Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan
by Jake Adelstein
Publisher: Vintage Books
If you believe what you see in Japanese anime and throughout western pop culture, the Land of the Rising Sun can be a pretty vicious place, filled with finger-severing yakuza thugs, bizarre acts of violence and even more bizarre acts of sexual depravity. In Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan, longtime gaijin reporter and first-time novelist Jake Adelstein doesn’t just reinforce these notions, he ups the ante, presenting a part of Japan that’s more vicious, stranger than fiction and more depraved than the typical American could possibly imagine. As heartbreaking as it is humorous, Adelstein’s foray into Tokyo’s seediest underbellies is perhaps the most disturbing perspective on Japanese atrocities since 1996’s The Cult at the End of the World and the best true crime piece I’ve read in years.
Written with a mixture of sympathy, well-earned cynicism and meticulous attention to journalistic detail, Tokyo Vice is Adelstein’s account of his decade-plus experiences working the crime beat for Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun. It’s not a pretty story. The Tokyo that Adelstein experiences is a land overrun by “drugs, prostitution, sexual slavery, rip-off bars, dating clubs, massage parlors, S-and-M parlors, pornography shops and porn producers, high-dollar hostess clubs, low-dollar blowjob salons, more than a hundred different yakuza factions, the Chinese mafia, gay prostitute bars, sex clubs, female junior high school students’ soiled uniforms/panties resale shops,” among a host of other sleazebags. Before long Adelstein is buddying up to cops and mafia, sleeping with yakuza women and living in a world where kennel owners moonlight as serial killers, rapists prey on foreign women and most authorities treat female rape victims like predators. Factor in a powerful yakuza boss who wants him dead, a human sex trafficking operation that Adelstein hurls himself into the middle of and a secret deal between the FBI and a mafia kingpin in need of a new liver, and never has the “reads like fiction” tag been more appropriate.
But what makes this memoir so phenomenal is the author’s ability to play both factual chronologist and gonzo journalist, making the reader feel like both a casual outsider and someone deeply vested in Adelstein’s life. The author ultimately presents a deeply amoral and impersonal Tokyo sub-society, where suicide is a way of life, humans are sex objects and organized crime is celebrated (yakuza are featured in fan magazines and print their affiliation on business cards), tolerated and ignored. The human cost, as Adelstein says, is tremendous, and he ought to know: His ventures into the yakuza sex trafficking business nearly ruin his life, (probably) even resulting in a dear friend being tortured to death.
The book was originally published in October 2009, but some of us were too busy reading crime fiction for the past year to check out Tokyo Vice. Some of us were missing out. A deeply human perspective on a dehumanizing subculture, this is the type of book the oft-tedious true crime genre could use more often. If every true crime manuscript was this gripping, there would be no need for fiction.
by Marcus David