Sunday, May 2, 2010

62. Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein

I can't remember if I read about this book online first or if I saw Adelstein interviewed on The Daily Show first. Either way, I really wanted to read this based on what I was hearing about it. I had plenty of time to get excited about it because there was a 4 month wait at the library. 4 MONTHS! Sheesh.

From the only American journalist ever to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police press club: a unique, first-hand, revelatory look at Japanese culture from the underbelly up. At nineteen, Jake Adelstein went to Japan in search of peace and tranquility. What he got was a life of crime... crime reporting, that is, at the prestigious Yomiuri Shinbun. For twelve years of eighty-hour workweeks, he covered the seedy side of Japan, where extortion, murder, human trafficking, and corruption are as familiar as ramen noodles and sake. But when his final scoop brought him face-to-face with Japan's most infamous yakuza boss - and the threat of death for him and his family - Adelstein decided to step down... momentarily. Then he fought back. In Tokyo Vice, Adelstein tells the riveting, often humorous tale of his journey from an inexperienced cub reporter - who made rookie mistakes like getting into a martial-arts battle with a senior editor - to a daring investigative journalist with a price on his head. With its vivid visceral descriptions of crime in Japan and an exploration of the world of modern-day yakuza that even few Japanese ever see, Tokyo Vice is a fascination, and an education, from start to finish.

Summary lifted from the book jacket. Colin typed it up for because he can't stand my hunt-and-peck typing.

So, yeah. When I hear about Tokyo Vice, I thought it was going to be all about Adelstein's troubles with the Yakuza. I didn't connect that the title refers to the vice beat that he covered as a reporter. There's a lot of ugly stuff in this book about human trafficking, the sex trade in Japan, and the police force's dismissive attitude toward rape victims. There was one chapter in particular about an all-night tour he was given of the sex shop area that really got to me. Also, some very bad things happen -- a friend of Adelstein's disappears while helping him track down a story and someone shows him graphic photos of a murder victim, claiming that the murdered woman is his missing friend. Also, Adelstein didn't come off as very likeable to me. He never really explains why he went to live in Japan in the first place, which I found off-putting. He's very honest and upfront about the less sympathetic choices that he makes, and I respect that. But it doesn't really change the fact that he wasn't someone I was whole-heartedly rooting for.

Okay, I think that covers the cons. Let's get to the pros. Adelstein provides extensive background on journalism in Japan, which is very interesting. He's a talented writer, I give him that. And I don't know a lot about Japan, so I enjoyed learning more about the country as he experienced it. Here's one quote that I thought was especially interesting:

"It says a great deal about the safety of the country [Japan] that a murder, any murder, is national news. There are exceptions, however, and that's when the victim is Chinese, a yakuza, a homeless person, or a nonwhite foreigner. Then the news value drops 50%."

That's something I probably never would have known otherwise. So it wasn't a complete waste of time, even if the review makes it sound that way at first.

Ultimately, I was expecting to read part crime story, part memoir along the lines of American Shaolin by Matthew Polly. Not the case. Suffice it to say that I wish I had realized what I was getting into. A different mindset going in would have helped me enjoy this book more or get something more out of it. 

Here's the interview with Adelstein on The Daily Show:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Jake Adelstein
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

If you're interested, give the book a shot. You might love it, even if I didn't.

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