Why is ヤクザ written in katakana?

I looked up the etymology of ヤクザ and it seems to originate from Japanese. I am slightly confused why this word appears to be mainly written in katakana. I know that words are sometimes written in katakana for stylization purposes, but it’s not like the word is an inscription on a keychain or anything to have the need.

I’d really appreciate it if someone could better explain this to me.

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Well, firstly, it can appear in hiragana or katakana. I’m not sure what the ratio of usage is in real life but neither is wrong.

It does have roots that mean it could have been written in kanji (八九三, from a game where having these 3 cards was the worst hand you could have). It’s never written that way as far as I can tell, but there’s no particular reason that way of writing it couldn’t have survived.

I’m not too sure why you’re surprised to see a Japanese word written in katakana. Katakana is older than hiragana, and while loanwords are usually written in katakana, many other words that are not loanwords are also written in katakana frequently, and this is just one of them. And until recently (like, less than a hundred years ago), katakana was the dominant way of writing particles and okurigana.

Some other Japanese origin words that are often written in katakana, but could be written other ways.

ネコ (and basically most animals)
ヒト (when talking about humans as a species)

And plenty more that I’m sure others can help think of.

These aren’t examples of “stylized” katakana usage generally.


According to Wiktionary, the etymological origin is that it’s goroawase for the number 893, because that’s the worst possible hand in “a three-card gambling game”, though it doesn’t specify the name of the game. From there it came to mean “worthless”, and from there to mean “a worthless person” and from there to, somehow, a member of the yakuza.

As for why katakana over hiragana, ヤクザ definitely looks much rougher than やくざ.


I had seen some of your examples in katakana before but I guess I didnt put two and two together. I think I was also just expecting the word to have a common kanji usage. Thanks for your explanation!

Katakana is used for many different types of words, not just foreign and stylistic reasons. According to Tofugu’s Ultimate Katakana Guide, katakana can be used for scientific words, animal names, food, ect. So, your word is probably under one of those katakana specific categories. Hope this helps! :))

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