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An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan

Written by Jake AdelsteinAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jake  Adelstein



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On Sale: October 13, 2009
Pages: 336 | ISBN: 978-0-307-37894-1
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

A riveting true-life tale of newspaper noir and Japanese organized crime from an American investigative journalist.
 
Jake Adelstein is the only American journalist ever to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club, where for twelve years he covered the dark side of Japan: extortion, murder, human trafficking, fiscal corruption, and of course, the yakuza. But when his final scoop exposed a scandal that reverberated all the way from the neon soaked streets of Tokyo to the polished Halls of the FBI and resulted in a death threat for him and his family, Adelstein decided to step down. Then, he fought back. In Tokyo Vice he delivers an unprecedented look at Japanese culture and searing memoir about his rise from cub reporter to seasoned journalist with a price on his head.

Excerpt

FATE WILL BE ON YOUR SIDE

July 12, 1992, marked the turning point of my education about Japan. I was glued to a position next to the phone, feet inside my mini- refrigerator—in the heat of the summer any cool will do—waiting for a call from the Yomiuri Shinbun, Japan’s most prestigious newspaper. I would land a job as a reporter, or I would remain jobless. It was a long night, the culmination of a process that had stretched out over an entire year.

Not long before that, I had been wallowing in the luxury of not caring a bit about my future. I was a student at Sophia (Joichi) University in the middle of Tokyo, where I was working toward a degree in comparative literature and writing for the student newspaper.

So I had experience, but nothing that would pass for the beginnings of a career. I was a step up from teaching English and was making a decent income translating instructional kung fu videos from English into Japanese. Combined with an occasional gig giving Swedish massage to wealthy Japanese housewives, I earned enough for day-to-day expenses, but I was still leaning on the parents for tuition.

I had no idea what I wanted to do. Most of my fellow students had jobs already promised them before their graduation—a practice called naitei, which is unethical, but everyone does it. I had gotten such a promise too, with Sony Computer Entertainment, but it was good only if I extended my schooling for another year. It wasn’t a job that I really wanted, but it was, after all, Sony.

So in late 1991, with a very light class load and lots of time on my hands, I decided to throw myself into studying the Japanese language. I made up my mind to take the mass communication exams for soon-to-be university graduates and try to land a job as a reporter, working and writing in Japanese. I had the fantasy that if I could write for the school newspaper, it couldn’t be much more difficult to write for a national newspaper with eight or nine million readers.

In Japan, people don’t build a career at the major newspapers by working their way up through local, small-town newspapers. The papers hire the bulk of their reporters straight out of university, but first the cubs have to pass a standardized “entrance exam”—a kind of newspaper SAT. The ritual goes like this: Aspiring reporters report to a giant auditorium and sit for daylong tests. If your score is high enough, you get an interview, and then another, and then another. If you do well enough in your interviews, and if your interviewers like you, then you might get a job promise.

To be honest, I didn’t really think I’d be hired by a Japanese newspaper. I mean, what were the chances that a Jewish kid from Missouri would be accepted into this high-end Japanese journalistic fraternity? But I didn’t care. If I had something to study for, if I had a goal, however unreachable, the time spent chasing it might have some collateral productivity. At the very least, my Japanese would improve.

But where should I apply? Japan has more than its share of news media, which are also more vital than in the United States.

The Yomiuri Shinbun has the largest circulation—more than ten million a day—of any newspaper in Japan and, in fact, the world. The Asahi Shinbun used to be a close second—now it’s less close but still second. People used to say that the Yomiuri was the official organ of the LDP, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which has dominated Japanese politics since World War II; the Asahi was the official newspaper of the Socialists, who are almost invisible these days; and the Mainichi Shinbun, the third largest, was the official newspaper of the anarchists, because the paper could never figure out whose side it was on. The Sankei Shinbun, which was then probably the fourth largest paper, was considered to be the voice of the extreme right; some said it had about as much credibility as a supermarket tabloid. Often, it had some good scoops as well.

Kyodo, the wire service, which is the Associated Press of Japan, was harder to figure out. The service was originally known as Domei and was the official propaganda branch of the World War II–era Japanese government. Not all connections were severed when the firm became independent once the war was over. Furthermore, Dentsu, the largest and most powerful advertising agency in Japan (and the world) has a controlling interest in the company, and that can color its coverage. One thing makes Kyodo a stellar news agency to work for, however: its labor union, which is the envy of every reporter in Japan. The union makes sure that its reporters are able to use the vacation days due them—something very rare at most firms in Japan.

There is also Jiji Press, which is kind of like Kyodo’s little brother but a hard worker. It has a smaller readership and fewer reporters. The joke was that Jiji reporters write their articles after reading Kyodo—a cruel joke in a cruel industry.

At first I was leaning toward the Asahi, but I started to feel offended by its tendency to put the United States in a bad light at every opportunity. It seemed at odds with the image I thought most people in Japan had of America—as a voice of democracy, spreading liberty and justice throughout the free world.

The editorials of the Yomiuri were pretty tough-going, though, very conservative and heavy on kanji (the original Chinese ideographs) and vagueness, but the articles in the national news section really impressed me. At a time when the term “human trafficking” had yet to enter the popular vocabulary, the Yomiuri ran a scathing in-depth series on the plight of Thai women being smuggled into Japan as sex workers. The articles treated the women with relative dignity and, if only mildly, was critical of the police for its do-little response to the problem. The paper’s stance, it seemed to me, was firmly on the side of the oppressed; it was fighting for justice.

The Asahi and the Yomiuri had their exams scheduled on the same day. I signed up for the Yomiuri’s.

The exam was part of the Yomiuri Shinbun Journalism Seminar, a well-known covert method of hiring people before the official job-hunting season begins. It helps them grab the cream of the crop. It’s not promoted in a big way, so if you are serious about joining the Yomiuri, you must read the paper religiously, or you will miss the golden ticket. Everyone at the university paper who had aspirations of being a Yomiuri reporter was checking the paper’s pages. In a country where appearances count, I needed to look respectable. I poked through my closet only to discover that the humid summer had turned my two suits into fungal experiments. So I trotted down to a huge discount men’s retailer and bought a summer suit for the equivalent of about $300. It was made of a thin fabric that breathed easily and had a nice matte black finish. I looked good in it.

I wanted to wow Inukai, my friend and the editor of the school paper, with my sartorial finesse, but when I showed up at the office, located in a dark, dungeonlike basement, his response was different from what I’d expected.

“Jake-kun, my condolences.”

Aoyama-chan, another colleague, looked pensive. She didn’t say a word.

I couldn’t figure out what was going on.

“What happened? Was it a friend?”

“A friend?”

“Who died?”

“Huh? Nobody died. Everybody I know is fine.”

Inukai took off his glasses and polished them with his shirt. “So you bought that suit yourself?”

“Yep. Thirty thousand yen.”

Inukai was enjoying this. I could tell because he was squinting like a happy puppy. “What kind of suit did you want to buy?” he asked, all false seriousness.

“The ad said reifuku.”

Aoyama-chan tittered.

“What?” I said. “What’s wrong?”

“You idiot! You bought a funeral suit! Not a reifuku but a mofuku!

“What’s the difference?”

“Mofuku are black. Nobody wears a black suit to a job interview.”

“Nobody?”

“Well, maybe a yakuza.”

“Well, could I pretend I just got back from a funeral? Maybe I’d get sympathy points.”

“That’s true. People sympathize with the mentally challenged.”

Aoyama chimed in, “Maybe you could apply to be a yakuza instead! They wear black! You could be the first gaijin yakuza!”

“He’s not cut out to be a yakuza,” Inukai said. “And what would he do when they threw him out?”

“That’s true,” Aoyama said, nodding. “If it didn’t work out, he’d have a hard time going back to being a writer. It’s hard to type with only nine fingers.”

By now Inukai was on a roll. “I don’t think he could get out of the organization with nine fingers. Eight is more like it. He’s a classic screw-up, rude, clumsy, never on time. A barbarian.”

“I can see that,” Aoyama said. “Actually, he could still hunt and peck. But in terms of a career, I don’t think yakuza is it for him, even if he does look nice in a black suit.”

“So what am I supposed to do?”

“Buy another suit,” they said in unison.

“I don’t have the cash.”

Inukai looked thoughtful. “Hmmm. Maybe you can get away with it because you’re a gaijin. Maybe someone will think it’s cute . . . if they don’t just decide you’re an idiot.”

So that’s what I did.

Funeral suit and all, on May 7, I dragged myself to the first session of the seminar, held at 12:50 p.m. at an impressive-looking place right next to the Yomiuri Shinbun’s main office. The seminar was to take place over two separate days. The first was a day of classes. The second was enshuu, or “field practice” a euphemism for the exams. I was a little surprised to see the word used, because it’s basically a military term.*

The seminar started with an opening speech and a lecture “for those of you aspiring to be journalists,” followed by a second lecture on the fundamental ethics of newspaper reporting. Then came a two-hour session during which “guys on the front line”—working reporters—talked about their jobs, the joys of getting a scoop, and the agony of being scooped by the competition.

I don’t remember many details about the lectures. The long hours spent reading and learning to write semicompetently in Japanese had a downside: my listening ability was piss poor. I wasn’t exactly the most fluent of speakers either. I was, however, making a calculated gamble. You had to score well enough on the written test to get even an interview, so I had spent more time on reading and writing than on any- thing else. I wouldn’t say that I was deaf to the Japanese language, just hearing- and speech-impaired.

But from what I could make out, the comments of the police reporter about covering the public security section of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department sounded pretty good. The guy looked to be forty years old, with gray curly hair and slumped shoulders—what the Japanese would call a “cat posture” kind of guy.

According to him, the public security section rarely made an- nouncements and never, ever handed out press releases. Everything was said at the briefing, so if you didn’t pay attention, you missed the story. This was not a place for adrenaline junkies (or foreigners). Reporters sometimes spent an entire year without writing a single word. But when an arrest came down, it was always huge news, since it involved matters of national security.

The actual exam, or “military drill,” as it was called, was scheduled for three days later, at the Yomiuri Vocational School of Engineering, located in the suburbs of Tokyo.

Not having read the corporate brochure, I was a little puzzled that a newspaper would also be running a vocational school. I was still unaware that Yomiuri was far from being just a newspaper; it was a vast conglomerate of companies ranging from the Yomiuriland amusement park to Yomiuri Ryoko, a travel agency, and the Yomiuri lodge in Kamakura, a traditional Japanese inn. The Yomiuri also has its own minihospital on the third floor of its corporate headquarters, sleeping quarters on the fourth floor, a cafeteria, a pharmacy, a bookstore, and an in-house massage therapist. The company-owned baseball team, the Yomiuri Giants, are often compared to the Yankees for their national popularity. With entertainment, vacations, health care, and sports, you could live your entire life in Japan without ever leaving the Yomiuri empire.

From the station, I followed the throngs of Japanese young people in navy blue suits and red ties, the classic “recruit look” of the day. In 1992, that also meant that all those who had followed the popular styles and dyed their hair brown or red had dyed it black again. There was a smattering of women in the female equivalent of sober navy blue suits.

I got to the vocational school fifteen minutes before test time and signed in. One staff person at the reception asked me, “Are you sure you’re in the right place?”

“I’m sure,” I answered humbly.

The exam was divided into four parts. The first was a test of the Japanese language; the second was foreign languages, where you had a choice of several; the third was a written essay; and the fourth was your chance to sell yourself as a potential employee.

I breezed through the first section and was done twenty minutes before everyone else. I sat there for some time, feeling quite proud of myself, until I nonchalantly flipped the exam over and noticed something that made my stomach lurch—there were also questions on that side of the page. I tried hard to finish, but I feared I’d blown the exam. When time was called, I turned in what I’d done (or not done). Furious at myself, I went back to my seat, prepared to forget the rest of the exam and go home.



I must have been sitting there blank-faced with shock when a Yomiuri man came up and tapped me on the shoulder. He had a Beatles bob, wore wire-rimmed glasses, and had a husky voice that didn’t match his stature or appearance. (I would later know him as Endo-san of the human resources department, and he would die of complications from throat cancer a few years later.)

“I couldn’t but help notice you among the applicants,” he said to me in Japanese. “Why are you taking this test?”

“Well, I thought if I did well on it, it might help if I wanted a job on the English-language Daily Yomiuri.

“I took a quick look at your test. You did really well on the first questions. What happened to the rest?”

“It’s very embarrassing. I didn’t realize there were questions on both sides of the page until it was too late.”

“Ahh. Let me make a note,” he said as he pulled a little organizer out of his jacket pocket and scribbled in it.

He turned to me again. “Don’t think about the Daily Yomiuri. It would be a waste. You should try for the real thing. You still have a chance to do well on this. You’re a Sophia student, right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Thought so. Stick it out,” he said, patting me on the shoulder.

... So there I sat, inner debate raging. Give up and go home, or stick with it? I got up out of my seat and tossed my backpack over my shoulder. As I looked across the room, it seemed for a moment as if time had stopped. All the chatter faded out, people froze in midmovement, and I heard a high-pitched buzzing in my ears. In that instant, I knew that leaving or staying would be the biggest decision in my adult life. Somewhere in an alternative universe, I walked out. But not in this one.

I put my backpack on the table with a clunk and sat down. I pulled out my pencils, pulled in my chair, sat up straight, and got ready for round two. If I could attach a sound track to my life, I would have selected the James Bond theme right then. Admittedly, aligning one’s pencils doesn’t make for a great opening film montage, but it was the closest I’d ever come to heroic action.

The next section was foreign languages, and cleverly I picked En- glish, where months spent doing boring translation and subtitling instructional kung fu videos paid off. Then I had to translate a passage on the Russian free economy from English into Japanese, followed by a brief passage on social progress in modern society from Japanese into English. I nailed both of them before the next ten-minute break.

Next was the essay. The theme was gaikokujin, or “foreigners,” and after the first-round curse, I was beginning to feel blessed. This topic was something every foreigner is regularly asked about and, at Sophia, to write essays about.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.



It turned out that although I had done abysmally on the Japanese- language section, I still ranked ninetieth out of one hundred applicants, meaning that my Japanese tested better than that of 10 percent of the Japanese applicants. I came in first in the foreign-language section— in both translating English into Japanese and translating Japanese into English. Actually, I lost points on the English translation, which doesn’t say much for my mastery of the English language. I got a C on my essay, more on content than on grammar. In total, on the first three parts of the test I had a score of 79 points out of a possible 100, mak- ing me fifty-ninth out of a hundred. Not glittering, but still I was called in for an interview. The only reason I can imagine was that someone cut me some slack for missing the back page of the Japanese-language test.

The first interview, held three weeks later, was blissfully brief. I had the chance to explain my screw-up, then was asked my expectations of the job and my willingness to work long hours. I stressed my willingness to work hard. They quizzed me about my knowledge of the Yomiuri, and I mentioned the series on Thai prostitutes and how impressed I had been by the in-depth coverage—which scored brownie points with the metro reporters at the session.

I was told there would be two more interviews, and then I heard nothing for weeks.

Now I was nervous. What had begun as a totally off-the-wall challenge was now in the realm of possibility. Every day I came home early and waited for the phone to ring. I read the newspaper religiously. I ramped up my Japanese studies. If I get this job, I thought, how will I survive? I started watching television in the hopes of improving my listening comprehension.

But one day, the frustration of living in limbo became strong enough to shove me out the door and into a bad horror flick at a Kabukicho movie theater.

On my way home from the film, I spotted a funny-looking tarot fortune-telling machine at the entrance of an arcade. In my uncertain state of mind, I figured it couldn’t hurt to consult an expert.

I plunked 100 yen into the machine. The screen lit up and swirled around in a pink and green vortex. I picked the category “Jobs,” my choice of fortune teller, “Madame Tantra,” and plugged in my personal information. Madame Tantra, a very cute Japanese woman wearing a shawl, with a red mark on her forehead like a Hindu priestess, appeared on the screen in a blaze of smoke and had me pick my cards. I rolled the crystal ball–shaped mouse around and clicked on the stacks of cards laid out on the virtual table.


The Final Verdict: King of Swords, Upright.

Success.

Keyword: Curiosity


The job you are best suited for is as a copywriter or editor or something involving writing. For this kind of work, literary skills are necessary, also a certain amount of lowbrow nosiness (inquisitiveness). Because you have both attributes, you’ll surely be able to make use of those skills. If you always keep your antenna out probing for information and nurture your morbid curiosity in a good way, FATE WILL BE ON YOUR SIDE.

I was thrilled. It seemed so dead-on that I kept the printout. Fortified with the good graces of Fortune, I took the last train home and checked my answering machine. There was a call from the Yomiuri asking me to attend a second round of interviews.



The second round consisted of a panel of three people. Two of the judges seemed enthused, but the third looked at me as if I were a fly on his sashimi. I had the feeling that I was a controversial candidate. After a number of queries, one of them asked me the following question, with great seriousness.

“You’re Jewish, yes?”

“Yes, nominally.”

“A lot of people in Japan believe that the Jews control the world economy. What do you think about that?”

I quickly replied, “Do you think that if the Jews really did control the world economy I’d be applying for a job as a newspaper reporter here? I know what the first-year salary is like.”

I guess that was the right answer, because he chuckled and winked at me. There were no further questions.

I got up and was leaving when one of them stopped me. “Adelstein-san, there will be only one more round of interviews. If you are called in for that, you are pretty much in. We will be calling the final candidates on July 12. Be home. We won’t make more than one call.”



And so back to my small apartment on July 12, 1992, where I sat half in the refrigerator, one hand glued to the phone. My throat was parched, and I had the shakes. I felt as if I were waiting to get a last-minute date to prom night.

The call came at nine-thirty in the evening.

“Congratulations, Adelstein-san. You have been selected for the final round of interviews. Please come to the Yomiuri Building on July 31. Do you have any questions?”

I had none.



The last interview went very well. There were smiles all around and the atmosphere was very relaxed. There were no tough questions. One panelist began asking me a very complicated question about Japanese politics, but his Osaka dialect was so thick I had no idea what he was saying. I just played like a psychiatrist and repeated parts of his last sentence, with vague comments, such as, “Well, that’s one way of looking at the problem.” He seemed to interpret my response as total agreement and I didn’t bother to disabuse him.

There were two final questions:

“Can you work on the Sabbath?”

It wasn’t a problem.

“Can you eat sushi?”

Neither was that.

And with that, Matsuzaka-san, one of the senior human resources people, who looked remarkably Jewish for a Japanese guy, slapped me on the back and said, “Congratulations. Consider yourself hired. The formal material will be sent to you in the mail.”

As he walked me out the door, he whispered conspiratorially in my ear, “I’m a Sophia graduate too. I heard good things about you from your teachers. It’s nice to have another Sophian on board.” Incredibly, my dumb luck had stayed with me throughout the whole process, even to the point of having a school connection on the hiring board.

I don’t know why the fates had been so kind, but I thought I should cover all the bases. On my way home, I stopped and added some coins to the pile in front of the Buddha in the gardens of the Nezu Museum.

I owed that Buddha some cash (borrowed subway fare) and I always liked to pay back my debts.



* Yomiuri reporters as an entity are sometimes called the Yomiuri-gun (Yomiuri army), and the unassigned reporters in the shakaibu (national news/crime/metro unit) are the yu-gun (literally the “goof-off army,” but with the traditional meaning of “reserve corps”).


From the Hardcover edition.
Jake Adelstein|Author Q&A

About Jake Adelstein

Jake  Adelstein - Tokyo Vice

Photo © Michael Lionstar

Jake Adelstein was a reporter for the Yomiuri Shinbun, Japan's largest newspaper, from 1993 to 2005. From 2006 to 2007 he was the chief investigator for a U.S. State Department-sponsored study of human trafficking in Japan. Considered one of the foremost experts on organized crime in Japan, he works as a writer and consultant in Japan and the United States. He is also the public relations director for the Washington, D.C.-based Polaris Project Japan, which combats human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children in the sex trade.

Author Q&A

 
A conversation with Jake Adelstein
Author of TOKYO VICE
 
 
What drew you to Japan in the first place, and how did you wind up going to university there?
 
In high school I had many problems with anger and self-control. I had been studying Zen Buddhism and karate, and I thought Japan would be the perfect place to reinvent myself. It could be that my pointy right ear draws me toward neo-Vulcan pursuits—I don't know.
 
When I got to Japan, I managed to find lodgings in a Soto Zen Buddhist temple where I lived for three years, attending zazen meditation at least once a week. I didn't become enlightened, but I did get a better hold on myself. 

How did you become a journalist for the most popular Japanese-language newspaper?


The Yomiuri Shinbun runs a standardized test, open to all college students. Many Japanese firms hire young grads this way. My friends thought that the idea of a white guy trying to pass a Japanese journalist's exam was so impossibly quixotic that I wanted to prove them wrong. I spent an entire year eating instant ramen and studying. I managed to find the time to do it by quitting my job as an English teacher and working as a Swedish-massage therapist for three overworked Japanese women two days a week. It turned out to be a slightly sleazy gig, but it paid the bills.
 
There was a point when I was ready to give up studying and the application process. Then, when I was in Kabukicho on June 22, 1992, I asked a tarot fortune-telling machine for advice on my career path, and it said that with my overpowering morbid curiosity I was destined to become a journalist, a job at which I would flourish, and that fate would be on my side. I took that as a good sign. I still have the printout.
 
I did well enough on the initial exam to get to the interviews, and managed to stumble my way through that process and get hired. I think I was an experimental case that turned out reasonably well.

How did you succeed in uncovering the underworld in a country that is famously "closed" or restricted to foreigners? Do you think people talked more openly to you because you were American?

 
I think Japan is actually more open than people give it credit for. However, to get the door open, you really need to become fluent in the spoken and written language. The written language was a nightmare for me.
 
You're right, though; it was mostly an advantage to be a foreigner—it made me memorable. The yakuza are outsiders in Japanese society, and perhaps being a fellow outsider gave us a weird kind of bond. The cops investigating the yakuza also tend to be oddballs. I was mentored into an early understanding and appreciation of the code of both the yakuza and the cops. Reciprocity and honor are essential components for both. 
 
I also think the fact that I'm too stupid to be afraid when I should be, and annoyingly persistent as well—these things didn't help me in long-term romance, but they helped me as a crime reporter.

Do you feel that investigative journalism is being threatened or aided by the expansion of the Internet and news blogs, and the closing down of many printed newspapers?

In one sense it is being threatened because investigative journalism is rarely a solo project. It requires huge amounts of resources, capital, and time to really do one story correctly. Legal costs and FOIA documents are expensive things. The bigger the target, the greater the risk and the more money is required. The second-biggest threat to investigative journalism is crooked lawyers and corporate shills who sue as a harassment tactic. In general, it's rather hard and time-consuming to be an army of one. It took me almost three years to break the story about yakuza receiving liver transplants at UCLA on my own. The costs in financial terms were immense, and so were the losses along the way. A team of reporters could have done the work much faster, probably.

However, these things said, blogging is also a great source of news that might go unreported, or be overlooked, by the mainstream media. Twitter, too, has had an interesting impact, actually helping a journalist get out of jail in the case of James Karl Buck. We're beginning to see kind of a public option in investigative journalism, too—such as things like ProPublica. They do an awesome job at investigative journalism, partly through donations, and they have a great Web site. So the Internet is not all bad for investigative journalism, as long as we proceed with caution and forethought. At the same time, real intelligence-gathering work actually requires you to put down your cell phone and your computer and get off your ass and meet people in the real world. As odious as it may be, we have to sift through garbage, pound the pavement, and visit the scene of the crime. Not all answers can be found in front of a keyboard, or on Google, and the "it's all in the database" mentality is the bane of reporting and often generates shoddy reporting. HUMINT is essential.

The individual journalist can do great investigative work—it's just a lot harder, and usually financially difficult to do unless you're independently wealthy, like Bruce Wayne. Most of us don't have the time or the resources or the luxury of holding down a day job and doing investigative journalism on the side, as a hobby.

Has anything changed with regard to sex trafficking in Japan in the recent past?

Japan should be given credit for really cracking down on the sexual trafficking and exploitation of foreign women. Unfortunately, this has prompted the scumbags who rule the human-trafficking world to set their sights on domestic victims, usually runaway teenage girls.
 
I'm on the Board of Directors of Polaris Project Japan, a nonprofit organization that set up hotlines several years ago for foreign human-trafficking victims. We are now receiving many calls from teenage girls who are being blackmailed or coerced into prostitution. Of course, these girls also provide fodder for child pornography and neo-child pornography, which Japan still produces in great amounts.
 
It would be nice to see Japan create some real shelters for teenage runaways rather than just driving them into the arms of the bad guys. 

In Tokyo Vice, there is a price placed on your head by a certain yakuza faction. Can you travel freely in Japan today?

I wish I knew the answer to this one. I'm still nominally under the protection of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. The faction I pissed off, the Goto-gumi, has been split into two groups. Goto Tadamasa, their leader, is now allegedly retired and a Buddhist priest. He was a notorious yakuza gang boss, very wealthy, and known to decimate his enemies—even public figures. He may be officially retired, but cars belonging to the Goto-gumi have been showing up parked around my neighborhood. You can recognize them by their license plates, which include the number 510, readable as go-to in Japanese—and they are usually black Mercedes-Benz. Yakuza love German cars. I don't know why the cars are there, but it makes me feel ill at ease.
 
I've also unintentionally alienated the leader of the Matsuba-kai, another Tokyo crime group, by mentioning him in a Japanese article I wrote on Goto's deal with the FBI. This guy didn't make a deal with the FBI, though, as far as I know. I'm pointing that out so maybe he'll decide I haven't smeared mud on his face.
 
I go back and forth between the United States and Japan, and when I'm in Japan, I have a bodyguard and driver who used to be a yakuza crime boss himself. He travels with me constantly when I'm there—like a really, really, really big shadow. 
 
The thing about the worst of the yakuza—and they're not all evil—is that you can't worry only about your own physical safety. There's a chance that your friends or loved ones will be brutalized in your place. It's certainly happened in Japan before, to other journalists. Even if you're not terrorized physically, they can still ruin your life. Goto-gumi is a great intelligence-gathering organization, and extortion and blackmail are powerful tools to discredit someone or make them shut up—even Japan's National Police Agency noted the group's ability to use the media to silence their enemies. In the Goto-gumi's case, they actually own a private detective agency. That's not uncommon for organized crime groups in Japan, as is noted in the book. There are many yakuza groups that excel in collecting damaging information on cops and writers who get in their way. This summer in a police raid, the Aichi Police Department found the car registrations of several of their detectives in the offices of the yakuza. In other words, the yakuza know where the detectives live, and probably much more. That's what makes them formidable entities—because if you cross them, they'll expose your quirks, fetishes, weaknesses, indiscretions, and mistakes to the world. Failing that, they'll find someone you care about and ruin their life.
 
I realized several years ago, when I started writing about human-trafficking issues in Japan, that I was able to accept the possibility of getting whacked in the process of reporting on the criminals involved. Not that I would be happy about it—but I accepted the risk. What I can't accept is the risk that what I choose to do endangers people I care for, or the sources who trust me. I've done everything I can to minimize those risks, and perhaps some of it has been unsavory. You can't deal with the most violent and sociopathic factions of the yakuza without becoming a little like them yourself. 毒をもって毒を制す。: "Fight poison with poison." It's a handy Japanese proverb to know.

What do you hope your American audience can learn from your book?

I think everyone will take away something different from the book. I suppose you can learn a lot about how journalism works in Japan, how the police work, and how the yakuza work. I would also hope that people take away from the book an understanding of some of the things I really like about Japan and the Japanese, things like reciprocity, honor, loyalty, and stoic suffering. I think in Japan, I learned how important it is to keep your word, to never forget your debts—and not just the financial ones—and to make repayment in due course. Perhaps that's what honor is all about. 
 
There's a word in Japanese, 反面教師, hanmen kyoshi, which means, more or less, "the teacher who teaches by his bad example." At times, I'm an excellent hanmen kyoshi in the book.
 
Everything I've learned that's important to me is in the book somewhere. I hope there's something universal in the contents beyond just making people aware of cultural differences between the United States and Japan, or reiterating the importance and value of investigative journalism. Like a book I would choose to read to my children, I hope there's some kind of moral to it all. Maybe the real lesson is to be kind and helpful to the people you care about whenever you can, because it's good for them, and good for you, and your time with them may be much shorter than you imagined.
 
 


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

“Groundbreaking reporting on the yakuza. . . . Adelstein shares juicy, salty, and occasionally funny anecdotes, but many are frightening. . . . Adelstein doesn’t lack for self-confidence . . . but beneath the bravado are a big heart and a relentless drive for justice.”--The Boston Globe 

 “Gripping. . . . [Adelstein’s] vividly detailed account of investigations into the shadowy side of Japan shows him to be more enterprising, determined and crazy than most. . . . In some of the freshest pages of the book, our unlikely hero tells us about his initiation into the seamy, tough-guy Japan beneath the public courtesies,. . . . Adelstein builds his stories with as much surprise and grit as any Al Pacino or Mark Wahlberg movie, blurring the lines between the cops, the crooks and even the journalists. . . . Tokyo Vice is often so snappy and quotable that it sounds as if it were a treatment for a Scorsese movie set in Queens. Yet the facts beneath the noirish lines are assembled with what looks to be ferocious diligence and resourcefulness. For even as he is getting slapped around by thugs and placed under police protection, Adelstein never loses his gift for crisp storytelling and an unexpectedly earnest eagerness to try to rescue the damned.”—Pico Iyer, Time

"A journalist's memoir unlike any I've ever read."--Dave Davies, Fresh Air
 
“Marvelous. . . . Tokyo Vice offers a fascinating glimpse into Japan’s end-of-last-century newspaper culture as seen from a gaijin’s perspective. It’s filled with startling anecdotes and revelations. . . . Adelstein writes of his quest for scoops with sardonic wit, and his snappy style mixes the tropes of detective fiction with the broader perspective of David Simon’s books as he makes a careful account of his journalistic wins and losses. . . . The author’s gallows humor bleeds into even darker, more serious hues once Adelstein starts covering the Japanese mafia. . . . Astonishingly proves that no matter how weird and perverse Japan may seem in fiction, the real thing never fails to exceed our most violent expectations.”—Sarah Weinman, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
 
Tokyo Vice succeeds on several levels: as gripping journalism, as a ragged crime tale, as culture-shock memoir. Stakes are raised in its third act as the yakuza exercise increasing pressure on Adelstein, but he pursues the story anyway. Obviously, he lived to tell his tale — and thank goodness, because it’s a fascinating one.” —BOOKGASM
 
“Engrossing. . . . fast-paced.”—The Atlanta-Journal Constitution

“Exposes Tokyo’s darkest, seamiest, most entertaining corners. . . . [A] gritty, true-to-life account of 12 years on the news beat as a staffer for a Japanese daily — and it is exceptional. Its classic atmospherics rekindle memories of Walter Winchell and Eliot Ness. It’s a tale of adrenalin-depleting 80-hour weeks, full ashtrays, uncooperative sources, green tea, hard liquor, and forays into the commercialized depravity of Shinjuku’s Kabukicho. . . . Definitely raises the bar. . . .  A classic piece of 20th century crime reporting.”—The Japan Times

"[A] gripping story. . . . Pulls the curtain back on a sordid element of Japanese society that few Westerners ever see. In addition to his clash with [a] yakuza boss, Adelstein details the more notable cases from his 12-year career at the Yomiuri, including "The Chichibu Snack-mama Murder Case" and "The Emperor of Loan Sharks." No less fascinating is the view Adelstein provides into Japanese society itself. . . . Adelstein's Tokyo is a veritable Gomorrah where nearly every act of intimacy is legally bought and sold."—San Francisco Examiner

"Debut author Adelstein began with a routine, but never dull, police beat; before long, he was notorious worldwide for engaging the dirtiest, top-most villains of Japan's organized criminal underworld, the yakuza. Thanks to [Adelstein's] immersive reporting, readers suffer with him through the choice between personal safety and a chance to confront the evil inhabiting his city. . . . Adelstein also examines the investigative reporter's tendency to withdraw into cynicism ("when a reporter starts to cool down, it's very hard… ever to warm up again") but faithfully sidesteps that urge, producing a deeply thought-provoking book: equal parts cultural exposé, true crime, and hard-boiled noir."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Not just a hard-boiled true-crime thriller, but an engrossing, troubling look at crime and human exploitation in Japan."—Kirkus

"Terrific. With gallows humor and a hardboiled voice, Adelstein takes readers on a shadow journey through the Japanese underworld and examines the twisted relationships of journalists, cops, and gangsters. Expertly told and highly entertaining."—George Pelecanos

"Sacred, ferocious and businesslike. This is the Japanese mafia that Adelstein describes like nobody else." —Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System

"A gripping and absorbing read. Very few foreigners ever come close to discovering what's really going on in Japan's closed society. Adelstein chases two major stories that pull him into a vortex of destruction, threatening his friendships, his marriage and even his life. As he battles with profound issues concerning truth and trust, Tokyo Vice approaches a heart-pounding denouement. This is a terrifying, deeply moral story which you cannot put down, and Adelstein, if occasionally reckless, is an extremely courageous man."—Misha Glenny, author of McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld

"A tale of a gaijin who stumbled onto a story so important and so dangerous that it put his life at risk. A yakuza offered him half a million dollars not to tell it. He wrote this book instead." —Peter Hessler, author of River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

"In this dark, often humorous journey through the underworld of Tokyo, Jake Adelstein captures exactly what it means to be a gaijin and a reporter. Whether he is hunting for tips in Kabukicho or pressing yakuza for information, it is an adventure only he could write. For anyone interested in Japan or journalism, this is a must read." —Robert Whiting author of Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan

"Anyone interested in tattooed yakuza, 'soapland' brothels, and the various other aspects of Japan's lurid underbelly is guaranteed to be electrified by Tokyo Vice. Why is a manual on the perfect way to commit suicide a Japanese bestseller? Who goes to sexual harassment clinics? What's it like to spend a night in a male hostess bar? Tokyo Vice reveals all this and more. It's a story of lust and profit; a chronicle of fear and determination; most of all, a modern bildungsroman that simultaneously illuminates the soul of its narrator and that of modern Japan through the underside of Tokyo, the world's most fascinating city. I loved this book for many reasons—its humor, its pathos, its insight, its honesty—and maybe most of all, for reminding me of how lucky I am to live here."—Barry Eisler, author of Fault Line

"Jake Adelstein's razor straight reporting from the mean streets of Tokyo is a coming of age story that reveals more than it pretends to—because he has the guts to find the truth, and the gall to tell it."—Roland Kelts, author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S.

"Vivid, insightful, and totally revealing of the decadent, seedy and sexual parts of Japanese society, Tokyo Vice is ripping fun."—Karl Taro Greenfeld, author of Speed Tribes: Days and Nights with Japan's Next Generation

"Jake Adelstein writes in the classic hard-boiled Dashiell Hammett manner—complete with stubbed out cigarettes and a shot of whiskey shared with his cop informant—but this is not San Francisco or New York, it's Tokyo, and it's not fiction.  Those who live and work in Japan will recognize reality on every page.  It's at times a harsh and ugly reality, but depicted humorously with whimsical details of Japan's twilight world that we only dreamt of. A guaranteed page-turner." —Alex Kerr, author of Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan

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