Wednesday, January 5, 2011

CBR Review #3 - Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein

 'Walk away from the story and walk away from your job, and it'll be like it never happened. Write the article, and there is nowhere in this country that we will not hunt you down. Understand?'"

Tokyo Vice is a true crime account of a Jewish American reporter who gets in way over his head working the police beat in Japan.  Jake Adelstein, graduate of the Sophia school, essential decides on a whim to become a report.  His natural skill with both English and Japanese (and some moxy as well as a great deal of luck) earn him a place on the staff of the Yomiuri Shinbun, the largest print publication in Japan.  The novel follows his journey from his first assignment in Saitama to his incredible take-down of a yakuza crime boss.  

I'll admit, I was drawn to this book when I saw Jake interviewed on The Colbert Report.  It's a different book than I had anticipated, being far more about Jake's time as a journalist in Japan and far less about his battle with the yakuza (in fact, the primary issue that is addressed in the book's Prologue, regarding Goto, isn't approached till the last quarter of the book).  At first I wondered why we weren't getting to the heart of this yakuza thing faster.  However, Jake's stories of life and reporting on the police beat in Japan sucked me in.  I'm slightly biased on this subject matter - I work for a Japanese company and am constantly seeking ways to understand the culture that built the organization I work for, and that so many of my colleagues come from.  This book gave me some really interesting insight into the seedier side of Japan.

Jake jumps around a bit, which makes his narration a little inconsistent, but his heart is in the right place.  His relationships with certain recurring characters are my favorite moments.  His evenings spent with Sekiguchi, the cop, and his family.  His unfortunate relationships with the women in his life.  All of the little details that make the story Jake's are also what make the story interesting.  You can tell that he has more ease with Japanese than with English - his use of Japanese idioms is fabulous, while some of his English feels a little stiff.

This is an overall great read.  I'd highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys good non-fiction.

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