TOKYO (TR) – The shocking revelation that Japanese yakuza gangsters received liver transplants in the U.S. over a four-year period might not have ever come to light had crime reporter Jake Adelstein accepted a six-figure compensation payment to kill the story, the writer said Wednesday at a press luncheon.
The upper echelon of the gangster organization involved was worried that the transplant scandal, which involved a top yakuza executive making a back-door deal with the FBI, would create chaos within the group once the story went public.
Adelstein, author of the recently released memoir “Tokyo Vice,” an account of his 12-year stint of working the crime beat for the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest newspaper, first broke the story in the Washington Post in May, 2008. But prior to its publication he met with members of a gang affiliated with the organ recipients and explained his intentions. He was subsequently given an offer that he could refuse: a $300,000 pay-off — later upped to $500,000 — if he would not file the article.
“I would say that I thought about it for the length of a clove cigarette,” said Adelstein at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. “But I said no, because you don’t want to be owned by these guys.”
Many of the characters filling out the 352 pages of “Tokyo Vice” are, as expected, tattooed and pinkie-less hoods, but readers are as well given an insight into understanding the way the Japanese police operate, limitations placed upon the media and how a foreigner is able to blend into this bizarre and chaotic world.
Following the successful completion of the paper’s entry exam in 1993, the 40-year-old Jewish-American from Columbia, Missouri began covering Japan’s seamier side. The book recounts his investigations into serial rape and child pornography, but its greatest scoop was in providing details on how Tadamasa Goto, then the head of the Yamaguchi-gumi affiliate, the Goto-gumi, and three others were able to receive liver transplants at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center between 2000 and 2004.
In order to receive a visa, Goto brokered a deal with the FBI by providing information on money laundering, yakuza member names and dates of birth. Writer and underworld authority Manabu Miyazaki, an associate of Goto, told Adelstein that the reason the FBI made the deal with Goto was because he specifically had useful knowledge about North Korea. “The FBI was so concerned about fake (U.S. currency) notes that were circulating at the time,” Adelstein said. “That was one of the things he proffered to the bureau, which is why they made the deal.”
The book also offers a first-hand view into the inner workings of Japan’s rigid press system — one that Adelstein describes, from a investigative journalism point of view, as “unfriendly” with the content of stories typically being dictated by the police.
As an example, Adelstein conveyed an incident that took place in 2004, when numerous drug users had dropped dead from taking cocaine laced with heroin in the Roppongi district of Tokyo. He subsequently wrote up the story in spite of a police request that he abstain, a move that cost him future access to drug-related crime information.
“If you write something that is not approved by the cops,” he 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.”
Note: Photo of Jake Adelstein by Uchujin-Adrian Storey www.uchujin.co.uk. “Tokyo Vice” (Pantheon) was released on October 13.