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Tokyo Vice

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!

  1. November 10, 2009 at 7:58 am

    ” “the sex industry in Japan ironically offer[s] absolutely everything imaginable but sex.” ”


    Those ‘nuggets’ have got to be the most entertaining sentences I’ve read all month! 😀

    And I remember a friend who’d newly read “Memoirs of a Geisha” exclaiming, “Damn, why do the Japanese treat sex like a long-winded ritual?”

    Strange fetishes! Oh man, I’m going to be harbouring such demented thoughts about them, I wont be able to hold onto my imagination if I ever actually meet one of them. ;D

    • November 10, 2009 at 10:50 am

      ” if I ever actually meet one of them.”
      You mean you have never met a Japanese person :O

  2. Mansi
    November 10, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Hahaha, very interesting how the mafia, police and samurai swords didn’t get included into your “interesting nuggets” 😀

    • November 10, 2009 at 7:14 pm

      Oy! Those facts are interesting too, but if you heard the whole interview, the Yakuza have agents in the US, who I am not too keen on meeting 😉

  3. November 10, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Thank you for the write-up and I see you have been doing your homework. Joan Sinclair’s book is awesome (PINK BOXES). I’d love to meet her someday–we have mutual friends but have never met.

    • November 10, 2009 at 7:13 pm

      Jake, thanks for stopping by! I look forward to reading your book. I’ll add ‘Pink Boxes’ to my list too.

  4. November 10, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    No, I really havent. Unless being seated in the same restaurant counts as meeting. 😉

  5. thefob
    November 15, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    I have nothing intelligent to say about NPR or Japan, but I dropped in to tell you that I NOW HAVE A WORDPRESS BLOG.

    Puente 🙂

    • November 17, 2009 at 8:59 pm

      Puente! Good to see ya’ !

      I have dutifully subscribed to your new blog 🙂

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