Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jake Adelstein's "Tokyo Vice"

Jake Adelstein was a reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper, from 1993 to 2005. From 2006 to 2007 he was the chief investigator for a U.S. State Department-sponsored study of human trafficking in Japan. Considered one of the foremost experts on organized crime in Japan, he works as a writer and consultant in Japan and the United States.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan, and reported the following:
This page comes from a chapter in the book called "Bury Me In A Shallow Grave." It's the story of how I met the first yakuza (Japanese mafia) boss I ever knew. It happened when I was a cub reporter at the Yomiuri Shimbun in 1994--in Saitama, the New Jersey of Japan--covering principally the organized crime control division. I should explain that the yakuza boss in question was a big dog in the Sumiyoshi-kai, the second largest organized crime group in Japan, with an estimated 12,000 members. (The National Police Agency estimates that there are about 86,000 yakuza in Japan. The largest group, the Yamaguchi-gumi, has over 40,000). At this point in time, the gang boss, Kaneko Naoya had asked me to talk to the Saitama Police as his proxy, and find out why the police would no longer drink the tea he offered them when they came to visit his office. Yes, cops used to drop in at yakuza offices and chit-chat and exchange information. Organized crime groups are legal entities in Japan, regulated somewhat, but legal. Think "Rotary Club" with tattooed thugs who dabble in extortion and felony crime. I would say that the page has many elements of the book: journalists, cops, bad yakuza, good yakuza, betrayal, back-door deals, and attempted murder by proxy. What that says about the quality of the book, I don't know. The Japanese have a saying--to praise your own painting--which is considered in poor taste and so I will refrain from commenting on whether my book is any good or not. You can decide.

Now that I think about it, I learned a lot from this episode. I also should explain that people called Kaneko "Mr. Cat" because the last part of his last name, Neko, can also be read as cat. The detective who is speaking to me in the third paragraph, Sekiguchi-san, was my mentor and a great friend. Both died a few years ago from cancer. In general lung cancer kills cops (smoking too much and second-hand smoke) and liver cancer kills yakuza. The tattoos, and often the Hep C contracted from the tattooing process, and the heavy drinking tend to make yakuza prone to liver problems. It's why the so-called John Gotti of Japan, Goto Tadamasa, and three of his other yakuza cronies all desperately need liver transplants from UCLA, but that's another story. Reading this page remind me of how much I miss those two guys, especially Detective Sekiguchi. I still have his number on my cell-phone.
I should say this chapter has a happy ending of sorts. Not for everyone, of course.

Page 99:

Two days later, he called me with the goods. The rumor was being spread by one Yoshinori Saito, the number four guy in the Sumiyoshikai. Saito had told one of the detectives in Section 1 that Kaneko was bribing a cop. Saito hadn’t named the cop, thus sending the police into a feeding frenzy while they tried to find the mole.

That was on the cop side. On the yakuza side, Kaneko and Saito had long been at odds with each other. Lately, Saito had wanted to sell speed to the convoy of truck drivers who made their way through Saitama, but Kaneko didn’t want any part of it. Kaneko’s boss, Nakamura, had allegedly been a meth head in his youth, and Kaneko didn’t want his boss getting involved in a business that might tempt him to return to bad habits. Saito had deliberately spread the rumor, knowing that it would result, through a certain convoluted logic, in making the organization think The Cat was a police stoolie. Saito didn’t have the guts to challenge The Cat himself. He was going to let the organization take care of it.

“So what do you think I should I do with this information?”

“Tell it to Kaneko. As soon as possible.”

Reluctantly I agreed to communicate the situation to Kaneko. I called his office and scheduled an appointment for that night.

It was freezing cold, which didn’t help because I was already getting the shivers. Besides, yakuza offices are spooky enough in broad daylight. Before I could even knock on the door, Kaneko opened it and gestured me inside. He was wearing jeans and a dark green sweater. He looked like a yachting instructor.

I sat down on the sofa, and this time I drank the tea. I told The Cat everything I knew.

He nodded as I spoke, closing his eyes, fingers spread out on the table. “Thank you. I now understand. I owe you for this,” he said.

“Maybe it’s not my place to say this,” I dared, rather like a fool, “but rather than having to deal with this crap, why don’t you just leave the organization?”

The Cat opened his eyes and took a deep breath. “Look at me. If I dress like this, I look like any other businessman on the train on his day off. But if I roll up my sleeves”―which he then began to do―“that’s the end of the pretty picture.” From his wrists, extending up his arms as far as I could see, were gaudy, elaborately engraved tattoos. You couldn't see a vestige of bare skin.
Read an excerpt from Tokyo Vice, and learn more about the book at the Pantheon website.

--Marshal Zeringue