Suzan's Reviews > Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan

Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein
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Aug 01, 2011

really liked it

TOKYO Vice is three things: an outsider’s perspective on Japan in the ’90s and noughties; an insider’s view of the complex, quite often contradictory symbiotic relationship between that country’s press, police force and organised crime syndicates; and an example of the classic journalistic dilemma—how far a person is willing to compromise their own principles in search of a story. American Jake Adelstein goes to Japan as a college student, to learn the language and perhaps even become a Buddhist monk. What he ends up doing is scoring a gig as a crime reporter on the Yomiuri Shimbun, a prestigious newspaper with the largest circulation in the world. The cases recounted in his memoir range from the quirky—a suit-wearing master pickpocket who treats his illicit enterprise like a 9-to-5 job and returns victims’ wallets to their pockets after removing only the cash—to the ghastly. The latter category includes an exotic-animals salesman who also deals in murder for those who oppose or anger him. Then there are the more sensitive issues, such as the way the Japanese justice system deals with the mentally ill, and a particularly sinister form of loan-sharking designed to entrap individuals for life. We soon learn that there isn’t much Jake won’t do if he thinks there’s a scoop to be had, whether this means going undercover as a male host, brawling with a bouncer or taking tea with a high-ranking member of the Yakuza. However, he never tries to make himself out to be some kind of action hero, and his writing is thoughtful, at times deeply regretful, and peppered with insights into the Japanese mindset, as in sayings like, “To not know and to ask a question is a moment of embarrassment; to not know and not ask is a lifetime of shame.”
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