Pulp! Influences: Jake Adelstein

Today I’ll be writing about American journalist Jake Adelstein, specifically his true-crime book, Tokyo Vice (2009).

Tokyo Vice is Adelstein’s memoirs of working at the Yomiuri Shinbun from 1993-2005. The Yomiuri is a Japanese language newspaper and Adelstein is one of a tiny number of foreigners to have worked within the Japanese press (not on the English language editions) and the only westerner ever admitted to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police press club.

The book covers his experiences from leaving university to cutting his teeth as a cub reporter in Saitama then moving on to covering crime and vice in Tokyo, where a scoop involving yakuza bosses receiving liver transplants in the US draws the attention of some extremely dangerous men who force him out of the country.

It reads like a noir tale and the stories he recounts – from self-help guides to suicide, self-immolation, and sex slavery in the seedy Roppongi and Kabuki-cho districts – are often more strange and wild than any crime fiction.

Coupled with this is a true understanding – and love – for Japanese culture, even as he exposes some of the country’s darkest secrets. Indeed, the attitude of permissiveness towards gang on gang violence and the sex trafficking of foreign women shown by the police and the press alike is staggering.

Adelstein’s depiction of Tokyo’s underbelly, and his in-depth knowledge of the yakuza, was a big influence on Beaten to a Pulp!, specifically The Mule and the Samurai (excerpt below) – a story of a former gangster hunted by a demon after a drug deal goes sour.

I have always loved Japan (beginning with playing Final Fantasy and watching Pokémon, Studio Ghibli films and Battle Royale) and was lucky enough to visit Tokyo last September. It was shortly after this trip that I started writing the stories that became Beaten to a Pulp! and Japan features in more than one.

Its narrow izakaya bars, unique food, bizarre mix of ancient-looking (but usually not that old – a lot of the old city was destroyed in the great Kanto earthquake then again in the Second World War) shrines among sky-scrapers and blazing neon signs make for a fascinating backdrop to any story, the setting itself adding colour and magic to the ordinary.

A tip of the hat to some of my favourite Japanese authors who also inspired my writing: Natsuo Kirino, Haruki Murakami, Ryu Murakami, Yasunari Kawabata, and Yuya Sato.

Martin Cruz Smith’s Tokyo Station (2002) is also a brilliant depiction of Japan on the eve of war and I have to mention William Gibson’s (more on him later) cyberpunk Japan of the future in Neuromancer (1984) as a big influence on my stories.

Read Beaten to a Pulp! here.

(Photo: Random House)

The Mule and the Samurai

Maw’s cancer made him go back. Fifty Parliaments a day; it’d finish anybody. She hadn’t quit either. So now Hiroshi had a gym bag full of product and a piece digging into his ribs under a too-big coat, going on-foot to the drop off. The bag was worth a hundred K if it made the grade – his share was a fifth. That meant at least two years in a hospital cot for mum: pills, treatments, food, and twenty-four-hour care. Or, he could buy the whole term and a funeral too if he ripped it off and skipped out of town. Maybe get a good deal for buying two funerals, a shared plot, though no doubt Takeshi would assume the bottom of the Sumida would be good enough for him. He felt he would know which choice to make once the weight of the money was in his hand.

Hiroshi slid sideways through the crowds in Shinjuku, the bag of gear knocking against peoples’ knees. He pulled his Swallows baseball cap down to shield his face from the pummelling rain and gaudy neon. He left the main streets and approached Golden Gai through Hanzono shrine. It was late but a couple of gaijin tourists in waterproof jackets were clapping, bowing and ringing the bell.

Sky scrapers loomed above on all sides, the blinking red lights on their rooftops the only stars in the night sky. The claustrophobic alleys and two-storey flats of Golden Gai were a welcome change, a relief from the vertigo of high-rises towering overhead. Red lanterns and noren curtains welcomed strangers into the narrow bars of izakayas at every turn and along every street, some welcome and warm, others dingy and dangerous, all with space for only a handful of stools at the counter and nothing more. Most of the lights were out.

Hiroshi found the place with black noren and no sign above the door. It was a relic of Golden Gai’s post-war history as a black market left almost unchanged. He stole a glance over his shoulder. Takeshi always said professionals didn’t look over their shoulders. They were simply aware. In all the years working for the man Hiroshi hadn’t bought into this and had always looked over his shoulder. Sometimes people were following. He looked again and went inside.

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