Is Jake Adelstein one of Tokyo’s best crime reporters? Or is he “Jake the Fake”, an example of unethical media behavior in Japan including fabrications, sexual harassment, power harassment, pay-offs, and paranoia about a phantom menace?
Dubious claims by Jake Adelstein, printed in major media worldwide
–told the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan that he turned down $500,000 offer from gangsters to keep his mouth shut
–says Japan’s largest criminal syndicate agreed to protect his family, kill only him
–told the New Yorker more than 18 months ago he was dying of liver cancer, a disease which kills many victims in weeks or months. Claimed he was undergoing chemotherapy, but went smoking, drinking heavily with a reporter. Also claims to have brain lesions, flashbacks due to beatings from gangsters
–made dozens of allegations in 23-page complaint filed in US court claiming that yakuza gangsters would kill anyone involved in National Geographic documentary, which Adelstein quit after going to US in middle of shooting schedule in Japan
–says he once “broke a gangster’s knees” with a golf club during a fight in a real estate office
–claims he got his informant, “a prostitute friend”, murdered and chopped to pieces in Roppongi in Tokyo
–says he sleeps in 2-hour shifts, despite help from psychotherapists
–says his father, a pathologist, told the FBI, Congress and ABC News that a local nurse murdered 42 patients at his hospital. After being acquitted due to lack of evidence, the nurse moved to another state.
–says that while living in a Zen monastery in Tokyo for three years, he worked as a “Swedish masseur” for attractive Japanese women.
–says he spent 12 years as a “police reporter”, while his name card says he was in “Society Department”. Several Yomiuri colleagues called him a pathological liar.
–has been quoted as a “Japan expert” or endorsed by Pico Iyer, Roland Kelts, Peter Hessler, BBC, CNN, NPR, CBC, France 24, Telegraph, Guardian, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Hollywood Reporter and many others. National Geographic TV crew dubbed him “Jake the Fake”
–Editors at The Atlantic Wire have not replied to questions asking if they’ve ever fact-checked his work.
The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan
a special investigative report by Christopher Johnson
(with CJ photos from Japan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines)
When an award-winning American crew planned to do a documentary for National Geographic TV about Japan’s mafia underworld, they wanted the best Tokyo-based staff they could find.
They needed someone immersed in Japan’s media culture who could also meet the standards of elite western journalism. They hired Jake Adelstein, a self-styled expert on gangs known collectively as The Yakuza. After all, he was author of the book Tokyo Vice, ranked 136,021 on Amazon’s best-seller list. Impressed by his lone article in the Washington Post years ago, the US-based crew hoped he would provide them access to senior yakuza and police sources, which he alone could offer, they thought.
But according to sources in Japan who worked on the project, Adelstein’s “erratic behaviour” raised alarms about whether he has fabricated sources and quotes in his book and articles in the Atlantic Wire, the Telegraph and other international media. They claimed Adelstein, unable to deliver sources as promised, went to America for a week during the 20-day shoot, and then tried to sabotage the project, which involved more than 50 people, by repeatedly crying wolf about Japan’s “dangers”. With Adelstein sidelined, the crew found other ways to reach two current gangsters, two former yakuza, a private detective, a policeman, a foreign expert, and three Japanese authors, all of whom agreed to be interviewed on camera for the insightful and visually-stunning documentary Crime Lords of Tokyo.
Adelstein didn’t simply walk away and focus on his next project. In the weeks after the March 11 disasters, when other journalists were scrambling to reach the tsunami zone, Adelstein sued National Geographic TV for punitive damages in a U.S. court. Adelstein’s 23-page court complaint is loaded with unverifiable claims, lengthy quotes allegedly from unnamed Japanese journalists, police and gangster sources, and dozens of unproven allegations that gangsters would kill anyone involved with the film. He also claimed — as fact — that one reputed gang boss, Tadamasa Goto, who has been allegedly threatening to kill him for seven years, murdered famous Japanese director Itami Juzo. “Mr. Adelstein, his life, and the lives of his family, colleagues, and those who were interviewed or participated in the program have been put in clear and present danger,” said the complaint, filed April 19, 2011 in the Civil Actions Branch of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. “Mr. Adelstein has received death threats from members of the Yakuza, faces civil and criminal liability and other financial obligations to third parties, (and) has lost business relationships.”
The court wasn’t convinced. The case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning Adelstein was also barred from pursuing further action. Due to the nuclear meltdown in Japan, the case went largely unnoticed, other than a story in Hollywood Reporter, whose Tokyo stringer Gavin Blair, is close enough to share private emails with Adelstein.
A year later, nobody involved in the film Crime Lords of Tokyo has been reportedly killed, assaulted or threatened. There is no verifiable evidence that gangsters have ever threatened, harassed or beaten Adelstein or his associates, and no reliable eyewitnesses have ever confirmed Adelstein’s claim in Boingboing.com and others that an ousted gang boss, while getting into a car, said: “That fucking American Jew reporter. I’d like to kill him.” After more than seven years of alleged death threats, Adelstein remains alive and kicking.
The failed court challenge has seemingly done Adelstein’s credibility more harm than good, leading many observers to question his wild, unverifiable claims over the years. On his blog “Hoofin”, Rick Gundlach, an American legal expert who worked with a major US corporation in Japan, says he believes Adelstein is a self-promoting novelist, not a journalist.“From looking at the overall situation, he looks like a novelist using the trappings of journalism to promote the novel, Tokyo Vice,“he wrote on April 16. “Quite often, there is the explanation of ‘sorry I can’t say more about this because the yakuza are dangerous people.’ Well, that’s more like a book promoter than a journalist.”
While numerous sources in Japan spoke openly about the yakuza to National Geographic TV, Adelstein continues to deflect questions and excoriate anyone who asks, Gundlach notes on his blog. “The short story is that Adelstein promised certain ‘access’ to the National Geographic reporters, and could not deliver the access,” he writes. “This is why I say novelist.”
Paranoia of a phantom menace
Others have publicly disputed Adelstein’s claims. In his recent book, the alleged gang leader Goto, who has reportedly raised money for tsunami victims, made only a passing reference to Adelstein. He called him a “novelist” not a journalist, and said he wasn’t hunting him down. In the New Yorker, Peter Hessler quotes Goto’s book as saying: “Just because I have retired from the business doesn’t mean I have the time to track down this American novelist.” The book, With All Due Respect, has reportedly sold more than 200,000 copies in Japan.
Japanese freelance journalist Tomohiko Suzuki, who claims he often meets with Goto, told the New Yorker that Adelstein wasn’t in danger, because he’s a foreigner relatively unknown in Japan. “Those are the kinds of things that yakuza say all the time,” he said, referring to the alleged threat. “It’s kind of like saying ‘Hello’ for a yakuza.”
Goto may not be the most credible source either, and he may have dissed Adelstein or another Jewish-American investigative reporter fluent in Japanese by mistake or bad habit. Whatever Goto may have said years ago, Adelstein wasn’t there to hear it first-hand, and he’s never produced solid evidence — an unaltered video recording, a written warning, verifiable and reliable sources — to back up his claim to fame. Instead of being a prisoner of fear, Adelstein enjoys a freedom to slander Goto or anyone he wants on his blog, and he’s very good at it. He often travels to the US and other countries without police protection to promote his book, while his wife and children reside in a unique pagoda-style home which any “hit man” or disgruntled troll could easily find in rural Missouri. Last year, while recruiting an attractive young European woman to be his assistant, Adelstein offered her a room in his home in the artsy Shimokitazawa area of west Tokyo, which he claimed was perfectly safe.
To explain this apparent contradiction, Adelstein has an answer. He says the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest syndicate, are “protecting” his family from any gangsters bent on whacking him. “I have a guarantee from someone up high in the Yamaguchi-gumi that they won’t touch my family,” he told BoingBoing.com. “Their word is pretty solid. It’s a gentleman’s agreement that they’ll only kill me, which makes me feel better.”
To Adelstein, a devoted fan of American comic genius Don Rickles, it might seem like a joke. But his detractors, including people who have known him for years in America and Japan, say Adelstein has a history of “spinning bigger lies to cover smaller lies.” They say he was known for embellishing stories in high school and college, and they point to his father’s accusation, which was dismissed in court, that a local nurse murdered up to 42 people. They say Yomiuri hired him as a token foreigner, didn’t properly train him, put him in the “Society Department”, and kept him at the bottom of the totem pole for years, causing him to leave in frustration. They ridicule his tales about tussles with yakuza and turning down $500,000 to keep his mouth shut. They say he’s a paranoid maniac with a persecution complex, an “attention whore” skilled in gaining sympathy on social media. They dispute his claims that he has brain lesions and liver cancer, and say that he, his driver, and many of his “reliable” sources are past or current users of crystal methamphetamine, a drug often associated with deceitful behaviour.
“Some people in town have trouble taking Adelstein seriously,” wrote Peter Hessler in the New Yorker on January 9 this year. “They dismiss him as a crank, a paranoid foreigner who talks obsessively about death threats from the gangsters known as yakuza. Others react with suspicion; a number of people in Japan claim that his journalism is a front for C.I.A. work. Adelstein does little to dismiss such rumours, apart from maintaining an image so flamboyant that it would shame any actual agency man.”
Adelstein’s adversaries are not just bloggers or commenters in Japan’s malicious cyber-world. His detractors include senior journalists and authors in America and Asia, executives in Tokyo’s corporate world, and well-informed sources claiming links to US intelligence agencies. They say privately that Adelstein’s work lacks even basic journalistic fundamentals of truth, balance, fairness and verifiable evidence. They say he’s playing the role of a hardcore street level reporter, constantly in danger, when in fact he’s reading comics and chatting online in a civilized first world nation with a disciplined police force and a homicide rate — one murder per year for every 200,000 people — on par with Iceland and Switzerland, and 10 times lower than the United States. And for all his talk about blood and corpses, Adelstein never went to the disaster zone in northeastern Japan after 3/11 — a rarity among foreign correspondents in Japan.
IF YOU CAN’T DO IT, FAKE IT
Some skeptics have nicknamed him “Fake Adelstein” or “Jake the Fake,” the Tokyo version of Jayson Blair, the former reporter who spun a litany of fabrications that fooled editors at The New York Times. (see the Times 7000-word front page apology at
) They say Adelstein is passing off fiction as fact, and they also compare him with Greg Mortenson, a best-seller whose book Three Cups of Tea helped raise millions for Afghanistan and Pakistan until he was “outed” by esteemed author Jon Krakauer’s e-book Three Cups of Deceit.
A fair, balanced, thorough investigation into Adelstein’s ethics and methods is a matter of public interest, because Adelstein’s views, often reported by international media, shape global perceptions of Japan, an island nation which depends on a positive image in order to sell high-end products overseas. Perhaps more than any other writer, Adelstein portrays Japan as a dangerous, corrupt country dominated by criminals. In his view, yakuza are threatening journalists and civilians. There’s a gang war going on in the streets of Tokyo and other cities, involving pineapple grenades, and the police are cracking down, backed by new anti-yakuza laws. The yakuza, involved in every kind of smuggling ring, are handling dangerous nuclear materials in Japan. A “Nuclear Mafia” involving yakuza and TEPCO, are making workers disappear at the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors. Massive crime syndicates such as the Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate, “the Wal-Mart of organized crime groups”, basically run Japan’s economy. The Yamaguchi-gumi switched sides and got the Democratic Party of Japan elected, and they influence the Ministry of Financial Services. The Japanese stock market is “yakuza infested.” It’s “a matter of US national security,” and the Obama Administration is cracking down on the Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate. The yakuza are doing business with Nomura, Rakuten, Olympus, AIJ and many many others. Yakuza control Japan’s music and TV industries. Yakuza threatened ousted Olympus president Michael Woodford, causing him to flee Japan, along with millions in market capitalization. Yakuza are “Goldman Sachs with guns”, and they are a serious threat to global financial stability.
If Adelstein is right, Japan is seriously messed up, and foreigners and investors should consider moving their money and families elsewhere. But if Adelstein is wrong, many reporters who trusted him have got the story wrong too, and many Japan watchers will need to rethink their assumptions about Japan.
Either way, Adelstein is putting himself out on a limb, with a slim margin for error. Since he dares to write about the Dark Side of Japan, it’s easy for critics to label him the king of Japan bashers. In their view, he is ruining the image of Japan, a nation of peaceful, law-abiding, dutiful citizens. He has too much influence for a guy with flimsy sources. They say the news flow works like this: Jake Adelstein says it, the New York Times looks into it, Gavin Blair and others report it, and much of the world believes it. Foreign investors flee, consumers don’t buy, corporations lose billions, workers lose jobs, and Japan becomes more insular and alienated. All because Adelstein is trying to promote his books and image as an expert of the underworld.
But others cite good reasons to admire Adelstein for having the courage to challenge what former Prime Minister Naoto Kan called the Japan “safety myth”.
His problem, in a nutshell, is credibility.
So far, an attempt to fact-check Adelstein’s work indeed raises questions about his veracity, credibility, ethics, balance, objectivity, habitual citation of unnamed sources and unverifiable information, and suspicious treatment of young female employees and colleagues. This reporter found it impossible to confirm any of Adelstein’s investigative pieces. A December report in the Atlantic Wire, saying a “Nuclear Mafia” of yakuza, in cahoots with the Tokyo Electric Power Company, are handling hazardous nuclear materials, cites at least 14 unnamed sources and two Japanese authors with axes to grind, but no named sources other than TEPCO. His claim that Japan’s government would nationalize TEPCO, which operates the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant, hasn’t happened. Another story in February, based on almost nothing other than unnamed sources, says yakuza are influencing Japan’s Ministry of Financial Services. Even a recent puff piece on his blog about a cute Japanese icon quoted a Japanese businesswoman, “who feared being named would incur the wrath of enraged Hello Kitty fanatics.”
Given the lack of named sources and verifiable evidence, readers wonder if Adelstein isn’t just telling us newsroom gossip that confirms our worst fears about Japan. Even if Adelstein’s assertions prove to be true over time, his methods remain questionable, and they merit more scrutiny than other writers because of his popularity and influence. Amazon.com in March ranked Tokyo Vice number 12 for books about Tokyo and 97 for books about organized crime. He has more than 6,700 followers on Twitter, hundreds of friends on Facebook, and legions of fans in Japan, the US and other countries. His comments about the Yakuza have been quoted by CNN, BBC, CBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The New York Times, and many others, and his articles and musings have influenced how many foreigners perceive Japan. On Facebook and Google Plus, he counts a New York Times Pulitzer Prize nominated reporter as one of his closest allies, and he has often met with her to discuss stories. Journalists in Japan such as Max Hodges and Gavin Blair, correspondent for Hollywood Reporter, Christian Science Monitor and Global Post, have been his biggest supporters during his battles in the court of law and the social media court of public opinion.
Though he often claims that he lacks real friends, social media is where Adelstein shines. He’s fantastic at promoting his work and his image as a champion of victimized underdogs. In 2009, he appeared on The Daily Show, an amazing feat for a nerdy kid who reinvented himself in Japan. He told host Jon Stewart the well-oiled story of how a gang boss first threatened to kill him in 2005: “If you write about this, we’ll erase you and your family. He threatened to kill me again, it’s like a battered marriage between us.” Stewart, looking incredulous, retorted: “I think your sense of scale may be off.”
As millions of Americans discovered that night, Adelstein is a natural born entertainer and attention-seeker, and his claims do make for salacious party stories. But the problem is he’s working in the 170-year old institution of modern journalism, and reporters are passing off his tales as journalistic facts. In an interview with BoingBoing.com, he claimed he only sleeps in two-hour shifts, and he once “broke a gangster’s knees” with a golf club during a fight in a real estate office. After a self-styled career of debauchery and participant-observation reporting of the sex industry, he has been claiming for months that he’s training to get an official Buddhist priest certificate. “I don’t have that many close friends,” he said, trying to charm a female reporter. “I don’t know if I’ll ever date anyone again. Most of my closest friends are either cops or criminals.”He also told a Tokyo-based magazine he has lesions in the brain after a gangster “high on good crystal meth” kicked him in the head.
Claiming to be an expert on Japanese-style journalism, Adelstein admits to paying criminals for information, because only the “purity” of the information matters, regardless of the source. When mentioning the yakuza, which Adelstein does in almost everything he writes, he doesn’t pretend to be neutral and objective. “I don’t have a personal vendetta against any one other than one individual who is a dishonorable, cold-blooded, and unrepentant killer,” he said on his blog posting March 6. (
In that lengthy blog posting, Adelstein also made a variety of false accusations against a reporter that he met only once, for five minutes, about six months ago. He fabricated exchanges — in a question and answer format — that never happened. On Twitter on March 11, the anniversary of Japan’s worst post-war disaster, he falsely accused this reporter of hacking his site, and called him a sociopath, an unsavoury guy, and a child molester. He also threatened to expose a series of phone messages, recorded five years earlier, and his associates filed complaints with a European-based international organization dedicated to protecting journalists in jails and war zones, not cat fights in Japan.
Over the course of several weeks, Adelstein did not reply to several email and twitter requests seeking his response to allegations made by sources quoted in this story. Then, on April 16, Adelstein sent this reply to a reporter seeking his side of the story:
“The next time I hear from you, I’m going to file charges of 威力業務妨害. You are not a journalist; you make threats under the guise of journalism and you are mentally ill,” Adelstein said in an email. “If you were a real man, you’d stop hiding behind the pretense (sic) of being a journalist and come punch me out–but you’re too much of a pussy.” He threatened legal action and said he was sending all correspondence to “police in the US, Canada and Japan.” (After Adelstein’s threat, a man claiming to be a police officer from Adelstein’s neighbourhood called the mobile phone of the Japanese partner of this reporter twice over two weeks. The police officer also sent a letter to the home of this reporter and his partner. The Japanese woman, who doesn’t work in the foreign media scene, has never met Adelstein nor any of his associates.)
Adelstein’s long and hateful blog posting on April 16, drawing more than 120 vitriolic comments and threats, featured an errant transcription and links to a libellous video. On Adelstein’s blog, David Schaufele reiterated his claim that he recorded the libellous video in 2007 and posted it online. Schaufele, who has been in Japan more than 20 years, is an announcer for NHK World TV, a voice actor of a psycho-killer on violent video games, and also creator of the 911 conspiracy documentary “Return to Reality”, which says that “science proves” that airliners did not knock down the World Trade Center on 9/11. A tagline for the video said a reporter was “threatening to rape children of reporter he hating.” After youtube.com removed the defamatory video, which violates its policies and international laws, Adelstein the following day linked to an identical video from another poster on youtube, as if criminal behaviour meant nothing to a crime reporter. Within hours, youtube.com removed the video again. Schaufele responded by threatening online to beat up a journalist, and Adelstein supported the comment. Adelstein also threatened to charge a reporter with “intimidation”, saying it could result in two years in jail.
The ridiculous episode, drawing chuckles from many netizens in Japan, shows how easily Adelstein can jump to hasty conclusions and extreme reactions, with no attempt to show the other side of a story. Given his case against National Geographic TV, his legal threats are not without meaning. To avoid potentially defaming Adelstein, this story is leaving out accusations regarding alleged sexual misconduct over the past two decades, and it is quoting Adelstein’s own words to defend him against allegations.
In his defence, Adelstein is not the only journalist accused of having “Tokyo vices”. Many foreign and local critics of Japanese media culture have complained about sexual harassment, power harassment, xenophobia, racism, self-censorship, bullying and the lazy habit of using unnamed sources and unverifiable information. Japan does have great journalists, who try their best to cut through the restrictions of the kisha club system and oppressive laws and post-war culture that discourages constructive criticism, even in reviews of restaurants or concerts. But in general, truth-seeking journalists in Japan enjoy less freedom and public support than in Hong Kong, Thailand or the Philippines. Since Japan does not have as many journalism schools or press watchdog groups as other countries, many journalists feel that the work of NHK, Nikkei, Asahi, Mainichi, Kyodo and Adelstein’s former employer, the Yomiuri, often falls below the standards of small town or even college papers at journalism schools in North America. One mainstream media article this year, about the detention of French journalists working in Fukushima, basically boiled down to this: Japanese daily cites unnamed sources making unproven accusations against unnamed journalists, whereabouts unknown.
“Bokki”, a commenter on www.fuckedgaijin.com, summed up what many trained and seasoned journalists feel about Adelstein: “I do feel sorry for you (Adelstein), since, apparently, the Yomiuri suckered you into believing you have real training as a journalist, when it is painfully obvious you are way off on the most fundamental concepts of journalistic integrity, starting with the very simple idea that you don’t accuse people of any wrongdoing without presenting the evidence and certainly not without giving them an opportunity to respond.”
ERASING THE PAST — Tall Tales in the Show-Me State
Instead of tapping a Tokyo-based writer, the New Yorker assigned a young author and expert on China, Peter Hessler, to write a lengthy feature about Adelstein. A Rhodes scholar and graduate of Princeton, Hessler knew about Adelstein when they were both growing up in Columbia, Missouri, noted as a college town with approximately 160,00 residents in the metro area. At first glance, one might find the article a one-sided report by, and about, two of America’s most heralded young writers in Asia. Hessler writes about his visit to Tokyo in 2004, taking a ride with Adelstein in a “Yomiuri company car” to a red light district of pachinko and sex massage parlours in Tokyo. “The last time I had seen him, a high-school buddy was driving him around mid-Missouri in a station wagon, because his vision was so bad, but now he had transformed back-seat status into a mark of prestige.” For Hessler’s research in the spring of 2011, it seems likely that Adelstein supplied Hessler with sources for a story about Adelstein, and Adelstein did the translations of the interviews.
But a closer look reveals a discernible skepticism about Adelstein’s version of his life story. Hessler writes about interviewing an unnamed police officer, specializing in “Violent Crime Investigation”, who has never used his gun nor night-stick. The title “All Due Respect” refers to a book by the alleged gang leader Goto, not Adelstein. One cartoon shows a fraudster running from a company where profits have plummeted: “I thought he was a genius, but now I find out he was self-proclaimed.” Another cartoon shows a man on a miniscule island with a single coconut tree: “He’s bicoastal”.
Recalling their youth in Missouri, Hessler says that “Josh” Adelstein, as he was known then, was too cross-eyed to get a driver’s licence; he got others to chauffeur him to school. “As a boy, he simply seemed odd,” he writes. “The jocks teased and bullied him, until a teacher suggested that he take up martial arts.” Studying Japanese at the University of Missouri, Josh “fell down an elevator shaft while working at a local bookstore,” though, as Hessler notes, there aren’t many elevators in Columbia, Missouri. Josh claimed that the head trauma kept him in hospital for a week, and erased many memories of high school.
Others, however, did remember Joshua Adelstein’s school days. Writes Hessler:
A Missouri friend named Willoughby Johnson once said that Adelstein was still essentially an actor. “There’s a degree to which anybody who becomes a character does so through self-fashioning,” Johnson told me recently. He had been Adelstein’s most faithful chauffeur in high school, and he still called him Josh. “I think of Josh in this way,” he continued. “He decided that he wanted to become the international man of mystery.”
For his research in 2011, Hessler went back to Missouri to meet Adelstein’s father, a pathologist who had traveled to Japan only once in 25 years to see his son. He said he didn’t know much about Japan. But he did reveal a clue into his son’s way of viewing the world. Dr. Adelstein told Hessler about how he had contacted the FBI, Congress and “ABC News” about his suspicions that a local nurse had murdered as many as 42 people — more than famous serial killers in America. Hessler writes that the FBI investigated the claim, and the nurse was charged. But prosecutors couldn’t prove cause of death. With a tarnished reputation, the nurse, though acquitted, moved away from the area.
Joshua, meanwhile, was just starting out in Japan at that time. “It made me extremely distrustful of everyone,” Adelstein told Hessler. “The biggest lesson I took was that even when you’re in the right, when you’re doing something good, you won’t be rewarded.”
Padding the resume, fooling the co-workers?
For his sophomore year, Adelstein went to Tokyo and “abandoned plans to become an actor,” wrote Hessler. He studied literature at Sofia University, the alma mater of respected author and yakuza expert Robert Whiting. (Whiting appeared on the National Geographic documentary, which Adelstein challenged in court.) At Sofia, Joshua Adelstein changed his name to Jake, and reinvented himself, as many foreigners do in Asia. As a student, he claims he lived in a Zen monastery for three years and worked as a “Swedish masseur” for attractive Japanese women. After five years of studying Japanese, Adelstein was fluent enough to pass “the three-part exam to become a police reporter for Tokyo’s Yomiuri Shimbun,” writes Hessler. As a rookie, Adelstein was part of a group of reporters assigned to cover high school baseball. “In the middle of the high school baseball season, we were saved by the murder of this really beautiful girl who was killed and her body was found in a barrel,” Adelstein told Hessler. Then, according to Adelstein, he spent the next 12 years as a “police reporter.”
These facts are disputed in Tokyo expat circles, especially by seasoned journalists who highly doubt an insular Japanese corporation would trust a young foreigner with such an important role in a news organization with hundreds of veteran reporters.
In interviews with the BBC and others, Adelstein noted that he immediately jumped to the big leagues — Japan’s largest daily — without going through the weeding out processes of journalism schools and smaller media outlets in America. He told www.theworld.org that he spent his early days with Yomiuri as a “male geisha”, wining and dining cops. He said he often worked until 8 pm, went drinking at the homes of cops until 2 am, then woke up at 5:30 am to “catch police officers before they were going to work to see what was going to happen.” He said his girlfriend dumped him because “we were in the middle of making out and I had to leave to go cover a murder.”
Knowledgeable sources, however, say that Adelstein got in “through the back door” thanks to an affirmative action program for foreign graduates of Sophia University, not because he outperformed Japanese candidates on tests. (Adelstein wrote in Tokyo Vice that he finished 59th out of 100 students on the test, but still advanced to the next round, probably thanks to a supportive human resources officer. He said he had a “school connection on the hiring board.”) Once aboard Yomiuri, critics say he was a token foreigner at the bottom of the totem pole in the shakai-bu “Society Department,” not the “ace reporter” on the police and yakuza beats — hardcore postings usually reserved for a newspaper’s top staffers. (In Tokyo Vice, Adelstein said the unassigned reporters in shakai-bu were known as the “yu-gun”, literally “goof off army”, or “reserve corps”.) At best, critics say, Adelstein was probably tagging along with Japanese reporters on mundane stories, not meeting yakuza bosses one-on-one and brokering deals, as he claims in Tokyo Vice.
They say his true status at Yomiuri is important, because his book title announces him as: Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan, and he is trying to make a journalistic reputation out of that achievement, unique among foreigners in Japan. Calling his book Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter in Japan, though accurate, wouldn’t be enough to distinguish him from other scribes in Japan seeking a major book deal. Embellishing it with On the Police Beat in Japan gave him cachet worth a lot of money to a writer and publisher.
Among other evidence, skeptics say Adelstein’s name card points to his allegedly duplicitous nature. Though the English side of his name card declared him a “police reporter”, the Japanese side said he worked in the “shakai-bu“. While literally translated as “Society Department”, it’s more likely the Yomiuri equivalent of a general assignment reporter who, at a North American daily, might cover city hall meetings, fireworks, traffic accidents, weather, local sports, and a variety of puff pieces — plus the occasional suicide or homicide. It’s a very different job than a full-time police reporter — often an award-winning senior reporter — who works behind the scenes cultivating deep connections with detectives and gangsters, and delivers blockbuster page one scoops. A general assignment reporter might, on occasion, be sent to cover a police department press conference, but that wouldn’t make them an “expert” on organized crime. Given the team system at Yomiuri and other Japanese dailies, Adelstein may have been one of several reporters sent to cover police press conferences, using spots reserved in the kisha club for Yomiuri staffers, including Adelstein, whose name card in Japanese at one time did mention the Tokyo police department press club. Yet on his page at LINKED IN, Adelstein said he was “Police Reporter (Keishicho etc…) Yomiuri Shimbun” from April 1993 to November 2005. (
It’s not clear exactly what he did at Yomiuri. On his profile, he writes he was “primarily” a crime reporter for 12 years. “I spent from 2003 until the end of 2005 covering organized crime, vice, drugs, and credit card fraud as a reporter assigned to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department,” Adelstein writes on his Linked In profile. “I left the company in November of 2005 to take a job doing research on human trafficking in Japan, for a US State Department sponsored study.”
Even in 2000, after seven years aboard Yomiuri, Adelstein may have still been a lowly general assignment reporter, casting online for anybody to tell him about a volcano on Miyake island. “My name is Jake and I am a reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun’s Society Department,” he apparently wrote in Japanese on a 2channel website board. “Please phone or email us. Thank you for helping.”
Since Adelstein was perhaps the only foreign reporter among hundreds of Japanese staff at Yomiuri, it’s difficult to verify his claims or dig up his articles from that period. Adelstein apparently kept using Yomiuri business cards for years after his departure in 2005. In his US court complaint, Adelstein said Yomiuri staff came to his house to demand he stop using Yomiuri business cards, more than 5 years after his final day at work.
For whatever reason, it seems Adelstein left Yomiuri with enemies. Writes Hessler:
“To this day, nobody at the paper will speak on the record about him; some reporters told me that he was a liar, while others said that the Yomiuri had been frustrated by his obsession. A couple of people alleged that he worked for the C.I.A.” Hessler also apparently talked to reporters at other papers who told him that “people at Yomiuri were angry about Adelstein’s departure because it violated traditional corporate loyalty.”
Adelstein’s failure at Yomiuri also didn’t help other foreigners hoping to integrate into Japanese mainstream media circles and restrictive kisha clubs. He certainly wasn’t a role model paving the way for minorities in Japan. If he was meant to be Jackie Robinson, the first to cross the colour line, Adelstein acted more like Smokey Robinson, indulging in the Big Life of Tokyo’s night scene. Whatever happened at Yomiuri, it didn’t inspire the Japanese managers to hire boatloads of foreigners to become “ace reporters on the crime beat.”
Adelstein was no doubt frustrated there. He told Hessler that he quit Yomiuri in 2005 because they refused to publish his stories about the alleged gang leader Goto. He said the episode also ruined his marriage to a former Japanese business journalist.
Adelstein has also claimed that Tokyo police froze him out in 2004 after he released a story, despite their threats, about people dropping dead in Roppongi from cocaine laced with heroin. “If you write something that is not approved by the cops,” Adelstein said, “or something that will screw up one of their investigations, they will exclude you from the information chain and that may result in you dropping a story, which could harm your career.”
A source who says he often hung out with Adelstein at that time doubts Adelstein’s story, because dealers often cut cocaine with ketamine, not more expensive heroin, to maximize profits. “Any street-smart cop reporter would know that, but not Adelstein,” the source said in an interview.
Like other claims by Adelstein, it’s impossible to verify either way. Some trained reporters, who understand the difficulties of covering Japan and especially the underworld, wonder privately if Adelstein isn’t making clever excuses — the gangsters threatened to kill me, the cops shut me out — to explain why he traded lifetime employment at the Yomiuri, which pays high salaries and bonuses, for the struggles of a freelancer in a stagnant economy.
One source claims that Adelstein, burned out from boredom at Yomiuri, had bigger ideas beyond a life in journalism. He applied to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Though he studied the manuals, he was out of shape from drinking and smoking, and he couldn’t pass a polygraph about his sex life. Rejected, he turned on senior government figures who tried to help him, burning bridges that could have led him to future scoops. With nowhere else to go, he decided to write a book about his experiences, and hope somebody would buy it.
IF A CRIMINAL SAYS IT, IT MUST BE TRUE
With a book deal in mind, Adelstein tried to find editors to run his story about gang leaders allegedly getting liver transplants in the US. Nobody in Japan would bite. Finally, three years after Adelstein left the Yomiuri, the Washington Post took the bait, and they ran his story on May 11, 2008.
The story, “The Mob is Big in Japan”, is Adelstein’s personal account, citing unverifiable unnamed sources in the US and Japan. The article’s main topic is Adelstein. The story begins with: “I have spent most of the past 15 years in the dark side of the rising sun.” He says the yakuza “are outsiders in Japanese society, and perhaps because I was an outsider too, we got along well.” He claimed the yakuza had their own bank in California and ties with 50 companies listed on Japan’s stock market. None of these companies were named, and there was no evidence to support the claims. Adelstein also cited an unnamed police source saying Japan has no plea bargaining or witness protection program — a claim which online critics have proven false.
Buried deep into a story about himself, Adelstein finally mentioned that the FBI in 2001 allegedly helped a Japanese gangster enter the US for a liver transplant in exchange for info on other gangsters. Adelstein later called it “the story that changed my life,” but he didn’t put that info anywhere near the top of the article, as Los Angeles Times reporters did in their own story.
Near the end of the article, Adelstein repeats his well-known claim, that a gang boss called a formal meeting to tell him: “Erase the story or be erased. Your family too.” Adelstein said he took the advice of “a senior Japanese detective” and resigned from the Yomiuri two months later. “The FBI and local law enforcement are watching over my family in the States, while the Tokyo police and the NPA look out for me in Japan.” He said he couldn’t “go home” to Japan because the gang boss would kill him. He said an FBI agent “in my presence” asked Japanese police to give them a list of gangsters who might come to the US to kill Adelstein’s family. “The NPA was reluctant at first, citing ‘privacy concerns,’ but after much soul-searching handed over about 50 names,” Adelstein wrote.
It’s not known if the Washington Post did a fact-check or independent verification of Adelstein’s claims that he was threatened, protected, and privy to sensitive information about law enforcement issues between the US and Japan.
Whether true or not, Adelstein’s story raised valid questions about the unfairness of the liver transplant business. However, a well-informed source claiming knowledge of FBI operations told Globalite Magazine that Adelstein’s account was inaccurate and based on fabrications. Hessler also wrote in the New Yorker that “an investigation at UCLA found no wrongdoing.” He wrote that Jim Stern, the former chief of the FBI’s Asian criminal-enterprise unit, told the Los Angeles Times that the alleged gangster didn’t provide them with any significant information. Hessler wrote that Stern was not involved in any deal with the alleged gangster.
Cronyism Quid Pro Quo — You scratch my back, I’ll scratch your’s
Four years after leaving Yomiuri, Adelstein gained worldwide media attention after Random House released Tokyo Vice in October 2009. It was a certifiable achievement for any writer, since major New York publishers often ignore authors living in Asia. Adelstein was suddenly a made man, a rung above the hundreds of other foreigners writing about their experiences in Japan. He could have stopped there. All he had to do was promote his current book and focus on the next one.
During his promotional campaign in 2009, he made a whopper of a claim. He said he turned down an offer of $500,000 from a Japanese gangster to drop a story about him allegedly getting a US visa for a liver transplant at UCLA hospital in California.
Like a line out of The Godfather, it was an offer you don’t refuse. But Adelstein said he refused it. “I would say that I thought about it for the length of a clove cigarette. But I said no, because you don’t want to be owned by these guys.”
Adelstein wasn’t saying this over cocktails in a hostess bar. He was speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, and it was reported in many news outlets. Some observers regarded it as an outrageous claim, impossible to verify, since risk-averse middle-class journalists specializing in cartoons or economics aren’t likely to call up Gang Bosses for a fact check. But since few publicly questioned it, the story spread, fueling the legend of Adelstein sneaking around the neon-lit alleys of Japan in his trenchcoat, dodging bullets and samurai swords.
Without questioning his motives or sources, Adelstein’s colleague Gavin Blair repeated Adelstein’s claims — 12 years on the crime beat, death threats, offers of $500,000 — in his reports for the Christian Science Monitor, the Hollywood Reporter, and the Number One Shimbun magazine in Tokyo. “Adelstein is careful to cite appropriate sources for many of his more controversial statements. He still informs the Tokyo police when he’s in town and employs a senior ex-yakuza as a bodyguard,” Blair wrote in the Number One Shimbun. He also wrote about Adelstein’s controversial claim that the Yamaguchi-gumi – Japan’s largest criminal organization – switched “its traditional support for the LDP over to the DPJ about a year before the Democrats’ election victory.” He said Adelstein’s life story would likely end up in a Hollywood movie. “Jake says he’s had a few inquiries about adapting Tokyo Vice for the big screen, and confesses to having an agent currently handling negotiations. Adelstein says he’s insisting on having a hand in any screenplay, as well as assurances that ‘Tokyo doesn’t end up looking like Beijing’.”
Japan’s foreign blogosphere, however, was more skeptical than Blair or Adelstein’s other cohorts.
On www.bigdaikon.com, “Panzerdampf” disputed Adelstein’s death threat claim:
“The alleged death threat from (the gang leader) is one of many fake claims by Jake Adelstein. There is no death threat, no offer of $500,000 to make the story ‘go away’, and in fact, in (the gang leader’s) recent autobiography, he indicates (with no real reason to indicate otherwise) that (the gang leader) never even met Jake — and refers to him as a ‘novelist’.” (
“I am always suspicious of authors who hype up their tell-all books by advertising the fact that gangsters are supposedly trying to kill them for knowing too much,” wrote an unnamed writer at Japan Probe in October 2009. A subsequent posting questioned the veracity of Adelstein’s claims on 60 Minutes in the US. “The news report mentions how certain yakuza might want to kill Adelstein for writing about an embarrassing secret. He even says that he keeps his window shutters closed to protect himself from yakuza snipers. The death threats do not, however, stop him from making numerous public appearances to promote his book.”
Yet Adelstein, showing his social media skills, eventually won over commenters on Japanprobe. He commented directly on the blog, comparing himself to the dead director Itami Juzo, saying “I’d rather be a public nuisance to certain yakuza groups than a private one — in terms of self-preservation — it helps.”
He also tried to win over Hessler of the New Yorker. The article begins with Adelstein’s claim that police — who apparently have nothing better to do in Tokyo — visit his home every day, posting little yellow notes saying “nothing out of the ordinary.” Hessler also writes that Adelstein once dyed his hair bright red, “claiming that this disguise would foil would-be assassins.”
But his shtick is not fooling many observers, who see him as the latest in a long-line of foreigners in Japan who become like hot air balloons until gravity or a puncture brings them back down.
Gundlach, though praising Adelstein’s novel on his blog as a “worthwhile book”, isn’t convinced by his claims meant to promote the book. “I wouldn’t say phony. But rather, it’s an embellishment of the situation and the story. There may be something there, but telling is that it’s so much more than really is.”
In particular, he casts doubt on the death threat and $500,000 pay-off claims. “If Japanese nationals are making death threats, or threats of bodily harm, against Americans, I am sure—damn sure—that the U.S. State Department would be on top of at least that. You may be cheated out of labor law, you may be cheated out of the proper pension coverage. You may be cheated out of custody of your children, even. But when it comes to death or bodily injury, Uncle Sam usually has that right at the top of the agenda.”
Gundlach compares Adelstein with people in Brooklyn or New Jersey who name-drop about “knowing” gangsters in order to gain street cred. “In some New Jersey communities, the image of being connected to the mob was its own value, even if, in fact, that person had no connection to the mob. In fact, I would say there were more people with pretend connections than actual connections, especially when they wanted to make a threat. I suppose that wanting to create an image in the foreign, exotic land, could also be a pretext for feigning this deep relationship that, frankly, does not seem to be there.”
QUOTING YOUR DRIVER
Even if Adelstein does indeed have close ties with real live detectives and criminals, he does himself no favors by writing article after article quoting nobody by name or even job title or group. In his March 6 blog fabricating an exchange between us, Adelstein tried to explain his lack of verifiable sources. “I wish I could cite sources better than I do. There is a problem with that in Japan especially because if a public official talks to a reporter or releases information without permission they can lose their jobs and be prosecuted for violating the National Public Services Law, which bans public servants from divulging sensitive information obtained in the course of their work. If I named my (sic) all my sources, I could cost them their jobs and get them thrown into jail. I’m not willing to do that. Source confidentiality is an even more sensitive issue when involving articles about the yakuza. Revealing a source could cost them their job, their finger or maybe even their life.”
This is not unique to Japan. Officials act this way in all countries. Other journalists say Adelstein is making excuses for lazy, shoddy reporting. They note that when AP, Bloomberg or the New York Times do investigative stories in Japan, they go the extra mile to find officials, academics and other sources quotable by name.
In his March 6 blog calling out for sympathy, Adelstein claimed that his “long-time driver and bodyguard”, Teruo Mochizuki, is an ex-yakuza boss. He claims his “mentor” is a “Detective Sekiguchi.” Many observers wonder if Adelstein’s variety of “unnamed sources” are actually his employee and mentor — people likely to tell him what he wants to hear. If his employee is his source, and he isn’t telling that to readers, it’s a serious breach of ethics and a conflict of interest, especially in stories alleging crime and corruption at the highest levels in Japan.
Associating with past or current gangsters raises a variety of ethical issues for a journalist. On www.fuckedgaijn.com, “Mulboyne” criticized Adelstein’s claim on twitter on March 19 last year that when he got back to Tokyo after the March 11 disasters, he handed over two suitcases of supplies for tsunami victims via the “yakuza express,” most likely through his ex-yakuza driver. “There were dozens of legitimate aid organizations mobilizing resources by the time he arrived in Tokyo,” wrote Mulboyne, “and yet he advertised the fact he preferred to use gangsters.”
Adelstein often speaks fondly about his driver, and claims he spent the advance for Tokyo Vice on paying his salary, a noble gesture to a man coming out of prison. Hessler writes that the driver now earns about 3500 US per month chauffeuring Adelstein around in a black Mercedes S600, a common yakuza car model. “Adelstein says he needs a car and a nine-fingered driver (an ex-yakuza) in order to avoid the subway, where a hit man might shove him in front of a train.”
Hessler wrote that Adelstein has known his driver since at least 1993. Mochizuki had been a methamphetamine addict, and had gone to jail four times on drug charges, but he has been clean for two decades. They met when Adelstein, fresh out of college, was allegedly covering a murder in 1993. Adelstein interviewed the “dead yakuza’s meth-head girlfriend,” writes Hessler. “Almost immediately, they began sleeping together.” Right after having sex, Adelstein opened the door and there he was, Mochizuki, the man who would end up guarding his life.
About 14 years later, Adelstein offered him a job as a driver. Mochizuki, claiming he’d been kicked out a gang, said he had no other choice. Mochizuki told Hessler his first impression of Adelstein. “What an idiot! You can look all over Japan and you won’t find a reporter willing to do these things. I was surprised that he was fearless. He was just so strange. He has no regard for those taboos or restrictions. If he were Japanese, he wouldn’t’ be around right now.” Mochizuki also explained that “some yakuza dislike Adelstein’s stories, but he is widely recognized as a man of his word.”
SLEEPING IN TWO HOUR SHIFTS, and HYPER-VIGILANT — BUT NOT ADDICTED
A number of sources, however, question Adelstein’s words about his health, including his claim about a year ago that he has liver cancer — a disease which kills many victims in weeks or months. “He had always had a tendency to dramatize his health problems — this was part of his image,” wrote Hessler. Adelstein was also fond of copying another yakuza habit; becoming a Buddhist priest. “Adelstein figured that if (the alleged gangster Goto) could do it for protection he could, too.”
Since Adelstein’s claim to fame is his scoop about yakuza with liver cancer getting transplants in LA, it seems unusually ironic that Adelstein himself would develop liver cancer, critics say. When Adelstein told Hessler in the spring of 2011 that he had just been diagnosed with liver cancer, “he seemed neither surprised nor upset about the cancer diagnosis. The disease had been discovered in the early stages, and doctors at a clinic in Tokyo were treating it with injections of ethanol.”
Instead of resting to help his body fight the disease, Adelstein took Hessler around Tokyo. Upon hearing the liver cancer story, a “detective friend” exclaimed: “Wow, you’re just like a yakuza! Are you actually covered with tattoos?”
Hessler said Adelstein was chain smoking “while we were en route to a cancer treatment. On that particular day, the doctor decided to postpone the injection of ethanol.” They then went for dinner, where Adelstein finished two bottles of sake while waiting for an elegant Japanese-American woman. The cancer patient then had five more drinks at three separate bars, and was still going strong at 2 a.m.
Adelstein’s ex-yakuza driver Mochizuki, meanwhile, told Hessler about how his own Hepatitis C had been treated with interferon after ethanol treatments failed.
Adelstein also told Hessler that he was scheduled to go for another chemotherapy treatment in a few days. But as Adelstein took Hessler to Narita Airport, Adelstein’s driver asked if they could take a beach vacation together. “We should do this before one of us has bad health.”
A source, who claims to have intimate knowledge of Adelstein’s dealings, blames Adelstein’s “erratic behaviour” on stimulants including crystal meth, known in Japan as shabu. This accusation cannot be independently proven. If true, Adelstein could face years in jail.
(Adelstein tweeted on April 27: “I’ve had a lot of unpleasant things said to me in recent years but being accused of being a meth-addict is probably the lowest.”)
It’s highly unlikely any reporter would take such a risk. Shabu addiction is a serious matter in Japan and the rest of Asia from Myanmar to North Korea. It’s called “ya ba” (crazy medicine) in Thailand, and common among truck drivers, taxi drivers, and sex industry workers across East Asia. In Japan, it’s “the main drug of use”, typically injected directly into the bloodstream, according to the United Nations Office of Drug Control. A story this month called “Japan, Land of the Rising Meth” in www.tofugu.com, citing the UN and other sources, claims Japanese invented crystal meth about a hundred years ago.
It was called “Hiropon” and under-nourished war-time soldiers and factory workers used it for energy and courage. After realizing the negative effects, Japan banned it in 1951, and arrested more than 17,000 alleged users, and another 50,000 in 1955. Shabu is usually produced in west Africa or elsewhere in Asia and trafficked into Japan by yakuza. A UN report says about 12,000 arrests per year — 80 percent of all drug arrests in Japan — involve shabu, compared with 62 for ecstasy (MDMA) in 2010.
Wikipedia says that a study on female Japanese prisoners showed that shabu addiction caused a schizophrenia-like psychosis even 6 months after withdrawal from usage. Usage is known to cause increased libido, insomnia, hyperactivity, acne, dizziness and headaches. It can often lead to irrational behaviour, depression and suicide. Studies have shown that users are also more vulnerable to sexually-transmitted diseases, which remain rampant across Asia despite years of public health campaigns to increase awareness.
Of all Adelstein’s stories about himself, he has never publicly claimed to be a drug addict, though such a confession would likely draw him more sympathy, press attention and book sales. His own musings, however, in the FCCJ’s magazine Number One Shimbun, suggest that he does have issues of some sort. He claimed he has dizziness, flashbacks, paranoia, and headaches from a head injury from a two-story fall in 1987, and “frequent temporal lobe seizures.” “The darker side of the police beat or investigative journalism in Japan … is that eventually you’ll meet with violence. And I have several times. It’s left me with a litany of injuries – a weekly regimen of physical therapy, chronic post-traumatic stress and some brain damage,” he wrote. “In January 2010, an angry source – an ex-yakuza high as a kite on some very good crystal meth – kicked me in the head. I think that’s when things started going wrong on the temporal level.” (It’s not clear how Adelstein knew that the alleged attacker was high on crystal meth, or how he knew the crystal meth was “very good”.)
In the article, Adelstein seems dreamy, possibly medicated. “I have keys to apartments to where I can never go back in the physical universe. But in my own mindscape, I was just there and will be there again… I finally went to see one (a psychotherapist) in 2010, to try and do something about my insomnia. After a couple of sessions, the diagnosis was chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. He recommended anti-depressants to deal with the hyper-vigilance issues. I stopped going.”
In an interview with BoingBoing, Adelstein said: “I think the psychological term ishypervigilance. When I walk into a restaurant I scope out the place. I almost always sit facing the door.” Hessler, meanwhile, wrote about Adelstein’s living conditions. “For five years, he has rented a house in a quiet neighbourhood, but it was as if he had just moved in: at night, he dragged a futon out of a closet and slept on the floor of his office. In the kitchen, I counted five bottles of whiskey, four bottles of vodka, and three spoons. There was no table. He ate takeout meals on the couch.”
Adelstein talked about crystal meth in a series of tweets with his followers in February 2013:
Meth-heads are called ポン中 (pon-chu). Pon comes from ヒロポン (Hiropon) Japan’s best-selling meth brand from1893-1952. Chu=中毒 (chudoku) addicted
Men and women who were pon-chu, claim that sex is 10,000 times better on the drug, & that once experienced, normal sex always falls short.
You just reminded me to buy this book: A Social History of Methamphetamine In Japan
@jakeadelstein There were several brands of meth being sold, mostly organic based stuff from the Ephedra Root. Hiropon was Showa’s Mild Seven
I’ve always stayed away from hard drugs for precisely the reasons the yakuza talk about: learning about a pleasure that eclipses all others. 11:48 a.m. – Feb 19, 2013
These days the only substance abuse issues I have is drinking too much coffee. Though on a freezing cold day, a cigarette is nice. 12:36 PM – Feb 19, 2013
Regardless of his issues or quirks, Adelstein is not alone among reporters dealing with addictions or traumas, and he has likely experienced more of the Dark Side of Japan than most office-bound workers. In the FCCJ magazine article, he claimed his Yomiuri colleague committed suicide, and his lawyer and mentor, Toshiro Igari, was “probably killed in the Philippines after taking on my case against the publisher of a yakuza boss’ biography.”
In an interview with the BBC in 2010, Adelstein repeated a story about his fall from grace due to interactions with sex workers. “I think I was on my best behaviour until I started covering the human trafficking issues. And then things become very different,” he confessed. He said he sent a prostitute friend to get insider info on a gangster, and later heard she had been raped, tortured, mutilated and killed. “I asked her to look into one group that was running in Roppongi. She got back to me and told me it was an organisation run by (xxxxx). I asked her to stop looking, and quit immediately. She didn’t listen to me. The next time I tried to contact her, I couldn’t …That was a very bad judgement call.”
A skeptical source who knew Adelstein at that time said if the person really died, a reporter would have been duty-bound to get the police report, file the story, and find her relatives for interviews. Yet there is no evidence that this murder ever happened, or that any reporter covered the story.
The story in Tokyo Vice enraged “C. Perreira”, a reviewer on Amazon.com:
He pretends to be on this crusade against human trafficking but inadvertently (?!) supports all that facilitates it (e.g. purchasing certain “services”). He is so lazy and stupid that he basically gets his friend killed. And not just shot or strangled or something, but brutally raped and tortured (i.e. pieces of her body were literally cut off while she was still alive). It’s implied that she bled to death during her torture; a process that would take many excruciatingly painful hours. And then he makes money off of his stupidity by writing this book.
SEKU HARA and POWER HARA
In fairness to Adelstein, most reviews of Tokyo Vice have been positive, and the book has sold well on Kindle.
–”He has the guts to find the truth, and the gall to tell it,” wrote Roland Kelts, author of Japanamerica, and drummer in Tokyo pop band Ali-mo.
–”His juicy and vividly detailed account of investigations into the shadowy side of Japan shows him to be more enterprising, determined and crazy than most,” wrote author Pico Iyer in Time.com. “The facts beneath the noirish lines are assembled with what looks to be ferocious diligence and resourcefulness.”
Critics say the problem is that Pico Iyer, Roland Kelts and others, who naturally want to help a fellow author, have almost no way of probing his ethics or finding out if he’s really assembling facts with “ferocious diligence and resourcefulness.” Iyer and the others aren’t likely to call up a gang leader to ask if it’s true that he’s trying to erase Jake and his family. Like others, they are giving Adelstein the benefit of the doubt. They have bought into the claim mentioned atop the New Yorker feature, that Adelstein “currently lives in central Tokyo under police protection.”
Emails obtained by Globalite Magazine, however, suggest a different story. While trying to recruit a cute young female assistant, Adelstein told her that it’s safe to come over and live with a French model in his house in Shimokitazawa in west Tokyo. As he told her in an email: “I’m not in any danger nor is anyone working for me or who knows me.”
The emails, along with reports from several other sources, suggest Adelstein might fit the stereotype of a middle-aged Tokyo male employer using money and power to manipulate younger women. In Japan, this is known as seku hara (sexual harassment) and pawahara (power harassment). Adelstein often describes himself as a “womanizer”, a role he played up in Tokyo Vice. He did nothing to dispel that myth during Hessler’s visit in 2004, when Adelstein dove into sex massage parlours to “meet sources”, and 2011, when Hessler noted: “Whenever I went out with him, we always seemed to end up having drinks with some beautiful, bright woman.”
Adelstein has also repeatedly wined that he can’t keep a girlfriend for more than a week. He told Hessler: “I’ve slept with sources. I’ve done hard negotiations that are probably tantamount to blackmail. I’ve ransacked rubbish bins for information.” Hessler also writes that a few weeks after the March 11 disasters, when many in Japan were showing more kindness toward each other, Adelstein went along with an alleged gangster’s ruse to fool his ex-wife. It was Adelstein’s role to harass the ex-wife with unsolicited phone calls, and fob off a story about the gangster becoming a legitimate businessman. In return, the alleged gangster told Adelstein about alleged gang involvement with TEPCO, including crimes such as “the Matsuba-kai guys play golf with the waste-disposal guys for TEPCO.” (Hessler’s report indicates that this alleged gangster — a college graduate fluent in English who supposedly jumped from a leading PR firm into a job in a criminal organization – could be the highly-reliable source which Adelstein cites in his reports about Japan’s “Nuclear Mafia” that have been quoted in the Atlantic online and major media worldwide.)
During his trip back to Missouri, Hessler met Adelstein’s wife, a former Japanese business reporter in Tokyo. She was living with their children in the same compound as Adelstein’s parents. She noted how her husband would get angry and yell at her in yakuza slang. She told Hessler that she was “tired of thinking” about the alleged gangster making alleged death threats against her husband and their family. She said, according to Hessler, that the FBI told them in 2008 to buy guns to protect themselves, and they were not in danger in Missouri. “Very often I think, Why am I living here? I grew up in Saitama. It’s not a big city, but it’s a suburb of Tokyo. I never dealt with ticks, with bugs. I hate ticks.”
While she was taking care of the kids in rural Missouri, Adelstein was cavorting with exotic young women in Tokyo, and bragging about his exploits. In a Tokyo way, many women seem to like Adelstein for his generosity and assistance. Hessler wrote that Adelstein “on a few occasions” has introduced foreign strippers to gay salarymen to help the women get spousal visas and the men a job promotion. “Adelstein says he never breaks the law — he puts these people in touch and tells them that they are free to fall in love and get married.”
The problem, detractors say, is that his treatment of sex industry workers — giving them money and favours in return for favours — affects how he treats his own female assistants. One female assistant, who has repeatedly contacted a reporter, is not being named to protect her image on Google searches from cyber stalkers. By all accounts, she is hard-working, courageous and worthy of a good employer willing to train her in basic fundamentals. Though she was lacking experience and training, Adelstein offered her six months payment in advance — an unusual practice in Tokyo or elsewhere in the media world. In an email, he also told the young candidate: “I have no romantic intentions towards you. This should be obvious but I’m afraid the book makes me look like a total womanizer. I’m in a very nice relationship with someone right now and I keep my personal and working life straight.”
Yet four months after hiring her, Adelstein wrote on his blog: “I’m a sleazebag. Yes, it’s true. The result of that is I’m getting legally separated from my wife, which is a matter of public record.”
Their emails provide a glimpse into how Adelstein brings female employees into a web of lies, deceit and paranoia:
-On Nov. 12, she wrote:
Mr. Jake Adelstein’s assistant left him to work for Wall Street this week and he just hired me tonight to do transcripts of Japanese interviews into English.
–On Nov. 13, she wrote:
I talked to Japanese and Foreign journalists here at the FCCJ, their opinion is different about Jake. But Mr. H used to know Jake’s assistant, member of the FCCJ, she left because she felt threatened and she flew back to (xxxx) for this very reason, according to H. She was not hired by Dow Jones, that’s a lie.
–The same day, she wrote:
I have thought about it, and I think he’s also a shark, and like all the others he wants to f–k me because he wants a stupid naive newcomer who ignores everything about yakuza and to do his dirty work, and if I work for him: it’s worse than working at ….xxxx…, my career is damaged.
–On Nov. 13, 9:35 pm, a few hours after a job interview, Adelstein wrote her a long letter:
Thank you for coming out today even with your impending deadlines. I appreciate it.
Hiroko-chama was really impressed with you. She gave you two thumbs up. I’ve looked over your stuff and your resume and asked around and so am I.
I’d very much like to hire you full-time, starting in December. I have one other candidate and I’d like to decide this week. Is it possible to meet at the FCCJ tomorrow at 3:00 pm?
I’ve crunched numbers and I can offer you 350,000 yen a month, 35 hours a week. Transportation would be extra. I’ll guarantee you at least six months of work and draw up a contract. Payment is in advance. You will get a bonus after the first six months.
Your job would involve four responsibilities.
1) Writing articles for the blog
and for The Atlantic Wire and/or Newsweek 2) assisting in the writing and research of my second book, THE LAST YAKUZA, for which you will get credited 3) some assistance with consulting work. 4) Assistance in keeping a database on materials for my third book, The Nine Digit Economy: Japan’s Mafia In the World Financial Markets. We will probably co-write a few articles together but eventually you’ll write things on your own or take the lead for many of the articles.
PS. I don’t know what your living situation is these days but I have a house in Shimokitazawa which doubles as my office. My room mate, (xxxx) is a French designer and model. There is one room left to rent out. I don’t own the house but am subleasing it from a college friend for another two years. It might be an option if you’re going to stay a long time in Japan.
A few things that I probably should address:
1) I’m not in any danger nor is anyone working for me or who knows me. Camille wouldn’t stay in the house if she thought there was.
2) If you’d like a reference for me, (xxxx) who was my research assistant in the past would tell you I’m a good employer and easy to work with.
3) I have no romantic intentions towards you. This should be obvious but I’m afraid the book makes me look like a total womanizer. I’m in a very nice relationship with someone right now and I keep my personal and working life straight.
—After being hired, her emails changed noticeably:
–-Nov. 27, she wrote:
What a bad, bad, bad trip… I really want to throw myself from a high bridge if I didn’t have that commitment and promise I made.
—Dec. 8, she wrote:
Please help me I was about to call you today, I had a bad trip, as always, I do not trust anyone at all …Many people tried and are still trying to abuse me. I cannot handle this anymore …
—Jan. 20, she wrote:
I hate sharks. You are all sharks, journalists do not care about people’s life, they just want to make money in poor people’s back. I hate this job. When I’m done I am going to stop all this and go back to xxxx to my parents. I am so sorry for what happened all of a sudden, this was a bad trip. Home is where I am supposed to be. I hate Japan, I hate houshanou, I hate foreigners. I hate liars. I hate men in general. Especially those who want to take advantage of people who are simply polite.
—March 12 she wrote:
You know I am a very hard working person, and I am currently fucking working!!!! Probably until 2 am!!!! Again!!!
—March 13 she wrote:
I am telling you to be careful, because you are in a danger zone in Japan.
A CLASH OF CULTURES: Tokyo Vice meets 170 years of modern western journalism
Given his penchant for crying wolf and burning bridges, a number of senior journalists, authors, and well-informed sources privately question whether Adelstein has been able to maintain over 20 years an extensive network of contacts — as he claims — in the yakuza, the National Police Agency, and the FBI. They say Adelstein is at least correct when he writes on his blog that he has a talent for pissing off people.
For Tokyo Vice and his so-called investigative pieces, critics say he ripped off stories from Japanese tabloids and comics. He wrote incorrectly about the nature of plea bargaining and witness protection in the Japanese legal system, and errantly linked a former prime minister to a gang. He wasn’t working to stop “human trafficking”; he was indulging in sexploitation of women. His infamous tale, about leading a prostitute informant to her grizzly death, never happened. There was no body, no name, no report about grieving family members. Instead, sources say, he was trying to “get the pants off” of a foreign hostess and forging a university diploma for her.
Burned out and bored at Yomiuri, he applied to work for the FBI, but couldn’t pass a polygraph about his sex life, and burned bridges with people who tried to help him. To gain sympathy and attention, he fabricated stories about a gang leader trying to kill him. Since the Washington Post ran it, and the Los Angeles Times used his information, others could too. And, since nobody called his bluff, he kept crying wolf, until thousands of people believed him.
It worked. He got journalists around the world, who had no way of calling his bluff, to believe his stories and hype his book. But he himself was in debt. He was stiffing people out of money. His revolving door of cute young female assistants were dropping him for better jobs. His book, and its emphasis on sexual conquests, was ruining his marriage.
And then along came an opportunity. He approached National Geographic TV, promising them access into Japan’s underworld for a documentary about the yakuza. He signed a contract for a relatively small sum, about $5000. But he went around town, claiming it was much more than that, and promised to spread his “juice” to his freelancer friends in need of work. It was a feather in his cap, a chance to cement his place in the ivory towers of journalism.
But the National Geographic TV gig would prove to be a reality check for Adelstein. The project pitted the bizarre media culture of Galapagos Japan against the uncompromising standards of western journalism. The battle would end up in a US court case where nobody won, everybody lost, and Adelstein gained the nickname “Jake the Fake”.
Before coming to Japan, UK-born director Philip Day was on a roll. He had done documentaries for National Geographic, Discovery, the History Channel, PBS, BBC and others. He had won no less than 13 international awards over a 20-year period, including a Peabody in 1998, an Emmy in 2004, and four Telly’s in 2010. His company, Edge West, formed in 2006, employed 10 professionals and created work for many others, and they had been nominated for another Emmy months before going to Japan. Based in Santa Monica with his family, Day also found time to run triathlons for charities and teach film-making to students, according to wikipedia.com.
He had worked with Mick Jagger, Henry Rollins, Ridley Scott and many other heavyweights, and none of them had taken him to court or disparaged his methods. But weeks after hiring Adelstein, the crew’s reputation was being questioned in a US court, and the National Geographic Society was dealing with nasty letters and comments from Adelstein and his associates, according to various sources, websites and public records.
According to sources in Japan who worked on the project, the episode shed light on Adelstein’s behaviour. The crew from California, needing local fixers, expected Adelstein to be their guide to the Tokyo underworld. They signed him to a contract dated May 25, 2010, and modified it Sept. 15 for a project titled “Inside the Yakuza.”
But a few days before the crew left California, Adelstein called from Japan, warning them about “dangers” awaiting them in the shadows of Tokyo. He claimed that gangsters had broken into his house and beaten him up with a phone book. The veteran California crew were puzzled; who in Tokyo has a phone book. It became an inside joke for the crew. They laughed every time they saw a phone booth potentially holding a dangerous, deadly phone book.
With the crew arriving in Tokyo on Sept. 10 as planned, Adelstein panicked. Unable to keep his promises, he could only come up with “C list” sources: a generic NPA representative, a couple of authors, and an attractive female journalist with expertise in other aspects of Japan, not the yakuza. Adelstein, according to the sources, seemed more interested in pursuing women than the story, and he was hurt by their refusals. Midway through the 20-day shooting in Japan, he suddenly went to the US on Sept. 19 for a week, ostensibly to spend time with his kids. The crew, stuck without a fixer, had to hire a freelancer from the US who turned out to be more useful than “Jake the Fake”. Then when Adelstein came back to Tokyo, he felt sidelined. He raised a fuss, claiming “all” of the crew and sources “were in danger.”
Demanding more control over the project, he eventually quit on February 24, two weeks before the March 11 disasters.
The crew ended up finding former and current gangsters via other contacts. Some of the sources were not exactly in hiding. They could be found in articles in Metropolis magazine and the Independent, a well-known restaurant in Kabuki-cho in Shinjuku, and gangsters’ own websites, such as
. The sources were comfortable being on camera, and even introduced their associates. One man, described as the “number two” in the Sumiyoshi-kai organization, spoke at length on camera about his role in society.
Disgruntled after being sidelined, Adelstein resigned on February 24 and tried to take the ship down with him. Websites reprinted what he apparently wrote on his blog:
“Would I believe the word of three yakuza over the word of an LA based ‘film director’ who brags about his reputation for doing awesome ‘dramatizations’ and ‘re-creations’? Mmm…Yes. I’d believe the yakuza every time, in this case.”
Some of Adelstein’s passages were also quoted here:
After seeing a rough cut of the program, I now have serious concerns about the safety of all Americans and Japanese sources, friends, and the staff of National Geographic Channel Japan who are involved with this program. There is a chance that the yakuza that have been betrayed by NGT will use violence against those residing in Japan to express their anger. I am even concerned about the safety of the yakuza that agreed to appear in the documentary, probably under false pretenses and false promises. They will face retaliation from their superiors if the program is aired as it is now.
The website SocietyMatters.org then shows the calm, thoughtful written response of NGT:
“Jake, this is not a misunderstanding of the nature of journalism. This is a misunderstanding regarding your role as a consultant to the program.”
Instead of trying to solve problems over a beer or a phone call, Adelstein wrote a “Letter of Resignation” dated February 24, 2011 and addressed to the “Head of National Geographic TV” in Washington. Adelstein claimed that “NGT has put myself, its Japanese staff, my sources, and several volunteer participants in serious danger.”
In the letter, Adelstein wrote: “There have been numerous attacks on journalists and public figures in the past years….The response of yakuza to unfavourable coverage is violence and terror.” He cited the Japanese penal code, saying a person can be arrested “if during the course of your work you engage in negligent behaviour that results in injury.” He also quoted an alleged conversation he had with an NGT person who told him: “I’m trying to make a film and I need access to interesting people instead of people you don’t know, haven’t met and haven’t talked to…Access is what you’re being paid for, and access is not what we’re getting.”
Near the end of the letter, Adelstein wrote: “All further contact should be done directly through my lawyers.” He then wrote, as a warning to NGT staff:
“I would advise you to inform your own staff of possible problems and dangers. The gang boss you have angered has a long reach. Their group also has members fluent in English capable of doing basic research. If you find these warnings to be hyperbolic, I suggest you do some research on the fate of journalists/writers/directors who have reported unfavourably on the yakuza in the past, including xxxx, xxxx, and deceased film director Juzo Itami, just to name a few. The assassination of the mayor of Nagasaki is also well-known. Finally, I suggest you consult local law enforcement and apprise them of the situation but that is your call. Please address any questions you may have to my counsel.”
MR. YAKUZA GOES TO WASHINGTON
Adelstein didn’t stop there. While almost every other journalist in Japan was focussed on the aftermath of the March 11 disasters, Adelstein was taking award-winning journalists to court. According to court records at www.dccourts.gov/cco/maincase.jsf, Joshua Lawrence Adelstein, through his attorney James E. Hopenfeld, filed a suit in the District of Columbia Superior Court against NGT on April 19 regarding the documentary “Inside the Yakuza”. (The complaint was signed by Adelstein’s attorneys: James E. Hopenfeld, State Bar No. 483985, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. 571-303-1868; and David A. Makman, email@example.com, tel. 415-777-8572.)
Adelstein didn’t just single out a crew member he didn’t like. He attacked the entire network. The complaint in DC Superior Court said: “Adelstein no longer believes National Geographic Television is interested in accurately reporting in the foreign cultures they investigate.” Adelstein also alleged that National Geographic breached his contract and “intentionally caused him emotional distress with the documentary.”
Adelstein’s 23-page complaint to the court makes Tokyo sound like Baghdad. “Mr. Adelstein, his life, and the lives of his family, colleagues, and those who were interviewed or participated in the program have been put in clear and present danger.” The complaint also makes it look like everybody — yakuza interviewees, NGT, Tokyo-based freelancers — were breaking yakuza codes that only Adelstein was obeying.
He started by accusing NGT of committing “intentional, tortious acts” against him and putting everybody in danger of getting killed. “Mr. Adelstein has received death threats from members of the Yakuza, faces civil and criminal liability and other financial obligations to third parties, (and) has lost business relationships,” said the formal complaint, filed April 19, 2011 in the Civil Actions Branch of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
Adelstein cited alleged yakuza attacks on Japanese journalists Atsushi Mizoguchi and Tomohiko Suzuki. He said NGT actions “could literally be a matter of life or death for Mr. Adelstein, the crew, National Geographic Japan, and anyone who participated in the production or who gave interviews.”
Though it hasn’t been proven in court, he said yakuza murdered a Japanese director. “The famous Japanese film director Itami Juzo was stabbed as a result of Yakuza displeasure over the way they were portrayed in his move Minbo No Onna (The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion),” the complaint said. “Mr. Adelstein took great care in arranging the list of interviewees” to ensure nobody got killed. He said “Japanese social rules” made him responsible if his sources got killed. He also demanded a new agreement that “the documentary would not be broadcast in Japan,” (which seems impossible given the power of youtube.com). He insisted on an “ironclad” agreement giving him control over material used in the final cut (an absurd request for a low-paid fixer in a veteran team of more than 50 people).
He claimed that on Sept. 25, he got “an anonymous phone call, threatening him with physical violence,” but “he now knows the call was from Yakuza B or C.” He said members of the Yomiuri Shimbun, his employers five years earlier, came to his home and told him to “remove any affiliation” with them from his business cards, because his work with NGT was dangerous. “This is notable, because under Japanese social conventions, it is not customary for business acquaintances/colleagues to visit someone at their home.”
(Adelstein, however, did not provide the names or phone numbers of the alleged Yomiuri employees — making it impossible for a US court to verify the claim.)
Adelstein also quoted at length a “conversation” with a Chinese shop-owner which the court could not verify. He quoted an alleged phone call from a Boss. “If Yakuza D asks for it, you’ll lose your police protection as well. Then it’s open season on you. This is no longer just your problem, it’s a problem for our entire organization.”
Another man, Yakuza A, allegedly tells Adelstein that if footage goes to air, “you (Jake Adelstein) will be killed.”
Adelstein’s complaint also quotes an unnamed cop, which the court could not verify. “It does not matter if a Yakuza gives permission for an interview. If they change their mind, you pull the interview. Not to do it would result in people’s being harmed.”
The complaint by Adelstein, whose book Tokyo Vice often seems like a sensationalist piece of pulp fiction, says the NG TV film “contains exaggerated, factually inaccurate soap opera style dramatizations of Yakuza crime and violence.” “If Mr. Adelstein and others had known the true nature of National Geographic Television’s plans — creating a sensationalist piece of pulp fiction — they never would have agreed to work with it on this project.”
Near the end, he says NGT, “by intention or reckless disregard, has caused Mr. Adelstein to suffer emotional distress.” In the complaint, Adelstein, the local hire, demanded 72 hours to review the final cut before it goes to air, and also demanded NGT throw out all material derived from interviews with four gangsters.
Adelstein’s critics, who worked on the project in Japan, summarize the case this way: Adelstein sold NGT on the idea of talking to “dangerous” gangsters, and then tried to remove “dangerous” gangsters from the film, because of the “dangers” to everybody and their families.
Adelstein’s critics say the complaint overlooks four key facts:
–nobody got killed or wounded
–the crew came to Japan to interview real yakuza members, and got what they wanted, no thanks to Adelstein.
–Adelstein went to America for a week during the 20-day shoot and then tried to sabotage the project because he couldn’t control what happened while he was away and after he came back
–real yakuza members and other sources agreed to be interviewed on camera by their own choice. If they wanted to kill everybody, why agree to go on camera? If they were afraid their bosses would kill them for breaking Yakuza Media Rule 101, why even bother to meet journalists in the first place?
Loaded with quotes from unnamed sources and threats of impending violence, the 23-page complaint could form a basis for a future Adelstein book. But the US court didn’t buy it. Two weeks later, on May 4, the case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning Adelstein lost the case, and couldn’t sue anywhere else. In the end, Adelstein didn’t get what he wanted: an award of damages and punitive damages for “breach of contract, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
Nobody won. The film’s crew were understandably hurt by the accusations, as anyone would be, according to the sources. They had to devote their time and energy to a court case, rather than another film about injustices or important issues. They had to delay the release of the documentary, a loss of face in any culture. Director Philip Day, his reputation suddenly challenged despite a stellar career and a passion for his craft, had to write the Hollywood Reporter, saying the allegations were false and dismissed with prejudice in court. “I’m confident that the integrity of every contributor has been maintained and that the film passes the highest and most stringent production standards in the industry,” Day said, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
To this date, there have been no reports of yakuza killing or harming anybody associated with the documentary, more than a year after his claims about “clear and present danger.” In retrospect, it seems the only person who caused any harm to Jake Adelstein was Jake Adelstein.
The ridiculous irony is that Adelstein, for all his paranoia about the yakuza, was crying wolf to a crew that had actually been threatened at gunpoint in Peru in 2009 during the filming of a documentary about the mysterious Nacza lines, according to wikipedia and other sources. In the middle of the night, five gunmen in masks scaled a wall and broke into the hotel where Day and the crew were sleeping. They took the hotel manager and reception hostage at gunpoint. They gagged the receptionist, and demanded the manager take them to rooms where they could steal gear. They flashed guns at Day and his crew members, and eventually made off with cameras, computers and phones with thousands of dollars. Luckily, clever hotel staff were able to call police and save their lives.
For the rest of the shoot, local Peruvian police gave them round-the-clock protection. Day handled the incident with maturity and class. “It was an incredible and terrible ordeal, especially for those held by these dangerous and desperate attackers. I am amazed by the heroic actions of the hotel and my crew. I’d also like to thank the Nasca police and local authorities for their excellent assistance in this extraordinary and harrowing incident.”
Yet, in Adelstein’s view, the crew staying at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in downtown Tokyo — upon his advice — were somehow “in danger”. And the danger in Japan was so dangerous, that Adelstein, in order to make his point, had to bother the chief of National Geographic TV, as well as various colleagues, lawyers and judges over the course of several weeks during the worst disaster in Japan’s post-war history.
In retrospect, it’s possible that Adelstein made enemies out of people who could have been his best allies in any international legal action against his yakuza tormenters. According to wikipedia.com, Philip Day’s elder brother is Martyn Day, a lawyer in the UK, and former director of the Greenpeace Environment Trust. His achievements include negotiating settlements for about 1300 Kenyans injured or killed by British army munitions, 52 Colombians seeking damages from BP, and Iraqis alleging torture by British soldiers, according to wikipedia. He is co-author of the book Toxic Torts, Personal Injury Handbook, Multi-Party Actions and Environment Action: A Citizen’s Guide.
Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story
In his his dreamy article about himself in the Number One Shimbun, Adelstein articulated what many dis-inspired reporters feel. “There’s a weariness that comes with covering violent crime, fraud, and human trafficking. There’s a sense of futility. You keep covering the same story, over and over – only the characters change. The narrative remains the same.”
In the past year, Adelstein has tried to soften his image and branch out into stories not dealing with the yakuza. In November, he hired an enthusiastic young European assistant to write about stories such as cherry blossom viewing and Hello Kitty for his blog www.japansubculture.com. As for his own articles, self-promotion is often the goal. As several commenters have suggested, he appears to use journalism as a platform to sell his books, peddle his persona and pad his ego. “If the goal is journalism then the self-promotion should be kept more in the background,” wrote “Yokohammer” on www.fuckedgaijin.com. “Jake features prominently in his own stories, and that, to my mind, is incompatible with journalism.”
Adelstein often seems unable to remove himself from any story, even for the Atlantic Wire. In the first paragraph of his story about a pole dancer, he writes: “She is also my close friend. Ania took the photos for the cover of my first book, pro bono.” In following paragraphs, he even manages to talk about his crotch.
More importantly, his so-called investigative stories for the Atlantic Wire, associated with one of America’s most prestigious media organizations, raises questions about standards in the US as well. One wonders if US-based editors have ever done a fact-checking of Adelstein’s work.
A quick check of Adelstein’s stories find wild assertions based almost entirely on what appears to be a variety of unnamed sources who seemingly only give access and information to Adelstein, not any other foreign journalist. The story, which reads like a public indictment of yakuza and the nuclear industry, quotes 14 unnamed sources, and only 3 named sources: two authors with axes to grind against the yakuza, and TEPCO.
–Dec. 30, The Yakuza and Nuclear Mafia: Nationalization Looms for Tepco
The first paragraph begins with unnamed government sources.
-Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) … is on the brink of nationalization according to Japanese government sources.
That’s a major claim, considering TEPCO is responsible for one of the worst industrial disasters in history, and it provides electricity to the world’s largest metropolis. Four months later, TEPCO has not been nationalized. If Adelstein’s “government sources” were wrong, it’s impossible for other reporters to hold them accountable.
Adelstein then tells us the “official” story and “unofficial” version.
-Unofficially, the firm (TEPCO) has such long-standing ties to anti-social forces, including the yakuza—that some members of the Diet, Japan’s national legislature, feel the firm is beyond salvation and needs to be taken over and cleaned up. A Japanese Senator with the Liberal Democratic Party stated on background, “TEPCO’s involvement with anti-social forces and their inability to filter them out of the work-place is a national security issue. It is one reason that increasingly in the Diet we are talking de facto nationalization of the company. Nuclear energy shouldn’t be in the hands of the yakuza. They’re gamblers and an intelligent person doesn’t want them to have atomic dice to play with.”
The problem is, a politician can say anything “on background”, and spin a story their way when they don’t have to be held accountable for their statements. Adelstein apparently didn’t go the extra mile to find other named sources to back up this Senator’s alleged claim.
And it’s not just any claim. It’s a claim that criminal organizations, under US sanctions for alleged involvement in various international smuggling rings, have their hands on nuclear materials in Japan, and they are gambling with “atomic dice.” That’s enough to keep people awake at night.
Next, Adelstein cites Tomohiko Suzuki, whose credibility is based on editing a former yakuza fan magazine. Suzuki made waves in Tokyo media circles by claiming he snuck his way into a job cleaning up the damaged Fukushima reactors, and used a hidden “James Bond camera” to record evidence until TEPCO found out he was a journalist and kicked him off their property.
As Adelstein writes:
–In reporting for Yakuza and the Nuclear Industry Tomohiko Suzuki was able to get into the reactor as a cleanup worker under false pretenses (sic) partly by using organized crime connections. According to Suzuki, three of the fabled “Fukushima Fifty” who stayed behind during the most dangerous days of high-level radiation leaks were local yakuza bosses and soldiers. He does not specify which groups they belonged to.
In essence, Adelstein is telling readers and other journalists to trust a former yakuza fan magazine editor who used “organized crime connections” to lie his way into a job. Yet Adelstein claims that Suzuki’s book “presents more solid pieces of evidence that Japan’s nuclear industry is a black hole of criminal malfeasance, incompetence, and corruption.” Adelstein backs up this claim with more unverifiable claims. “Police sources also recognize that yakuza have been supplying labor to the area for decades.”
As is his habit, Adelstein attempts to bolster his authority by flashing his knowledge of Japanese, quoting an unnamed gangster (possibly his driver):
One yakuza explains it as folk wisdom, “Otoko wa Genpatsu, Onna was Seifuzoku･男は原発、女は性風俗”–, in other words, “When a man is has (sic) to survive doing something, it’s the nuclear industry; for a woman, it’s the sex industry.”
For the next piece of evidence to support his claims, he quotes an unnamed gangster:
The Fukushima plant is located in the turf of the Sumiyoshi-kai, which is the second largest yakuza group in Japan with roughly 12,000 members; it has a well-known office in Tokyo’s Ginza District and operates under the banner Hama Enterprise. One mid-level executive in the organization even defends the role of his members in the Fukushima disaster. “The accident isn’t our fault,” he said. “It’s TEPCO’s fault. We’ve always been a necessary evil in the work process. In fact, if some of our men hadn’t stayed to fight the meltdown, the situation would have been much worse. TEPCO employees and the Nuclear Industry Safety Agency inspectors mostly fled; we stood our ground.”
Did gangsters really stand their ground when others fled nuclear explosions? It’s likely to become part of the Yakuza lore, thanks to Adelstein and yakuza fanzine editors. But it hasn’t been officially confirmed by TEPCO or anyone else. Even if three brave workers at the reactors are somehow linked to the Sumiyoshi gang, does it mean that the 12,000-member gang, as a whole, “stood our ground”? No, it possibly means three people did, and readers can’t even be sure they are gangsters.
Next, Adelstein writes: However, while the symbiotic relationship between TEPCO and the yakuza has existed for decades, the relationship is officially “unacceptable.
In other words, he’s saying there’s no confirmation of this alleged collusion between yakuza and TEPCO. Yet Adelstein throws around this “fact” to support other claims that the Japanese National Police Agency are probing this alleged collusion. TEPCO, he says, “have been working with the Japanese National Police Agency (JNPA) to accomplish this (exclusion of yakuza) but sources inside that agency are dubious as to whether there have been any real results.”
Therefore, based on what sources allegedly said, one could also conclude that a police probe hasn’t yielded results because there is no “symbiotic relationship” between TEPCO and yakuza. In this case, a western-trained reporter might only be able to go with TEPCO’s official quote: “We want people to widely know our exclusionary stance towards organized crime.”
Next, Adelstein makes an even bigger claim — that 140 people are “unaccounted for”.
The JNPA has directed TEPCO from as early as June, to keep the yakuza out—although many of the subcontractors of the subcontractors are known yakuza front companies. Over 140 workers have been found to have used fake names when getting jobs doing reconstruction work and are presently unaccounted for.
Four months later, Adelstein hasn’t told readers what happened to these 140 people, who must have families and friends. Did they die of radiation sickness? Did they walk off the job and go home? Are they still working there?
Finally, Adelstein quotes yet another unnamed officer (or has it been one officer all along) indicating that police might someday arrest TEPCO executives:
TEPCO will probably not be held responsible for the second or third tier firms to which the work is further subcontracted. A senior National Police Agency officer, speaking on grounds of anonymity said, “I doubt these meetings with TEPCO have produced any great results. TEPCO has a history of doing business with the yakuza that is far deeper than just using their labor. Under the new laws that went into effect on October 1st, providing capital or profits to anti-social forces becomes a crime. The TMPD (Tokyo Metro Police Department) may have to issue TEPCO a warning. After the warning, there could be arrests.”
The reality is, more than four months after this story appeared on the Atlantic Wire, there have been no confirmed reports of arrests at TEPCO, a crackdown on alleged yakuza connections to the “Nuclear Village”, nor a nationalization of TEPCO. But if all of the above do happen, Adelstein will be in a position to claim he broke the story or somehow made it all happen.
During the Olympus scandal, Adelstein often claimed to be informing the New York Times and others during clandestine meetings. Yet his coverage for the Atlantic Wire raises questions about veracity.
To lead off his February article on Olympus, he quotes “The Tokyo Stock Exchange” (not a named person): “it is very hard to imagine that we would delist Olympus.”
Next, Adelstein propagates his myth that he is well-connected to the police and underworld with this line: According to sources close to the investigation, further charges, including money laundering and violations of the anti-organized crime laws are also being considered.
((Two months later, these charges still haven’t been laid.))
Next, he writes:
The FBI White Collar Crimes Division is handling the case, although the Asian Organized Crimes Division wanted to take the lead and was rebuffed, according to US Department of Justice sources. ((Again, unnamed.)) The Asian Organized Crimes Division … are anxious for a chance to investigate Japanese organized crime influence in the international financial market. Due to FBI internal hierarchies, the White Collar Crimes Unit will probably remain the lead. However, internal squabbling as to which direction to take the Olympus case is not limited to the US.
Again, it’s impossible to verify.
Sources close to the SESC said that the leaks to the press came from the office of the Minister of Financial Services and that they were a surprise to the ground level investigators, who felt they had been hamstringed (sic). Officially the SESC refused to comment on what recommendations they did or did not make.
This is a whopper of a claim, essentially saying the Minister of Financial Services is duping the detectives. Adelstein doesn’t stop there. He goes on to assail Shizuka Kamei, one of Japan’s most powerful politicians, again with “info” from unnamed sources saying he’s linked to gangsters.
–The same sources when reached today said, “It’s obvious that there was a crime committed and the prosecution and police are doing their jobs well. Why the top people in our agency felt that only administrative punishment was appropriate is a mystery.” According to several sources, since 2009, when Shizuka Kamei, who is also known for his links to the organized crime syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, was appointed the Minister of Financial Services, the agency has been turned from a pit bull cracking down on criminal activity in Japan’s financial world into a lap dog of the ruling coalition. During Kamei’s reign under the guise of “freeing up credit”, the Financial Services Agency inspections manual was rewritten to be laxer and banks were strongly encouraged to loan money without doing strict due diligence. This greatly benefitting organized crime entities which often take out small business loans on fraudulent pretenses and default on them, keeping the bulk of the money. The current minister of financial services, Jimi Shozaburo, is a member of Kamei’s political party and his protégé.
Even if true, as many privately suggest, it’s a heavyweight assertion based solely on dubious sources, flimsy evidence and scuttlebutt. Yet the Atlantic Wire ran it, perhaps trusting Adelstein’s mystique of being the most-informed foreign reporter in Japan. Would the Atlantic Wire, or any other major news organization, run a libellous claim, based on unnamed sources and no verifiable evidence, against US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner? It’s highly unlikely. But in the media culture of Japan, where people are not encouraged to question authority, Adelstein not only gets away with it, he is praised for it.
The Best Witness Protection Program in Japan
During Hessler’s trip to Missouri last April, some of Adelstein’s relatives and oldest friends mentioned how they hoped he could change his life for the better and go beyond “the character that he had created” in Japan. Adelstein’s wife, who cares about him enough to live with Adelstein’s family in Missouri, told Hessler that she had often begged him to find a different career, to overcome his obsession with the yakuza.
Indeed, Adelstein has marketable talents that could earn him far more money than writing on a blog, hawking a book, and seeking damages in court from other journalists. Unlike Jayson Blair or other fraudulent journalists, Adelstein’s mastery of a foreign language and culture is no fabrication. His knowledge of Japanese, especially yakuza slang, is ultimately what brings him respect from fans and foes alike. Given his gifts for comedy and acting, he could naturally move up the media food chain to become a celebrity on Japanese TV alongside the likes of David Specter and Patrick Harlan.
Even if he insists on playing the role of uber underworld reporter, Adelstein could still win over many critics by rebranding Tokyo Vice as fiction based on personal experiences, and doing a new series of rock solid investigative stories with verifiable information. His upcoming books about “The Last Yakuza” and “The Nine-Fingered Economy” could be his best chance to silence his detractors. For all the hype about him in the Japanophile blogosphere, Adelstein’s writing career in English is only just beginning, and he could indeed blossom into a best-seller of global repute. Tokyo needs good investigative reporters, as well as comedians. Much will depend on whether he can put aside his Tokyo vices, and embrace what others perceive as his Tokyo virtues.
——- 30 ——-