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"Tokyo Vice" and Japanese Morality

By Jake Adelstein, Devin T. Stewart | September 10, 2010

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DEVIN STEWART: I'm Devin Stewart here at the Carnegie Council in New York City, sitting here with Jake Adelstein. He is the author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan.

Jake, great to have you here in New York.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: It's great to be here.

DEVIN STEWART: Tell me about Tokyo Vice.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Tokyo Vice is about my 12 years as a police reporter in Japan. I went to school there. When I graduated, I went straight to work for the Yomiuri Shimbun, which is Japan's largest newspaper. The book is about the stories that I covered and how Japanese journalism works, how the police work, and how organized crime works.

It's also about a particularly long run-in I had with an organized crime boss who made a deal with U.S. law enforcement to come into the United States and get a liver transplant at UCLA. So did three of his cronies. It's never really been clear how they managed to get to the top of UCLA's liver transplant list.

DEVIN STEWART: How did you make the decision to go to Japan in the first place?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: I came from the pre-anime era that was interested in martial arts and Zen Buddhism and the esoteric sort of stoic-like aspects of Japanese culture.

DEVIN STEWART: Back when Japan was more philosophical and spiritual.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Yes, philosophical, spiritual, mysterious, a strange place. And also, the Japanese economy had begun to take over the world, so it was a hot place to go.

I ended up spending the first three years of college living in a Zen Buddhist temple, so I got my fill of the spiritual journey stuff. I was a terrible novice monk.

DEVIN STEWART: And you also studied karate. Was this at the same time?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: I studied karate in high school, and that was one of the things that made me attracted to Japan. My teacher had spent a lot of time in Okinawa.

DEVIN STEWART: Where karate originated.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Yes, where it originated. It either means "China hand" or it means "empty hands." It depends on who you ask.

DEVIN STEWART: Why karate in high school?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Because, just like in the movie, The Karate Kid, there were people who picked on me. Then I got in a fight once. I won the fight.

DEVIN STEWART: You knew the crane kick?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: No. It was the kick-someone-between-the-legs kick and then the smash-their-face-into-the-table move.

DEVIN STEWART:
Sounds very traditional in style.

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
I guess so. It was sort of primitive, instinctual karate. Fortunately for me, the science teacher hated the guy so much that I didn't even get a detention. But I realized that I had made really powerful enemies who were physically more adept at fighting than I was in a fair fight. I decided that I would take karate to prepare myself for retaliation, and also to get ahold of what was a very bad temper.

DEVIN STEWART: Tell me about the Zen Buddhism experience. That's fascinating.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: I basically ran into someone in the street, in the middle of the night. He asked me, "Are you interested in teaching the Zen Buddhist priest English who I have as a student?" I said, "Yes."

DEVIN STEWART: This was in Missouri?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: No, this was when I moved to Japan in 1988.

I met the priest, who was very nice. He wanted to learn English. It was the Soto Buddhist sect, which is a very benign sect of Zen Buddhism. It's not the one where they have you solve crazy riddles and they whack you on the head very hard when you fall asleep during meditation. It's the gentle hand.

It was the bubble era in Japan, so nobody wanted to be a Buddhist priest; everyone wanted to be in real estate or finance. There were no monks. They had dwellings for a monk. He agreed to let me live there if I participated in zazen every week, I kept my hair cut short and I kept women out of the temple quarters, which makes sense, and I behaved myself. The rent was virtually free. I lived there for about three or four years.

During my last year of college, I really wanted to study and also wanted to not spend all of my money on love hotels, because I couldn't have girls to my room. I figured it was more economical to move out of the temple. It was very amicable.

DEVIN STEWART: It sounds like a good deal. And you probably were able to pick up the Japanese language quickly.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: It helped because his English wasn't very good, and because it was a small temple that was very active in the community, so you had neighbors and people in the area. It helped me understand what was expected of a Japanese person, how you were supposed to behave, and the rules of polite society.

Sometimes, as I began to understand what he was saying during the sermons, it was interesting. You get a good taste of Japanese Buddhist philosophy.

DEVIN STEWART: Were those philosophical principles explicit when they were teaching them to you?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: They were very explicit. Buddhism has the gokai, the five things you are not supposed to do.

DEVIN STEWART: Which are?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: You're not supposed to harm any living thing; you're not supposed to take what is not given; you're not supposed to engage in wrong speech, which includes lying and misleading and exaggerating, insulting people; you're not supposed to engage in sexual misconduct, and that's not necessarily defined as adultery, but is defined as some sexual activity that causes harm to some other person, so it is not necessarily relating to marriage. Also, you're not supposed to drink or take drugs to the point of being intoxicated. You can drink, but you can't get drunk.

DEVIN STEWART: So it sounds like it's based on moderation on one hand, and also this concept of reducing the level of harm or pain.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Yes.

And then you get into Zen Buddhism itself, which has other virtues, called the paramitas, which are giving, generosity, non-envy, mindfulness, and other things.

DEVIN STEWART: This cluster of principles that you acquired during your spiritual journey in the Zen Buddhist shrine, how did they help you during your time in Japan?

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
One of the things—it's never really spelled out to you, but it's very implicit in the teaching of Zen Buddhism or Dogen—is that reciprocity is very important; karma is something that you should actualize in your real life. When someone does you a favor, you should remember that favor and pay them back.

I have always thought that is the core of Japanese society—amongst the police and amongst the yakuza. It is, to paraphrase the 1970s film The Yakuza with Robert Mitchum and Takakura Ken, that a man never forgets what he owes, a man pays his debts. That is essentially what your worth is in Japanese society: Do you remember the small kindnesses that people have done and repay them gladly, happily, and quickly when the time comes?

DEVIN STEWART: This is the so-called ledger, right?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Yes, the invisible ledger. You can call it ninjo. It becomes very complicated, this web of obligations and debts that you owe people, and sometimes they become contradictory as well.

DEVIN STEWART:
And somewhat stressful.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Yes, it becomes very stressful, and it can lock you down.

DEVIN STEWART: How about other principles, humility or the art of apologizing?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: What's so interesting in Japan is admitting fault isn't really part of the apology. You're apologizing that people are upset. But not in the U.S., like "I'm sorry that you're upset."

Instead, you're apologizing in the way that, "My actions have resulted in an unpleasant experience for people on all sides. I should have chosen wiser actions." That's essentially the Japanese apology. It's very ritualistic.

DEVIN STEWART: How about humility?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: The Japanese have these great lots of phrases for people who praise themselves—like to praise your own painting. That's considered just uncouth. You're not supposed to trumpet your own work.

Since your family members, like your wife or your kids, are also part of you in Japanese society, you're not supposed to say, "Oh, meet my beautiful wife," or, "Meet my highly intelligent kids who are going to Tokyo University next year."

DEVIN STEWART: When people, for example, come to your house and they say, "Welcome to my little rabbit hutch"—or what is the expression?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: When they come to your house, you say to them, "Welcome to my usagi goya (my terribly unkempt, disgusting, cheap apartment)," everyone understands that you're just saying the right thing.

Japanese have a respect for traditional rules and rituals in conversation. After time, it becomes one of the things I like about Japan, because I meet someone, we exchange business cards, then we immediately are assessing what is our relationship to each other.

Humility is part of Japanese ritual. The idea is that you can't have people having huge egos when you have so many people living in such cramped spaces.

The rituals become kind of relaxing. We have this illusion in the United States that we're all equal or we're a classless society, and that's clearly not the case.

In Japan there is no illusion. You show your business cards to each other and you are immediately assessing: "Okay, are you my social inferior, my superior, my equal, or are we so far apart from each other in our social stratosphere that it doesn't matter and we can just talk to each other as pretty much equals, on a very neutral, polite basis?"

That determines the nature of the conversation, how you're going to address that person, how you decline your verbs. In some senses, I like that formality, rather than instantly calling someone by their first name. That distance makes social relations in Japan for me more pleasant and more predictable.

DEVIN STEWART: Is this hierarchical society changing at all, given what's going on in Japan today?

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
Yes. You see some of the things that made Japan such a pleasant place to live—the politeness, respect for others, huge worries about how will other people perceive this behavior, the shame.

Japan is a culture of shame. When people don't feel shame anymore, then the culture begins to lose some of its hold and grip, because there isn't this invisible barrier keeping people from doing things they wouldn't do before.

DEVIN STEWART:
From what I could call a Western perspective, you could imagine that a more hierarchical society could be replaced by something else, like a more equitable society. In other words, in the current changes in Japanese society, when some of these principles are being dissolved, are they being replaced by other principles?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: No. It just becomes kind of sloppy and unkempt. If suddenly everybody was treating each other like an equal, that would be great. But that's not necessarily how it's working . You have power harassment and all these other issues. The little rituals of daily life that have sustained the Japanese economy and good human relations between people are starting to fade away.

For example, the custom of giving gifts during the summer or during certain parts of the year to each other is kind of dying out. That hurts the Japanese economy, because it used to be that there would be these peak periods where everybody would go to the department store and you'd buy little gifts to send to all your relatives or business acquaintances.

Yes, in one sense that's a huge expenditure of money. But it also generates a lot of income for a lot of people.

DEVIN STEWART: How are the morals in Japanese society? There have been several news items recently, one that you've written about, which is the scandals surrounding sumo wrestling. I've read some analysis that asserts that this is part of Japanese society trying to cleanse or purge itself, and have sort of a moral renewal. What do you make of that?

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
I think that's a bunch of rubbish. What you really have there is the Japanese police, the National Police Agency, becoming very upset with the Yamaguchi-gumi Kodo-kai, who are the ruling faction of Japan's largest organized crime group.

In Midwestern terms, we would say that the Yamaguchi-gumi Kodo-kai has gotten too big for their britches. They are violating the unwritten rules of Japanese society. They began harassing and intimidating the police, and taking photographs of policemen's families.

Last year, there was this sumo tournament in Nagoya, and there were about 55 Kodo-kai members parading themselves in front of the television cameras. What that says to the Japanese police force is, "We're so powerful now that we can parade our presence on national television and you can't do anything to stop it."

The response of the police was two months later to announce, "We're going to dismantle your organization, we are going to put you in jail with every means possible, and we are going to remove your spheres of influence."

If you listen to Ando Takaharu, the head of Japan's National Police Agency, his choice of words in discussing the Kodo-kai and the sumo problem, which he has done in a speech, are very interesting, because he said, "We are going to remove you from the outward society."

He doesn't say, "We're going to completely destroy you and put you out of business," but it's like, "You're too far out there, you're not holding back, you're not hiding in the shadows like you're supposed to do, and now we're going to have to break your nose."

DEVIN STEWART: Does this bode well at all for the future of Japanese culture and society?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Yes, it does. Some good things will come out of it. It's very bad for the sumo world because sumo as a sport is declining in popularity. The salaries of sumo wrestlers are very nebulous things, and many of them have for years counted on the yakuza sponsors.

There has always been a kind of back-and-forth between the sumo wrestlers and the yakuza. Even in the Edo period, the local yakuza arranged the matches, entertained the sumo wrestlers; in turn, the sumo wrestlers would hang out with the yakuza; the yakuza would have the prestige of hanging out with a well-known athlete. That has continued after the Second World War.

Why do the yakuza sponsor sumo wrestlers? Because it's cool to be seen with a sumo wrestler, somebody who everybody knows. They get the prestige.

What does the sumo wrestler get out of it? He gets a steady source of income.

What is probably changed is that the Yamaguchi-gumi is such a criminal organization that they did things which had never been done before. For example, organizing betting on baseball games, which was a Yamaguchi-gumi-run operation. That's crossing the line.

In the good old days, when the Sumiyoshi-kai or other different organized crime groups were the sponsors of the sumo wrestlers, they made the sumo wrestlers behave themselves more, and they then tried to make a profit off of the sumo wrestling matches themselves.

DEVIN STEWART:
What is the influence of organized crime in Japanese politics? You've written about this in the past, where you're showing the consistency of yakuza influence in the Liberal Democratic Party [LDP] administrations and now in the Democratic Party of Japan [DPJ], sort of a twisted parliament where DPJ is sharing power with other parties.

What is the influence of yakuza on politics and where can we expect it to go?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Japan's most powerful political party for decades was the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. That was founded with yakuza money.

Kodama Yoshio, who is a right-wing nationalist with yakuza ties, put up the money to create the LDP, the Liberal Democratic Party. Robert Whiting has covered that very well in his book, Tokyo Underworld. Peter B. E. Hill has covered it very well in his book, The Japanese Mafia. It's so well-known that I actually have a comic book about the life of Kodama Yoshio in which it discusses his ties to the LDP and the yakuza. So there have always been ties between the LDP and the yakuza.

Recently, Goto Tadamasa, the former boss of the Yamaguchi-gumi, wrote a book, called Habakarinagara, which means in Japanese "pardon me, but . . ." He names the politicians in the LDP that he worked with. He says, "I used to do the dirty work for Komeito," which is one political party connected to the religious group Soka Gakkai. He's very explicit and very detailed. I'm sure that he's probably telling the truth for once in his life.

DEVIN STEWART: Were you inspired by people who have lifted the veil or removed the curtain from the seediness in Japan, to go forth and write this book?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: When I first read The Yakuza by David Kaplan, I thought it was really impressive. But I didn't have any sense that what he was talking about was real. It all seems a little bit like, "Ah, well maybe now, but not in modern Japan."

DEVIN STEWART:
Tell me about the Yomiuri. In fact, I don't know if you know this, but I was working at the Daily Yomiuri, probably downstairs from you. You were known as a bit of a celebrity in the building.

The Yomiuri Building, for people listening to this, is quite dirty, it's kind of dank, people smoking in corners and drinking little coffees to keep them awake.

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
They have sleeping quarters.

The Yomiuri isn't a job, it's a life. When you're at the head office, your working hours are sometimes so long. If you're in the national news department or the metro beat, you have to pull a night shift once a week and then a sleepover shift once a week. You're basically living in the place.

There are nine floors. There's a cafeteria. They added over the years a place to get a massage.

DEVIN STEWART:
A health center and a sleeping area.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: They've got a dentist. They've got an entire hospital complex down there. You can live in that building and never leave.

DEVIN STEWART: So it's a hardcore environment, and probably not unlike the stoicism of the Zen Buddhism.

What's the common motif here?

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
It is, definitely. It is very much of a seniority thing. When you enter the Yomiuri, you are referred to as ichinensei. Ichinensei is a word for like sub-human. It means like a first-year student.

DEVIN STEWART: It's a euphemism.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Yes, it's a euphemism, Ichinensei—"Get the first-years to do this."

DEVIN STEWART: What are some of the worst things that they have to do?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: One of the things I hated doing was typing up sports records. In the old days, before we really were using computers, you had to format them exactly correctly. If one little yen mark to make it format correctly was out of line, then the whole thing would be screwed up. On top of a day where you've been chasing around some story about a murder or a fire or something, you then to have to come back at 2:00 in the morning and type up sports records for two hours, it gets to be really tedious. You kind of want to say, "Can't you hire someone to do this kind of work?"

Or people sending in photos of their children, birth announcements, sending in these handwritten little captions that they want you to add to the photo. But then you also have to turn that into readable prose.

DEVIN STEWART: You were there for 12 years.

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
Yes.

DEVIN STEWART: What does it take to be a successful journalist in Japan?

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
It depends really on your area of journalism. Political journalists have to be good schmoozers. In many ways, your rise as a political journalist depends on whether the person you're assigned to cover as a reporter early on in your career or later in your career rises up or rises down. Basically, your career is tied to that person.

DEVIN STEWART: You have an interest in helping them.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: You have a huge interest in helping them.

I was in the national news department and we hunt for scandals and we do investigative journalism. We did some very good investigative journalism.

To people in the political department, we are a threat to their well-being. There would be times when a political reporter would tell some politician, "Hey, we're about to write this really scandalous article about you. I'm just letting you know so you can be prepared."

You have this kind of almost rivalry and sort of espionage going on within the company itself.

DEVIN STEWART: Is there a code of ethics in journalism in Japan?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: I come from Columbia, Missouri; that's where I was born and where the Missouri School of Journalism is located. I was interviewed by the local paper. In it they wrote this very funny—well, I thought it was very funny— sentence: "While Jake Adelstein was born in Columbia, Missouri, he never attended the school of journalism, because if he had, he wouldn't have violated every ethic of journalism that most journalists adhere to."

I don't even remember having a class in ethics in journalism. You join the company and the rules were always very simple: You write the truth, you get the information by any means possible, and you protect your sources. If you can't protect your sources, then you don't do the story.

DEVIN STEWART: By "the company" you mean Yomiuri?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: I wouldn't say the Yomiuri itself. That's what the reporters above me, the really good reporters, taught me. It's also basically what the police told me.

DEVIN STEWART: Is this unique to Japan?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: It might be. I haven't studied journalist ethics in the United States.

If you want to get into issues of ethical conflict, you have this idea in Buddhism of correct speech, which is not to slander, not to lie, not to mislead. That would include not bluffing and being honest with what you're saying. You can't do that as a reporter.

DEVIN STEWART: You have to bluff.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: To protect your sources, you have to lie. And you can't go to the bad guys and ask them honestly, "Hey, are you running this company as a front to illegally launder money that you make through other activities like prostitution and gambling?" They're never going to give you a straight answer, right?

DEVIN STEWART: It wouldn't work.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: You have to bluff. You have to lie to protect your sources.

So it becomes: What's the hierarchy of what is ethical? If you blow your cop source because you want to be honest, and they ask you and you tell them, then not only does everyone lose trust in you, but this guy probably will lose his job. So it becomes a very gray area.

DEVIN STEWART: What about harmful speech? Can that be considered? How does an investigative journalist reconcile that?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Sure, the things that you're writing may destroy someone's life—and maybe not even a bad person, just maybe someone who couldn't resist temptation and gave in.

DEVIN STEWART: Did you have to reflect on that when you started going into the Tokyo Vice project?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: When I started covering organized crime and human trafficking there were decisions that I made then that I regret, mostly pertaining to not knowing what the limits of my sources were, or not being able to pull them back when they were going too far. It's not like being an investigative reporter or being a good police reporter in Japan. It's not just writing up what the police spoon-feed you in a press release; doing real investigative journalism requires you to be like running a mini-intelligence operation. You have to be running several people in the field and making sure that they're bringing the information and that you're reciprocating and they are taken care of.

I don't think that I was always able to gauge what the ability of that person was or know this person's not stable and maybe they shouldn't be doing this. And sometimes things happen that you can't predict what the risk will be.

I had yakuza sources; I still have yakuza sources. I have police sources. There are rules of how that information goes. You can't take information that you get from the yakuza—or you can't take information that you get from the police and give it to the yakuza. Unacceptable. They understand that.

The yakuza will give you information, and sometimes they're happy with you giving it to the police. Why? Because it cripples their rivals.

DEVIN STEWART: Interesting.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: But at the same time you can't be friends with every other yakuza group. You're going to have to choose your alliances so somebody trusts you. You can't be on good terms with everyone.

DEVIN STEWART: Give me the short version—because I'm sure you've told this story before—why get into a potentially life-threatening situation to write a book?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: I didn't plan on doing it. The short version of this is that there was a very interesting story about this crime boss going to the United States and getting a liver transplant. I couldn't figure out how he had done it.

I was working on an assumption that he had gotten in illegally through a false passport or bribing a U.S. customs official. I thought it was a great story because he was really famous.

I got warned off the story in 2005. I left it alone for a while. In 2007 I was writing Tokyo Vice. I had a publisher in Japan who was going to publish the English version of it. They leaked out onto the Internet the contents of the book.

The gang boss became aware that I was about to write it. For him, having in print that he had made a deal with law enforcement and ratted out his comrades to get into the United States for a liver transplant was very dangerous and didn't make him happy. He ended up putting out a contract on me.

Then it became this question of: Well, do you run away or do you stay and fight? Knowing the man as well as I do— I feel like I know him intimately; I think we both spent a lot of time researching each other—my feeling was, and the police advice was: If you want this guy off your back and you don't want to suddenly vanish one day, then you need to write what he doesn't want written. Then there's less of an incentive for him to kill you. It's like: You know what? That is a great idea.

DEVIN STEWART: It sounds counter-intuitive.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Sometimes it's like wild animals—if you run from them, they will catch up with you and kill you. Sometimes, if you stand your ground and kick them in the face, they will go away.

DEVIN STEWART: It sounds like Cesar Millan. So you're sort of the Cesar Millan of Japan.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: I don't know Cesar Millan.

DEVIN STEWART: You've got to check him out. He's the dog whisperer. So you're kind of the yakuza whisperer.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: But even that was a very political thing. Because you have this guy, Goto Tadamasa, that has 1,000 people. Yamaguchi may have 40,000 people. He has Tokyo turf and a lot of money. At one time he was the largest shareholder of Japan Air Lines, and that's pretty impressive—I mean when Japan Air Lines was doing well.

A lot of people don't like him. They don't like him because his people attacked a film director and civilians, which brought a lot of bad press to the yakuza. They feel like, "Oh, you're responsible for the police crackdown." So he has his enemies.

Before I wrote the piece for The Washington Post, I basically went to one of his enemy factions and I said, "I'm about to write this piece. Would you like to comment on it? Because I'd really like to know, do you think it's okay for one of your bosses to make a deal with the cops? Does this set a good standard?"

What the real conversation we're having in Japanese society, what we're saying and what I'm saying is, "Here is a chance to take out your rival. I'm going to give it to you. Why don't you keep me alive long enough to do it?"

DEVIN STEWART:
I hope that's a long time.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: I think it's a long time. Right now I'm very careful in what I write about organized crime.

DEVIN STEWART: Does the organized crime in Japan have a legitimate, positive place in Japanese society?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: In the chaos after the Second World War they did, and in some areas of Japan they serve a function.

In a way, the yakuza take the sociopaths and the misfits and the violent-tempered of Japan and they discipline them and keep them under control. Maybe that's better than having them run loose.

DEVIN STEWART: Can you identify with that? You mentioned one of the reasons you went into karate was to deal with anger issues.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: One of the reasons I can sort of get along with some of the yakuza is that I understand what it's like to have very aggressive impulses and a lot of seething anger. The organization for some of these people is good.

The other thing is that it's also like Japan's ad hoc drug rehabilitation program. When parents cannot get their kids off drugs, in parts of Japan, even in some of the big cities, they still take them to the local yakuza and say, "Turn my son into a man and get him off these drugs."

DEVIN STEWART:
Tell me briefly about one of your most whimsical experiences with the yakuza recently, which was to review a video game with the yakuza, critiquing a video game about the yakuza. What was that like?

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
It was really hard to assemble all three of them. They were kind of like, "Why should we do this?" I was like, "Aren't you curious? I'll feed you all. We'll order out really good sushi. It will be a funny article. And aren't you curious to see how you're portrayed in these video games?" They were like, "Ah, okay."

We all got together and ordered the good sushi.

DEVIN STEWART: So you got the good sushi. You got some booze?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: No. Actually none of them really drink. People at the upper levels in the yakuza don't drink. You might think that's contradictory.

DEVIN STEWART: What's their favorite beverage?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: They all seemed to want to have green tea and coffee.

DEVIN STEWART: Hot or cold?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: We all had hot at first, because they had some of the young soldiers, the people who just entered, come in there and they'd bring in the green tea.

DEVIN STEWART: Serve it to you. Interesting.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Yes. Everybody smoked.

DEVIN STEWART: Okay. A Japanese brand, right?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: No. Actually they were smoking Lucky Strike and Marlboro. One guy was smoking Mild Sevens. They were also all saying that they were going to have to quit because at the yakuza headquarters they were banning smoking in the offices.

DEVIN STEWART:
The reason for avoiding alcohol is obviously the liver thing, and also you probably have to make some pretty intense decisions, right?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Yeah. The rationale is: Once you've achieved an executive level, you never know when a gang war is going to break out, and you can't be drunk at the time. So you have to be ready and sober.

Not all the yakuza are tattooed. Not all of them are missing their fingers. Increasingly you see the people at the top being very much like businessmen.

DEVIN STEWART: And they're not ostentatious in their clothing?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Some of them. They still tend to go for the flash wristwatches. But maybe that's the cardinal sin of any man.

DEVIN STEWART: European brands?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: European brands. Patek Philippe, Omega and Rolex. You look at a guy and he's got a Patek, then you know that he's actually got pretty good taste for the yakuza.

DEVIN STEWART:
You're giving our listeners ideas. If they want to look like a yakuza, they know how to do it.

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
If you want to look like a yakuza, go buy yourself a very dark Armani suit, get a $50,000 wristwatch that is expensive but only people who actually would know the brand name would recognize it as expensive.

DEVIN STEWART: So you're sitting there with these three guys.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: One was retired.

DEVIN STEWART: What was the verdict?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: The verdict was that the game itself was very authentic, that the creators had paid incredible attention to detail. The portrayals of the actual gang life in some of the gangs and the political connections was very well done.

The plot is about Okinawan resort development and U.S. military bases and CIA involvement. I don't know anything about the CIA involvement.

There are a number of politicians who have a vested interest in seeing that casinos are made in Okinawa. That part of the plot rang really true, because in the current Democratic Party of Japan you've had Kamei Shizuka, who was the minister of financial resources, talk about building a casino in Okinawa. And it was rumored that Ozawa Ichiro, who was kind of the puppet master of the Democratic Party of Japan, was buying up a lot of property in Okinawa as well.

DEVIN STEWART: Not much change for the DPJ.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: No.

The Yamaguchi definitely declared their allegiance with the Democratic Party of Japan in 2007. Nobody knows why. It's very well documented both amongst the police and amongst people who I've talked to that there was an announcement from the top to the people at the bottom that, "We are going to be supporting the Democratic Party of Japan."

Inagawa-kaï, which is the third-largest organized crime group, also announced their support for the Democratic Party of Japan.

Speculation is that since the Democratic Party of Japan has been opposed to a criminal conspiracy law, which would make a police crackdown on the yakuza very serious and potentially drive them out of business—that that's why they decided to support the Democratic Party of Japan.

I don't think anybody really knows. I have theories and suspicions. All I could tell you is that when the Democratic Party of Japan came to power, the first and third largest organized crime groups were supporting them and told their followers, members, associates, families, the North Koreans' Association of Japan, the Koreans' Association of Japan, Mindan and Chosen Soren, to support the Democratic Party of Japan.

In elections where election turnout is low, the yakuza influence may be not that negligible. They may have a real influence.

DEVIN STEWART: Let's talk about the Polaris Project, which you're involved with, which is helping to fight human trafficking. You're the Japan representative?

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
I am on the board of directors. For the organization I handle public relations. I go over the press releases and make sure they're to the point and succinct, because I used to work for the Japanese media, so I understand that ritual.

When we have actionable intelligence, I work with the sources and the people collecting the information so that we can give it to the police in a format that they can actually turn into a case.

We had very good intel on a group of men that were running a child pornography ring and preying on children in the neighborhood, and then of course selling the videos over the Internet and through the mail. That became one of the more successful things we were able to do with the police.

We get these tips about child prostitution or human trafficking, and of course you want the victims to be protected, but you'd also like to get enough information that you could go to the police and say, "Why don't you shut down the operations?" It's much better to destroy the organization rather than save one individual victim, because they'll keep generating victims as long as they exist.

DEVIN STEWART: Give me a picture of the human trafficking situation in Japan. This is not something I've seen a lot of reporting on.

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
The Japanese have been very good about enforcing the human trafficking laws once they're on the books. So instead of large-scale operations like you had in 2007 or in 2006, which are in the book, you basically have more smaller operations running—one guy, usually yakuza-backed, maybe five or six foreign women, usually in fake marriages.

As it has become more expensive to bring in outside talent, to fly them in—and immigration checks very thoroughly, entertainment visas have been drastically reduced—you see a lot of schemes to lure young runaway teenage girls into the sex trade and then force them to work.

A very typical pattern is that you'll have a 14-year-old or 15-year-old girl who has run away from home. Host clubs are clubs, kind of like cocktail bars, where women pay the men to wine and dine them. So you'll have a host approach the young girl.

DEVIN STEWART: This is different from a hostess club?

JAKE EDELSTEIN: It's different from a hostess club. It's the male version of a hostess club.

The host approaches the girl, befriends her, says, "Come drink at our establishment." She drinks a couple of times. He says, "Don't worry. It's for free. I need to bring in customers to keep my quota." Then, suddenly, one day someone else from the club calls and says, "You owe us $10,000 in bills. Pay now or we're going to go take you to the police."

Then at that point they either directly introduce the girl to a sex shop and say, "Here's where you can work off the debt you owe to the host club," or they threaten to tell her parents that she has been spending all her nights at the host club and thus embarrass her and humiliate her.

Or sometimes, to make it even more difficult for the police to investigate, they will introduce her to a loan shark. The loan shark will give her the loan, which she will then use to pay back the club. Then the loan shark introduces her to the sex club so that she can pay back the loan shark.

DEVIN STEWART: This is all over Japan, or mostly in Tokyo?

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
Osaka, Tokyo, Saitama.

DEVIN STEWART:
Small towns too?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Small towns as well.

It is increasingly a way to recruit for domestic trafficking. There has only been one case—and maybe it was Tochigi Prefecture—where the human trafficking laws were applied in cases involving Japanese teenagers.

It's very insidious. There is still a kind of viewpoint that these young girls, who are getting themselves in debt: "You know, the sex industry is legal." It's not legal if you're 16 or 17, but once they get over 18 it's hard to prove coercion because the sex industry itself isn't illegal. So there is this gray zone that they're operating in.

Human trafficking exists because it makes money. If you're not making any money, you're not going to do it. You can make a lot of money if you are selling the sexual services of women to men and not paying them.

If you actually pay them the standard rates, which are very high if you're working in a sexual massage parlor in Japan, which are totally legal and can advertise, the woman gets something like $90 an hour. It's very clear-cut. There are actually magazines aimed at women who want to work in the sex industry that will tell you wages, provide child care, alibi phone calls so that if your boyfriend calls up it sounds like you're working, say, in a department store.

DEVIN STEWART: High-tech.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Yes. But the wages are high still. Human trafficking works because you don't pay the women anything.

DEVIN STEWART: Jake, before you go, what's the next book for you? What's the next big project?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: I'm writing a book called The Last Yakuza. It's the biography of the ex-yakuza boss who became my bodyguard. His mother was actually Japanese-American. His life story is very interesting. Our life stories sort of overlapped towards the end of the book. But it's mostly about his life, and through his life I'm going to try to tell the last 30 years of yakuza history and some of the involvement that the United States had with them after the Second World War.

DEVIN STEWART: When can we expect to see that on the bookshelves?

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
I would hope it would be on the bookshelves at the end of 2011.

DEVIN STEWART: Thank you so much. I could talk to you all day. It has been fantastic to talk to you.

JAKE ADELSTEIN:
Thanks for having me.

DEVIN STEWART: Thanks a lot.

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