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Japanese Loan Sharks

by Ewa Nowogorski

A topic that is very dramatized in anime and other digital media is loan sharks. They are often portrayed as scary mafia-type organizations that offer money with seemingly little risk, but get serious and aggressive when the time comes to pay them back. In the media, this can sometimes come off in a comedic light as a crazy looking man hounds you around everywhere, screaming at you and making ridiculous threats in order to get their money back from you.

While a lot of loan shark businesses are not so extreme, portrayals in fictitious movies always stem from a truth, and the fact is that some businesses really are as ruthless and relentless as the movies.  Some loan sharks go past what is legally permitted in terms of interest rates and means used to recover loaned money. Interest rates can supposedly be up to 5000% in some cases, and unreasonable rates such as 10% interest every 10 days is not uncommon either. 

Loans are an indispensable part of Japanese society, and estimates say that as much as 10% of the Japanese population has taken out at least one loan  from loan sharks in their lives. People borrow money for multiple reasons, and usually the amounts they initially loan are not so big, but the interest and personal inability to pay the loan back promptly leads to incredibly larger and larger debt. The value of outstanding loans totals $100 billion.

Due to lax laws that do not generally protect the consumer and individual, loan sharks are able to use many cruel and humiliating methods to press for their money, such as constantly visiting your home, funerals, and weddings to demand it back, or broadcasting your debt over the speakerphone at public places you visit regularly such as work and school. It is very embarrassing and humiliating, and the emotional pressure sometimes leads people to commit suicide to escape the never-ending hell.

Nowadays, there are many laws in place to prevent immoral practices, such as capping interest rates at 20%, and not lending a person more than a third of their annual salary, but illegal practices still continue under the table in many places.

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