The high price of writing about the yakuza–and those who pay. 猪狩先生を弔う日々

By Jake Adelstein

In life, we only encounter the injustices we were meant to correct.

Igari Toshiro, ex-prosecutor, leading lawyer in the anti-organized crime movement in Japan. 1949-2010.

Igari Toshiro, was my lawyer, my mentor, and my friend. In the sixteen years I’ve been covering organized crime in Japan, I’ve never met anyone more courageous or inspiring–or anyone who actually looked as much like a pit-bull in human form. Igari-san was a legend in the law enforcement world, the author of several books on dealing with organized crime and preventing their incursion into the business world. He was the father of the “organized crime exclusion clause”, a simple but brilliant idea that is now embedded into most contracts in Japan and requires the signer to pledge that he is not a member of an organized crime group. It’s already been used to arrest one high-ranking yakuza boss, and is the basis for the legislation being adapted prefecture-by-prefecture that will make it a crime to pay off gangs or provide them with capital. He was rather disliked in the underworld.

The last time I spoke face-to-face with Igari was on August 8 this year.  It was a Sunday; he had come back from Brazil and went directly from Narita Airport to his office to meet me. I asked him if he would cooperate in a documentary I am working on as consultant and a reporter for National Geographic Television on the yakuza.

I also had a problem.

It’s rather simple: In 2008, I angered a yakuza boss named Goto Tadamasa, who was head of a 1,000-member strong faction of the country’s largest gang, the Yamaguchi-gumi. In an article published in the Washington Post, I wrote how he had sold out his own group to the FBI in order to get a visa for the United States so he could receive a liver transplant at UCLA. The article along with a subsequent book I helped write for Takarajima Publishing resulted in him being kicked out of the Yamaguchi-gumi on October 14, 2008. Takarijma, without bothering to warn me, published his biography this May. It’s a great book–except for a bit of subtle language that amounts to a yakuza-style fatwa on my life.

I asked Igari to help me deal with the fallout from the book. After much discussion, he and his two colleagues came up with a plan. His parting words were: “It’ll be a long battle. It’ll take money and courage, and you’ll have to come up with those on your own. But we’ll fight.”

On August 28th, his body was found in his vacation home in Manila, wrists slashed. Time of death unknown. It’s been ruled a suicide. Personally, I believe he was killed. I probably will never be able to prove it.

Igari had been working on his final book, Gekitotsu (Collision). It’s an amazing work that pulls no punches, using the real names of the yakuza and the politicians and individuals connected to them. He wrote, “Wherever it was possible, I made it a point to use the real names here. I’m aware that poses a huge risk for myself. I took that risk because I wanted to honestly write about my battles with the injustices hidden in our society and the results of those struggles. It’s proper to write the name of those you’ve fought.”

Ex-prosecutor and lawyer, Igari Toshiro, was a famous crusader in the war against organized crime. These are some of the book he authored.

Igari has been probably more influential than any individual in the anti-organized crime movement in Japan. As discussed above, he was the lawyer who first came up with the idea of the “organized crime member exclusionary clause” (暴力団排除条項). It was inspired by problems the Westin Hotel had when Goto-gumi and his posse stayed there and refused to leave, pointing out, “there’s nothing that says yakuza can’t stay at a hotel.”  Igari realized that legally that could be accomplished since the Japanese government does designate organized crime groups and members officially. All it would take was adding a clause to any contract in which the individual signing has to clarify whether or not they are a yakuza, and if they are, the establishment reserves the right to unilaterally nullify the contract. It’s now part of almost any standard contract in Japan, even Sports Clubs. It has been used effectively by the police. A yakuza boss opening a bank account this year was later arrested for fraud because he lied about his yakuza affiliation on the contractual agreement with the bank.  The organized crime exclusionary ordinances (暴力団排除条例)which are sweeping the country, prefecture by prefecture, were also his brain child.  This year I met up with a high-ranking member of the National Police Agency, who had a copy of Igari’s book on his desk, and said, “In the war on organized crime, Igari-sensei was the equivalent of a five star general. He will be sorely missed.”  The current head of the National Centre For The Elimination of Boryokudan was also very vocally supportive of Igari, adding, “the organized crime exclusionary ordinances would have never made into legislation if it hadn’t been for the man.”  (There are now more than ten local governments in Japan with these ordinances on the book, which differ from prefecture to prefecture, but generally ban pay-offs to the yakuza or providing them with capital. Violators can be fined or jailed. Corporations that do business with yakuza will be publicly named. The ordinances have the potential of being a huge body blow to all organized crime groups, depriving them of protection money and capital. By punishing the individual or firm that capitulates to organized crime, it may have the same efficacy the change in the Commerce Laws had in eliminating racketeers-総会屋.)

Before leaving for Manila on vacation, he told his editor, “I’m nosing around in dangerous places. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. Let me sign the publishing contract now.”

In September, my best source in the Yamaguchi-gumi told me point blank: “Igari-san was murdered by the yakuza. It wasn’t Goto’s direct order. He was exposing yakuza ties to Sumo and professional baseball. It angered people. You should be careful too. The yakuza don’t warn people anymore, they just act.”

It’s a dangerous thing to expose the worst of the yakuza for what they are. Itami Juzo, directed the first realistic film about the yakuza, Minbo, in 1992. Goto-gumi members attacked him for doing it, slashing his face open. He would later tell the New York Times in an interview, “They cut very slowly, they took their time. They could have killed me if they wanted to.” Eventually they did. On December 20, 1997, after a weekly magazine wrote about his extra-marital affair, he allegedly killed himself. A former member of the Goto-gumi told me in 2008, “We set it up to stage his murder as a suicide. We dragged him up to the rooftop and put a gun in his face. We gave him a choice: jump and you might live or stay and we’ll blow your face off. He jumped. He didn’t live.”

In 2005, yakuza fan magazine writer Suzuki T wrote an article that poked fun at a yakuza group. They broke into his office and beat him to a pulp. In 2006, Yamaguchi-gumi thugs stabbed the son of non-fiction writer Mizoguchi Atsushi, because their boss was unhappy with one of his articles. Two members were arrested. Their boss was not. On April 17, 2007, the mayor of Nagasaki was gunned down after refusing local yakuza involvement in public works projects.

I try to be very careful when writing about the yakuza, and mindful of my sources, some of whom are members. I hate to admit it, but there are still those in the organizations that do follow a code of honor.

I understand the unwritten rules in Japan. Yakuza fan magazines are sold here in the open: three weeklies, three monthlies. They do interviews with current yakuza bosses, but the questions are limited and there is an implicit understanding that even after the interview is done, the boss reserves the right to edit or scrap it. As one veteran detective explained to me, “if you violate that rule, there will be harassment and often retaliation.”

I probably didn’t communicate that fact well enough to the National Geographic production crew that came to Japan. Through the sources I introduced they interviewed three current yakuza members, but didn’t alert me that they ran into trouble. The best I could do was warn the local National Geographic offices about it and talk to the head office in Washington DC. They were very responsive and hopefully nothing will come of it. But if it does, it will be my sources and the local Japanese staff who take the hit. I’m not an easy target because I’m under police protection. The staff are not.

The yakuza don’t have much pull in the US. They harass whoever will give them leverage. It’s why I don’t move my family back to Japan and why leaving Japan is not an option for me. I have to take care of my sources. It’s my responsibility.

I went to Igari’s offices in September to pay my respects; there was no funeral. There was a little shrine for him in his office, but everything was pretty much as he’d left it. On his desk, was an article about the Sumo Association and match rigging, heavily noted. His secretary told me, “Igari-san was really happy to take your case. He laughingly bragged to everyone, ‘I’m representing a reporter for National Geographic–that makes me an international lawyer!’ ” I could visualize him saying that with his deep, rolling laugh.

Grief is a funny thing. Seeing his empty desk, for the first time I got a little misty-eyed. Not too much, because there were people around, you know. It wasn’t very manly, but I didn’t cry.

You may wonder why I keep doing a job that is increasingly dangerous. I wonder myself. Partly, it’s because Japan is my home. I’ve lived here for more than twenty years. I’d like it to be a better place. In the old days, we’d call that civic duty.

I once asked Igari-san over wine, “Have you ever been threatened?  Do you ever fear for your life?” He didn’t answer my question directly.

“I became a prosecutor because I wanted to see justice done in this world. When I quit and became a lawyer, I didn’t go to work for the yakuza like many ex-prosecutors do. I continued to fight them. Not all yakuza are bad guys, but 95 percent of them are leeches on society: they exploit the weak, they prey on the innocent, they cause great suffering. If you capitulate, if you run away, you’ll be chased for the rest of your life. And if you’re being chased, eventually what is chasing you will catch up. Step back and you’re dead already. You can only stand your ground and pursue. Because that’s not only the right thing to do, that’s the only thing to do.”

And so I stay. Igari-san wasn’t an investigative journalist and he wasn’t a saint. But he fought for justice and for truth, and as an investigative journalist, I’ve always believed that’s what our job entailed. Forgive me if that sounds naive. I believe that, if no one stands up to the anti-social forces in the world, then we all lose.

When I called Igari’s editor, he knew who I was. He told me, “Igari said you’re the most trustworthy, crazy, and courageous journalist he knew.” It’s the first time I’ve ever been praised by the dead, and more than I deserve. But it made me feel an obligation to live up to those words. Sometimes, the only way to honor the dead is to fight for what they died for. It’s the only way I know how to mourn.

An abbreviated version of this article was originally published on the Committee to Protect Journalists blog.

Memo: Autopsies are only done for 4% of the suicides in Japan. In the last two years several cases ruled to be suicides later turned out to be murder. Check out this excellent investigative article translated from the Yomiuri Shinbun. I would imagine staging a murder as suicide in the Phillipines is even easier than doing it in Japan.

Comments
45 Responses to “The high price of writing about the yakuza–and those who pay. 猪狩先生を弔う日々”
  1. @Rawham says:

    so sorry for the loss. keep fighting the good fight!

  2. ArthurFrDent says:

    inheriting your frined’s feelings is a fitting tribute …but duty is heavier than a mountain, as they say.

    dunno if it does much good to know that people like me, far away and in another world, read your stuff to try and understand the other side of life there.

    I hope for your continued safety and that of your associates.

    • Arthur-san,
      I like that line “duty is heavier than a mountain.” It does feel that way sometimes. Igari wasn’t a saint but he was a brave and courageous man. I wish he was still here.

  3. steve says:

    Go get em tiger!

  4. dgb says:

    What are the names of those three weeklies and three monthlies?

  5. dgb says:

    Thank you.

  6. daniel says:

    Jakesan,

    My condolences for your loss. What a heartfelt (and heartwrenching) tribute for your friend. Another sad loss in the fight.

    I pray you eventually will be successful in your fight against the yakuza. Great social change has only ever been accomplished by a small group of couragous, dedicated and foolishly stubborn group of individuals willing to sacrifice what others will not to stand against injustice.

    In all my years of watching Japan, I have never seen the momentum towards rooting out the underworld at its current level. Your work has contributed to this no doubt and there are thousands of grateful people.

    Stay safe.

    • Daniel-san
      Thank you very much for writing in. I agree with you that it has been years since there was such a strong momentum in Japan to reign in the yakuza. Ando Tokuharu, the head of the NPA, has been amazingly effective in orchestrating the crackdown. However, this has only been possible because of men like Igari Toshiro, Itami Juzo, and the mayor of Nagasaki–and others have given their lives for that struggle. The circumstances surrounding the death of Igari-san and Itami-san have never been clarified but I have no doubts that they were both killed by anti-social forces and many people in law enforcement suspect as much. However, knowing something and proving it are different things.

      Not all the yakuza are vermin or scum. Some of them are honorable people. That’s why they’ve been tolerated in Japan for so long—that and institutional corruption in Japan. However, I think the days that the yakuza operate in the public sphere are numbered and I doubt the organizations will be able to make the transition to a mafia very successfully. It’ll be interesting to see what takes their place. I haven’t given up finding out what happened to Igari-san and who’s responsible. I may not be able to do anything about it but I want to know. And if I’m very luck, maybe the National Police in the Philippines will reopen his case. In an ideal world, the person or people responsible for his death will be punished or nullified. There are many ways for justice to be served.

      To borrow the words of WATCHMEN, for lack of a better source, “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.” This applies to everyone in Japan who is standing up against organized crime. Eulogizing the man is one way to honor his memory and probing into his death is the only way I know to fight back. Sometimes, even futile gestures get a message across.

  7. オラビ says:

    Condolenses for your loss, Mr Adelstein.

    While rarely being influenced by quotes and sound bites, the quote by Mr Igarashi was very inspirational.

    I come from the Middle East, a very corrupt region of the world, and have seen many injustices. I am quite young, still in university. I was hoping to study law to fight injustices in my own country, but due to certain circumstances, I would be unable to practice law after I graduate. My language is failing me right now, but I came to say that I hope that in the future when I see an injustice, I will have the means and the courage to correct it.

    Again, condolenses for your loss, Mr Adelstein, and thank you very much for your courage.

    • Orabi-san,
      I hope you find a way to study law after graduation. The Middle East is not an area I know a lot about but it does seem that there is often great injustice there and that justice is often dealt out harshly for minor offenses and unevenly. It’s okay not to be able to correct every injustice you see. We only have one life and we have to be careful with it but to do what you can as best you can, that’s more than most people. Thank you for writing. Good luck with your studies.Eid Mubarak to you! (I hope i’m using that greeting correctly.) :-)

  8. Sam says:

    Dear Jake,

    Keep on fighting the good fight, though I realize as all fights, even good fights such as this have an ugly underbelly to them. It is hard to believe how far your life in Japan has taken you into the field of criminal studies, but many people like myself now have a much more realistic view of Japan than we had earlier.

    Studying in Kyoto, I was quite surprised and happy to, see on the NHK news that the #2 of the local branch of the Yamaguchi-gumi had been apprehended. Being back in Japan after a 2 year hiatus I find I cannot look at my surroundings the same after having read your book.

    I cannot even begin to conjure in my mind what it is like to be in your shoes, but please keep up your work for as long as you humanly can. If not for your close friend’s sake, then for the sake of a better Japan please keep up your efforts!

    • Sam,
      You should be proud to be living in Kyoto. It’s the Kyoto cops that took him down, quite a feat for such a small police force. I’ll keep doing what I do. I still have mixed feelings about the yakuza, to some extent, having them out in the open may have made Japan a safer place for some time. And some of the yakuza are good people. I have a few that I consider friends.
      The “good yakuza” are basically those that kept their crazy underlings in line and limited their activities to collecting protection money and actually offering a service as well. That was the old school model. It’s falling apart. The rules of the yakuza which used to forbid theft, robbery, dealing in drugs, fraud–are being openly violated by group members with no repercussions. Order has broken down withing the gangs. Whatever emphasis on honor and the code that once existed, if it ever did, is now barely heeded lip service.

  9. Sam says:

    Wanted to correct myself and say the guy arrested was the #2 overall in the Yamaguchi. Realizing this makes me much happier.

  10. Maria says:

    Jake-san,
    I follow your blog for a while now, I read your book some month ago and am follwing the news and informations since then.
    Being really moved and kind of angry now, I just wanted to say: Keep up the great work! Stay strong and healthy, especially in your mind!
    I think that’s the best you can do for the men and women who died or went missing.
    Greetings Maria

    • Thanks Maria,
      I try to stay strong and healthy, between occasional lapses back into smoking. It’s 7:30 am in Tokyo and with 8 hours of sleep under my belt, I think I’m ready to do some exercise and then some work.

  11. Katie says:

    “You may wonder why I keep doing a job that is increasingly dangerous. I wonder myself. Partly, it’s because Japan is my home. I’ve lived here for more than twenty years. I’d like it to be a better place. In the old days, we’d call that civic duty.”

    Not to un-manly this article, but that’s a really beautiful statement. Few of us have a mentor as brave as Igari-san, and your writing is a tribute to how well he thought of you.

    • Katie,
      Thank you very much. I remember learning about “civic duty” in American studies class in junior high school. One of the few things I remember about the class. (LOL). I remember it being defined roughly like this; Civic duty is to be an active member of the society and work for it’s betterment. It’s not only to obey the laws, serve in the military in time of need, pay taxes, but to be active in community activities that suppport positive and constructive things. This is what enable large groups of people to live together and prosper.” That’s what I’m doing. I receive the benefits of Japan’s public health care system; I enjoy the general street safety here, I like this place. There was a time when Americans were willing to sacrifice for the greater good of their country–say things like that now and you get called a socialist.
      In Japan, there is also a great importance placed on reciprocity, or 義理 (giri). That has become part of my value system as well. To be called 義理堅い (someone who is very good about remembering and paying back debts and favors) is quite a compliment in this country.
      I owe it to Igari-san and others who have suffered under the worst of the yakuza to fight for their cause and to see that justice prevails.
      I do it as a citizen and I do it as a journalist. All over Japan there local citizens banding together to protest yakuza offices moving into their neighborhood or demand that they leave. They too are acting out of a sense of civic duty. We all want a better society to live in and gangsters who profit on exploiting hard-working people via intimidation and violence are not a plus for anyone.
      Yes, Igari-san was a cool dude. He reminded me a lot of Detective Sekiguchi, who was like a second father to me. Detecteive Sekiguchi passed away from cancer a few years ago. If he was still alive, I know he’d have my back.

  12. SB says:

    Jake,

    I am sorry for the loss of your friend. Your eulogy is very well written and brings a more complete picture to Igari-san and his courageous life. I hope his killers will one day face justice.

    I wonder if the violence in Japan will continue to increase as the Yakuza are pushed further to the edges. It is not too dissimilar to the Mexican war on the cartels right now, which has resulted in unimaginable violence. Obviously Japane will never reach those levels, but the more pressure that is placed on the gangs and the more their traditional sources of funding are denied, the more desperate they will become. I fear there will be more brazen attacks on those seeking to marginalize the gangs as well as violence between the gangs.

    Is there a donation fund in place to honor Igari-san? Or rather to help with the expenses of investigating his death further? There must be private detectives, investigative journalists, and other avenues to get to the truth…

    Lastly, how has the Japanese media been treating his death? Surely there must be someone investigating this further. Like you said, knowing and proving are two different things, but knowing what you are looking for makes the job at least a bit easier.

    All the best and please stay safe.

    SB

    • SB-san,
      I think one of the reasons the police are finally cracking down so hard is that they see some yakuza groups operating with such impunity that they fear they will become like the mafia. The Kodokai attempts to intimidate police officers were probably the match that lit the fire.
      There is no donation fund for Igari-san but I’m thinking of starting one. That’s not an easy task but I’m looking into how to to do it. I have asked people to look into it and there are people with resources who are doing just that. The Japanese press has written of his death but basically doesn’t want to dispute the findings of suicide. Only Yukan Fuji, an evening paper, addressed openly the possibility that he was killed. The Japanese media is very cowardly when it comes to yakuza issues.
      When my former company found out I was working for National Geographic Television on a documentary and trouble with the local mob had occurred over it, they very quickly asked me to keep them out of it and not mention my former job with them, “because it could be dangeerous for our people.” I understood that request from a safety aspect and removed mention of my former job as police reporter for them from my business cards.

      This is how it works in Japan. When I told the one local National Geographic affiliated firms about the troubles that had arisen from the film crew running wild, and warned them to be careful, one of the executives said, with a very straight face, “If the American director is still in Japan, why don’t you tell them (the angry yakuza group) where he is and let them kill him or pound some sense into him? We’d all be safer and happier.” I didn’t take that route. The larger media groups know that pissing off the yakuza never is a good thing. There is the risk of violent retaliation or even more subtle harassment, like one of the yakuza owned talent agencies refusing access to their stars–thus crippling the firm’s ability to cover entertaninment news. If you look at the cost/benefit analsyis for them, the cost is too high, the benefits nil. Everyone is great talking about the public’s right to know and the media will bully government agencies but then again angry bureaucrats don’t lob explosives into your offices or stab your children. The yakuza might.

  13. Marie Galonski says:

    I’m sorry for your loss. Igari-san sounds like someone who was proud to call you his friend.

  14. Uraniabce says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Igari-san sounded like one cool dude. I hope that, one day, you’ll discover the truth about what happened to him.

  15. Gary Wintle says:

    Great article Jake and so sorry to read about Igari-san. I’d read your book Tokyo Vice and enjoyed it immensely. You really have got me to read much more about the fascinating world of the Yakuza than I ever thought I would.

    Just curious, but do you ever do lectures? I’m living in Osaka and would love to hear anything by you if that’s something you’re known to do (although my Japanese still needs lots of work).

    Thanks again for the courageous words.

    • Lecturing in Osaka would be a little riskier than I’d like. I do lecture now and then but since May this year, it’s not as easy. For a number of reasons. If I lecture in Tokyo, I’ll post something. Thanks for writing. Light a stick of incense for Igari-san if you get a chance. :D

  16. Ryan says:

    Jake,

    I’ve been following your activities for a while, and I’m always impressed by your courage and your devotion to helping Japan. As a fellow American who chose to make Japan part of my life, I share the same goal, if not the same means.

    People like Igari and you make the world a better place. I wish we all had as much courage as you. I know I’ll have to work hard to get to the same point, and I commend you for all the things I know you’ve done (and all the things I don’t know you’ve done) to make this place better.

    Wishing you all the best.

    • I like Japan. It feels like home. I have a sense of civic duty which I still think is a virtue. Old-fashioned and probably “socialistic” but there you go. Best wishes to you as well.

  17. Ellen Barker says:

    Can I say something? Dude, you are barking up the wrong tree. You cannot change Japan, and it’s not your fight. It’s not worth it. Look, I live here. Longer than you, dear Jake-san. 30 years. Japan is a semi-police state, a yakuza controlled dump neo-fascist nation run by 100 families who run it for their sake and they no care about you sir. Japan will never change. It cannot change. Japan is Japan. I believe you have a death wish and therefore you will be killed sooner or later and you will be happy you did it your way, sure. But for what? Japan will never change. It’s like trying to turn a tiger into a zebra. aint goona happen, mate. You are sick and you will be dead soon. sad that youa re so out front with your death porn wish. Ai Iijima anyone? Itami Juzo for dessert? What next? Our dear friend Jake, the Jew from America who wants to reform Japan. Jake, go back to Jerusalem! Tokyo is a sick sick place. I only stay here for sake of my kids and wife. We are family. Screw japan!

    • Ellen-san,
      I understand your anger with this society and why you stay here. But I disagree with you. Japan does change, it’s slow but it happens. For years, Japan denied that there was any child abuse in the country, now they admit it and the police are arresting child abusers and social workers are now getting some back-up to save kids from their parents. Human trafficking was rampant but Japan put laws on the books and the numbers of victims have dropped. I don’t have a death wish. I like living but I don’t like living in fear. We all die eventually. I’d rather live doing what I believe in and feeling like I’d left the world a better place than do the safe thing and just give up. If we all run away from the assholes of the world, soon the world will be run by assholes. I’ve seen this country change, incrementally. And it may be hubris, but in some way I’ve helped contribute to positive changes—sometimes behind the scenes, sometimes by writing, sometimes by talking with the cops. Japan has many problems; every society does.

      I have obligations to people here. Until I’ve repaid them in full, I’ll stay. And honestly, I’m more or less happy and content with the path I’ve chosen.

      So renunciation may lead you into the dark. For if in your renunciation You are reckless and break your word, If your purpose wavers, You will not find the light. Do what you have to do Resolutely, with all your heart. The traveller who hesitates Only raises dust on the road. It is better to do nothing Than to do what is wrong. For whatever you do, you do to yourself. Like a border town well guarded, Guard yourself within and without. Let not a single moment pass Lest you fall into darkness. Feel shame only where shame is due. Fear only what is fearful. See evil only in what is evil. Lest you mistake the true way And fall into darkness. See what is. See what is not. Follow the true way. Rise.–The Dhammapada (Hokukyo)/Chapter 20

  18. EJH says:

    Jake:

    I like your response to Ellen’s post. I have lived in Japan for about 13 years. I get angry, too, but I do not think Japan is a bad place. I think every country/society has its good and bad points. If a person lives long enough in a foreign country, long enough to understand the good and the bad, it is easy to become fixated on the problems and tempting to conclude that they are inherently, in our case, Japanese. A person that stays in their native country is more likely to look for sources other than the culture for causes of societal ills because the culture is their own. Screaming “screw Japan” is taking the easy way out. 30 years in a place you hate is basically a wasted life. I hope Ellen will consider seeing a therapist.

    As for you, Jake, I hope you will not “go back to Jerusalem” (have you ever even been there?). Stay and continue your work here. I, too, have my doubts about whether the yakuza will ever relinquish control of Japan, but reading your posts helps to keep me a little bit optimistic.

    • EJH-sama,
      I understand Ellen’s feelings. I think she was venting her anger. I don’t think it’s a wasted life but I think after 30 years here and not seeing much change that it can make you feel bitter. I’m sure she has days where she likes Japan. I hope so. I’ve never been to Jerusalem. I’m a terrible Jew. There are some great sayings in the bible, really like Ecclesiastes but I find it hard to believe in the anthromorphic capricious God of the Israelites. Nor do I find it easy to believe in Christianity, where faith saves you, no matter what a bastard you were while good people who don’t believe go to hell. Well, if you read the Epistle of James, it offers a very different view of Christianity that I could have some faith in.

      What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
      You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.

      I like Buddhism but lack faith. But I want to believe, just like Fox Mulder. (LOL). And I make my best efforts at good works, Saint Jim and I would probably get along, more or less. In my personal life, I’m still a disaster area. Working on that. Japan will never paradise but it is home. Everyone working together can make it a little better. And hey, the National Health Insurance is really sweet, some problems and some bad hospitals but you can pick where you go for treatment so there’s a choice. Socialized medicine-Okay! For that alone, I’m grateful to be in Japan.

  19. Fred Blogs says:

    Are you sure about any of this Jake – you seem to be always promoting yourself and your genius and how much you know as a white guy. My guess is that you make a lot of this up to favor yourself.

  20. Johan Liebert says:

    Hi Jake, I went with my Japanese wife to Japan on a vacation and picked up your book. Ever since then, it makes me think twice about supporting a Japanese company, especially a large one, for fear of it somehow supporting the yakuza. To me, I think the Japanese culture is about 50 years behind that of Italy’s, which has effectively put the Mafia on the run.

    It also makes me thank you for fighting the good fight. Just be careful! You have a wife, and children. As a man, there is no question you are one. As a father, I would only imagine that it must be extremely difficult. Would it make sense to quit and basically be a father to your children? You could consult with the US FBI and USCIS to block yakuza from entering the US – to stop the cancer from spreading.

    Japan owes you a great debt. It is my hope that the yakuza, one day, can be killed. The Japanese culture doesn’t need the yakuza to “keep foreign crime at bay” or to “keep all crime centralized.”

    I have made a donation to the Polaris Project, and I will continue doing so. Is there anything else the “average Joe” can do in the US to help? At times I want to take a more active role in my home city but I am not an expert, and my trade is very different from investigative reporting or being a lieutenant in the police force.

  21. I’m so sorry for your loss. Igari-san sounded like one cool dude. I hope that, one day, you’ll discover the truth about what happened to him.

  22. Shruti says:

    I don’t have too much to say Jake san, but I think you’re really brave to stick to what you do and support your beliefs. I do follow you on twitter, but I came across this site just now.. ! I love the way you say that there are a few honorable men in the Yakuza (not like people who just don’t wish to see the good side of others). I hope you stay safe and continue your good work~ :)

  23. Remus says:

    Hi…Jake San,

    Just want to shout out 2 U for all your great work. I always wanted to know more about the Yakuza and how they operate but none has really provided me a deep insight.
    I actually got hold of Tokyo Vice last year and luv it to death. I’ve pratically read all the Yakuza’s title in the market and I would like to say yours was really interesting.
    I’m now half way thru on “The Japanesse Mafia” by Peter. Hill.

    BTW, is the National Geographic program about the Yakuza out yet ?? Cant wait to see it.
    Do you have any new title U working on in your pipeline ?

    PS: Keep up the great job…ppl like us need U to feed us with those valuable info.

  24. DDj says:

    Jake,
    Otsukaresama deshita!

    I travelled back and forth between the U.S. and Japan regularly for two decades for business, Japan became a second home to me. During that time I’ve met some really wonderful people, as well as some really unsavory characters. It was unfortunate that in my line of work (entertainment) the cost of doing business in Japan was to deal with the unsavory bunch, something that was stamped out in the U.S. entertainment industry a long time ago. I was shocked (but not totally surprised) that some of the people I dealt with were in your book Tokyo Vice. I’ve since left the business, but continue to go back to Japan out of love for the country and its people, I was happy to see some of the old haunts were shut down after the publishing of your articles.

    My condolences for the many who were lost in the battle against organized crime. All I can say is don’t lose heart, stay strong and know that you are helping make Japan a better country. It is people with the courage, force of will and stamina like Igari-san, yourself and the brave individuals in law enforcement who bring about change. After all if nobody fought the good fight organized crime would be just as rampant in businesses here in the U.S.

    • Derek,
      Thank you very much for the words of support. Sometimes, I do feel like I’m making a difference. Little by little Japan becomes a better place and since this is my home I feel a civic duty to make it better place.

  25. fhlow says:

    this is definitely one of the most somber posts i’ve ever read about yakuza and the fighting against this terrifying organized crime unit.

    keep fighting the good fight, although i’m no japanese, i despise the 95% people who prey against the weak, those who leech of others and shit.

    keep it up. and you’ve just earned a loyal follower to this site!

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  1. […] The Economist: Death of a mockingbird: ”Toshiro Igari, a former prosecutor who worked on cases against the yakuza, Japan’s mafia, was found dead in August. His death was ruled a suicide. But Jake Adelstein, an American journalist who specialises on yakuza activities, suspects murder….As in few other countries, the business of Japan’s criminal gangs is woven densely into the life of the country, its economy, government and society… But there is a deeper and uglier dimension lying beneath the surface, profiting by human-trafficking, extortion and the trade in hard drugs. It can be exceedingly violent.”Read Jake Adelstein’s essay on Igari’s passing here. […]

  2. […] Adelman interviewed a gangster who claimed to have murdered Itami. According to the informant, he and some other thugs took Itami to the roof of his building and held a gun to his head. “Ju… Itami jumped. “He didn’t live,” cracked Adelman’s […]

  3. […] Tanaka personified the picture of former prosecutors in japan as being shady legal professionals who would work for the very best bidder, typically the criminals and/or felony group they as soon as tried to place in jail. The time period やめ検 (yame-ken) is the derisive slang used to confer with those that have gone over to the darkish aspect. Not all ex-prosecutors go to work for anti-social forces or the yakuza–some proceed to battle towards them, typically tragically, as within the case of Toshiro Igari. […]



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