SQUEEZING TOKYO WITH A VICE
Jake’s note: I meet a lot of people and BG is a friend of a friend. So I took him to my usual haunts. One thing that you learn in life, is that there is a huge gap between how people see you and you see yourself. 灯台は元暗し. BG is an incredibly bright fellow and I hope he visits Japan again soon. The opinions expressed here as his own although most of them I found pretty true.
Trying to sum Jake Adelstein up as simply “a character,” as I attempted to do so with my colleagues, doesn’t do him a shred of justice. The Missouri-born journalist has been opening the kimono to expose everything from the complexities of the Yakuza to the expectedly bizarre Japanese porn industry for nearly 20 years now. In addition to being print published hundreds of times over, he is also a prolific online publisher for the likes of VICE and the Daily Beast and is one of the most active journalists on social media, clocking more than 50k tweets to his handle. However, despite his apparent digital fluency, he strikes me more of a throwback to a hard boiled, hard drinking detective meets justice above all gumshoe reporter.
I met Jake through a high school pal, a producer on the film adaptation of Jake’s personal memoir, TOKYO VICE. Apparently, Daniel Radcliffe is in negotiations to play Jake-san. I was intrigued a year ago when I saw the book on my pal’s shelf, and borrowed it but never got to reading it until I boarded a plane for Tokyo last week.
I read half, and listened to the rest on mp3. The stories were gripping and Jake’s commitment to his zig zag path was compelling, there was no question I had to meet dude.
The person that snuck up on me in the cinematic 25th floor Ritz lobby in Tokyo Midtown was not who I had expected. I’m a pretty good gauge of character when I meet somebody in person, but it just goes to show that a book on tape, a one-way monologue, reveals only a shred of insight.
I expected a soft-spoken ex-pat with a respectful low pro, which would make sense on an island that has a derogative term for foreigners (gaijin.) Or a writer who had chronicled his experience in TOKYO VICE as a nostalgic memoir, reflecting on the many brushes with death, unimaginable sex-capades, but who had thrown in the towel in exchange for some peace and quiet.
To the contrary, Jake is an anxiety ridden Tasmanian devil, both nervous and cocky. He surprised me as I contemplated my glass of Hibiki, instantly making me feel like a bourgeois pig.
“Here you go”
He presented me with a crumpled shopping bag containing a Foreign Reporter Press Club t-shirt, a gift of sorts and gesture that embodies his menschy Jewish roots with a far Eastern sensibility of hosting.
“You eat dinner?”
“No. Let’s do it.”
I threw the 40 bucks of whiskey back like I had just joined the Tokyo beat, gumshoes have not time to swirl. And then we were off, ears popping as the elevator free fell to the pristine Tokyo streets, the cleanliness now only a veneer after having read Jake’s book.
As we sped walked through the underground channels, I couldn’t help but feel like somebody may be following us, or maybe my imagination had grabbed a hold of TOKYO VICE and was running amuck. Regardless, Jake walks like a shoplifter who knows better than to run and call attention to his lift. I think this is his natural disposition, a neurotic energy, that if he were to cease moving may induce sempuku. A clumsy shark of sorts.
“I know this great Chinese place – it’s cheap and you can get a whole Peking Duck for next to nothing… you’ll like it and we can walk there.”
Cut to me just trying to keep up with his furious pace. He navigated us starting from the Ritz and through the underground walkways to our destination, the entire time, rifling from yakuza, the movie, and the Japanese porn industry. He led me into a magazine shop with no explanation, nearly bulldozing a few locals in the process. He operates with either reckless abandon only a person with little self awareness can in a country that takes politeness very seriously or with over-confidence, only afforded to those who’ve managed to penetrate the most protected institutions in Japan, never mind as a gaijin… Another dichotomy Jake embodies.
He grabs two magazines that look to may be porn, “these are really rare now. Here’s one for you and one for Adam [our mutual connection], I’ll explain what they are later.”
He never explains, but I know that they’re Yakuza fanzines from a reference in TOKYO VICE. Think People magazine for mafia fanboys.
We continue on our way. I consider jogging, two feet off the ground at once would be less strenuous. We arrive at a hidden restaurant up a flight in a non-descript building, only to walk in and find a bustling dining hall filled with locals and smoke.
We get a vat of sweet Chinese wine that tastes like shit. Jake insists he can only have a drink or two as he’s on deadline. We’re seated next to a gaggle of Japanese girls in their mid twenties. Our duck finally arrives, I’m drunk, and Jake offers the remaining bits to our neighbors. He has them cackling, he’s a naturally charming guy – though questionable whether he’d have the same mojo stateside. At this point, probably so. His triumphs in Japan, cracking a notoriously isolationist society has earned him stripes of confidence he can take anywhere, that much is obvious.
His phone rings and he takes the call at the table, leaving me to kibitz in broken Japanglish with the girls.
He barks into the phone in a familiar tone that tells me he has a lady at home expecting him not to be home too late. I can’t make out the conversation, as I’m struggling to not completely embarrass myself with my poor Japanese.
“I’ll do the translation tonight, don’t worry. [pause] Yes! I’m with a friend of the producer of the film right now. We’re eating. I’ll be home in an hour and do it, I promise.” The call is actually work related, however, all work for Jake is personal.
It seems that Jake’s always on deadline in an obsessive sort of way.
Jake shows me his phone, sharing a photo he claims is worth a billion dollars. It’s a yet to be released shot of a crime family boss with the president of Japan University, who’s also the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee. The implications for corruption are obvious. “I’m publishing a story on this. The reporter who originally had this was beaten severely.” It was my idea that we meet and get dinner in the first place so I naturally offered to treat when we first corresponded. When the waitress brings a to go bag with dishes never intended to be eaten during dinner I can only laugh to myself… journalism never has, and maybe never will pay, but I’m more than happy to subsidize the honest work of a damn good investigative journalist.
Jake clearly feeds off the danger. Sure enough the piece was published days later. I get a strange feeling, not that I’m a clairvoyant, but just sometime tells me that Jake is pushing his luck. He insists that he knows what he’s doing. But that’s what I’m afraid of.
It was my idea that we meet and get dinner in the first place so I naturally offered to treat when we first corresponded. When the waitress brings a to go bag with dishes never intended to be eaten during dinner I can only laugh to myself… journalism never has, and maybe never will pay, but I’m more than happy to subsidize the honest work of a damn good investigative journalist.
TOKYO VICE the movie is scheduled to start production in 2015 – but it’s a small miracle getting a feature film made in today’s market. I’m a fan of Daniel Radcliffe, so nothing against him, but I’ll be shocked if he can do justice to the real Jake-san.