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The joys of having people wanting to kill you and other thoughts: ABC interview (Australia)


Feb 19, 2010

Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on The Police Beat In Japan was released in Australia this month with a wonderfully bizarre cover–dead fish in an icebox. The title was also changed from An American Reporter to A Western Reporter On The Police Beat In Japan.  I imagine the Hebrew edition, if it comes out in Israel will be, A Jewish American Reporter On The Police Beat in Japan. The Down Under publisher, Scribe Publications, arranged for me to do about ten radio interviews for the book launch.  Of them, this was one of the better interviews, even though I had been up for 36 hours by the time the interview took place. If I sound drunk, I’m not–I’m just sleep deprived.

Tokyo Vice: The Australian Edition
Tokyo Vice: The Australian Edition

If you have a few minutes and are interested in some of what didn’t make the book and some of what happened afterwords, give the interview a listen. Thanks to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for asking some good questions. Thanks to Scribe Publications for that wonderfully “unique” cover. Ahem.

The accompanying article is below:

Tokyo Vice – a journalist in a crime underworld
By Robbie Buck

Imagine how tough it is to go to another country and try to eke out a career for yourself, especially if it’s a country with a different language and a vastly different culture, and then imagine if your job involved immersing yourself in the seediest and most crime-ridden parts of that country, only to have your life threatened on many occasion.
This picture is what American journalist Jake Adelstein’s life was like after having become the only reporter from the US to be admitted to the insular Tokyo metropolitan police press club and his harrowing experiences have been catalogues in his book Tokyo Vice: A Western reporter on the police beat in Japan.
He relates his relationship with yakuza bosses, including an ex-yakuza who is Adelstein’s bodyguard and driver so, “it’s kind of nice not having to drive, [so] there’s a good thing about having people want to kill you, sometimes,” he jokes.
Seriously, though, he points out that he had protection but, “the most scary thing is wondering who will they go after next.”
Things certainly do work differently in Japan and Adelstein notes that a key part of being a reporter on his round was visiting police at their homes, “you knock on the door, bring some Japanese sweets and have a chat over tea – that kind of give and take between police and reporters is part of information exchange [and] when you become a better reporter you bring the cops information they want and if it turns into a good case, you get the scoop.”
Adelstein had various sources for his book, though, and, “I don’t know how much of what some of my sources had told me were true,” but all he has been told makes for a murky picture of a dangerous world.
In fact, “there were some positive aspects of the reporting,” he modestly admits, as some of his work helped the Japanese Government look at human trafficking in that country.
He is now involved with a non-profit organisation that combats human trafficking in Japan and he is writing a new book called
The Last Yakuza, a kind of biography of his bodyguard.

15 thoughts on “The joys of having people wanting to kill you and other thoughts: ABC interview (Australia)”
  1. Awesome. I wouldn’t mind getting a hold of that copy. I love the American cover, but that is just so perfectly awkward. Not sure what it has to do with the book but it captures Japanese peculiarity so well.

  2. Thanks for the link. I really enjoyed your book. Even gave it as a Christmas present to my father. Heading into my 16th year in Japan. I told my father that if you take out the murders/death threats/ yakuza/and police–he could get a good idea of what my life in Japan is like. LOL. Thanks for writing a great book.

  3. Wow I like the Australian cover, too. I went to the book signing/ talk show event held in Ebisu, Tokyo last year. I purchased a copy and enjoyed reading the book tremendously. The book offered me an insight into life of a crime reporter working with the Japanese police. I am Japanese but had no idea about how it all worked. The chapter on human traficking was an eye opener, too. Good luck with the rest of your promotional tour.

  4. Great interview. I paused and pondered on many parts of your book where its obvious the story is going unsaid, especially the part about Goto’s girlfriend. Thanks for enlightening. Looking forward to The Last Yakuza.

    1. Well you know the saying, 言わぬが花. (iwanu ga hana)–The unspoken is a flower (loose translation). Sometimes, the most eloquent thing you can say is to say less.

  5. I was also at the event at Good Day Books and really enjoyed the talk and the book. I also enjoyed the interview you linked to here. It must be exhausting having to answer the same questions over and over, but I think you’re doing a tremendous job making each interview unique and informative. Look forward to hearing more.

    1. Thank you. I try to find something new to say every time. Well, if you’re going to write a book, you have to promote it and I try to be as compliant as possible. “If a good book is dropped in the forest and no one reads it, it isn’t a good book.”
      I’d like people to read the book and get something out of it, so I’m happy to do the interviews. There are some things and some events I’d prefer not to recall.

  6. I found your dedication to getting the story or scoop amazing, even as you were starting out as a cub reporter.
    I think it would make a great movie. Furthermore, a well-made movie would shine a light on human trafficking.
    Do you think if a movie deal was to come about, would it be even possible to film it in Tokyo due to Yakuza control?
    Best to you.

    –Thanks! I just think it would be way too expensive to film in Tokyo. And you’re right, there might be other issues as well.

    1. I think it would be possible to film in Tokyo but horribly expensive. I imagine they’d film it in Seattle or San Francisco. Just guessing. My dedication to the story is one part idealism and one part of just hating to lose.

  7. Hey Jake, i was wondering where i can get hold of those Yakuza magazines that you mentioned in Tokyo Vice? Im writing my university honours dissertation on representations of the Yakuza in Japanese pop culture and i would love to check out a copy just out of curiosity. By the way, Tokyo Vice was very enlightening. I lived in Kyoto for 6 months in a ‘gaijin house’ and was told that next door there was a Yakuza ‘headquarters’. Do you know anything about Yakuza in Kyoto?
    Alyce from Australia

  8. Hi, Jake.
    Not know where to write so I write here.
    Just finished reading Tokyo Vice. Very interesing. I am gonna buy Heisei Taboo too.

    Helena’s story was especially sad, almost making me cry. And I could feel your pain.
    I wonder why her case has not got national attention like Lucy Blackman and Linsay Hawker.
    Does she not have family back in Austraila?
    If her case goes unnoticed, sure, her hotoke will never be floated to heaven…

  9. Just finished reading your book. The Aussie cover!
    Been to Japan many times and now feel enlightened to what really goes on.
    Helena must be found! In the book it was mentioned she owned a place in Australia?
    I don’t believe the pics at Hong Kong airport.

    Best wishes Jake.

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