What happens when mobsters want to abandon their criminal ways and go straight? For American wiseguys, the options are limited: run and hope for the best, or fink on your cronies and join a witness protection scheme, always remembering to check under the car hood every morning. In Japan, which boasts an estimated 80,000 full-time gangsters, things are even worse. There's no police help, and leaving often requires an offering to appease the offended honour of an oyabun (boss): your little finger. Of course, this being the criminal underworld, cash will do just fine. But few junior hoods have much money. So, the options are: sleep with the fishes or say goodbye to your golf grip. If it's the latter, the preferred tools are a sharp knife, a spotless white handkerchief and a manly grimace as the gangster amputates his pinkie at the joint - an honour sacrifice known as yubizume. A colleague provides a piece of string to stem the blood, and the hood is off to his new life, via the hospital. Then the problems start. Nobody wants to hire, marry or even sit next to an ex-gangster with a missing pinkie. That's where Yukako Fukushima comes in. A sort of high-tech Florence Nightingale of the underworld, Fukushima is one of the world's leading makers of personalised prosthetics, and she's used them to help more than 500 yakuza gangsters go straight, often for little or no profit. Sitting in her small office in Osaka city (the yakuza capital of Japan), surrounded by scarily realistic body parts, Fukushima explains the trials and tribulations of the average reformed hood and why she helps them. 'Many former yakuza want to go back to work, but without their pinkies nobody will take them on,' she says. 'They're often not bad people at all, although they can get very angry and scary sometimes. Some of them can't bring their kids to the swimming pool or be seen with their children in public because the other kids will bully them. So I help them out.' Like its corporate counterpart, the yakuza has been hit by layoffs, suicides and the unwelcome attention of the authorities. The 1992 Anti-Organised Crime Law kicked off what turned out to be a recession-ravaged decade for the underworld, which has consolidated and downsized like the rest of Japan. Although the top criminal organisations have flourished, smaller gangs have gone to the wall, and thousands of gangsters have been forced to try going straight - albeit fewer each year. Some 660 members left their gangs the year after the new law, but only 17 reportedly went straight last year. Many former hard men come to Fukushima broke, desperate and fingerless - meaning the 32-year-old former industrial arts student has had to develop counselling skills to go with her technical talents. 'People don't think about this, but many yakuza have killed themselves,' she says. 'The statistics are really high. They come in here with no money, job or little finger and sometimes they just burst into tears and blurt it all out.' Even though she offers the hand-made prosthetics at a big discount - 50,000 yen (HK$3,492) instead of 150,000 yen - Fukushima has still had ex-gangsters run off without paying her. As at most Japanese companies, the customer is king as far as she is concerned, and she makes every effort to meet her clients' needs. Fukushima spends hours making her silicone creations as realistic as possible: blue veins for older feet and hands, and matching finger sets for ex-hoods who like to go out in the sun - darker for summer and paler for winter. So seriously does she take her work that she's been admitted to hospital three times for overwork and stress - not helped by police who lean on her for information about her unusual clientele. 'I don't have client privilege like doctors or lawyers unfortunately,' she says. The obvious question is: After years of dealing with untrustworthy men nursing violent tempers and mutilated mitts, why does she still do it? Fukushima, who got into the prosthetic business after taking pity on someone with a missing ear, says she's not quite sure. 'Part of it is for my own enjoyment,' she says. 'I enjoy helping people. I can help people out with this skill, and they come back and tell me I've helped them get their lives back. I'm also really angry with the government, smashing up gangs but not providing any help. 'I felt I had to. I want them to have happy lives, to make families and get jobs. Everybody deserves a second chance.'