Q&A with Jake Adelstein
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Q&A With Jake Adelstein
Hello everyone! The star struck feeling never goes away when an author agrees to do a Q&A with me. Today I’m doing one with Jake Adelstein who is the author of “Tokyo Vice,” which is his true account of being a crime reporter in Japan especially investigating the Yakuza. Late Friday night I messaged him on Instagram asking if he’d be interested and he replied back that he was. Then Saturday morning I see he’s following me back on Instagram. It’s a dream come true.
Q: I did read somewhere that you were writing a new book called, “Tokyo Private Eye”, and that it comes out in 2023. If that’s true, when in 2023 does it get published?
A: It will be published in France in the fall and we have also concluded the deal to publish it in English. Here’s a sort of press release
TOKYO PRIVATE EYE:
Investigation, Damnation, and Salvation In The Land Of The Setting Sun
Coming in Spring of 2023, published by Marchialy (France)
The book opens on one of the most devastating days in Japan’s history, March 11, 2011, which left thousands dead and missing—and culminated in a triple nuclear meltdown. Our protagonist and narrator Jake Adelstein, seasoned American journalist turned private eye, who has brought back bags of supplies from the US to be taken to the disaster area by yakuza friends–discovers he’s having a meltdown of his own: liver cancer.
Join Jake as he takes us back on a journey and recounts the events leading up to the disaster, the 2009 publication of his memoir TOKYO VICE: An American Reporter On The Police Beat in Japan, and how he became a corporate gumshoe. He picks up where he left off, chronicling his other career, battling the yakuza and criminals as a due diligence investigator while battling his own worst enemy: himself. Previously the only American journalist to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club, Jake covered extortion, murder, and human trafficking–fighting to make Japan recognize the problem. No longer a reporter but still trying to be a knight in dingy armor, he realizes that even a paladin has to earn a living. And instead of having 10 million readers now he’s writing reports that will only be read by three corporate executives.
This sequel to TOKYO VICE is written as a stand-alone volume and provides an in-depth history of the inner-workings of crime in Japan, and not just the gangsters. With each job assignment Jake learns more about industries rife with financial fraud, anti-social forces, corruption, and fraudulent bookkeeping–and how to spot a business that no client should engage with.
The book is divided into three parts coinciding with the breakdown of Jake’s personal life in parallel with Japan’s meltdown and an in depth analysis of how the Yakuza operate: UNUSUAL EVENTS, MELTDOWN, and THE FALLOUT.
UNUSUAL EVENTS sets the stage for the state of Japan leading up to the meltdown. The yakuza, like many criminal organizations, were not born out of thin air. Their ranks have come from members of society who do not feel like they have a place. Those marginalized by society such as the Korean-Japanese and burakumin, among others, were not given many opportunities by society, and were drawn into a life of crime.
But it’s a high level of crime now. In fact, one day Japan’s equivalent of Classmates.com is taken over by a Yakuza front company. Information is king.
Jake transitions into a career as a detective introducing a team of characters ranging from fight-til’-the-death former prosecutor Toshiro Igari to brave right-hand researcher and human trafficking victim advocate, Michiel Brandt. He makes new friends and enemies along the way–while dealing with the PTSD from the events that took place in Tokyo Vice by self-medicating with sleeping pills, booze, casual sex and clove cigarettes.
Learn how gangsters were gradually ousted from the financial markets by the due diligence of dedicated investigators, rebel cops, and new laws.
Meanwhile, TOKYO VICE is published but an old foe resurges — the ruthless yakuza Tadamasa Goto. If Tokyo Vice was Jake’s attempt to ruin and get his nemesis ‘erased’– Goto outdoes him with the publication of his autobiography, Habakarinagara, loaded with veiled threats. When Jake asks his mentor, Igari Toshiro, to help him take Goto to court, Igari bravely agrees but…..
MELTDOWN lands us in a disrupted Japanese society. Jake learns he has liver cancer while Japan is in the midst of a nuclear meltdown. His “best friend forever” Michiel is diagnosed with leukemia for the fourth time while the corruption of the Japanese nuclear industry comes to light.
Jake, hired to find out whether Tokyo Electric Power Company is responsible for the accident and what that would mean for investors, returns to his investigator roots with a renewed attitude to not give up and seeks out a new enemy to vanquish.
In chapters from the FALLOUT like The Nine Digit Economy: How The Yakuza Turned Japan’s Stock Market Into Their Casino, he shows how and why the authorities felt that anti-social forces threatened the very foundations of Japan’s economy.
Jake gets ahold of the most dangerous photo in Japan, showing the Vice President of Japan’s Olympic Committee with the head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest yakuza group, but can he break the story before his own knees get broken? And in the process of reporting on the Olympics discovers that the biggest gang of all in Japan may be a political party, founded by war criminals including former Prime Minister Abe’s grandfather, yakuza, ultra-nationalists and funded by the CIA.
What’s the difference between the Liberal Democratic Party politicians and the much-feared Yamaguchi-gumi thugs? It may only really be the badges they wear on their lapel.
While the book can be an enriching companion and sequel to TOKYO VICE: An American Reporter On The Police Beat in Japan, TOKYO PRIVATE EYE: Investigation, Damnation, and Salvation In The Land Of The Setting Sun is a memoir that can stand alone recounting the years 2007 to 2014 through the eyes of an intrepid reporter and gumshoe with three decades spent covering the dark side of the sun.
Not only is it a riveting memoir about the life junctions we all face, including grief and career changes, but it also provides a working knowledge of Japanese organized crime, political corruption, the process of corporate investigations and shows the collusion between mafia, state, and business that led to a nuclear disaster. It also shows that Japan’s biggest problems are not necessarily the fading yakuza.
Q: Some people doubt that you’re telling the truth about what happened in your book. How do you deal with those who call you a liar?
A: “A man without enemies is no man at all.” Sekiguchi Chiaki, my mentor and a great detective, is the person who once said that to me. I was sort of whining about the anger my work was generating on a government cover-up of Dioxin pollution. And he told me that. He was like, “When you do your job well, when you stand out, whether you’re a cop or a journalist, there are people who will hate you. And that’s fine.”
I try to understand where they’re coming from and I think there are some people who do it out of ignorance and there are some people who are weirdly jealous or feel like the only way they can build themselves up is by tearing someone else down. That’s a sad way to be. But if people sincerely have doubts, I’ve put up an open folder of a great deal of the primary materials that were used to write Tokyo Vice. I think if you don’t read Japanese, maybe it is hard to check on what I write, if you feel inclined to be skeptical. Even if you do, much of what I wrote during my days at the newspaper is behind a paywall. You can’t pull it up. Not everything is Google-able. But I did pull up a wealth of source materials and redact them to protect sources and posted them.
If people really want to know, then they can settle the doubts for themselves. It requires a certain level of Japanese knowledge to do it.
I read The Hollywood Reporter article, which I felt was a mean-spirited slam by someone who I thought was a friend. I feel like he lied to me and Endeavor saying that our first interview was about the TV show but from the very beginning it was meant to be an “expose”. The conclusion was reached and then he tried to bend facts and comments to fit his conclusion. That’s pretty shoddy practice. But I guess he wanted to be famous.
In the end, the best that the troll could do was find a disgruntled ethically questionable docudrama director to spout his opinion and deliberately misquoted my colleague and friend, Naoki Tsujii, back from my Yomiuri Days, despite his request to check his own comments. The requests were ignored.
However, if you bother to check the original post and the later version, The Hollywood Reporter, made significant corrections and rewrote the ending. So there you are. The cheap slam that annoyed me was that I use anonymous sources too often —and am thus suspicious—was based on deliberate omission of an important detail—a malicious sin of omission.
What was the most insidious thing is that the guy who wrote it knows that police and government officials in Japan are almost always anonymous sources—because that’s the law. Talking to a reporter about confidential secrets, on the record, is a crime under the civil servants act. Anyone who can read a Japanese newspaper would know this or anyone who’s really worked as a reporter here.
“According to police sources” is a phrase that the Mainichi Shimbun usually uses more than 50 times in a week.
I’m a human being so sometimes I read the comments on Reddit or whatever and it almost makes me angry. But you know, the people writing the worst of it are pretty miserable in their life and they find meaning in finding someone or something to hate or denigrate. And that’s where they are. I don’t need to be there with them. I’m certainly not a lotus blossom rising out of dirty water and muck, but I’d prefer to keep my dingy armor clean and go on to fight battles worth fighting.
We live in a world of people who have opinions not based on reality and conspiracy theorists. There are of course parts of the book altered to protect sources and that’s spelled out explicitly in the book itself in a section about sources, the majority of it easily verifiable if you have the patience and the inclination to do it. Most people would rather make up their minds without making an effort to figure out what is true and what is not. That’s also kind of sad.
I hope that some people will find things of interest there that deepen their understanding of Japan as well, and not just the book and my life.
(The open file of Tokyo Vice source materials)
Q: In the credits of the show Tokyo Vice, I see you’re an executive producer of the show. What’s it like being an executive producer? What do executive producers do? I know their role is important but I’m not sure how much control they have.
A: In reality, what I do is check the script and make sure they make sense. In the time period where the drama takes place, I make sure that people are doing things that are possible. That the yakuza aren’t cartoon characters and the police aren’t superheroes. I pay attention to every detail as best I can. People can’t have an iPhone in 1999. Sometimes, I offer advice on how a scene should be played. And I have suggested one or two actors for parts—some of that advice was followed.
Q: How did you feel about Ansel Elgort playing you in Tokyo Vice? What was it like interacting with the cast of the show, especially Ken Watanabe, Sho Kasamatsu and Hideaki Ito? They all seem like gentlemen.
A: Ansel Elgort did a great job. He was enthusiastic from the beginning and his mastery of Japanese in a short time is phenomenal. He threw himself into the role. He spent solid time with me, did Aikido (the police style) with an instructor that I picked—-because I also did Aikido (Yoshikan school) when I was on the police beat with the police—and he shadowed me on a story or two. He spent time with an LA Times reporter. He came to the temple where I used to live and participated in Zazen. Ken was a true gentleman and added a layer of authenticity to the show with sage advice and notes on the dialogue. Sho is just the sweetest guy ever. He’s a million miles from the yakuza guy you see on the screen. And Hideaki Ito is a truly jovial character. Weirdly, or not so weirdly, he’s also starred in two television series based on non-fiction books written by my mentor and former boss, Hidetoshi Kiyotake. So we have a common friend. That’s kind of cool.
Q: How do your kids feel that you’re so famous from the show and the book? They must think you’re the coolest dad in the world.
A: My kids do not think I’m the coolest Dad in the world. However, they did come to Tokyo for the premiere of the series and got to meet Ansel and most of the members of the cast and they really loved the series. My daughter, Beni, interned with me this summer. Mostly for a podcast I’m making with Campside Media but I put her on some breaking stories as well. When Abe was assassinated in Nara, I was in Hokkaido. I sent her and her friend Himari to the scene of the crime. I gave them 30 minutes to pack. And they went.
At the end of the internship she said to, “Dad, I really respect you. Now I understand why you were always so tense growing up. You’re always on call. You never get to relax and you have a lot of pressure on you. And from talking to other journalists, I realize how rare it is for people to do the kind of investigative journalism you do in Japan—and especially as a foreigner. So I really think that’s great.” That was nice.
My son, Ray, who is always very stoic pokes fun at the show and my persona but he also appreciates what I write and do. He made a parody of the show for his Japanese language class in Missouri called “Columbia Vice.” I laughed very much. Well, the show has sort of made them think “Oh, wow, Dad has done a lot.” And that’s great. I think they’re the coolest kids in the world.
Q: What is your favorite place or places in Japan?
A: I love lots of Japan. I have a great fondness for Hakone as a place to visit. But Tochigi Prefecture, especially around Nikko City is particularly lovely, friendly people, good food, cheap prices, amazing ever-changing weather, mysterious natural beauty and some almost mystical spots. There’s a wonderful lake to swim in and when the mountains are covered in mist, it feels like you’re in Tolkien world. Unfortunately, the reason I went there most recently was for the 4th anniversary of the disappearance of a 36-year-old French woman, Tiphaine Verone.
She was staying at the Turtle-Inn in Nikko City in “the March room”. She left the hotel at 10am on July 29th 2018 and was never seen again. Not a trace of her. No phone. No clothes. No body. I suspect that she was killed. The police are tight-lipped. When I went up there on the train on the night of the 28th, I had a car to myself. There was thunder, rain and lightning in the distance and just as I got an email from a support group asking for a petition to keep her case open in France, My iPhone started playing “Don’t ’Fear The Reaper.” this creeped me out.
I stayed at the Turtle Inn myself and of course, I got “The March Room”. I can’t say I slept great there. And I woke up on my last day and put some music on as I was packing to leave and first up was a song by Poe (female singer) “Haunted” and I thought—wow, this is really creepy.
I’ve been a reporter for almost 30 years, mostly covering crime. Everywhere I go is a little bit haunted. I try these days not to share the dark side of a place or area I’m visiting, even when it’s an interesting story.
I’m also very fond of Nara. A nice place in Spring and Autumn to visit—it was the old capital—older than Kyoto, I think—and it has all the grandeur and beautiful temples of that ancient capital but with much less pomposity. People seem laid back.
Q: So Jake what’s it like living in Japan? What advice do you give to Americans who plan to live abroad? Let me tell you as a fellow American I hate to say it, but some Americans act entitled thinking every country is like America and that those countries will cater to their needs and beliefs and they won’t.
A: I can’t give Americans advice about living abroad. I think if we stop and think about what are our real values, what are the things we should and shouldn’t do, that it’s reasonable to have confidence in them. We all understand the five basic precepts of Buddhism right— I vow not to kill, but to cherish all life.
I vow not to steal, but to respect that which belongs to others.
I vow not to misuse sexual energy, but to be honest and respectful.
I vow not to lie, but to speak the truth.
I vow not to misuse drugs or alcohol, but to keep my mind clear.
If you’re a Zen Buddhist priest, which I am, there are even five more. They’re not easy to uphold. But that doesn’t mean we should expect our customs and practices to be the norm. Ethics are one thing—-acting like “How To Win Friends and Influence People” should work in Japan may leave you alienating people and earning enemies. Japan is very different. So I can give you some advice on living in Japan.
Be polite. “Even amongst the closest of strangers there must be decorum.” Don’t complain often—-it doesn’t go over well. Show gratitude loudly and often.
Keep in mind that reciprocity (giri) is still what holds people together. You must repay the kindness bestowed upon you and you should do it gracefully and enthusiastically. This will take you far. And you must also remember that to speak Japanese properly, you have to accept the Japanese world view which is that we are not equal. Either by age, position, accomplishment, or experience, there are people above us and we have to defer to that and speak with the right honorific for that person—whether it be san, sama, kun, or chan. You do have the option of speaking respectfully and kindly to people equal to or below your status and I try to do that.
But equality in Japan is a myth and maybe that’s a myth in America as well. Watch what happens when you try to sit in business class with an economy ticket. Japan is a vertical society. Accept your place within that society and you can rise up the ladder or you stay where you are, but you can also have a very happy life there. It doesn’t mean you don’t try to change the things that many Japanese people also feel are wrong, it just means that you do it a little better.
Finally, one last piece of good news, The Last Yakuza which was published in French in 2017 will be published in English within the next year. It’s a very different book from Tokyo Vice and I’m delighted to see that it will be available to English readers in the near future. I look forward to your review.