Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan

Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice, has popped up in a couple of my favorite places to get news. His life story appeals to me as being both very entertaining and inspirational. He picked up and moved to Japan, living for three years in a Buddhist temple, then working as an English teacher and part time as a Swedish massage therapist, then eventually becoming a reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun, credited as having the largest circulation in the world. At Yomiuri he worked as a crime reporter and his book reveals the depth of his knowledge on the Yakuza, or Japanese mafia.

His little interview on the Daily Show was my introduction to his work. The interview is a bit offbeat and has a few amusing bits. My favorite quote is "[Liver Damage] is the number one cause of death for yakuza.... other than being shot or beheaded."

One of my favorite newsy podcasts is NPR's Planet Money. Here Adelstein "talks about how the business of the yakuza groups has changed over time and how tighter government restrictions have pushed the Japanese mob into more "traditional" investments." You can listen to or download the podcast here. My favorite part of this one is the story of how the Yakuza hired actors to pose as Japanese bank execs in order to trick Lehman Brothers into loaning a front company $300 million. It's pretty golden. Fresh Air has another longer program with him as well as an excerpt from his book here.

And finally, Jake edits the blog A notable recent post here is entitled "Eating sushi off a naked girl: yay or yuck?"

I'll be putting his book on my Christmas list.


  1. Mr. Milito,
    I always have a great deal of respect for anyone who takes on the taks of learning the Japanese language and reading your blog has been great. It reminds me of much of what I love about Japan and much of what drove me crazy while I was getting acclimated two decades ago. (Yikes--I feel really old writing that).
    I think it's amazing that you were in 蟹工船 which has had an incredible revival in the last few years doing to the changing face of Japanese society and an increasing gap between rich and poor. Much of that has to do with labor dispatch laws liberalization under Koizumi, which seemed only to profit corporations, and dubious labor dispatch services with organized crime ties like CRYSTAL, and GOOD WILL GROUP--and hurt the underclass of Japanese people who cannot become 正社員 (official employees).
    The book is a kind of communist/socialist polemic in some ways and it's rise in popularity is also associated with a rise in popularity of the Communist Party.
    I was never a believer but I did cover the Communist Party and Socialist Party in Saitama for a year or so. The Commies always had the best coffee when I dropped by and the best information. Idealism I can respect even if the philosophy behind it is wrong.
    Japan used to be the world's most successful socialist state under the guise of capitalism but I'll leave that to poli-science majors to dispute.
    Thanks for the posting on your blog, and I hope you get a copy of the book for Christmas or Chanukah.

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  3. Cool you got a comment by the Author. I wanna read this book too!

    I live in Yakuza territory for the 2nd time in my life lol. First in Akasaka and now in Nipponbashi. There are guys that have body guards walking around. Also apparently a tennant in my building got bit by a dog who's owner was yakuza. the yakuza guy just paid the person like 20,000円 or something for the bite lol.