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L_Monty
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Talk with TOKYO VICE author Jake Adelstein (March 1-5)

[ Edited ]

I held off on making an official Tokyo Vice thread since we'd already begun talking in another one, and also because I wanted to see if we could get author Jake Adelstein to drop in and speak with us. The thread title kind of gives this one away, but... he can!!!

 

Mr. Adelstein will be here from March 1-5 and take questions in this thread.

 

Now, this date might be subject to a little change, as Mr. Adelstein recently suffered a transient ischemic attack (TIA) that's left him a little wobbly, and I haven't spoken to him since. So if he pushes things back a day, that's understandable. Also, as he will be replying from Japan, around 14-17 hours ahead of people in the States, his replies might not come when you expect them, and you may not get a real-time chat experience. However, he will be here for five days to reply and follow up, so please take advantage of delays to really ask him some meaty questions he can tear into.

 

(Also, just as a treat, I'm hoping that a fellow expat journalist in Tokyo will be able to drop in and perhaps ask some questions that we might not think of but whose answers would be unique and edifying.)

 

Now, as to the book, which some of you might not know:

 

Synopsis of

Tokyo Vice: From the only American journalist ever to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police press club: a unique, firsthand, revelatory look at Japanese culture from the underbelly up. 

 


At nineteen, Jake Adelstein went to Japan in search of peace and tranquility. What he got was a life of crime . . . crime reporting, that is, at the prestigious Yomiuri Shinbun. For twelve years of eighty-hour workweeks, he covered the seedy side of Japan, where extortion, murder, human trafficking, and corruption are as familiar as ramen noodles and sake. But when his final scoop brought him face to face with Japan’s most infamous yakuza boss—and the threat of death for him and his family—Adelstein decided to step down . . . momentarily. Then, he fought back.

In Tokyo Vice, Adelstein tells the riveting, often humorous tale of his journey from an inexperienced cub reporter—who made rookie mistakes like getting into a martial-arts battle with a senior editor—to a daring, investigative journalist with a price on his head. With its vivid, visceral descriptions of crime in Japan and an exploration of the world of modern-day yakuza that even few Japanese ever see, Tokyo Vice is a fascination, and an education, from first to last.

 


Also, for now, those interested in keeping up with Mr. Adelstein in real time can follow him on Twitter!

 

 

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L_Monty
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Tokyo Vice Review + Links

Hey, gang. I just thought I'd point your way toward a review I wrote on Tokyo Vice in our Unabashedly Bookish blog section. Maybe it might inspire some questions or just avenues of speculation you can direct at Mr. Adelstein when he's here next week.

 

Also, be sure to check out his blog at his website: "Japan Subculture Research Center: All the intriguing and seedy aspects that keep Japan running." He and other contributors update pretty frequently, and it provides interesting short-form content not found in the book that might also suggest some interesting questions!

 

There's currently an alert that pops up on the site asking for a Twitter password. I assume that's just some wonky code happening. Don't worry: it's not malicious. Just hit CANCEL and get reading.

 

Thanks!

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Re: Tokyo Vice

I'm finally going to bed at 2:25 am. Hoping that I wake up at a reasonable hour. Perhaps, I'm still iving on Tokyo time.

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For More On the Dark Side, The Sunny SIde, and The Odd Side Of Japan

These are some of my favorite blogs and I'm audacious enough to include one entry from the blog I run with Sarah N and others. If you'd like to know more about various aspects of Japan and Japanese culture, they are worth checking out.

 

Lisa Katayama's irreverent take on Japanese subculture is always amusing and often insightful. I'm linking to her review of the book out of the sake of expediency and also to prove that I am not as morose as I appear to be in public.

 

http://www.tokyomango.com/tokyo_mango/2010/01/tokyo-vice-a-book-about-an-american-journalist-on-the-...



And from my blog, this entry I think is pretty good. One of my favorites that I've written. I wish I could live up to it.
"There are no small promises"
http://www.japansubculture.com/2010/01/everything-i-ever-really-needed-to-know-i-learned-from-the-ya...

 

Roland Kelts' early review of the book links to another great book worth reading. Mr. Kelts is well-versed in modern Japanese subculture and culture and has few equals in the field.

 

http://japanamerica.blogspot.com/search?q=Tokyo+Vice

 

Also, for the latest news worth knowing about Japan that's not in the mainstream press, you can't go wrong with www.tokyoreporter.com.

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Re: For More On the Dark Side, The Sunny Side, and The Odd Side Of Japan

[ Edited ]

Hi, Jake! Thanks for stopping by. It's late, so I don't expect others will be able to fire off questions for you for a while. I also am not sure how our time difference issues will work out. But that's why we have the extra days, to work this stuff out. 

 

That said, until others can drop by, I thought I'd throw out some starter questions that may help contextualize your work a little more, both in terms of the work you did and how you wrote about that work later.

 

1. In my blog post, I mentioned how odd it was that Japanese police departments tell you so little. They're very withholding in terms of public announcements, divulging what seems remarkably little. But on top of that, you're obliged to offer these out-of-pocket social courtesies while interviewing cops at home. Now, considering journalists aren't made of money, doesn't this sort of artificially put a cap on what kind of information you can access, by making people without killer salaries have to barter on a budget for public-record data? Does this seem like an extra layer of opacity for a first-world nation? A cynic might think that this was designed to prevent the public having any significant oversight into crime-fighting and even crime-committing. 

 

 

2. On a publishing note, I was wondering, did you feel any pressure to make the book more or less crazy-sexy-deadly? Just because of the subject matter, the book was already going to have those elements. But were you encouraged to tweak them one way or the other? If so, how did this impact friendships/loyalty/protection of friends/sources?

 

 

Thanks again!

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Jake-Adelstein
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Re: For More On the Dark Side, The Sunny Side, and The Odd Side Of Japan

Regarding Question 1:  Yes, it's a very flawed system. Arrests are not a matter of public record--creating a situation where someone can be arrested, be in custody, and for the rest of the world--they have essentially vanished.  The amount of money spent bringing snacks and things to the police does add up, but you aren't expected to bring extravagant gifts and there is usually a monthly stipend of expenses for police reporters. Of course, we all end up dipping into our own pockets but so it goes. At least we get overtime pay. Not much but some. 

2. I wasn't pressured to make the book more crazy-sexy or deadly. There's more than enough death in my life and on the beat without adding more. I was asked to make the book more personal, to put more of myself and my thoughts about my experiences into the book--which wasn't easy. I know that some reviews have been critical of the fact that I don't share more of my personal life and story but in the earlier drafts there was even less. Part of the reason I show some restraint is that I didn't want to place sources, friends or family in a difficult or dangerous position. Because even up to the publication date, I really wasn't sure where I stood in terms of safety or where I stood with what was left of the Goto-gumi. If there's a confessional tone to the book, it primarily comes from knowledge that I was dealing with a mobster who excels in discrediting people by digging up their personal failures and indiscretions and blackmailing them into silence or destroying their reputations, and I didn't want to be blackmailed nor did I want the past to come back to haunt me. So I outed myself as best I could. 

RTA
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RTA
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Re: For More On the Dark Side, The Sunny Side, and The Odd Side Of Japan

[ Edited ]

Mr. Adelstein, welcome and thanks for stopping by.  Unfortunately my schedule, from when I learned that you’d be taking questions at B&N, prevented me from reading your book in time.  So if I’m asking you questions that are answered in your book, please do say so, rather than wasting your time repeating yourself.  But, I figured, until those who did have the opportunity to read your book got around to asking questions, that I’d beat your ear for a minute.

 

First, I’m curious, are there historic, social, policy and/or legal reasons for why law enforcement seem so handicapped to handle organized crime in Japan?  I’ve seen mentioned the lack of plea bargains, wiretapping, witness protection.  These seem to be the very elements of U.S. law enforcement that combated organized crime.  Is there an explanation for the resistance to these techniques in Japan? 

 

Second, about the Goto/UCLA liver transplant, and I imagine you’re probably tired of talking about this topic (so, again, if my question is addressed in your book, please say so).  I’ve read a few articles that paint the event as: FBI helps Goto receive liver transplant.  But that seems to be a little misleading.  As I’ve seen reported, the FBI wasn’t really involved in procuring the actual transplant.  Rather, in what was understood as an exchange for information, the FBI aided Goto in receiving a travel visa.  And, at least for me, that doesn’t seem to be as scandalous as it’s been reported.  Certainly there might be an issue regarding how, within the organ donation system, Goto was able to receive the organ.  But, I can’t see how that, necessarily, implicates the FBI in improper behavior with regard to the transplant itself.  Am I missing something?  Are there implications that the FBI did anything further than aiding Goto’s ability to travel to the U.S., in order to receive the transplant? 

 

Edit:

 

I just thought of something else which is probably an off-shoot of my first question.  Do you think that if the system relied less on confessions for convictions, it might make room for plea bargains?

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Re: For More On the Dark Side, The Sunny Side, and The Odd Side Of Japan

Thanks for writing in. Law enforcement in Japan is handicapped. There is no RICO act, no criminal conspiracy act, no plea bargaining, very restrictive wire tapping, no witness relocation act, no witness protection program and in addition to this, yakuza who keep their mouth shut and do their time are often rewarded with a promotion and a cash bonus, a substantial bonus, after serving their term. Thus there is no incentive for anyone to rat out anyone above them for a better deal.  It makes investigations very difficult and going up the food chain next to impossible. Witnesses are reluctant to testify as well. 

 

The resistance to empowering the police dates back to the second world war where they functioned with supreme power, often carting off people in the middle of the night, never to have them come back again. 

 

You're right--the FBI had nothing to do with the liver transplant. UCLA made the deal with Goto and the three others on its own. In terms of possible criminal intelligence to be gained, a good decision by the bureau, in my opinion.  Technically speaking, since Goto and the three others made most of their money from criminal activities, UCLA by accepting that money could be construed as being involved in money laudering but I'm no lawyer so I can't say definitively. If you look at the definition of money laundering, in federal law, you can see why i might believe this. I never understood why there was not an investigation as to where the money for the transplants really came from. 

 

I think if the system was allowed to consider circumstantial evidence more, that plea bargaining would be instituted and there is talk of legalizing it. It does exist, in fact, but not on paper. 

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Re: Talk with TOKYO VICE author Jake Adelstein (March 1-5)

Dear Mr. Adelstein:

 

Thank you for writing such a great book!  I was thinking to visit Kabukijo this summer, should I stop now?:smileywink:  I have to tell you that while I was reading the book, I cannot stop skipping ahead a lot because I wanted to know so badly about your wife and Helena.  

 

I have a simple question:  are there any women yakuza?  Not yakuza's wives or girlfriends but "yakaza" yakuza. You know the ones with missing finger(s)/and or tattoos.

 

Thank you!

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Jake-Adelstein
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Re: Talk with TOKYO VICE author Jake Adelstein (March 1-5)

Thank you for reading the book. Kabukicho is not quite the den of debauchery that is was in 1999. Governor Ishihara has seen to it that it has been cleaned up to the point that all the local businesses are suffering and the area becomes more of a ghost town each year. Even the yakuza are fewer, because there isn't enough money to be made. It's sad in a strange way. 

 

There are no women yakuza with any real power. It's a very chauvinist society. Of course, there are many yakuza bosses who's wives are powerful and have a say in running the organization, but movies like 極道の女 depicting tattooed women ruling over yakuza clans with their iron fists hidden in velvet gloves--this is a thing of fantasy, I'm sorry to say.  

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TOKYO VICE author Jake Adelstein (March 1-5) On a plane tomorrow

I'm heading to Japanland on the 2nd. Right now, I'm heading to the airport. So if my replies are a little late after 11 am on the 2nd, you'll know why. Unless the airline puts internet access on overseas flights. 

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Re: TOKYO VICE author Jake Adelstein (March 1-5) On a plane tomorrow

Jake, please pardon me for compressing two of your replies into one quote, but I thought this was interesting:

 

Yes, it's a very flawed system. Arrests are not a matter of public record--creating a situation where someone can be arrested, be in custody, and for the rest of the world--they have essentially vanished.  

The resistance to empowering the police dates back to the second world war where they functioned with supreme power, often carting off people in the middle of the night, never to have them come back again

 

I realize I'm belaboring the point raised in my earlier question (about how the withholding of the police creates a non-informative situation where relating the doings of public servants becomes a harder public service), but this sort of seems like a furtherance, in a more legally palatable way, of the same obfuscation seen under the war junta. 

 

It seems like an unwillingness to empower police (lest they abuse power like the '32-'45 junta), yet also a willingness to sweep unpleasantness under the rug. It sounds like a dichotomous desire: police can't overstep their bounds, but, when they can, please make the problems of our towns/cities go away. In short, we'd prefer our legal privacy and civil rights, but we'd also prefer that those who transgress have so few (once apprehended) as to go away. Just go.

 

It reads like cultural schizophrenia. I think this might flow to the human-trafficking aspect of your book. Attitudinally, it seems like, "If it's crime, it's not there," which is an institutional approach you had to involve the U.S. against as leverage.

 

I'm not even sure I have a question at this point. I just want to hear if you have a juridical or social reconciliation of these motivations. It seems so odd.

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Re: TOKYO VICE author Jake Adelstein (March 1-5) On a plane tomorrow

i will think about it on this hellishly long flight to Japan. 

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Re: For More On the Dark Side, The Sunny SIde, and The Odd Side Of Japan

 


Jake-Adelstein wrote:

These are some of my favorite blogs and I'm audacious enough to include one entry from the blog I run with Sarah N and others. If you'd like to know more about various aspects of Japan and Japanese culture, they are worth checking out.

 

Lisa Katayama's irreverent take on Japanese subculture is always amusing and often insightful. I'm linking to her review of the book out of the sake of expediency and also to prove that I am not as morose as I appear to be in public.

 

http://www.tokyomango.com/tokyo_mango/2010/01/tokyo-vice-a-book-about-an-american-journalist-on-the-...



And from my blog, this entry I think is pretty good. One of my favorites that I've written. I wish I could live up to it.
"There are no small promises"
http://www.japansubculture.com/2010/01/everything-i-ever-really-needed-to-know-i-learned-from-the-ya...

 

Roland Kelts' early review of the book links to another great book worth reading. Mr. Kelts is well-versed in modern Japanese subculture and culture and has few equals in the field.

 

http://japanamerica.blogspot.com/search?q=Tokyo+Vice

 

Also, for the latest news worth knowing about Japan that's not in the mainstream press, you can't go wrong with www.tokyoreporter.com.


 

 

Dear Mr. Adelstein:

 

Your blog was very interesting.  I printed up "There are no small promises."  I hope you don't mind.  I took Modern History of Japan at Barnes & Noble University before they switched to this format, and I'm looking for ways to do independent study.

 

Redcatlady

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Re: For More On the Dark Side, The Sunny SIde, and The Odd Side Of Japan

Hey Jake. I'm the fella you gave the Onion book to at your Bonenkai--thanks again for that. It's held an exalted place next to my toilet for the past couple months. So my question is about your yakuza bodyguard, who you describe towards the end of your book. I've met this interesting fellow a couple times, and I think I remember you saying in some venue that you want to tell more of his story. Can you give us some hints on that?

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Re: For More On the Dark Side, The Sunny SIde, and The Odd Side Of Japan

I am very pleased that you printed out that blog entry. I don't mind at all. 

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Re: For More On the Dark Side, The Sunny SIde, and The Odd Side Of Japan

Jake,

 

I'm sorry for the heady question earlier (although I think it would be cool if you dug into it), but as my compensatory gesture, lemme ask you some softballs:

 

1. Investigative journalism is necessarily long-term and focused on a distant goal. It's hard to sell that goal to people who sell daily papers. How did you do that? What were your daily obligations, and how did they impinge on/inform your long-term goals.

 

2. Sort of a corollary to that, did you have a support staff? Were you out there alone, or were there researchers or other reporters beating the encyclopedias/facts for you? How reliant were you on them?

 

3. Were the people who helped you, on the Yomiuri staff, ever in danger. How much did threats on you radiate outward? I know there was the issue of your redhead friend, but it would seem like other people would be within that radius.

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Re: For More On the Dark Side, The Sunny SIde, and The Odd Side Of Japan

Mr. Brownburg, :smileywink:

Mochizuki-san used to be a gang boss in one of the larger yakuza groups in the country. I'm writing his biography of sorts, to be called THE LAST YAKUZA in which I'll try and tell the last 30 years of yakuza history in Japan and also how we became good friends and learned from each other over the last sixteen years. 

He at one time was very close to being a Rock and Roll legend in Japan and he's met John Gotti and had an amazing life.  He's one of the old guard that sees a difference between the yakuza as they are now and as they used to be. 

 

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Re: For More On the Dark Side, The Sunny SIde, and The Odd Side Of Japan

1. Investigative journalism often starts as a solo effort and when you can show that you have something to work with, sometimes the bosses will grant you some time and some manpower. But it's almost like an extra-credit activity. You do it on your own time. It helps if you're a workaholic or an idealist or both.  My daily obligations were to cover everything on my beat, every announcement, related feature articles, and also to cover for other reporters who were busy. 

2. Usually at the Yomiuri, on investigative journalism pieces I was on my own, but my supervisor was often very supportive and would push the editors above him to give the articles good space in the newspaper. Most of the work you have to do on your own.

3. Nobody at the Yomiuri was ever in danger from what I did while at the Yomiuri, except maybe the time I was writing about the collapse of the Korean-Japanese Savings and Loan, Saitama Shogin, along with Suzuki-san.  Things got a little hairy there. It's after I left the Yomiuri and no longer had the magic Big Newspaper Shield that I started stepping on the wrong toes. 

RTA
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Re: For More On the Dark Side, The Sunny SIde, and The Odd Side Of Japan

Just a point of clarification.  In "Bury Me in a Shallow Grave," regarding Kaneko's reported snitching, am I reading it correctly that everyone knew of Kaneko's "good working relationship" with the cops?  That is, there is no issue with Kaneko letting cops snoop through his office and steal his trash?  It's only the implication that he has some further relationship with the cops that threatens him?