were common.  Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel from 1948 as the first to depict post-war yakuza