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The International Writers Magazine: REVIEW

Toyko Vice by Jake Adelstein
Vintage Books, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-307-47529-9
• Leroy B Vaughn Review
The author, Jake Adelstein was a twenty two year old Jewish man from Missouri and the son of a Medical Examiner in 1993. He taught English in Japan before going to college there. He became fluent in Japanese and learned to read and write the language before graduating from college. From 1993 through 2005, Adelstein worked as a crime reporter for the Yumiuri Shinbun, Japans largest newspaper. The newspaper had a circulation of over ten million copies per day, during the time Adelstein worked at the newspaper.


He is the only gaijin (foreigner) working for the newspaper and is assigned to the Kabukicho area of Toyko.  An area that Adelstein describes as the New Jersey of Japan.

Adelstein wears a funeral suit to his first interview for employment, not realizing that certain colors are worn for different occasions. This is just the beginning of all the strange customs and behaviors that he will have to adjust to during his employment in Japan.

As a reporter, he learns very quickly that he is expected to work eighty hours per week and there is no such thing as a vacation for reporters. He also learns that he will not have a private life, while working the crime desk.

His first assignment is to talk to Isreali street vendors that are being shook down by the Yakuza. The Yakuza is Japans version of organized crime and the street vendors are being forced to pay them 30-35% of the money they make hustling electronic equipment on the streets.

Only problem is, Adelstein doesn’t speak Hebrew and the Isreali’s don’t speak much English or Japanese. Despite that, Adelstein is able to gather enough information for an article for his newspaper.

Once his boss finds out that Adelstein is able to move around the streets and make contacts with the cops on the vice squad, he is assigned to get information on a possible serial killer.
Adelstein finds the serial killer and finds also that the man is Yakuza. The man is a killer and he owns a dog breeding business. A customer comes to the dog breeder and wants to buy a pure breed Alaskan Malamute, an expensive dog in Japan. The customer wants a discount and offers the breeder 30% less than the asking price. The dog breeder/Yakuza walks away and returns with a pruning shear. In front of the customer, he snips off one of the dogs ears and tells the man that it’s a deal. Needless to say, the man took the dog and walked away, after paying the discounted price.

As time goes on, Adelstein gets deeper and deeper into the underworld of Tokyo. A place frequented by Chinese gangsters, Korean/Japanese Yakuza, Thai prostitutes, Isreali and Iranian illegal aliens and Japanese men on the prowl for sexual adventure.

In this district, there’s drugs, prostitution, sexual slavery, rip- off bars, dating clubs, message parlors, porno shops, high dollar hostess clubs, low dollar blow job salons, over one hundred different Yakuza factions, the Chinese mafia, gay prostitution bars, sex clubs, female junior high school girls soiled uniform/panty retail shops and etc.

It should be pointed out that with all of the above activity, prostitution is illegal in Japan. So by now, Adelstein is very confused, as he makes the rounds with vice cops and detectives. For Adelstein the district that he was assigned to is like a foreign country in the middle of Tokyo.
Bloomberg News writes “gripping and compelling, it follows Adelstein through 12 years covering everything from roadside shakedowns to serial murders. A primer on such complicated relationships between Japan’s cops and criminals.”

I agree with Bloomberg News. I wanted to read this book, as soon as I saw it. I have some experience with Japan and Japanese criminals. I spent thirteen months in Japan as a military policeman in the U.S. Marines, four years before the author was born.

I was stationed about four hundred miles south of Toyko and have never been to Tokyo, except to the airport. The Japan of 1993-2005 that Adelstein describes is a lot different than the Japan I knew in the 1960’s. There were bar girls, prostitutes, pachinko parlors and criminals back then, but none of the vice that Adelstein worked, at that time.
I did know a Yakuza member. He was a Korean and I knew him through a buddy of mine that was dating his sister. We went to an off limits (to G.I.’s) club one night with the Korean and he was treated with a lot of respect by the local punks that hung out there. We were going to hit another off limits bar the next week, but he was killed. He was stabbed with a sword on the main street near the off limits place.

I would recommend this book to anyone that is interested in vice cops, vice in Japan, newspaper reporters working with the vice squad, or anyone that just wants a good read.
© Leroy Vaughn June 2013

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