Tokyo Vice is a courageous book written by a very brave man*. It’s the autobiography of Jake Adelstein, an American who worked on the police beat at the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest newspaper, and tells the story of how he fearlessly exposed Japan’s human trafficking problem and went head to head with one of Japan’s most notorious yakuza, exposing the details of a liver transplant that he got in the United States. As a result of articles that he wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun and this book, he’s now living under police protection.

It’s a real page turner, filled with drama, pathos, and even a bit of action. It starts out with a meeting between Adelstein, a cop friend of his, and two members of the infamous Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime syndicate. The two yakuza threaten Adelstein’s life, telling him that if he publishes an article detailing their boss’s liver transplant in America, they’ll kill him.

The rest of the book is what led up to this event, starting with the odd story of how he got hired at the Yomiuri Shimbun, his days as a reporter on the crime beat in Omiya and later Kabuki-cho, and later his involvement in the Lucy Blackman case and investigations of human trafficking in Japan.

Maybe you’ve read stories in the English dailies about a yakuza, Tadamasa Goto, who became a Buddhist priest a few years ago. Goto is the man whose liver transplant Adelstein exposed, and I was just riveted as I read about Adelstein’s confrontations with one of the country’s most vicious criminals. It seems extremely likely that the reason Goto has become a priest is due to Adelstein’s reporting.
The book is also an excellent source for people who are interested in Japan’s media and police. Some of the reporters and cops are nearly as immoral as the yakuza.

You’ll probably be shocked to read about the details of their incompetence and insensitivity in their handling of human trafficking cases, how both groups resisted efforts to expose the human trafficking problem in Japan, and the horror stories about the way newspapers treat their reporters.

My only complaint about the book is a minor one. I find it hard to believe that a reporter who worked on the crime beat would not know words like “gokudo” (yakuza), “honban” (the euphemism for sex used in soaplands), or what a host club is. There are quite a few places where there are conversations in which police officers or other journalists explain things that Adelstein, as a journalist, would clearly have known. These seem to be there for the reader’s benefit rather than because they actually happened. In the end of the book he explains that he changed names and details to protect people, but the possibility that he has made up conversations leaves me with a vague suspicion that there are other things that have been invented, rather than just having their details changed. (Jake Adestein has written a response to this criticism in the comments. I’m now a bit conflicted about whether my criticism is valid, so I hope you’ll read his response).

Anyway, this is a great book, one of the best I’ve ever read about Japan. It’s not written by one of those people who jet-setted into Japan for a month or a year and thought that made them a Japan expert. There’s fascinating stuff on nearly every page and this book will give you a whole new perspective on the way the yakuza, media and police operate in Japan.

Adelstein’s excellent Japan Subculture Research Institute blog is also a great read.

Find Tokyo Vice on Amazon

*Possibly not as brave (and seemly delusional), though, as Benjamin Fulford, Japan’s foremost conspiracy nut, who protested outside the Yamaguchi gumi’s headquarters trying to convince them to shut down.