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

Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein
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Jan 08, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: japan, memoir-biography, nonfiction
Recommended for: anyone interested in Japan; or human rights issues
Read in January, 2010 , read count: 1

I add this old review after having read Peter Hessler's profile of Jake Adelstein (NEW YORKER, 1/9/2012). The characterization of Adelstein as "flamboyant" was a surprise to me; the persona he assumes in TOKYO VICE is in fact quite the opposite, allowing for the fact that he is a reporter. Yet, the article forms an epilogue to the story Adelstein tells, and I encourage anyone interested in Japanese culture to read this book.

The allusion of TOKYO VICE to “Miami Vice” is inescapeable – a thriller featuring shadowy Yakuza figures in a backdrop of exotic seaminess. WRONG! This book is much better than that. Told in flashback, Adelstein relates a long and difficult route from cub reporter to accomplished crime journalist with a restraint that cannot be appreciated until the final chapters of this book. At that point, his intensity and passion become clear. The telling of this story is almost an act of contrition for the human costs of that apprenticeship though none is needed. His writing as well as his life choices have made a difference to the many victims of organized crime.

The story touches on the ambivalent status of the “gaijin” in Japan. In one background interview he asks about a suspect: “Was he a Yakuza or just some kind of bad ass?” The reply: “Nope. Worse. He was a foreigner.” In another anecdote, he relates the Japanese passion for manuals. The #1 best seller at that time gave tips on how to argue with Koreans who are critical of Japan. (#4 was “The Perfect Manual of Suicide”).

As a journalist at the Yomiura Shimbun, Jake must dedicate his evening hours to a strategic game of etiquette in order to cultivate police contacts. Remembering birthdays, inviting them out to baseball games (the money coming from out of pocket, not from the newspaper), insinuating himself into their social and family gatherings, visiting them when they are sick, are all part of this game. In between, he must also develop street contacts. A veteran reporter advises the fledglings: “If you want to be an excellent reporter you have to amputate your past life.” Gleaning judicious “leaks”, Adelstein scoops the competition while between protecting his sources. At the same time, each story is designed to sew the seeds to a follow-up story as criminals and police react to each new public disclosure.

TOKYO VICE is an impressive view of the contradictions that social expectations and personal ethics pose in this outwardly Westernized society. The effect of these contradictions are amply reflected in Hessler's NEW YORKER article, a portrait of a complicated and passionate man.
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