Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan

Author(s): Jake Adelstein

2012-09-04 9/10

Tokyo Vice is probably my favourite book about Japan. Here's Wikipedia describing it:

Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan is a 2009 memoir by Jake Adelstein of his years living in Tokyo as the first non-Japanese reporter working for one of Japan's largest newspapers, Yomiuri Shinbun.

After trying and failing to have the book published in Japan, it was published by Random House and Pantheon Books. Adelstein wrote in 2013 that: "The book is translated into Japanese but no publisher will touch it. It steps on too many toes."

There are a number of reasons I like this book.

Firstly, it's a story about a non-Japanese person deeply embedding themselves in an old Japanese institution through grit and hard work. I like any stories about non-Japanese people doing well in Japan, doubly so if it's a thing that most Japanese people wouldn't think that non-Japanese people could do. This is perhaps why I was such a big fan of Asashoryu, and maybe Jero.

Next, it's an amazing piece of investigative journalism. It gets right up in the face of the underbelly of Japanese society. Jakes gives pretty detailed accounts of how criminal organisations, the police, and the press work together to do their jobs. If you liked the gritty realism of The Wire then you'll find plenty of that in this book. There's no other media, inside or outside of Japan, that gets this deep into this side of Japanese culture.

Finally, especially towards the end, it's an incredibly raw book. At times it reads like something out of noir detective story, and could genuinely work well as fiction.

If you're interested in Japan and want to get a better understanding of it past export culture, you should definitely read this book.