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Friday, October 30, 2009

Tokyo Vice Book Review

Tokyo ViceTokyo Vice: An American reporter on the Police Beat in Japan

by Jake Adelstein

Pantheon

ISBN: 0-521-58810-3

346 pp

With so many books promising untold riches, then failing to deliver, this journalistic adventure by Jake Adelstein is rare: it is unputdownable and a real eye-opener into a side of Japanese society that foreigners and Japanese themselves very rarely see, and as such is highly recommended.

After graduating from Sophia University in the early 1990s, Adelstein became the first Western reporter for the Yomiuri Shinbun, the biggest Japanese–language newspaper in Japan (and the newspaper with the highest circulation in the world). He was soon assigned to the crime beat and after a stint in Saitama (north of Tokyo and as the author describes it, "the New Jersey of Japan") he was sent to cover the notorious red-light district of Kabukicho and the foreigner's playground of Roppongi in central Tokyo. In doing so he made contacts of pimps, prostitutes, hostesses, yakuza gangsters, various members of the police force, and other assorted characters for information.

He details the various complexities of his job and illuminates the necessity of having good connections, which means spending almost every other night wining or dining police connections, or turning up at their houses with gifts. The loyalty Adelstein has for his profession, his colleagues, and his sources is truly admirable, and the friendships he makes are unforgettable. He also makes his way between various competing factions of the police agencies, the media, the government, and other organizations to try and get what he wants.

Adelstein details his descent into this world with both glee and weariness; his evenings become drunken prowls around hostess bars, sex industry establishments, and the nightlife and detritus of Tokyo as he searches for information. His insider's view of the Lucy Blackman case and the way the police handled it are fascinating. He details his involvement in other cases involving various lowlifes of Japanese society and opens up a whole new world to the reader.

The Yakuza are very prominent throughout - indeed, it appears that there are few businesses in which they do not have some kind of presence - and the sheer power that they command, both in physical presence and financially, is breathtaking; the police's role appears to be just to keep them in check as much as possible rather than to attempt to try and eradicate them.

Adelstein eventually gets in way too deep. Knowing too much about Goto Tadamasa, leader of the Goto faction, a branch of Japan's biggest Yakuza organization, the Yamaguchi-gumi, and a man who was able to enter the USA and obtain a liver transplant despite being on various blacklists, Adelstein is threatened to "either erase the story, or we'll erase you. And maybe your family." He decides that enough is enough and to get out, but not before a showdown with Goto.

The book succeeds on all levels - it is a fascinating glimpse into Japanese society on a level rarely penetrated by Westerners and Japanese alike; it is the journey of a man who loves his job and family but wades in way too far; and it is a truly great read. With stories like these, Jake Adelstein would make a phenomenal drinking partner.

David White

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2 comments:

Andrew said...

Great book! Got it in the mail 2 days ago and can't put it down.
He manages to mix in good humor amongst the seriousness that he faces. Also great notes on Japanese culture.

Soccerphile said...

A Japan-changing book in my opinion that only comes along every so often. Comparable to Alex Kerr's Lost Japan and Karel van Wolferen's The Enigma of Japanese Power.