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Tokyo Vice

November 9, 2009 9 comments

If there is one thing that makes commuting bearable (and I daresay fun) it is NPR.

On my way home tonight, I stumbled upon an interview with Jake Adelstein – author of ‘Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan’

Jake has led an extraordinary life by any standard. Here is an excerpt from an interview with him on Amazon:

Question: What drew you to Japan in the first place, and how did you wind up going to university there?

Jake Adelstein: In high school I had many problems with anger and self-control. I had been studying Zen Buddhism and karate, and I thought Japan would be the perfect place to reinvent myself. It could be that my pointy right ear draws me toward neo-Vulcan pursuits–I don’t know. When I got to Japan, I managed to find lodgings in a Soto Zen Buddhist temple where I lived for three years, attending zazen meditation at least once a week. I didn’t become enlightened, but I did get a better hold on myself.

Question: How did you become a journalist for the most popular Japanese-language newspaper?

Jake Adelstein: The Yomiuri Shinbun runs a standardized test, open to all college students. Many Japanese firms hire young grads this way. My friends thought that the idea of a white guy trying to pass a Japanese journalist’s exam was so impossibly quixotic that I wanted to prove them wrong. I spent an entire year eating instant ramen and studying. I managed to find the time to do it by quitting my job as an English teacher and working as a Swedish-massage therapist for three overworked Japanese women two days a week. It turned out to be a slightly sleazy gig, but it paid the bills.

There was a point when I was ready to give up studying and the application process. Then, when I was in Kabukicho on June 22, 1992, I asked a tarot fortune-telling machine for advice on my career path, and it said that with my overpowering morbid curiosity I was destined to become a journalist, a job at which I would flourish, and that fate would be on my side. I took that as a good sign. I still have the printout.

I did well enough on the initial exam to get to the interviews, and managed to stumble my way through that process and get hired. I think I was an experimental case that turned out reasonably well.”

Some interesting nuggets from the interview on NPR.

  • The sex trade is big business in Japan, and is largely legal. According to one Joan Sinclair (via Wikipedia), “the sex industry in Japan ironically offer[s] absolutely everything imaginable but sex.” This is because other than the actual act of intercourse, nothing else falls under the legal definition of ‘prostitution’.
  • In case someone is apprehended, neither the prostitute nor the customer are liable for punishment, only the ‘pimp’ or the brothel owner is!
  • The Japanese have strange fetishes.

Bottomline? I am putting Tokyo Vice on my wish list. And I intend to contribute to NPR’s next fundraising effort!

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