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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

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  427 ratings  ·  37 reviews
A riveting account of the role of Americans in the evolution of the Tokyo underworld in the years since 1945.

In the ashes of postwar Japan lay a gold mine for certain opportunistic, expatriate Americans.Addicted to the volatile energy of Tokyo's freewheeling underworld, they formed ever-shifting but ever-profitable alliances with warring Japanese and Korean gangsters.At th
ebook, 400 pages
Published September 29th 2010 by Vintage (first published 1999)
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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
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
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
Amusing and relatively accurate story about how post-war Japan was built by the CIA, gangsters and professional wrestlers.
Ken Gtwo
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
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.
David B
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
Wes Freeman
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
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
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
Lynn Kan
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.
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
Jim B
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
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.
Arlangga Moeharam
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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
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
Ovi Susilo
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
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.
Dr. Barrett  Dylan Brown, Phd
Dec 16, 2009 Dr. Barrett Dylan Brown, Phd rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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"
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.
Jay Caselberg
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.
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.
Interesting, but loses steam. A fun read for people who've lived or worked in Tokyo, and interesting explanation of rise of Japan and connection between government and organized crime, not to mention CIA involvement.
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.
This turned out to be more of a factual non-fiction book than what I anticipated. In the end it is a series of anegdotes from that very interesting period of post-war Japan. I gave up about 1/3 through.
A great book about Japan's underworld, and the US' involvement in it. Also a nice history of Japan since the end of WWII in general, and a great history about my least favourite part of Tokyo: Roppongi.
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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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There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name
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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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