Tokyo Vice: Interview with Jake Adelstein

Read an exciting (sort of) interview with the author and chief editor of the web-site,  Jake Adelstein.

I’ve been working on this thing now for almost three years and its nice to finally see it in print. If you’re curious about the sex industry in Japan, about yakuza, cops, journalists and all that can go terribly wrong in the little island country of the rising sun, please read the book.   The following interview was done for Random House, who have been kind enough to publish the book.

adelsteintokyo

What drew you to Japan in the first place, and how did you wind up going to university there?

In high school I had many problems with anger and self-control. I had been studying Zen Buddhism and karate, and I thought Japan would be the perfect place to reinvent myself. It could be that my pointy right ear draws me toward neo-Vulcan pursuits—I don’t know.

When I got to Japan, I managed to find lodgings in a Soto Zen Buddhist temple where I lived for three years, attending zazen meditation at least once a week. I didn’t become enlightened, but I did get a better hold on myself.

How did you become a journalist for the most popular Japanese-language newspaper?

The Yomiuri Shinbun runs a standardized test, open to all college students. Many Japanese firms hire young grads this way. My friends thought that the idea of a white guy trying to pass a Japanese journalist’s exam was so impossibly quixotic that I wanted to prove them wrong. I spent an entire year eating instant ramen and studying. I managed to find the time to do it by quitting my job as an English teacher and working as a Swedish-massage therapist for three overworked Japanese women two days a week. It turned out to be a slightly sleazy gig, but it paid the bills.

There was a point when I was ready to give up studying and the application process. Then, when I was in Kabukicho on June 22, 1992, I asked a tarot fortune-telling machine for advice on my career path, and it said that with my overpowering morbid curiosity I was destined to become a journalist, a job at which I would flourish, and that fate would be on my side. I took that as a good sign. I still have the printout.

I did well enough on the initial exam to get to the interviews, and managed to stumble my way through that process and get hired. I think I was an experimental case that turned out reasonably well.

How did you succeed in uncovering the underworld in a country that is famously “closed” or restricted to foreigners? Do you think people talked more openly to you because you were American?


I think Japan is actually more open than people give it credit for. However, to get the door open, you really need to become fluent in the spoken and written language. The written language was a nightmare for me.

You’re right, though; it was mostly an advantage to be a foreigner—it made me memorable. The yakuza are outsiders in Japanese society, and perhaps being a fellow outsider gave us a weird kind of bond. The cops investigating the yakuza also tend to be oddballs. I was mentored into an early understanding and appreciation of the code of both the yakuza and the cops. Reciprocity and honor are essential components for both.

I also think the fact that I’m too stupid to be afraid when I should be, and annoyingly persistent as well—these things didn’t help me in long-term romance, but they helped me as a crime reporter.

Do you feel that investigative journalism is being threatened or aided by the expansion of the Internet and news blogs, and the closing down of many printed newspapers?

In one sense it is being threatened because investigative journalism is rarely a solo project. It requires huge amounts of resources, capital, and time to really do one story correctly. Legal costs and FOIA documents are expensive things. The bigger the target, the greater the risk and the more money is required. The second-biggest threat to investigative journalism is crooked lawyers and corporate shills who sue as a harassment tactic. In general, it’s rather hard and time-consuming to be an army of one. It took me almost three years to break the story about yakuza receiving liver transplants at UCLA on my own. The costs in financial terms were immense, and so were the losses along the way. A team of reporters could have done the work much faster, probably.

However, these things said, blogging is also a great source of news that might go unreported, or be overlooked, by the mainstream media. Twitter, too, has had an interesting impact, actually helping a journalist get out of jail in the case of James Karl Buck. We’re beginning to see kind of a public option in investigative journalism, too—such as things like ProPublica. They do an awesome job at investigative journalism, partly through donations, and they have a great Web site. So the Internet is not all bad for investigative journalism, as long as we proceed with caution and forethought. At the same time, real intelligence-gathering work actually requires you to put down your cell phone and your computer and get off your ass and meet people in the real world. As odious as it may be, we have to sift through garbage, pound the pavement, and visit the scene of the crime. Not all answers can be found in front of a keyboard, or on Google, and the “it’s all in the database” mentality is the bane of reporting and often generates shoddy reporting. HUMINT is essential.

The individual journalist can do great investigative work—it’s just a lot harder, and usually financially difficult to do unless you’re independently wealthy, like Bruce Wayne. Most of us don’t have the time or the resources or the luxury of holding down a day job and doing investigative journalism on the side, as a hobby.

Has anything changed with regard to sex trafficking in Japan in the recent past?

Japan should be given credit for really cracking down on the sexual trafficking and exploitation of foreign women. Unfortunately, this has prompted the scumbags who rule the human-trafficking world to set their sights on domestic victims, usually runaway teenage girls.

I’m on the Board of Directors of Polaris Project Japan, a nonprofit organization that set up hotlines several years ago for foreign human-trafficking victims. We are now receiving many calls from teenage girls who are being blackmailed or coerced into prostitution. Of course, these girls also provide fodder for child pornography and neo-child pornography, which Japan still produces in great amounts.

It would be nice to see Japan create some real shelters for teenage runaways rather than just driving them into the arms of the bad guys.

In Tokyo Vice, there is a price placed on your head by a certain yakuza faction. Can you travel freely in Japan today?

I wish I knew the answer to this one. I’m still nominally under the protection of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. The faction I pissed off, the Goto-gumi, has been split into two groups. Goto Tadamasa, their leader, is now allegedly retired and a Buddhist priest. He was a notorious yakuza gang boss, very wealthy, and known to decimate his enemies—even public figures. He may be officially retired, but cars belonging to the Goto-gumi have been showing up parked around my neighborhood. You can recognize them by their license plates, which include the number 510, readable as go-to in Japanese—and they are usually black Mercedes-Benz. Yakuza love German cars. I don’t know why the cars are there, but it makes me feel ill at ease.

I’ve also unintentionally alienated the leader of the Matsuba-kai, another Tokyo crime group, by mentioning him in a Japanese article I wrote on Goto’s deal with the FBI. This guy didn’t make a deal with the FBI, though, as far as I know. I’m pointing that out so maybe he’ll decide I haven’t smeared mud on his face.

I go back and forth between the United States and Japan, and when I’m in Japan, I have a bodyguard and driver who used to be a yakuza crime boss himself. He travels with me constantly when I’m there—like a really, really, really big shadow.

The thing about the worst of the yakuza—and they’re not all evil—is that you can’t worry only about your own physical safety. There’s a chance that your friends or loved ones will be brutalized in your place. It’s certainly happened in Japan before, to other journalists. Even if you’re not terrorized physically, they can still ruin your life. Goto-gumi is a great intelligence-gathering organization, and extortion and blackmail are powerful tools to discredit someone or make them shut up—even Japan’s National Police Agency noted the group’s ability to use the media to silence their enemies. In the Goto-gumi’s case, they actually own a private detective agency. That’s not uncommon for organized crime groups in Japan, as is noted in the book. There are many yakuza groups that excel in collecting damaging information on cops and writers who get in their way. This summer in a police raid, the Aichi Police Department found the car registrations of several of their detectives in the offices of the yakuza. In other words, the yakuza know where the detectives live, and probably much more. That’s what makes them formidable entities—because if you cross them, they’ll expose your quirks, fetishes, weaknesses, indiscretions, and mistakes to the world. Failing that, they’ll find someone you care about and ruin their life.

I realized several years ago, when I started writing about human-trafficking issues in Japan, that I was able to accept the possibility of getting whacked in the process of reporting on the criminals involved. Not that I would be happy about it—but I accepted the risk. What I can’t accept is the risk that what I choose to do endangers people I care for, or the sources who trust me. I’ve done everything I can to minimize those risks, and perhaps some of it has been unsavory. You can’t deal with the most violent and sociopathic factions of the yakuza without becoming a little like them yourself. 毒をもって毒を制す。: “Fight poison with poison.” It’s a handy Japanese proverb to know.

What do you hope your American audience can learn from your book?

I think everyone will take away something different from the book. I suppose you can learn a lot about how journalism works in Japan, how the police work, and how the yakuza work. I would also hope that people take away from the book an understanding of some of the things I really like about Japan and the Japanese, things like reciprocity, honor, loyalty, and stoic suffering. I think in Japan, I learned how important it is to keep your word, to never forget your debts—and not just the financial ones—and to make repayment in due course. Perhaps that’s what honor is all about.

There’s a word in Japanese, 反面教師, hanmen kyoshi, which means, more or less, “the teacher who teaches by his bad example.” At times, I’m an excellent hanmen kyoshi in the book.

Everything I’ve learned that’s important to me is in the book somewhere. I hope there’s something universal in the contents beyond just making people aware of cultural differences between the United States and Japan, or reiterating the importance and value of investigative journalism. Like a book I would choose to read to my children, I hope there’s some kind of moral to it all. Maybe the real lesson is to be kind and helpful to the people you care about whenever you can, because it’s good for them, and good for you, and your time with them may be much shorter than you imagined.



Comments
85 Responses to “Tokyo Vice: Interview with Jake Adelstein”
  1. Benjamin says:

    Congrats for the book! I hope to finally meet with you next time I’m in Tokyo :-)

  2. Charles Houser says:

    Just finished the book. It was great. I was sad at the end. I was really hoping she wasn’t hurt. I am coming to yokohama in Jan. I hope to one day meet you. I too love japanese culture and hope that human trafficking will stop in japan one day.

  3. Holly says:

    Just fnished the book, glad yer not dead. Hope to see more from you! Heard you on the Seattle NPR interview, hope that generated more new readers for you!

  4. Adam Bjornholm says:

    I just finished your book. Really takes me back. I spent ten years in Japan, but it’s the last one that really coincides with the stories in your book. I work in Tokyo for a year after high school and dated a girl who lived in the Shinjuku area. Spending time with her (she was friends with girls in the business, not in it herself) and many of my friends in the Roppongi area were some of the craziest times of my life. Has I known what you went through in the same areas, at about the same time, I would have been a lot more worried about my actions. Anyways, I loved the book and all the subtleties of Japan that you so accurately unearthed, and I can’t wait to read your future writings.

    • Would that Shinjuku girl have been Sheena Ringo? (Just kidding). I avoided the craziness of Roppongi until well into my adult life. I’m glad the book brought back some hopefully good memories.

  5. MC says:

    Tokyo Vice – a fantastic read. A lot of fun. A question: Why don’t they allow foreign men into the sex clubs, as you mention in your book. Give me your top three reasons why. Is it because of the language and problems that might cause? Is it because of the prices, and that the gaijin may get mad and punch somebody? Is it because of AIDS? They have foreign women working in many sex places, so why not allow foreign men to be customers? I need to spend my money somewhere.

  6. MC says:

    My apologies. I sent a comment on the 30th (a few days ago), after reading the first half of the book, and at that point the book was a lot of fun. On the following day I began with the Lucie Blackman chapter, and wow, was it different. I had to check the cover. Was I reading the same book? But an equally fantastic read, just serious from that point on. Also, it answered my question that I asked, although it doesn’t explain why foreign men are not allowed into clubs where only Japanese work (BTW, I never spend money that way. Sorry to be flippant.) Very sad story about the reporter friend who hanged herself. She should have looked for work as a reporter elsewhere, clearly. Suggesting that she wait it out was not good advice, although you meant well. She needed more of your time, and you needed to point out other options to her. Tough. All of us need help sometimes. And excellent work on the abuse of foreign women (and I’m sure Japanese women) in Japan. Keep it up. They need you. They need help, too.

  7. AS says:

    I just finished reading your book. In some sense, you lived my dream – you were a journalist in Japan. But as for the things you lived THROUGH – seems like the stuff of nightmares, more than anything. I hope it’ll get easier from here on and you’ll be able to make a difference without nearly getting killed.
    P.S. I loved chapter dedicated to the Gen Sekine case – the way you wrote about it was extremely engaging.

    • Thank you! You’re the first person to say they really like the Gen Sekine chapters… I’m glad it worked. Figuring out how to frame story the right way was very hard. There was so much more that I couldn’t include.
      Happy New Year!

  8. Tom says:

    Fantastic book! I heard the interview on NPR, and being that I lived in Tokyo for 2.5 years, in AzabuJuban and Roppongi, I couldn’t wait to get the book.

    Sorry to hear about Helena. Happy to hear about the pursuit of the Noble Path. Learning the Nobel Path can change our situation, our conditioning, our intentions, which combine into the inevitable result. Likewise Goto’s situation, conditioning and intentions resulted in inevitable results, too.

    Fun to read about Almond Cafe, Propaganda, Roppongi Hills Tower — places I’ve been many times as I walked through the intersection to and from work at Sanno Park Tower each day. No reference to Don Quixote’s?

    Looking forward to future books and magazine articles, too. Thank you.

    • I’m far off the Noble Path or the Nobel (Peace Prize) path. It’s on the map. I don’t really know what happened to Helena. I still want to believe that things were different and that I was being prodded to do something I’m not capable of doing.
      In recent months, it’s become clear to me that I was certainly a pawn within the Yamaguchi-gumi power struggles. I’d like to think that halfway through, I turned into a knight or a bishop.
      There’s a Japanese saying I like (I’m fond of many of them) that sums up my feelings on a lot of what has happened in the last year. 一寸先は闇。issun saki wa yami (The next step is into darkness). I think that means more than just that we can’t know the future–sometimes we can’t even know the past.

      I’m not ready to walk the noble path. I have some debts that need to be repaid and that may require some deeds that are not very noble. Maybe, in time.

  9. Bryan Humphreys says:

    Thank you for a great read! I read a chapter here and there at Barnes and Noble and finally just bought the book and it was well worth it. Like some other commenters, It brought up memories of Japan and Tokyo for me too (I spent a year studying abroad). It also reminded me of the fact that it would take more than a lifetime or even a thousand lifetimes to really know everything that goes on in that city, but thats what I loved about it, it’s complexity. So thanks again for bringing out the character of Tokyo and telling your tale so well; it truly made a compelling read.

    I wish you the best with look forward to reading future articles/books.

  10. Chris Cooke says:

    Just finished the book. All I could think about while reading it is how many questions I would love to ask you! Reading about your experiences with 就職活動 really empowered me actually and I now have a possible Japanese interview coming up next month! If I could limit my laundry list to one question it’d be this: how the hell did you study kanji?! could one free year and unlimited instant ramen truly be the secret all of us gaijin are looking for? any tips would be greatly appreciated.
    I hope our paths will cross one day!

  11. Trevor Martin says:

    Jake, you are my hero! I dislike men who traffic women and men who know that they are trafficed but uses them anyway. your outrage with the japanese laws is my outrage. i am glad that you were in a position of power to at least address it. I have not yet finished the book, but it is better than I thought it would be. Although I also visit japan alot I must shout USA

  12. Trevor Martin says:

    I am sorry about your friend Helena. I just finished the book and I can not believe the strong emotional response it produced in me.

  13. Anthony Critttenden says:

    Hi Jake,

    I was a criminal intelligence analyst for the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Organized Crime and Criminal Intelligence in the 1980’s and 1990’s. During that time I worked the Yakuza for the Bureau and wrote alot of intelligence reports and public publications in regards to the Yakuza. At that time they were heavily involved in the property real estate buying binge of the Japanese in Hawaii and Continental USA. I found your book to be extremely accurate and insightful. Just wanted to thank you for a great book.

  14. Marie Galonski says:

    Saw you on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. That piqued my interest enough to buy the audiobook. (Thanks for reading it yourself; I always like to hear the author’s voice and inflection when I listen to a book.) What a great book! It was much more than I expected. I thought it was just going to be about Goto and his transplant story. So interesting to learn about the Japanese culture and your trials and tribulations in becoming a reporter. Good job!

  15. L says:

    The story in the book about what happened to Helena was very disturbing. With all your police contacts, were you never able to get any justice for her? Did you ever contact her family in Australia?

    • I contacted people she would have wanted to have known and I can’t say more without violating her privacy or what I would think were her wishes. I’m not sure what happened to her. I don’t know what to believe any more. There’s one person who could give me answers and he’s not talking. Thanks for writing.

  16. Nat says:

    After reading your book I am stunned, and so impressed. Your willingness to share your story in such an open way, and then this blog which makes you seem so accessible is really amazing. I immediately previewed Kaplan and Dubro’s book in the hopes of another lost weekend of intrigue and new information about this place… well, it didn’t happen. I find it is so rare to read an account of life and culture in Japan and not run into that tendency to slight exaggeration, journalistic sensationalism, that totally ruins the piece for me. It is the generalizations that are made from the point of view of an outsider, that seem to me just a little bit off, maybe only seeing one side of a complex issue, and I end up just sort of annoyed afterwards. Your observations were so spot on, and your matter-of-fact telling of the tale combined to make this unique work really work. I look forward to reading more.

  17. L Pai says:

    I just finished Tokyo Vice and could not put it down! It was fascinating to read about the many levels of the Japanese system you encountered. Journalism, human trafficking and yakuza are realms for a type A personality, and most Japanese know little about. Cops and yakuza -operating as two sides of the same coin.

    As a woman in Japan, I worked for several years on a landscape and construction crew in zen temples. Sometimes head monks seemed like yakuza (they drive in Benzes also). Thanks again for trying to do the right thing. When and what can we look forward to?

  18. Kinnon Yee says:

    Just finished it… Gotta say, you really nailed a lot of it on the head. I think that a lot of people have blinders on about what goes on in foreign countries that they “fall in love” with. I was lucky enough to make a stint in Japan for a year from 2005-2006 working for…. *gasp* NOVA… Yakuza funded or not, it was a quick way for me to get over there from Toronto for a while after being a huge Japano-phile for much of my life.

    Anyways, glad to see that you’re safe and I hope that you’ll continue to write about other things that interest you.

    • NOVA was sponsored with yakuza money and run like a yakuza scam. The real money came from the contracts that Japanese were pressured to sign and that couldn’t be nullified and were never refunded. Of course, they also used scary tactics to intimidate union-minded teachers as well, I’m told. But, if it got you to Japan and you had a good experience—well that’s not a bad thing.
      I think love is only blind for so long but I’ve never really fallen out of love with Japan and there are some great people here.

      頑張って

  19. Tom Callos says:

    Jake, a friend of mine, Peter Serafin here in Hawaii loaned me Tokyo Vice, which I just finished –and I’m compelled to write you and say thanks. I thoroughly enjoyed it, felt affection for you and your friends in it…and told my wife, a pretty CA blond with blue eyes who was once offered a job in Japan as a hostess (her girlfriends went, but she didn’t), that she was lucky she hadn’t gone! I’m going to watch your work carefully.

    Wonder if how involved the Yakuza is with professional MMA fighting in Japan…?

    Anyway, a great read, it pulled me in hard and fast –and I’m recommending it to my friends.
    Tom

  20. Nancy says:

    Jake, thank you for your enthralling presentation at UC Berkeley. My brother, who hasn’t bought a book in years, bought yours and can’t wait to start. Hope you’re feeling better after some California sunshine. Be safe and well — and good job on Jon Stewart. I noticed that his pronunciation of “yakuza” changed over the course of the interview with you!

  21. NARIKAWA Yuichi says:

    I just finished reading Tokyo Vice. It was fun to read for me especially Saitama part, cause I know some of your Yomiuri colleagues. I work for Kyodo and I was Urawa bureau. Just after you came, I left Saitama. I heard about you, saying “One of Yomiuri’s newbies is Gaijin and his Japanese is not so good”.
    I read would-be your Japanese comment on the web saying you are writing in Japanese version. I think writing in Japanese must be tougher than in English. Good luck. I am looking forward to read it.

    • Hahhah! Yes, my japanese was not so good. It only got worse. :)
      I was envious of kyodo guys; you had a real labor union.
      Honestly, I don’t think any publisher in Japan will have the guts to do this book.

  22. johnny doe says:

    Mr. Adelstein,
    I read your book in 3 days. It was amazing. Japan has always intrigued me, though I have never actually been there. The food, the women, the technology, everything just makes me want to go there.

    Alot of your writing definitely put me there, though in the context of your work. Some of the lines you wrote were just amazing, and some scenes visuallly jumped out at me, like I could see them in a movie.

    The one scene that stuck out the most was when you visit Sekuguchi, your mentor (I am SO sorry if i spelled his name wrong) in a suit and tie, and end up jogging with him and his kids, who actually run faster than you do. All your writing in this scene just put me right there, it was so raw and authentic, and I literally thought it would be a CLASSIC scene in a film. May your mentor rest in peace.

    As crazy as this may sound, my fantasy would be to someday, before I’m old like 33 and up, come home from a corporate job in a suit and tie to a beautiful, supportive Japanese wife.

    One question I do got for you is, did you ever end up attending law school in the United States?

    • @johny doe
      Sekiguchi was a great guy. And that is one of my favorite memories from my days on the police beat. Thank god I had a nice lightweight summer suit. Mmm…beautiful, supportive Japanese wife? They may exist but probably as rare as any beautiful, supportive wife. I never ended up attending law school in the US. I might try it in Japan someday, just for the hell of it.

  23. Joe Quinlan says:

    Jake,

    I’m almost at the end of the book. Do you think Juzo Itami was really murdered? And if he was murdered, why aren’t the Japanese police trying to solve the crime? And why would Itami’s family remain silent on the subject? Are they that afraid of the Yakuza? Even Nobuko?

    It feels like the Japanese police and Japanese society in general need to go after the Yakuza the way the Feds went after the Chicago Outfit with Family Secrets and Gambat, or Giuliani and Spitzer went after the New York Families. Will this ever happen? Is there any hope? I realize Japan has the lowest crime rate in the G7, so perhaps it is a moot point, but a part of me still says I can’t believe Japanese society would stand for this.

    Thanks,

    Joe

  24. Alan says:

    Book is very compelling, read it in a single setting.

  25. Joe Quinlan says:

    What bothers me after reading the book is, why aren’t the Japanese police trying to solve crimes like the case of Helena and Juzo Itami? Particularly in the case of Helena, there must be some record that she entered the country. She must have left traces of herself in other ways: utility bills, rent payments, bank accounts, etc. If she had a motorcycle, then she must have had a drivers license. What happened?

    • @Joe Nearly 90,000 people go missing in Japan every year. It’s a huge number. Roughly 280 people go missing each day–and that’s just the number of people who have had missing persons reports 「家出人捜査願」 filed with the police. I’m sure a great number of those people eventually show up but not all of them. Some people vanish because they don’t want to be found and start a new life. Some end up in the bottom of Tokyo bay or in a concrete drum. The Japanese police only seriously investigate missing persons reports if there is serious evidence of foul play. And when they do, they have not been very successful. As in the case of the lawyer and his family who were kidnapped and killed by Aum Shinrikyo in the 90’s.

  26. Molly says:

    Wow. I just finished the book and it’s been one of the best reads I’ve had in a long time. I only stumbled across it because it came up in a search for information on human trafficking Japan (I’m doing a research paper on trafficking in Japan for my Human Trafficking class). I remember hearing about your book when you came to Powell’s in Portland, OR, and now I seriously regret not going. Thanks for an amazing read and hope you’re doing well.

  27. Jim Benedict says:

    Jake-san,
    Excellent book. Your heat is almost Japanese. What a personal sacifice you have paid to right some of the wrongs in Japanese society. It is a strange place where such terrible things can exist. Born in Tokyo ’52 left in in ’83, I’ll always be Japanese in my heart.

    • Jim-san,
      Japan is a hard place to ever really leave. It’s probably changed a lot since you were here. I don’t know if my heart is Japanese but there are some aspects to the culture that I really like and thus I stay here.

  28. A.Nakamura says:

    Jake,
    Just finished reading your book and wanted to stop by your site and show support from Honolulu, HI. I resisted the urge to google Tadamasa Goto until I finished the book and I am glad I did. Good luck with life and I look forward to your next book.

  29. I was finally able to order the book, and read it cover to cover in less than 3 days. It’s well-written, funny but also harsh and realistic. It’s a hugely fascinating read and gives some insights into Japanese culture (not only the underworld) that is rare for most gaijin to experience.
    I hope you’re doing well and these underworld threats dissipate, allowing you to travel Japan again.

  30. Zack McConnell says:

    This books was utterly fascinating and entirely engaging! Please write more!

  31. Peter Lucraft says:

    Jake, reading your excellent and absorbing book “Tokyo Vice” took me back. I lived in Japan from mid-1993 to the end of 2002, learned Japanese while I was there, and frequented many of the haunts you write about. I recall talking to the BBC journalist Richard Parry about the Lucie Blackman case. I remember Roppongi becoming distinctly less appealing over the years as my Japanese improved. I thought at the time that I was becoming more localised, but plainly we were inhabiting entirely different universes. You really dived in head first.
    I now have a greater respect for Japanese journalists. If they bothered to learn how to lay out a paper, I might even be persuaded to read the Yomiuri now and then…
    I actually found your book at my local library here in Sydney, Australia. It’s galling and even poetically tragic to think that there’s a property somewhere Down Under that your friend Helena bought and paid for but never got to use. I’m not sure if her apparent disappearance made the media here (but usually the misadventures of young Aussies do gain some coverage — I think I’ll look into it, only been living here a few years).
    You sound like somebody psychologically torn between leaving Japan and staying. I met many gaijin who felt a bit like that if they were honest. Some become part of the woodwork and never leave. The country has such a fascinating appeal and is so endlessly intriguing (especially once you can speak the lingo). I remember that decade I lived in Tokyo as a wonderfully exciting time. I ended up marrying a gorgeous Korean woman that I met in a bar in Shibuya and migrating to Oz (after a few years living in Korea as well).
    So kudos to you for (a) learning Japanese, (b) being such a dedicated journalist, and making a difference, and (c) writing such an interesting book. Good luck with the next one. I hope your Buddhist studies help you find peace. Eventually. Yabu wo tsutsuite hebi wo dasu.

    • Peter,
      Thank you for taking so much time to write. What you have to say resonates with me. I don’t think her vanishing made the news. And I don’t know which passport was her real one. She was always very evasive on that. And I respected that.
      I like Japan. I’m happy there. I just wish there was a way to live there in peace, pay my bills, bring the family there, and not worry about their safety. I appreciate the kind words. I hope that you and your wife are living happily ever after Down Under.

      jake

  32. Raoul says:

    I was expecting your book to be a “cool” read, with a few thrills. What I didn’t expect was how blown away I’d be by the events that transpired and your (ongoing) story.
    You are doing an enormous amount of good in the world, and for the people who need it the most, and you’ve taken huge personal risks. I’m sure you’re not “perfect”, but Jake Adelstein you are a hero and an inspiration. Thank you.

    • Raoul-san, thank you. I’m definitely not a hero. Sometimes, I do some good. I have been careless recently and trusted untrustworthy people and almost caused great harm. Sometimes, doing no harm itself is not an easy task. I try to be a little more positive as well.
      I’m trying to live by the Japanese proverb “善は急げ” or hurry to do good. The chances we have in life to actually help someone or be a benefit to others are not often, and when we have them, we should leap at the chance. Often, instead of leaping, I drag myself there and do it.

  33. Raoul says:

    I was expecting your book to be a “cool” read, with a few thrills.
    I didn’t expect how blown away I’d be by the events in the book and your (ongoing) story.
    You are doing an enormous amount of good in the world, and for the
    people who need it the most. And you’ve taken huge personal risks.
    To me and I’m sure many others Jake you are a hero, and
    an inspiration. Thank you.

  34. Jimmy says:

    Congratulations on the BBC article!

    I finished Tokyo Vice ASAP after having been referenced this blog by a buddy (Japanese majors/travelers). Listened to the audiobook straight through — which was especially effective with your narration.

    Echoing all of those above, thank you for the good you’ve done for the world itself and for taking the time to reply to comments here. I’d also argue that “hero” title is all about intent, so you are very deserving. Try not to get into too much trouble before you can lecture in/visit Seattle (again) :( Amazing read — best wishes in all of your post-book endeavors, I’ll be following along!

  35. Adam says:

    I suppose this is the place to heap praise for the book! After reading your ‘review’ of Yakuza 3 on boingboing (via kotaku australia), I instantly jumped online and ordered Tokyo Vice. I’ve been absolutely gripped by it (I finished reading it at 3am last night…), and have recommended it to basically everyone I can. While some of the content is obviously depressing, it’s still great to know that there are people who are trying to make it right. I’ll try to avoid using the word “hero”, but still, your story is very profound and I think as many people as possible should read it so maybe there can be more justice in this world.

    (Also, your mentioning of Burning Productions as a Yakuza front-company sparked off a hunger for more information in my mind- I’m an avid fan/consumer of Japanese entertainment- and while my Japanese is elementary at best, you’ve inspired me to learn more about how things really work, not just accepting things at face value. Or at the very least, to get better at Japanese, haha)

    • Good luck learning Japanese. I still find it a fascinating language. As for more justice in the world, that would be awesome. I want to believe that karma exists. I’d be a better neo-Buddhist if I did. It seems like the only karma in the world is the one we make ourselves. The law is supposed to institutionalize karma and justice, but it often comes up short. But at least there are some really dedicated people in the world trying to see that justice is served.

  36. Nuno says:

    Hey Jake.. I bought Tokyo Vice 2 days ago and quickly finished it.
    It was a great read, and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt so emotionally down after reading a book, especially concerning Helena. I’m really sorry about it, and I hope it was all a lie and that she’s now living in Australia, even though it seems unlikely.

    Thank you so much for sharing such great information and I hope you lead a peaceful life, you definitely deserve it!

  37. Ken says:

    Hi Jake,

    Just finished your book ‘Tokyo Vice’. It’s an absorbing read, though I found it quite difficult to finish it in one sitting, especially after Hamaya took her own life. As someone who has ‘survived’ a loved one’s suicide, I may know a little how you feel, and I empathise.

    There are few heroes in your book; only flawed characters who try to do their best with each passing day.

    Peace to you and your family.

    • Hi Ken,
      It still makes me sad to think about her.
      Suicide is always a tragedy. However, for the yakuza, it seems to be the only retirement plan.
      Well, when they are faced with the possibility of dying on jail, maybe dying as a free man at their own time and on their own terms makes sense.

  38. Ken says:

    For the most evil of the yakuza, suicide may be an option that is too kind for them. I hope that Helena was an undercover cop who was pulled off the case when it was deemed that her cover was blown. Good luck with your next book, Jake.

  39. Ryan says:

    Hey Jake, excellent read! I spent a year studying abroad in Osaka, and although it was infinitely less exciting and dramatic, it still took me back.

    This is kind of a silly question, but when you’re writing the dialogue, how do you remember everything!? Is it just paraphrased? Or maybe you carry around a recorder in your pocket all the time? I’ve always wondered how journalist do that.

    Anyways, thanks for your dedication to righting the world’s wrongs!

  40. Kenn says:

    I just finished the book–it’s a great, searing and harrowing story with a lot of humanity. It really ought to be filmed as a six part (or more) limited series–I’m sure the BBC could do it justice. Cheers, Jake, for sharing this with us.

  41. Gary says:

    Hi, I just finished your book. It was very interesting and informative and sad. Thank you for having the guts to shine a light on those dark and ugly places. Keep up the good work!

  42. niko says:

    Just finished your audiobook. Incredible story. Felt your emotions at certain parts of the book. I have a question for you. Can you email me privately? Niko

  43. Alex says:

    Hi Jake,

    I just finished your book and I am so impressed with it—I rarely get a book with so much emotional intensity and wit. I enjoyed it immensely. The humanity and your story of what you, your friends, and family have gone through is so heart pulling and raw, I can only say you’re a man that should be looked up too.

    I stayed in Japan for 3 months early last year and I really enjoyed my time there. I met so many people, and the people, culture there was so divine—it is hard to believe the underbelly of japan is so dark and scary. I am definitely interested in what you stand for and what you’re working towards! Keep it up!

    • Happy New Year! THe underbelly of Japan is deep and dark. But it’s also probably part of the reason there is so little street crime. Organized crime abhors disorder. Also, if people are afraid of being mugged or having their purses snatched–they avoid the red-light areas where the yakuza draw revenue. They police their turf efficiently and viciously.
      Thank you for the kind words about the book.

  44. Alexander says:

    Hi, Jake.

    I just read your book; the first book I purchased for my Kindle!
    Just wanted to say thanks for getting me back into reading. I was hooked from the start; on the train, in class and in my bedroom, I’ve taken your story pretty much everywhere I go.
    My “favourite” part was the Helena substory. It seemed like you two really had a connection there. It’s unfortunate that she suffered the fate she did.

    Anyway, thank you, and I can’t wait to read whatever your next title is. :)

  45. michael says:

    Hi Jake,
    At the risk of saying the obvious,you are more Japanese than most Japanese. You are very honorable and you got balls! Tokyo vice is a remarkable book without a doubt and you are a great journalist and writer. All the very best and please continue to write about japan, it can be anything, people will continue to read your books because you get to the point very early and your English is plain and simple.

    • Hi Michael,
      I’m honored that you’d say that and I like to keep things simple. Better a single word that gets the point across than a thousand words that say nothing.
      Effective.
      Single word sentences are difficult, of course. (LOL). I will continue to write about Japan for at least one more book. Best wishes to you as well.

  46. Arjen says:

    Hey Jake!

    I just finished Tokyo Vice a few minutes ago!
    It’s the first book I have read in a long time besides the obligatory school stuff,
    and I have loved every word of it. It really paints a good picture of the underbelly of Japan.
    The things you and your family have gone through must have been rough, as well as the passing away of your friends during that period.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences and I can’t wait to read your next book! I wish all the best to you and your family.

    Cheers!

    • Arjen,
      Thanks for writing in. I’m grateful that you enjoyed the book and that you finished it. It was a rough period. Today, I spent some time as a representative of the Polaris Project Japan, along with the CEO of Polari Project, visiting from Washington DC, talking with Immigration and National Police Agency officials about their efforts to curtail human trafficking and we made some suggestions which were well received. Japan has come a long way in dealing with the problem and they deserve some praise for what they’ve done so far. The official I talked with is almost legendary in his efforts to crack down on human trafficking operations in 2006-2007 and it reminded me that there are a lot of people in the Japanese government who do care about the victims and are working hard to expunge modern-day slavery. They’re hampered by jurisdictional in-fighting, and the same problems that make combatting organized crime in Japan a very difficult task.

  47. chris says:

    dear jake,thanks for yr. honest thoughts and impressions on this subject. I am a bit an afficionado in terms of subcultures all around the world. Wether it is the n’dranghetta or any other shadow organisation infiltrating the countries deepest, i think it is most interesting to understand the whole,which is that no subculture can exist and rule without
    the.support of politics and legal forces, therefore they are all playing the same game just in different levels….

  48. Danie says:

    Hello Jake,

    I’m in my year exchange in Tokyo and I discovered your book because 3 or 4 of my friends in the dormitory read it before me. I would like to say a lot of things but I don’t think I will have enough space in one comment so I’ll try to be short.

    I just wanted to thank you for this book which was quite interesting and moving sometimes. I did like it a lot. I was, just a little though, aware of the “darker” side of Japan but I suppose reading this book still surprised me a lot .

    I wondered a lot during the reading, for example “When you see all of this, how do you feel about this country?” Of course, there is crime in USA, in France, in the whole world but I think that when you travel so far to arrive somewhere your reaction to what happen may, often be different? It’s hard for me to explain but I felt like you liked Japan so I was wondering.

    So anyway, I’m not good with words, even more when it’s in English but good luck for what may happen and I was glad reading your book.

  49. Mikee says:

    Hi Jake,

    I want to to thank you for the great book and lessons you’ve written in Tokyo Vice. Although I’m not a Reporter like you (I’m a software developer) the 3 biggest lessons I’ll remember from this book are:

    1) To love what you do. With a passion. Almost obsessively.
    2) Have balance in your life – between work, family, friends, partying, drinking, etc. too much of one (or many) thing(s) is bad for you.
    3) Be kind to others and don’t prejudge them. As w/ Helena, I can see people’s prejudices against her bc of being a prostitute. But you were there, a good friend to her, and didn’t judge her by what she did for a living, but her values and where her heart was. Same could be said of the “last of the yakuza.”

    The most moving chapter of your book was Evening Flowers…I teared up (while cutting onions at the same time) to see Hamaya’s dreams crushed, bc she had the integrity to stand up for what she believed in.

    I couldn’t put this book down, esp since I’ve been to Japan a few times and know the areas you were reporting in (Shinjuku – Kabukicho, Roppongi, Odaiba [for Sekiguchi’s treatment], etc.). And w/ the earthquake and tsunami that just occurred, it made it an even greater connection to Japan.

    おおきに

    • Mikee-san
      Thank you for the heart-felt letter. I’m glad that you took away some lessons from the book. It represent most of what I’ve learned in my life. I was thinking about Hamaya-san today. I read an article that said The National Police Agency was setting a goal for itself to boost the number of female officers to 10 percent of the police workforce by 2020. Currently female cops are about 6% of the total. That’s an abysmally low number. I like Japan very much but it’s still a very sexist society and very hard for people like Hamaya-san to stay in the workforce and prosper. I know two female detectives in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and they’ve had to really struggle to make detective and put up with a lot in the process. Japan is changing. I think the addition of more female police officers and detectives would have a very positive impact on what the police are doing and especially how they handles crimes against women.

      I love my job. I’m very happy being an investigative journalist. This saying in attributed to Confucius, but since I can’t read Chinese, I don’t know if he really said it, but I like it very much anyway:
      FInd a job that you love and you will never “work” again. :D

  50. Courtney says:

    Dear Mr. Adelstein,

    I just finished your book and it was gripping and very well-written. It was difficult to put down. I found it through an interview you gave on an anime podcast and am so glad to have picked it up. It was a good reminder for me that anime really doesn’t expose you to that many facets of Japanese culture and society!

    I am currently a law student in the United States. Your book has sparked my interest in learning more about international anti-trafficking law. Thank you for exposing these realities; I know that it has come at some cost to you. I am anxiously awaiting your next project.

    • Courtney,
      Thank you for going to the trouble of picking up the book. International human trafficking is a huge problem and it involves more than just the sex trade. Sarah Noorbakhsh published a very good feature on this blog about the use of the “intern” system in Japan to exploit foreign laborers, sometimes at the cost of their lives on the job. The Polaris Project and the Polaris Project Japan are two organizations doing important work in combatting human trafficking. Sometimes, we have our successes.
      Good luck with law school. I turned down a chance to go to a very prestigious law school to do the US State Department sponsored human trafficking study in 2006-2007. Sometimes, I wonder, what my life would have been like if I had made a different choice. I think I made the right one, in the end.

  51. Leo says:

    Thank you Mr. Adelstein. I read it, loved it, was moved by it, angered and infuriated by it, impressed with it, and wish you all the best in your future work.

    The first thing I told my girlfriend after reading it was “This was amazing, but I kinda don’t think he’ll ever write a book again…” Thoughts?

    peep the review, on my blog no one reads. (I’m not mad about it)

    • Leo,
      Thank for you taking the time to write in and the good wishes. I have a second book in the works and if I’m lucky in between I’m finish a short piece on the Tokyo Electric Power Company and how the firm and collusive relationships with the Japanese regulatory bodies and media allowed an incredibly tragic nuclear accident which continues to spew radiation all over the country.

      I think someday, I may write a sort of sequel to Tokyo Vice but that will take a long, long time. The next book isn’t about me at all. If I’m in there at all, I’m just a minor character.

  52. Thank you for the posting. You’ve done your homework and the more I read about post NewsCorp NGT, the more i’m horrified. I wish someone would revise the monopoly laws to break up media conglomerates.

Trackbacks
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] publishes an interview [en] with Jake Adelstein, author of the book “Tokyo Vice: an American Reporter on the Police […]

  2. […] Adelstein, author of the non-fiction Tokyo Vice, interviewed a handful of Japanese gangster about Yakuza 3 and garnered their opinions on just how […]

  3. […] Jake Adelstein wrote Tokyo Vice. […]

  4. […] Jake Adelstein is another in the long line of journalists doing their job no matter what the consequences are. […]

  5. […] a bespoke piece, as did Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on The Police Beat in Japan, and Eisler, a bestselling American thriller […]

  6. […] bespoke piece, as did Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on The Police Beat in Japan, and Eisler, a bestselling American thriller […]



Leave A Comment