Tokyo Vice, a book about an American journalist on the yakuza hit list

Tokyo_vice 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

6 thoughts on “Tokyo Vice, a book about an American journalist on the yakuza hit list

  1. I bought it mainly to keep the guy alive, as yakuza is a bit too scary for me. My husband is reading it as it’s right up his alley, and says it’s very engaging.

  2. This guy was on NPR a few weeks ago talking about it…crazy stuff about the yakuza and the cops and why no one ever busts these guys.
    And yea, he said he was almost afraid to go back to japan for fear of his life.

  3. I just finished reading it last night too. It is an excellent look behind the scenes at the relationships between the Yakuza and the rest of society. It was hard to read the last few chapters, though, when you see how much the work affected the author.

  4. Some of this was published GQ or Esquire or Maxim or one of those mags a few months ago and what I read was pretty insane. Definitely gonna’ have to pick this book up.

  5. I read the book and saw the segment on 60 Minutes I found it a pretty good read.
    One thing the book cleared up for me was what I’ve heard interviewers in the U.S. ask Adelstein with a certain amount of astonishment: the idea that reporters “bribe” cops and their families with gifts. Technically, I suppose they are bribes, but within the Japanese culture (as I understand it, anyway) the practice seems reasonable and not entirely inappropriate.