I just finished reading Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan. It’s a new book written by a guy named Jake Adelstein. If you haven’t seen his byline, it’s probably because he spent over a decade as a reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun — the Japanese version, that is. The book kicks off with funny stories of how Adelstein came to Japan to study Buddhism but ended up studying his ass off to pass the Japanese language reporter exam. Miraculously, he gets accepted and is thrown into detective-like work on the police and crime beats in the Tokyo area. Through anecdotes of his own mishaps as the only foreigner among all his Japanese colleagues and sources, we get some fun insights on Japanese culture. But the book also takes us deep into the world of Japanese crime beat reporting, illuminating the relationships among the police force and the yakuza and the media. It’s interesting — you hear bits and pieces of this stuff on the news and in academic papers, but it’s much more fun to read a first person account of someone who was really there. Towards the end, the book takes on a much scarier tone as Adelstein gets wrapped up in some serious yakuza conspiracies — I won’t go into detail here, but the threats that Adelstein faces are real and present, and he doesn’t sleep well at night.
I actually had the pleasure of meeting Adelstein yesterday; we and Hiroko Tabuchi of the New York Times hung out over Peking Duck and drinks in Roppongi. He is as fun and crazy as he appears to be in the book, which is a good thing. I should also mention that the writing is superb — I start reading a lot of books about Japan written by non-Japanese people, but rarely do I finish them out of anything other than a sense of obligation. This one, though, had me hooked to the end.
Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein = 5/5