Gangster finds amazing grace

Japanese mobster thought he needed God like a hole in the head – until he got one!

Yasumasa Aoki
Yasumasa Aoki displays his tattoos and mutilated fingers.
Yasumasa Aoki
Yasumasa Aoki displays his tattoos and mutilated fingers.

Yasumasa Aoki's tattooed and mutilated body bears testimony to his criminal past. Since 18 and for most of his life, he was a member of the Yakuza, a powerful Japanese organized crime syndicate. Aoki is covered with a full-body tattoo and is missing parts of his fingers, which he chopped off in Yakuza rituals to show penance or apology.

"As a teenager, I landed in youth prison twice and five times in juvenile homes. Between ages 16 to 20, I spent only six months out of prison. As an adult, I was jailed another three times," Aoki admits.

In the Yakuza society, power is obtained through violence. As a Yakuza leader, Aoki attacked and killed people with a katana (a samurai sword). He was also into alcohol, gambling, fights, drugs and other vices.

"At age 47, I was caught by the police in a case considered taboo even among the Yakuza. Three people died and five committed suicide because of this case. I was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The police also told me that a rival gang was after my life and there was a bounty of $500,000 on my head," Aoki tells the students at City Harvest's School of Theology during their graduation ceremony.

Aoki speaking
Aoki speaking at his graduation from Bible college.

"True enough, an inmate from the rival gang attacked me and smashed my head with a hammer. I was admitted to hospital with a skull fracture. When I woke up, there was a Bible by my bedside. When I read Psalm 23:4, 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me,' I felt peace for the first time in my life," he shares.

During his prison term, Aoki was relocated to a prison in Kumamoto for hardcore prisoners. There he met a pastor who came to speak to the prisoners regularly and who led Aoki to pray to God for forgiveness for all his sins and for the strength to live right.

In September 2005, Aoki was baptized [immersed in water as an outward sign of his commitment to Jesus].


"I will never forget the gratefulness I felt that day, that Jesus would save a wretch like me," Aoki says.

His pastor continued to mentor him and gave him devotional books to read, which Aoki used to teach a small group of other inmates.

On 3 March 2011, Aoki completed his 15 years in prison and started attending church on the outside and heard about the School of Theology run nearby.

"I had a deep hunger to know more about God so I prayed fervently for a way to go to theological college. By God's grace, I received a scholarship.

"At college my mind had been renewed by the Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit [invisible power of God] each day. I've learned to broaden my heart so that God can use me to make a difference in this world.

Japanese Yakuza
Members of the Japanese Yakuza in this undated stock photo.

'I have learned Christianity is about loving people different from us with God's love," Aoki, who once killed his enemies, says.

"I am now 64 years old and I've spent half my life doing worthless things," he admits, "but I have a dream to start a halfway house for former convicts to provide a safe environment for their rehabilitation and to bridge them into mainstream society and employment."

Aoki's story is a strong reminder that no one is too evil for God to save.

"And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:11.

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