Sunday, January 24, 2010
About 2 weeks ago, my soon to be father-in-law made a reading recommendation to me. Little did I know that the book he was referring me to, Tokyo Vice, was going to open as much of a door to my mind and heart as it did. I listened to him explain the premise of the book, then told him I'd love to read it and so began my journey.
The reading journey brought me back in time, to 2006, when I had went on a personal vacation to spend 3 weeks in Tokyo. Hoping not to come across as a completely unprepared foreigner, I thought I'd do my homework on Japan. I'd learned to read and write the Japanese Hiragana and Katakana which would help me survive some of the written world of Japan. I'd read about onsens, Kabukicho, foreigner job opportunities, visa options, gaijin houses, hostess clubs and most of the do's and don'ts to make sure I was prepared for what I'd be getting into. Little did I know that those things were only scratching the surface of a culture symbiotically tied with the Japanese Mafia. Little did I know that while I was playing around in Tokyo, trying to escape some of the woes of my past, the author of Tokyo Vice, Jake Adelstien, was right around the corner from me (literally at times) risking his life gathering information against the Japanese organized crime syndicate Yamaguchi-gumi. So, obviously, this book hit home with me really hard and really fast.
The book begins by taking you through a wild, and quite funny journey of Jake's introduction into the world of journalism in Japan, namely covering criminal activity for the Yomiuri Shinbun. His wit, skills, gaijin status and luck come together forging the perfect ingredients to bring about this memoir tell-all. As I followed his journey, I was enlightened to many aspects of Japanese culture, criminal or not, that I and many others are ignorant to. In some ways, I almost wish I hadn't heard about some of the things he mentioned in the book, after all King Solomon put it best in his own journal of Ecclesiastes: "For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow."
Despite the difficult elucidations I was being filled in on, I found myself unable to turn away from the book. The further into it I read, the more real the characters and the author became to me. I was filled with sorrow, encouragement, happiness and fear in this roller coaster ride of a book. I can honestly say that I've never felt more part of the story or connected to the characters as I have with Jake's story. His train-wreck of a tale ultimately leads him to a very dangerous dilemma, that any reader could easily agree makes an amazing climax. Without revealing too much, I simply want to say that if you have any passion for Japan or curiosity toward journalism, this is a MUST READ. It will leave you breathless, scared, entertained and maybe even a bit paranoid by the time you finish it. I would offer this warning though, if you have any aversion to sexual content or foul language, you may need to pass on this one. Jake is brutally honest and when honesty meets the crime world, you are bound to be left uncomfortable.
As a critical point to the literary compiling of this book, I did find that the time line of the story, as well as the abundance of Japanese names, were sometimes hard to follow, but by no means were enough to hinder the progression of the story. There are a few rabbit trails he takes you on, but they are there to fill in the gaps and are well worth the time to read.
All in all, it was an amazing read. I felt more emotions being drawn out of me than I've had in a long time. If you spend the money on this one, you won't be disappointed.
I also wanted to include a link to the Polaris Project, which helps fight human trafficking. After reading the book, please consider helping their cause, I know I will.
And for anyone else desiring to continue the story beyond the book, here is Jake's website