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Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan
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Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  534 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
"A fascinating look at some fascinating people who show how democracy advances hand in hand with crime in Japan."--Mario Puzo

In this unorthodox chronicle of the rise of Japan, Inc., Robert Whiting, author of You Gotta Have Wa, gives us a fresh perspective on the economic miracle and near disaster that is modern Japan.

Through the eyes of Nick Zappetti, a former GI, former b
Paperback, 402 pages
Published September 26th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1999)
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Feb 16, 2013 Krycek rated it really liked it
Quick-- what do gangsters, the U.S. Army, professional wrestling, the CIA, the LDP, the military/industrial complex, TV, pachinko and pizza have in common? If you said, "the post-war Japanese underground economy" then you have either read this book or are an extremely abstract thinker. Robert Whiting's Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan places Japan's post-WWII economic recovery in a whole new light. Witness to this recovery and subsequent reversal in ...more
David Bonesteel
Jun 11, 2013 David Bonesteel rated it it was amazing
The sub-title of Robert Whiting's fine book is a bit misleading. The American gangster in question often disappears from the narrative for long stretches while Whiting explains the long history of collusion between Japanese politicians and the yakuza. Nevertheless, the result is a fascinating social history with plenty of entertaining anecdotes and colorful character profiles. Chief among the latter are Nick Zapetti himself, the "gangster" who made a fortune with pizza parlors that became the ha ...more
Kevin Farrell
May 11, 2012 Kevin Farrell rated it really liked it
Robert Whiting is uniquely qualified to write about this bit of history. He has lived in Japan for years and writes a column for a Japanese language newspaper. He knows the language and the people better than most Gaijan in Japan.

Start this book and you will find yourself falling into an odd recipe of US Occupation forces, ancient Japanese culture, and ex-US Military mobsters who see a profit in this madness called Tokyo. Throw it all in the blender and hit frappe and you get what happened to bu
Joichi Ito
Aug 12, 2008 Joichi Ito rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan
Amusing and relatively accurate story about how post-war Japan was built by the CIA, gangsters and professional wrestlers.
James Eckman
Sep 13, 2016 James Eckman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Crime buffs, writers
Recommended to James by: Jim, Patrick Sherriff
Shelves: horror, non-fiction
Those who are avoiding the US election news should skip this book, since, like a rancid cheeto, Trump shows up as a partner or patsy for Japanese mobsters. Other US figures include Nixon and Prescott Bush.

The GR description is pretty complete so I will not add much notes on the content. My first comment is read the acknowledgements an notes in the back, they add depth to the book, don't skip them. The amount of corruption going on in the book seems horrifying if you haven't read much about down
Ken Gtwo
Jul 02, 2011 Ken Gtwo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan, political
Great book on the post war rise of Japan, from the perspective of an Italian-American Ex-GI who had a lot of shady friends.
Topics include:
- Roppongi history
- The post-war takeover of Japanese society (Media, Gov't, etc.) by right-wing, nationalist, war veteran, yakuza types.
- Cold War American complicity and involvement in said takeover (Particularly by Republican Admins).
- Nixon
- Korean Mafia
- Lockheed-Martin Scandal,
- PM Kakuei Tanaka of the Tanaka political dynasty (See also Makiko Ta
I don't really give this book two stars because it's a BAD book, I'm just not convinced that it really concerns a gangster. I may be nitpicking, but this felt more like a garden-variety criminal, really. It's pushing it to put this on my Japanese Mob shelf. It's an interesting enough book, however, and those interested in the American expatriate experience in Japan will no doubt like it. But I was looking for something about "An American Gangster in Japan," and I didn't really feel like this was ...more
May 31, 2011 Rinja rated it it was amazing
From the standpoint of a history nerd (especially one who specialized in Japanese history), this book is simply awesome. Even though it's a historical read bordering on biography, Whiting does a fabulous job of making this read almost like fiction. Great subject matter explored in this book; I'm a huge fan of cultural comparisons, and this is how it should be done. I found this to be a fascinating read, from cover to cover.
Sarah Crawford
Jan 15, 2016 Sarah Crawford rated it liked it
The subtitle of the book is The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan. The book is generally about how Americans influenced the underworld in Tokyo after World War II, and in particular the role of Nick Zappetti who was originally from New York. To me, at least, the main interest in the book are the bits dealing with the yakuza, the black market and bribery, and the part about Zapetti is only mildly interesting.

The first black market after the end of the war opened in only a
Wes Freeman
Nov 23, 2008 Wes Freeman rated it really liked it
Alternately amusing and appalling look at the seedy side of post-war Japan. Apparently, pinball, pro-wrestling and pizza ran wild across the archipelago in the years after we dropped the bomb, and author does a bang up job of linking these cultural nodes of modern Japanese society to its fascistic yakuza fringe; the increasingly unsurprising irony here being that America empowers the people that hate it in order to make money on the deal. Nick Zapetti, an American serviceman who stays on after t ...more
David B
Jul 20, 2014 David B rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The sub-title of Robert Whiting's fine book is a bit misleading. The American gangster in question often disappears from the narrative for long stretches while Whiting explains the long history of collusion between Japanese politicians and the yakuza. Nevertheless, the result is a fascinating social history with plenty of entertaining anecdotes and colorful character profiles. Chief among the latter are Nick Zapetti himself, the "gangster" who made a fortune with pizza parlors that became the ha ...more
Feb 09, 2013 Stuart rated it really liked it
Not to long ago I had read a book called "Policing America's Empire" (mostly about the Philippines)in which one of the major points was the often overlooked influence of crime syndicates. This book corroborates the large effect crime and criminals plays in the world at large and especially in the US empire. It has been pointed out that governments seemingly week can control enormous resources through a symbiotic relationship of law and lawlessness to the point that it would be detrimental for th ...more
Jim B
Jul 04, 2011 Jim B rated it it was amazing
This book oopened my eyes to the widespread existence of evil in Japan and America. It traced the history of relations between Japan and America from the end of World War II to the end of the Twentieth Century and its parallels in the life of an American-born Mafia connected resident in Japan, Nick Zapetti. He came as a GI and found ways to make money illegally, founded the first pizza restaurant in Tokyo, Nicola's Pizza in Rappongi. He became known as the Mafia Boss of Tokyo. Despite his crimin ...more
Jul 30, 2009 Bee-Man rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sebuah kisah nyata yang sangat menarik untuk dijadikan suatu pelajaran. Di medan bangsa lain yang tidak dia kuasai, tanpa modal finansial, tanpa keluarga dan kerabat, bahkan tanpa suatu perencanaan matang, hanya bermodalkan "keyakinan" dan keberuntungan yang jatuh-bangun membawa nama seorang Nicola Zapetti melambung menjadi orang nomor satu didunia kriminal Jepang pada zaman tersebut.

Buku ini juga memberikan sebuah sudut-pandang baru pada saat Jepang pasca-pendudukan Amerika. Bagaimana Jepang ya
Arlangga Moeharam
Dec 11, 2010 Arlangga Moeharam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 25, 2012 S. rated it really liked it
Shelves: red-queen
one of two English-language Yakuza books to be "accidentally" written; this other is [[book: Confessions of a Yakuza]]; Whiting went to Tokyo to write a general history of organized crime and instead ended up meeting the American Yak, Zappetti, who arrived in Japan with the Occupation forces and chose to stay.

1945 Japan - 1960s being a time of rebuilding, when an adventuruous non-unversity-educated American could make something of himself; and indeed Zappetti built a business empire of sorts, bu
Nov 03, 2009 Meredith rated it it was ok
The title was misleading, for sure. The guy was not a gangster but a guy who owned an italian restaurant and made friends with a lot of gangsters. A tough dude, and italian, and even maybe related to some mafia guys back in New York, but not a gangster. It's like writing a book on the restaurant owner character in the Sopranos.

So if you're looking for a story of an American who penetrates the highest levels of the yakuza, look elsewhere. The book did give a good overview of the beginnings of th
Jan 01, 2009 Sean rated it really liked it
This is the true story of an American mobster named Nick Zapetti who lands in the newly re-furbished post-war Tokyo of 1945 and decides to start a pizza restaurant. Zapetti was a ruthless black marketer, pimp, armed-robber, and all-purpose scumbag. Somehow he manages to become an insanely successful entrepreneur, marry himself into Japanese-citizenship, and dance his way through dealings with the Yakuza (who were a lot less subtle back in the day) only to die in 1992 with nothing but his seethin ...more
Ratu Avia Rahimah
May 21, 2013 Ratu Avia Rahimah rated it it was amazing
Regardless of the sources' unproved accuracy, this book is a reflection of how a nation - especially Japan - was empowered after its downfall during post-WWII. Just like the sunlight and the shadow, government and crime organizations were - not too surprisingly - side-to-side to develop the economy of a country. This book gives us another perspective to see other examples of democracy and patriotism such as the story of Ozu Kinosuke, a gangster boss who controlled the most part of Tokyo's black ...more
The true story of an American who settled in Japan after WWII, as well as a more general account of the history of organized crime in that country, Tokyo Underworld is at once fascinating and disturbing. It shows the intersection of crime with both culture and politics, and if the crooked lens--Nick Zappetti--through which we see all this is not entirely sympathetic, he's also fascinating and larger-than-life in the best tradition of gangster stories. While I read it for research, but I'd have e ...more
Jul 27, 2007 Jeff rated it it was amazing
reportage detailing the life of Nick Zapetti -- a Brooklyn-born WWII veteran turned yakuza/pizza-king of Tokyo. The backdrop covers the post-war void, the Bubble and the slump, while chronicling the wildest side of Japan you could ask for: gang fights with sharpened chopsticks, yakuza
carousing with political figures on drugs with girls, gunfire over cheese pizza, etc. Zapetti is the lovable asshole who dies ecstatically miserable right after he tells Whiting his entire slipshod story.
Jul 17, 2010 Alex added it
A gripping account of an Italian-American's life, who made Tokyo his home and organized crime his life. Contains vivid description of the relationship between the elites and the criminal elements of Japanese society and provides astounding insights into the way the System works in Japan. Quite a stomach-turning experience for the more ethically-minded Western reader. Warning: May turn your faith in the possibility for good governance to shreds.
Lenny Husen
Oct 19, 2015 Lenny Husen rated it it was amazing
This is a 4.5 star book. Outstanding research and well-written. It was a bit of a tough read for me, being a slow reader especially of non-fiction (took several months as you can see) but fascinating stuff. Very detailed. A lot of human interest.
Would recommend this to anyone who is interested in Tokyo, Japan, Japenese History, Mafia/Gangsters/The Mob.

But, if you are not interested in any of those things, this book definitely isn't for you.
Dr. Barrett  Dylan Brown, Phd
Dec 08, 2009 Dr. Barrett Dylan Brown, Phd rated it liked it
Recommended to Dr. Barrett by: Jake Adelstein in "Tokyo Vice"
Nowhere near as user-friendly when it comes to explaining Japanese culture to this barbarian gaijan as "TOKYO VICE," Whiting still gives an intricate historical account of the Rippongi area of Tokyo, a famous Japanese-Korean wrestler, the original Yakuza Gumi's in Tokyo, and an american Ganster wanabe Nicolo.

The account is vital, well-researched, and thuroughly footnoted, but somehow lacking in exciting.

Still planning to read his "TOKYO UNDERWORLD VOL. 2"
John Boyd
Feb 05, 2016 John Boyd rated it really liked it
If Nick Zappetti--the ex-GI and American Gangster that much of Tokyo Underworld
revolves around--were a fictional character, some readers might find him too far fetched. Yet this is not a work of fiction, but rather a fascinating look at how Japan's underworld evolved after WWII.
A must-read for students of Japan who want to get a rounded picture this beguiling country.
Lynn Kan
Jun 04, 2015 Lynn Kan rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Extremely well researched. There is nothing on wikipedia on Nick Zapetti, the character around whom most of the story revolves, but there should be. It may not be as relevant or up to date an account about the modern day millenial Japanese yakuza but it is part of the record of how Asian societies have evolved through illegitimate hands in legitimate gloves.
Jay Caselberg
Jun 22, 2012 Jay Caselberg rated it liked it
In the end this was okay. Immensely readable and told almost novel-style it was fascinating about the cultural and societal development and evolution of Japan. Problem was, over a third of the book is made up of notes and footnotes, so when all is said and done, it's actually far less than I would have expected. Good story. Well told. Too short.
Jun 26, 2014 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a good book. It has a very historical tone, and sometimes it's easy to get lost in the facts as the story's stage is set, but after you learn who everyone is and how they all tie together, the book is actually quite interesting.
Nov 06, 2008 Justin rated it liked it
A look at the creation of the modern Japanese crime underworld as a direct result of American influence in 1950s Japan. Something of a specialized interest read, but a fascinating account for anyone curious as to the origin of what we know as the modern yakuza.
Feb 24, 2008 Torrie added it
Interesting for those Americans who have visited Tokyo and have an interest in the Japanese Mafia and its American connections. Also great for post-WW II history in Japan and Americas influence upon it.
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Robert Whiting is a best-selling author and journalist who has written several successful books on contemporary Japanese culture

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“However, while it may be true that the open-air stalls did help get the economy going again to some degree and feed some of the hungry masses (government rationing being so inadequate that a Tokyo District Court judge who refused to eat anything purchased illegally died of malnutrition), the men who ran them were anything but altruistic.” 0 likes
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