Author gets too close for comfort with Tokyo's yakuza gangs

Tue Oct 13, 2009 5:18am EDT
 
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By Isabel Reynolds

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - When American Jake Adelstein arrived in Tokyo to study Japanese, martial arts and Buddhism two decades ago, he had no idea he would one day be fleeing, fearing for his life, after threats from yakuza gangsters.

A 12-year stint covering crime for Japan's biggest daily newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, brought Adelstein into contact with the seamy side of Tokyo that most Westerners never see, from loan sharking to murders to trafficking in sex workers.

His mission to pull off a scoop about the yakuza turned personal after the disappearance of a prostitute friend who had been trying to help him find out about what he suspected was a human trafficking ring.

Adelstein, who wrote in Japanese, left the newspaper in 2005. In his English-language memoir, "Tokyo Vice," which will be published in the United States this week, he tells the story of how he got to grips with the unique Japanese way of journalism, becoming such a serious irritant to the yakuza that he faced death threats and was placed under police protection in 2008.

Adelstein, who belonged to a rare breed of foreign journalists writing for the Japanese-language press, spoke to Reuters recently about his career and crime in Japan.

Q: What made you come to Japan in the first place?

A: "I became very interested in Japan when I was taking karate in high school. My teacher grew up in Okinawa and taught us about the spiritual aspects of the martial art and a little bit about Zen Buddhism and it intrigued me. I was hoping that in Japan that I could master karate, master myself, and master the language and achieve a mini enlightenment along the way. I hate to say I have managed to do none of those things."

Q: Why did you decide to join the Japanese media, rather than work for a Western outlet as most foreign journalists do?   Continued...

 
<p>American writer Jake Adelstein poses with his book "Tokyo Vice" at a red-light district in Tokyo October 9, 2009. A 12-year stint covering crime for Japan's biggest daily newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, brought Adelstein into contact with the seamy side of Tokyo that most Westerners never see, from loan sharking to murders to trafficking in sex workers. Picture taken October 9, 2009. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon</p>