Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More True Crime: Tokyo Vice

Whoa -- the second post in one week and the third in a month (for the first time since January 2008). I'd better lie down and take my temperature or something...

After writing recently that I rarely read book-length non-fiction, I discover that several of the last posts are on the same. Strange. Anyways, Jake Adelstein's Tokyo Vice is well described by its subtitle: "An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan." As the subtitle suggests, much (but not all) of the book is episodic and incidental -- happenings on the beat, learning to be a reporter, etc.

At the same time, I'd note that two of the blurbers are novelists -- George Pelecanos and Barry Eisler: the book has the drama and something of the narrative arc of a novel (or a novella at the start and finish, with episodes in between). If you can ride with this organization -- novel and non-novel, personal narrative and journalism -- then you'll survive fine (as long as you can stomach yakuza threats). It might be a little choppy for some.

For me, the book's greatest strengths are its descriptions of Japanese culture: hierarchy, practices, laws, attitudes toward sex, women, work, etc. For instance, Adelstein spends part of one chapter discussing Japanese "how-to" manuals, such as The Perfect Manual of Suicide. (The best-selling how-to book in Japan offers guidance for arguing with Koreans.)

Another small note: the book might a have been subtitled, "A Jewish-American Reporter..." Adelstein writes a bit about attitudes (and prejudices) toward Jews in Japan. The daughters of his best friend have been told in elementary school that all Jews were killed in World War II, and they want to take him to school for show-and-tell.

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