22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Real life masquerading as real life.,
This review is from: Tokyo Vice (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As a book, this is a straightforward account of the far from straightforward world of Japanese crime and crime reporting. The overt activities, the reach and the semi-legitimacy of the Yakuza is very difficult to grasp first off. The corporate image that they project, the noirish affectations of their dress code all seem cinematic and maybe there is an influence there, but the modern Yakuza draws on four centuries of cultural history surrounding the struggle of the common people to resist the gentlemen banditry with their Samurai honour code. Think hoodies as self help social services or the drugs trade as Robin Hood and his merry men - its not something that translates easily and something of it is an omission from this book.
Adelstein is the outsider who never quite makes it in, the very fact that he is foreign means many Japanese did not take him seriously, that he was "trouble" and he goes a fair way to prove them right. He uses this to his advantage though it probably was a double edged sword. He feels more Japanese than American but it is his American sensibilities that he uses to show his Western audience the intricacies and obstacles of reporting the Japanese Underworld - and they are considerable. The boys club atmosphere, the blatant sexism, exploitation, rigid hierarchies, hazing, human misery and blurred moral lines make up a very human dilemma. These are the things that men do and I do mean men, and accept in order to get by; a common bond is all that actors on both sides of the law have in defence against the tide of corruption.
The initial impression I was left when I finished this book was a largely unaddressed moral relativism. There isn't anyone who comes out of this well, including the reader who, has, after all been party to the events even if passively. Then this is taken from real life, its not a crime novel, the victims are real including the one, most probably, Adelstein is at least partially responsible for being butchered (literally). Taking a western liberal sensibility as a yardstick against which to judge a system that craves order as a paramount virtue is not going to produce much by the way of understanding and before condemning one should seek to understand.
Overall I would recommend this book. Its easy to read and skips along at a fair pace. Some more background would have been nice, though that is always going to be an editorial judgement call. It is informative and because it is real life it has messy endings. Episodic (and lacking a sense of time scale) this is easy to put down and come back to and that makes it an excellent holiday read.