Book Review: Tokyo Vice

Tokyo Vice

Tokyo Vice

I recently made a career out of reading the book, Tokyo Vice (meaning, it took me forever to finish it). It took me quite some time to get through the book for a couple of reasons which I will explain in a bit, but all in all, I can highly recommend it.

Tokyo Vice is written by Jake Adelstein, the only American to ever work as a journalist inside the Tokyo Metropolitan Police press club. It is a unique insight into Japanese culture that few Westerners will ever get to see.

My View of Japan

I have been to Japan twice and loved the country. The people are very friendly, the organization, efficiency and cleanliness are only rivaled by Singapore and Switzerland, and it is overall very safe. The citizens follow the rules.

On the metro, there are signs that prohibit talking on one’s cell phone while on the train. No one talks on their cell phones on the trains. On the escalators, the people who just want to ride stand on one side so the people who are in a hurry can walk up the other unimpeded.

I have a friend who’s then husband used to regularly forget his backpack on the train in Tokyo. It was returned to him every time.

It is one of the safest countries on the planet.

Jake Adelstein’s View of Japan

Not everywhere is perfect, though. Tokyo Vice reveals another side of Japan. One that is seedier. One that is unknown to most tourists. The book is actually a series of stories that the author covered as a reporter for the Yomiuri Shinbun, one of the largest newspapers in Japan. However, rather than just reporting the stories themselves, he talks about his life at the time of the story and how he got involved in each one. It is a loose narrative that carries the reader from his initial hiring at the paper to his eventual escape from the country under threat to his safety from one of the top Yakuza (Japanese mafia) in all of Japan.

Tokyo Vice

Tokyo Vice: The Book

The author also shares his journey from being the “good guy” to one that is maybe a bit questionable in his morals. It is a journey that I think a lot of people take in their quest to make something of their lives. He certainly makes mistakes along the way, but he owns up to them and is very self-deprecating when he talks of himself.

The insight into the culture is the real value of this book. In Japan, foreigners are always treated differently than Japanese and certain areas are off limits to non-natives. Even though Jake is still restricted from some, he is allowed into places and situations that no other Westerner would ever see. Through his eyes, we are also allowed in and some of the areas are pretty shocking.

He uncovers things that the Japanese government would rather not have known about their country. Through his research and incessant drive he makes changes that would seem impossible for one man to accomplish. He makes inroads into the sex trade and discovers a very laissez faire attitude from both the police and the government towards these women (sex slaves) and the men that smuggle them into the country. Then he brings the world’s attention to this and... well, you’ll have to read it.

Why It Took So Long For Me To Finish

I had a tough time getting through the book, though, for two reasons. The first is that there are so many characters and organizations and they are all, of course, Japanese names. It was difficult for me to keep them all straight, so I had to keep going back to figure out who was whom. I complained about this to Sara and she told me that the way she handles things like this is to actually pronounce the name out loud so she can get a handle on it. So I read her an example to see what she thought:

That’s when he told me I’d need a bodyguard. I recognized the name of the guy, Teruo Mochizuki. He had been a good friend of Yasunobu Endo’s, the yakuza crime boss that Gen Sakine had killed in the 1990’s. They weren’t in the same organized crime group, but sometimes friendships among yakuza transcended organizational restraints. A Sumiyo Shikai member could be “blood brothers” with an Inagawakai member; a Yamaguchi-gumi member could be brothers with a Kokusuikai member. Mochizuki and Endo had one of those relationships. What mattered is that we knew each other. I asked Suzuki why Mochizuki was willing to do it.

She saw my point.

Anyway, you get the idea. You really have to focus to keep track of everyone.

The second reason it took so long to read was that I really only have so much time in the day to dedicate to free time and Breaking Bad kept pulling me away from the book. The good news is that I am finished with that series, so my productivity should go back up.


If you are at all interested in Japanese culture, this book will give you insights that no other book will. You will learn things here that most Westerners who live in Japan probably have only heard in rumors and legends, if at all. It is very interesting reading and will not disappoint.

Incidentally, the book is being made into a movie and the author is going to be played by Harry Potter. I’m looking forward to this one.

If you would like a copy of the book, you can find it here. Please note that this link is an affiliate link, and I will get an ever so slight kickback for sending you there if you purchase it. However, your price will not be any higher and, of course, I would not recommend it if I did not feel it was worth your time. Thank you, Hansel, for the book!
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