A severed pinkie finger is a sign of membership in the Yakuza, Japan's notorious organized crime entity. But now, ex mobsters who are without the little digit are seeking the services of specialists, who are fitting these reformed gangsters with prosthetic fingers to remove the stigma of mafia affiliation.

In Japan, an estimated 100,000 people are associated with the Yakuza, which is heavily involved in protection rackets, prostitution and drug dealing. Gang members are often recognized by their full body of tattoos and, in many cases, the lack of a pinkie finger.

But thanks to prosthetics maker Yukako Fukushima, many former gangsters who have left the notorious Japanese gang will now have a shot at a new life. According to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, former members of the Yakuza have struggled to find regular jobs after leaving the gang, because the a missing pinkie scares off potential employers. As a result, most that leave the Yakuza often end up returning to a life of crime.

One former Yakuza enforcer, who goes by the pseudonym Junichi Fujwara is one of Fukushima’s clients who was able to benefit from her realistic prosthetics. “I broke the gang’s rules. I won’t say what I did. So as a penalty, my pinkie was cut off,” Fujwara recalled. “When I quit the underworld, I needed to get serious work. If my pinkie was missing, I wouldn’t even get an interview, let alone a job,” he said.  

Fukushima said that word has spread about her solution to ex-gangster's pinkie problems and now business is booming. “In Yakuza circles, word of mouth spreads very fast. I’ve even got clients who heard about me while they were in jail. So far, I’ve made about 600 or 700 pinkies."

Another straightened-out gangster, who goes by the alias Tanaka, has three fingers missing because of his involvement with the gang, both pinkies and his left ring finger. According to a report in the Australian, after 17 years of serving the Yakuza as a foot soldier, he decided to go straight, severing part of his index finger as a last act of penance to his gang leaders.

Tanaka turned to a prosthetics maker named Shintaro Hayahi, who, like Fukushima, has been serving ex-Yakuza members. While a majority of his prosthetics goes to victims of accidents, breast cancer and other reasons, he estimates that 5 percent of his customers are men who have been members of local gangs.

The report described Tanaka as a cheery, personable man who one would not associate with organized crime. His personality was apparently better suited for something like a career in sales, something he says he never would have been able to pursue had it not been for his prosthetics.

“Thanks to these fingers, I could finally find the right job that suits me: a salesman,” Tanaka said. “I have now started my own firm, and we now have 15 employees and annual sales of more than 250 million yen. I could never have achieved that without these fingers.”