Over at Boing Boing, we’re doing a special yakuza feature series with Tokyo Vice author Jake Adelstein. Today we kicked it off with a Q&A in which we peer into his life a bit and get some interesting anecdotes, like how he beat a yakuza with a golf club and why Jake thinks yakuza are actually more honorable than most Americans.
To explain the latter, Jake uses this saying: Bushi ni nigon wa nai, or “a warrior does not have a forked tongue.”
Unlike in America, where someone’s word is as light as a feather, some of the yakuza guys have demonstrated incredible loyalty. If they promise something — if they give their word — they honor it, even if that promise is no longer convenient or even detrimental to keep. Bushi ni nigon wa nai. Once you’ve said it, then you’ll do it. A promise is a promise. It’s so rare to meet anybody in this world who has any sense of honor, who puts actual importance in keeping their word. That’s one of the nicer things about them.
I was a very typical American when I started on this beat. I’d say I’d be somewhere and I wouldn’t, I was late for appointments… To me those are typical American traits — sloppy, forgetful, doesn’t honor their word, and doesn’t remember the favors that have been done to them. Over time, I’ve learned that if you say to one of these people, yeah I’ll call you, then you better call them. Every time you say you’ll do something, you do it, and you build credibility with these people. I’m willing to accept their codes of behavior and live by them.
Although I hate to stereotype, in my experience I have found this to generally be true. People are so much more likely to flake or be late in my social life in America than in Japan. Here in the US, people hardly ever call back in two minutes if they say they’ll call back in two minutes. I even notice myself honoring my word more carefully in Japan. It’s an interesting cultural difference, and I have to agree with Jake that it’s nicer when people keep their word.