07 December 2009

Tokyo Vice

Book rating scale:
5: Touched by God - a work which makes Shakespeare look infantile
4: Amazing - Instantly began rereading it and quoting it to friends
3: Worth Every Penny - a solid, interesting read, inspiring some thought and discussion with people who share similar interests
2: I Paid For It So I Finished Reading It - Some interesting parts but if I lose the book I'm not buying another copy
1: Couldn't Force My Way Thru and Burnt the Book in order to send it to the Hell it deserves
I rate Tokyo Vice a 3.7. It's an intriguing look into the criminal underbelly of Japan mixed with the lives of newspaper reporters and police.

I first heard about this book when I saw the author hawking it on the Daily Show. His main hook is the biggest scoop of his career: uncovering FBI cooperation in bringing a Yakuza boss to the US in order to get a liver transplant. Of course, this is a big thing to him. It ended his career as a reporter in Japan, got him published in the Washington Post, got him death threats, probably got a female friend of his killed, and brought down a high level gang boss. It's a big story. However, it's not what draws me to this book (BTW, I listened to this via audiobook).

What really makes this interesting to me is the exposure to a very different culture. We start out with an explanation of how people get hired into a major Japanese newspaper and how it is to work the police beat.The hiring process is very different than what we have. In Japan every paper administers its own type of SAT type test and then puts people through a series of interviews before selecting new reporters. People don't work their way up from smaller papers to the big leagues; its like being hired by the New York Times or Washington Post straight out of college. And the police beat seems to work a little differently than I think it does in the US. One of the pieces of advice given to the author is to drop by the police officers' homes and make friends with them. That seems to go over pretty well in Japan. However, I will not recommend this approach in the US; I'm not sure I can vouch for the safety of a news reporter who drops by a deputy's house at 1 a.m. after he's gotten back from his shift.

We also get a pretty good look at the Japanese sex industry. The way it's presented, Japan has a massive, thriving industry in which men can get all sorts of things, ranging from just sitting and talking with a pretty woman at a hostess bar to clubs where girls dress in all sorts of costumes to a club which has its own subway car so that a guy can go into it with a girl and "molest" her. Pretty much anything is legal and the cops only intervene on rare occasions (technically vaginal sex is forbidden and if there is a reason the police want to shut someone down they may use this). Apparently, wives in Japan accept this as just something men do. At least we know that the one time the author admits an infidelity to his wife that she just tells him to keep it to himself and not bring home any diseases.

Interacting in this sexual community is what starts to give the author his insight into the Yakuza. It's not like the Mob here; in Japan the mobsters are so looked up to that there are fan magazines dedicated to them. The author starts to see that women, especially foreigners, are not doing all this willingly and are being forced into doing things and paying "taxes." The mobsters lean on them because they don't have valid visas and everyone knows that the police will not deal with the problem. If notified all the police will do is exactly what the mobsters are threatening: the police will merely eject the girl from Japan. From there we are shown more and more of the underside of Japan and how it is ignored by both the populace and police, especially if foreigners are the victims.

I listened to Tokyo Vice via audiobook and kept stopping the audio and rewinding it to listen to things over. It's a book which both those involved in criminal justice will find interesting as well as those who are interested in reading about cultures quite different than the one we've grown up in.

1 comment:

Jake said...

I'm really happy that that you appreciate the book as a reference book as well on Japanese criminal law and police organizations.
I tried to make it have some reference value as well--although the nature of law is that it changes rapidly, so some of the legal issues may be different in two or three years.
I hope my oral reading of the book was decent. I'm not a voice actor but i did try to at least by intelligible. I'm planning a more academic book about the underground economy down the road, with lots and lots of footnotes.
There are some translated Japanese documents on my website that will probably interest you.
Look under "crime resources".