By Will Ripley, CNN
• Tatsuya Shindo became a gangster at the age of 17
• Like many other young men, he was lured by the intoxicating illusion of an easy life of crime
• With his gangster tattoos he now preaches to other reformed ex-yakusa
Kawaguchi, Japan (CNN)It's a rainy Sunday morning in Kawaguchi, a city of around half a million people on the outskirts of Tokyo. Men and women toting Japan's ubiquitous clear plastic umbrellas file into the entrance of a nondescript corner bar.
The sign above the door reads June Bride. For 25 years, it was a popular watering hole in this quiet residential neighborhood in Saitama Prefecture.
Tucked on a street corner, the exterior of June Bride has changed little over the years. But inside, the place has undergone a drastic transformation. The old bar and karaoke stage are gone, replaced by a pulpit adorned with a large cross. Neat rows of chairs slowly fill with damp but mostly smiling faces. They chat silently amongst themselves.
While some faces in the crowd are longtime bar patrons, they no longer come here to drink. This is, without a doubt, a place of worship.
One of the last people to enter the room is the man everyone calls teacher, Sensei Tatsuya Shindo.
From the moment he walks through the door, parishioners forget the dreary weather as electricity fills the room. Shindo takes command of the pulpit -- raising his arms, nodding his head, and preaching with intensity as if he is pulsating with "energy from above."
Shindo is 44 but looks much younger, partially because of his long hair and also because he seems to have a permanent grin. He laughs often, even when speaking about the dark past he shares with many members of his congregation of around 100 people.
"Before, we were in rival gangs, firing guns," he exclaims from the pulpit. "Now, we're praising the same God."
Inside Japan's murky criminal underworld
The pastor, like some of his parishioners, is an ex-gangster. Most of them were teenagers when they joined the Japanese mafia, known as the yakuza. Shindo was 17.
"I was a child. I didn't think too deeply," he says. "And I admired the yakuza for what was visible only on the surface. They have lots of money, spend their money lavishly, and play glamorously. The bad guys looked so cool in my eyes."
Payment in blood
The intoxicating illusion of an easy life of crime has lured tens of thousands of Japanese teenagers to join the yakuza. Shindo says most of his fellow gangsters came from dysfunctional families. The yakuza fostered a sense of loyalty and brotherhood. But as Shindo fell deeper into the Japanese underworld, he learned the price of belonging was often paid in blood.