Toyoki Yoshida recalls the winter day in 2002 when he tried to hang himself with a leather belt after yakuza thugs hounded him for weeks to pay back 500,000 yen ($6,300) in loans.
The belt ripped as his neck strained the noose, saving his life. The loans, with interest rates as high as 5,000 percent annually, were among those Yoshida owed to 96 loan sharks—some with connections to organized crime. Working in the billing department of a Tokyo electronics company, he'd been borrowing from consumer-finance companies to entertain clients and colleagues and fell into a spiral of debt which cost him his job. It ended when lawyers helped Yoshida terminate his contracts through a bankruptcy filing and partial payments.