Very mixed feelings about this one. I never got over my distrust as Adelstein as a narrator, a judgment mainly rooted in my own time spent in Japan, aVery mixed feelings about this one. I never got over my distrust as Adelstein as a narrator, a judgment mainly rooted in my own time spent in Japan, and the incongruousness of the hardboiled, poorly constructed, and ego-centered writing alongside claims of serious and altruistically motivated journalism. I don't think those things (hard living and altruism) are inherently contradictory, but in this book the claims toward both mostly serve the cause of making Jake Adelstein seem like an awesome bilingual pulp novel journo stud come to life. Which, fine, it's your memoir, buddy.
I didn't stop reading though, because there is valuable information here. The yakuza are overly romanticized, and it's important to reveal them for who they are- racketeers and sex traffickers, exploiting the most vulnerable members of society, with a thin veneer of "honor and tradition" and some admittedly badass tattoos. Japan is also overly exoticized, and there are few books written about the country by people who can speak the language fluently and have a real grasp of what's going on. It is extremely easy to be a long-term expat in Japan without accomplishing either, which seriously stunts English-language journalism about Japan, and so Adelstein is a valuable resource.
Most of this book actually deals with Adelstein's life at the Yomiuri Shimbun, and the relationship between the press and the police in Japan. He discusses two quite famous cases- the Dog Lover murders in Saitama prefecture, and the disappearance of Lucie Blackman- and the complex dance between reporters and cops to obtain and publicize (or not) leads in open cases. I found these sections to be quite interesting, and my eye-rolling was limited to the number of times poor riled up babes just begged Jake for sex and he is forced to oblige for one reason or another. Whatta mensch! He seems to have a much more positive view of the Japanese police than, say, Richard Lloyd Parry, author of a full-length book on Lucie Blackman. This is not too surprising, since the Yomiuri is one of the most conservative and nationalistic newspapers in Japan. (Something that I wish he went into a little bit more, honestly, because nationalism is something that both cops and yakuza can get behind, and it often serves to bring them together.)
The last 50 or so pages deal with the liver transplants received by yakuza boss Tadamasa Goto and others at UCLA under shady circumstances, Adelstein's big scoop of 2008. This is an important story, and it is not well told here. For an experienced journalist, he seems extremely indignant that newspapers around the world aren't jumping to publish this story without verifiable proof. Adelstein seems to think his role as "white guy who knows yakuza and cops" should give him free reign to publish whatever he deems as good information, with the talismanic recitation of "I can't reveal my sources or else we'll all be dead" as back-up. Eventually, other journalists in the States due some heavy lifting, and the story is published. It's my intuition that the threat to his person and his family by Goto and his ilk is grossly overstated, simply because the murder of an American, let alone an American's family, would bring more unwanted international law enforcement attention to the yakuza than would be worth their effort. But this is Adelstein's big claim to fame, and he's sticking to it.