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Jake Adelstein Yakking About the Yakuza On The Economist Web Site


Mar 6, 2009

If you’ve come here because you have a “yen” to know more about Japan’s tattooed brotherhood, please check out  TOKYO VICE: AN AMERICAN REPORTER ON THE POLICE BEAT IN JAPAN.

Tokyo Vice is a look at Japan's underworld from the inside.
Tokyo Vice is a look at Japan's underworld from the inside.

It’s a more than a memoir and more than just about yakuza.  It contains tales of dog breeding serial killers, the strange world of Japan’s red-light district, a look at human trafficking in Japan, the story of how four Japanese gangsters were able to get liver transplants at UCLA and why I think that’s a travesty, and an introduction to the rituals of Japanese daily life and especially those of a police beat reporter. And sometimes, it’s funny. Black humor, yes, but it’s there.  It’s also everything I learned over the last fifteen years of wandering through the darker side of the land of the rising sun. There was a lesson to be learned there. Somewhere.

Posted here is an interview I did with Ken Cukier at The Economist in February. The article he wrote about why the yakuza are still flourishing was very insightful and certainly took an unusual angle in explaining the situation.

If you know me, you may be surprised that I sound reasonably lucid in this interview. That’s those years of working in public radio finally coming in handy.


Jake Adelstein on the Yakuza

If the link doesn’t work try clicking below.


34 thoughts on “Jake Adelstein Yakking About the Yakuza On The Economist Web Site”
  1. I subscribe to the Economist podcast and really enjoyed your interview with them re: the yakuza and the japanese stock market. Googling led me to your website – am looking forward to your upcoming book which was mentioned. There doesn’t seem to be an amazon.com link yet, right?

  2. >If you know me, you may be surprised that I sound reasonably lucid in this interview.

    well, the edits they do tend to add a few IQ points to everyone 😉

  3. the link is outdated, and a search on economist.com for either your name or cukier turns up no audio file (which is what loads when the provided link is pressed). can you post the link again? cheers.

    1. Joseph,
      Thank you for writing in. Actually, I think a commercial comes on immediately when you access it and if you wait, the audio plays. However, try clicking the alternate link below the first link.

  4. That was fantastic and illuminating. I was wondering if there was a transcript, or if by chance you could tell me the name of the real estate company mentioned halfway through (about 6 min in) – the one that went bankrupt in March of 2008?

  5. I almost quit listening after a few seconds when I heard the interviewer then Jake pronounce ‘yakuza’ as ‘yakooza,’ which makes them sound like a comedy team.

  6. Jake, Have you interviewed corporate executives whose job it is to take care of the “sokaiya” yakuza?

    I know a guy who spent many hours in bars with them over a period of a few years and says some of them have decent attributes. However he would not want a daughter to marry one.

    1. I have interviewed both sokaiya and those people that are paid to deal with them. The sokaiya tend to be more lovable and intelligent than a lot of yakuza. Thanks for writing in.

  7. It is a very noble thing for you to report on such a topic. I saw you on 60 minutes. America would really be a great country with about a million more people like you. SaltedLight.com

  8. Jake,
    I agree with the other Michael, its very noble. Especially considering you had a chance to earn half a million to remain silent.
    You obviously have gotten to know some yakuza members to have such rare insight into this organization. How did you meet them and how did you earn their trust enough for them to share their stories with you?

  9. Jake-san,

    Just wanted to drop you a line and say great book. Thanks for taking the time to put it on paper. Look forward to reading your next projects. Ever in Okinawa I am buying the beer.

  10. I’m slightly suspicious of all of the validity of these reports. You have interesting stats, but I couldnt believe that they: A) let you in or B)Let you live if you got close to anything important or disrespectfully exposing.
    There are lots of evil foreigners in Japan, im sure you’ve been to roppongi by night, Koriyama in Fukushima ken and kannai in yokohama. There are watered down yakuza groups full of wannabe’s and bosozoku drop outs, did you interview some of them?
    The interview is very vague and has an heir of fiction to it.

    1. I respect your contrary viewpoint and have posted your comments as they were. “The evil foreigners in Japan” strikes me as the standard line the yakuza use to justify their existence. “If it wasn’t for us the barbarians would take over.” Statistically foreigners in Japan are much better behaved than the Japanese, if you don’t throw in “visa-violations” and crimes that generally only foreigners get arrested for. I’m not interested in interviewing the dregs of foreigners in Japan. The interview doesn’t seem vague to me but look and you’ll find more details in other writings. Since you’re obviously Japanese, please look at the Goto-gumi files in crime resources.
      Also, I think what you meant to say is not “the interview is very vague and has an heir of fiction to it” but “the interview is very vague and has an air of fiction to it”. A good turn of phrase in any event.
      Actually, a society in which mafia members carry cards identifying themselves as such itself seems fictional to anyone outside of Japan.

  11. Answers to your Questions: How and where do they come from? Following the Money Trail in Historical Legislation 1983 – 1987. It is not the Yakuza causing your current problems.

  12. The rate of Appendix Cancer in Japan is 0.18%.
    In the US, only 800 to 1000 cases of appendix cancer each year:
    Why such a rare Cancer?

    Appendix Cancer in Japan

    Shingo Oya,1 Kanji Miyata,1 Norihiro Yuasa,1 Eiji Takeuchi,1 Yasutomo Goto,1 Hideo Miyake,1
    Keiichi Nagasawa,1 Yoichiro Kobayashi,1 Terutomo Ito2 and Masafumi Ito3
    Departments of 1Surgery, 2Gastroenterology and 3Pathology, Japanese Red Cross Nagoya First Hospital, Nagoya, Japan

    It is difficult to preoperatively diagnose early carcinoma of the vermiform appendix because of its rarity and few specific
    clinical features. In the present study, we report a preoperatively diagnosed mucosal carcinoma of the vermiform appendix.
    Key words: carcinoma of the vermiform appendix, early carcinoma, preoperative diagnosis.
    Carcinoma of the vermiform appendix is a rare disease, and
    it is difficult to preoperatively diagnose it because it has few
    specific clinical features. It is correctly diagnosed preoperatively
    in 6.6–25% of cases.1–3 Additionally, being diagnosed
    at an early stage is extremely rare. Moreover, it can mimic
    acute appendicitis because the cancer can cause a luminal
    blockage of the vermiform appendix. The diagnostic rate of
    this cancer after an operation for appendicitis is reported to
    be 0.03–2.2%.4–6 If the appendiceal cancer is misdiagnosed
    as benign appendicitis, another operation may needed after
    that for the appendicitis. If en block resection cannot be
    done, there is a risk of local recurrence. So, it cannot
    follow the oncological principle of surgery for cancer.
    Therefore, it is important to diagnose it at an early stage for
    the optimal treatment of this disease. We present a case of
    preoperatively diagnosed early carcinoma of the appendix
    A 59-year-old man was admitted to our hospital for additional
    studies after occult fecal blood was detected. He had
    hypertension but no remarkable family history. He had
    neither fever nor abdominal pain. No abdominal mass was
    palpable. His laboratory findings at hospitalization were not
    remarkable: hemoglobin was 14.9 g/dL, white blood cell
    count (WBC) was 6300/mL and C-reactive protein (CRP) was
    negative, carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) was 1.7 ng/mL
    and CA19-9 was 7.6 U/mL. Abdominal computed tomography
    revealed a 20 mm round mass with contrast enhancement
    in the cecum and a swollen appendix (Fig. 1). Barium
    enema showed a protruding mass with a smooth surface at
    the bottom of the cecum; however, the appendix was not
    visualized. Colonoscopy disclosed a tumor in an enlarged,
    protruding orifice of the vermiform appendix (Fig. 2). Pathological
    examination of the biopsy specimen revealed welldifferentiated
    adenocarcinoma. From these findings, we
    diagnosed this patient as having a carcinoma of the appendix
    vermiformis.An ileocecal resection with lymph node dissection
    was carried out. Macroscopic findings of the resected
    specimen showed a submucosal tumor located at the root of
    the appendix and an enlarged appendiceal orifice.The tumor
    was 20 mm and sessile in the resected specimen (Fig. 3).
    Pathological examination revealed that atypical columnar
    epithelia had proliferated with a papillary or glandular structure,
    and the diagnosis was a mucosal well-differentiated
    adenocarcinoma without vessel invasion and lymph node
    metastasis (Fig. 4).
    Carcinoma of the vermiform appendix accounts for 0.18%
    of all colorectal cancers and 0.1% of excised vermiform
    appendices.7,8 The frequency of early carcinoma is approximately

  13. I’ve been reading your book. Sadly I stayed in Kichijoji where Carita stayed. She was a lovely person. At the time we all thought she had died of food poisoning but , of course, I have recently learnt she was a victim of Joji Obara. This was quite disturbing to know and it is amazing that the Japanese police did not investigate the death at the time especially as there was a suspicious character around. At least reading your book has made me understand their thinking even if it is not a surprise.

    1. Zahid-san
      It was a tragic death and while I never met Carita, I am and was good friends with one of her colleagues. We even went to the hostess club she worked and asked questions. If I had been a reporter instead of a college student, maybe I could have learned something. I always meant to follow up on the story but never did. It remains another Peter Parker moment in my life. If you have any photos or anecdotes about her, they would be nice to know. Perhaps her parents would appreciate them.
      Thanks for writing.

  14. I have sent an email at other address. Please contact if you are ever writing anything about above case and I may be able to give you some contacts for more information.

  15. I’m loving your book! It’s just great! I’m doing research on the Ko An Cho. I’m wondering if you know anything about the relationship between them and the police? I know they’re not like the FBI. In the UK, the Security Service has a bit of power over Special Branch in the sense that Special Branch wants to be them, but they don’t want to be Special Branch. In your life in Japan did you learn anything about the Ko An Cho and their relationship to the NPA and the TMPD?

    1. Can you read Japanese? Because there are some really good books on the subject but not much in English. In Japan, only the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Public Security section has real power. The Koancho is hamstrung although they can monitor and collect intelligence–they don’t have have much bit. I think the Metro Police Public Security guys have no admiration for the Koancho (Public Security Agency?) nor want to be them.

  16. Jake,

    I’ve been reading your book and absolutely loving it. I’m a sophomore in college (in the US), and I’m minoring in Japanese. What I find most fascinating about your story is how deeply you were able to assimilate in Japanese society. Do you think opportunities for gaijin, (or at least American gaijin), to receive a seishain have increased since you started working for Yomiuri in 1992? Or is it still a very difficult glass ceiling to shatter? Thank you for your time, please feel free to email me.


  17. Hi Jake i see your coming to Perth Western Australia im trying to find your contact details as i thought you might me intetested in my story of one of a few foreigners getting inside the yakuza and working for the yama gumiguchi.


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