The last seven days have been pretty hellish. My already not-so-certain future was suddenly placed on an even more shaky pedestal. I had a couple unsavoury arguments with people I cared about. I had assignments to do, attendance and participation to keep up at university. Interchange was drawing to a close and as the only member who knew how to script and edit videos, the final pitch became almost entirely my responsibility. Robert getting violently ill one morning was probably the last straw because I finally lost it while waiting in the ED. This was evident with it being 7 am and I was getting emotional over an episode of Pokemon XY airing on the TV screen.
On that impromptu hospital trip I’d quite luckily managed to pick up one of the books I happened to be “reading”, on the way out. I say reading in inverted commas because most of the reading I had been doing was me fingering a couple of pages at a time during my considerably short commutes to work and uni. In recent years I’d also become a victim to the very plague that I hate that continues to deteriorate the value of the written word, my attention span was shortening. But as I waited for Robert waiting for his doctor – a grand total of five hours that morning-, I began to read with such fervour that I haven’t exhibited since I was nine years old and avoiding homework. In what seemed like a single page turn, page 7 became page 180.
“Hello”, I began, “I’m a reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun working on a story. Here is my card. I apologise for being a foreigner and taking your time, but I’d like to ask some questions”
Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein:
Tokyo Vice is a book my friend Jeff had lent to me knowing my interest in Japanese pop culture, above and beyond the usual sushi and anime-desu tropes. I’d like to say that in the middle of all this chaos in my life, I found peace and solace in its uplifting paragraphs and words of comfort. But as the book title may indicate, Tokyo Vice is about the underbelly of Japan, the worst of the worst in a country known for the origins of tentacle porn and selling high school girl underwear. The author writes as not only one of the rare gaijin living in Japan, but probably the only foreign journalist to delve right into the heart of crime reporting. As a country, Japan is known for its safety which is what makes any incidences of extortion, murder and human trafficking all the more horrific.
Adelstein’s take on is refreshing and confronting at the same time. The former because he describes the Japanese mindset in its truest form, peeling away at their etiquette and niceties to see what they really mean behind all the nodding and bowing. It’s almost as if he’s the intermediary, translating Japanese culture into English then repackaging into a western culture understanding of Japan.The latter because, well, I’d erroneously regarded the gaijin title to come with an air of respect. But Adelstein pulls no punches, it’s mentioned time and time again that the Japanese are only concerned with crimes happening to the Japanese as crimes involving foreigners are rarely investigated if even reported.
A true turning point in the novel for me was Adelstein’s exploration of Kabukichō, an area of Japan I wouldn’t say I am familiar with, but have definitely walked through many a time. It’s a chapter that really attempts to encapsulate the tangled web that is Japan’s Prostitution Prevention Law amongst other sex-centric legislation. Interesting to note is how “normal” sexual intercourse is illegal as is pornography, but almost every other sexual act is on the table, as any Kabukichō passer-by would know by the erotic neon signs on display. Adelstein supplements a lot of his observations with first-hand dialogue of the Japanese locals, illustrating the normalcy in what a western mind would consider akin to falling down a rabbit hole. And most notably, his one night only stint as a host is a testament to how close Adelstein truly gets to the source of his information.
Much in the same way Adelstein went to Japan in search of peace and tranquility, I reached out to Tokyo Vice to make sense of my life currently in disarray. Instead what I got was more insanity trapped within its 300+ pages than I would ever hope of encountering in my lifetime. So perhaps the quest for serenity doesn’t lie in searching for quietness, but for a cacophony loud enough to shake some perspective into your soul. And despite the horrors I’ve read, I feel more invigorated than ever to visit Japan again, this time paying close – but not too much attention – to the well-manicured suit of a man who might hide yakuza tattoos underneath.
I don’t usually like to romanticise mundane tasks. Listicles telling you 33 reasons why making your bed each morning will give you a transcendental appreciation for the higher power, do not sit well with me. Yet if I didn’t know it before, Tokyo Vice has reaffirmed my belief that reading is true escapism. When I can do nothing in the real world, I read. When I cannot move forwards, I read. Perhaps it simply just gives me the illusion that I am doing something. But running alongside Adelstein into organised crime Saitama, gaijin Roppongi and sleazy Kabukichō has left me breathless yet empowered to take control of my life again the way a drunk salaryman takes control of a karaoke session. With haphazard direction, good intentions, and a whole lot of passion.