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”Either erase the story , or we’ll erase you. And maybe your family. But we’ll do them first, so you learn your lesson before you die.”

Jake Adelstein went to Japan at the tender age of nineteen. One beautiful thing about being nineteen is it still feels like anything is possible. I remember those heady days well, when failure was a foreign word and those bumps in the road were not anything to get stressed about. On the inside cover of the book, it said that Adelstein had gone to Japan “in search of peace and tranquility”. He could have stayed home and joined the Hermitage in Big Sur if that was what he really wanted. No, what Jake wanted was excitement and he got it in spades.

”It’s hard to think when you can’t breathe. It’s even harder to think when you can’t breathe because a yakuza bruiser has you pinned against the wall, with one hand around your neck and the other hand punching your ribs, and your feet are dangling off the floor.”

One of those moments when you’d like to use compelling words to convince the thug to quit hitting you, but with all your major organs sloshing around your body as he uses you for a punching bag, it is hard to compose anything more eloquent than...a...grunt.

So how did the young lad find himself in such precarious circumstances? He went to work as an investigative reporter in Tokyo. In fact, he was the only American journalist ever admitted to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police press club. I do believe his Japanese publisher relished his audaciousness in even thinking that achieving such a position was possible.

So for eighty soul crushing, social life annihilating hours he investigated the Japanese underbelly and found more than just fleas and ticks.

”As far as entertainment districts went, in 1999 nothing beat Kabukicho for pure sleaze. Drugs, prostitution, sexual slavery, rip-off bars, dating clubs, massage parlors, S-and-M parlors, pornography shops and porn producers, high-dollar hostess clubs, low-dollar blow job salons, more than a hundred different yakuza factions, the Chinese mafia, gay prostitute bars, sex clubs, female junior high school students’ soiled uniforms/panties resale shops, and a population of workers more ethnically diverse than anywhere else in Japan. It was like a foreign country in the middle of Tokyo.”

Did someone mention the Yakuza?

The tattooed gangsters, if they live long enough, generally end up needing new livers from the Hepatitis-C they get from unsanitary needles. These guys donate fingers when they fuck something up. The guy that was punching Jake Adelstein because he was somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be was yakuza.

In these sex slave clubs, the yakuza generally use foreign women to keep the police and the Japanese government from being overly interested in their activities. Foreign males are not allowed in these clubs because the foreign men tend to feel sorry for the girls and try to help them once they realize their circumstances. Adelstein, with the help of dark sunglasses and low lighting could pass for Japanese. He was able to get into one of those clubs, but when the girl he was interviewing broke down in tears, the gig was up. Punch, punch, punch, never come back here again.

It doesn’t take long for Adelstein’s name to be known by the very people who, when they use the term ‘taking an interest,’ really mean that their interest will be short lived because you won’t be around to worry about much longer.

He has a good friend, a smart woman, a teacher who is living in Tokyo. A person he can give books to who will actually read them and discuss them with him. He discovers how she pays for all the extra travel she does and the expensive clothes.

I get paid a hundred dollars a minute. You know why? Because most Japanese guys last two minutes.”

I laughed at that. “You’re right. In terms of pay by the minute, my job can’t touch yours. But doesn’t it depress you a little?”

“Well, that’s when cocaine comes in handy. A little blow, and I’m ready to blow.”

I didn’t laugh at that.

I didn’t either because we do get to know this woman and to think of her resorting to prostitution for an upgraded lifestyle, not because she has to, but because she wants to be able to do more and own more, is somehow shameful when I think of all the foreign women who are caught in sex slavery without much hope of ever escaping the crippling debt they are forced to pay off with humiliating acts of degradation.

Not only does Adelstein take on the yakuza...crazy enough...but he also takes on the Japanese government. He discovers very quickly that when you are taking on people with this much power that his ability to protect his sources means that he can’t tell anyone, not his bosses, and not even those he loves about what he is investigating and who is helping him. The secrecy, the anxiety, the real fear of being hurt, and exposing himself every day to the worst that society has to offer is obviously unsustainable.

Then he gets the visit from a tattooed freak in a business suit who tells him to ”erase the story, or we’ll erase you.” It’s easy to cut and run, even honorable. After all, it is hard to justify putting the people you love in danger because you won’t let loose of a story, but then as I’ve established Adelstein didn’t come to Japan for peace and tranquility. You don’t win by bowing down to pressure. You win by pushing back.

This book was a compelling atmospheric read with novelesque elements as he not only describes the scene, but also the scene around the scene. I had thoughts that he saw himself in terms of a noir movie as he brushed shoulders with evil men and tried to save not one damsel in distress, but literally hundreds who all needed a champion. Highly Recommended!

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