Shining a spotlight on Japan’s dark underside
After he graduated from college in Japan, Joshua “Jake’’ Adelstein spent 12 years at Japan’s largest newspaper, reporting on credit card fraud, loan sharking, and the sex industry. Since he left the Yomiuri Shinbun in 2006, Adelstein has worked as an investigator of human trafficking and is now a consultant and author. “Tokyo Vice,’’ his tales of underground Japan, often read very tall, and Adelstein doesn’t lack for self-confidence. But beneath the bravado are a big heart and a relentless drive for justice culminating in groundbreaking reporting on the yakuza, the Japanese mafia.
“Tokyo Vice’’ is about Japanese subculture. Adelstein instructs us in the vagaries of Japanese journalism and provides a gamy, colorful tour of the morally flexible areas of Japan, particularly in Tokyo. He also shows how Japanese police work and interact with journalists.
Adelstein shares juicy, salty, and occasionally funny anecdotes, but many are frightening.
The police trusted him because he learned how to time the release of a story so the “scoop’’ wouldn’t upstage or shame them. He even worked in one of the host and hostess clubs that are key to Japan’s adult entertainment industry. These venues provide “the illusion of intimacy and the titillating possibility of sex,’’ Adelstein writes.
“In the United States, we pay psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, and life coaches to listen to our problems, raise our self-esteem, pretend to like us, and give us good advice. Friends used to do these things for free, but friends have been known to retreat when the water gets too deep. Japanese tend to believe that going to a shrink is a sign of weakness and an admission of mental illness, so there’s still a tendency to avoid those types of paid friendships.’’
Eventually, his reporting led to Lucie Blackman, a British woman who quit her work as a stewardess on
His adaptability led him deeper into the Japanese sex trade - and the human trafficking at its core.
The Blackman story put him on the scent of bigger game involving prominent Japanese businessmen and the systematic raping of more than 100 drugged Caucasian women. Ultimately, it led Adelstein to break a story about Tadamasa Goto, a yakuza boss who persuaded the FBI to issue him a visa so he could get a liver transplant at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center. Goto got the visa in exchange for information about yakuza financial activity in the United States, according to Adelstein. But Goto never told the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department about the deal. Adelstein published articles about Goto in both the United States and Japan. Getting them into print was so hazardous Adelstein was assigned police protection.
The Goto story made Adelstein a crusader against human trafficking - and left a hole in his heart over the loss of his tipster Helena, a prostitute who liked her work but deplored the plight of the many largely European girls she knew who were sex slaves. Eventually, Adelstein was hired as chief investigator for a US government-sponsored study of human trafficking in Japan. Adelstein, an expert at engagement, has turned to self-reflection. “Raised Jewish,’’ he considers himself an “amateur Buddhist.’’ It irks Adelstein that Goto is studying to be a Buddhist priest; he suspects it’s a con. It also has him hopeful for change.
Carlo Wolff is a freelance writer from Cleveland.