Whiting revels in the seamy side of Japan. One of the mysteries of the Orient is how an ultra-orderly, respectful,...


TOKYO UNDERWORLD: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan

Whiting revels in the seamy side of Japan. One of the mysteries of the Orient is how an ultra-orderly, respectful, duty-bound culture can coexist with a corruption-riddled political and business world. Whiting, a journalist based in Japan (You Gotta Have Wa, 1989), notes this tension but offers no explanations; indeed, this is not the place to look for insights into Japan or even its criminal element. If you want lurid stories featuring colorful miscreants and shady deals, however, this book is for you. Whiting picks up the action during the post-WWII American occupation period, where shortages of everything produced a widespread black market. Among those trying to cash in was Nick Zappetti, an American soldier who remained in Japan after his discharge and whose first score involved smuggling 20,000 lighter flints inside a Ford convertible. A lifetime of wild schemes, one solid business venture--the first American-style restaurant featuring pizza in Tokyo--and several tense encounters built Zappetrti's's reputation for toughness and earned him the mostly honorary title of ""king of the Tokyo mafia."" While the book is loosely (very loosely) organized around Zappetti and includes description of a personal life even more amusing than his criminal activities--setting records for number of marriages to Japanese women by a foreigner and number of lawsuits filed in the Japanese courts--there is no shortage of characters here: Rikidozan, the judo-chopping wrestler who began his career as a mobster by starring in professional wrestling matches as the vanquisher of hulking Americans; Machii, the Tokyo gang boss who was always accompanied by a bodyguard half his size; Tanaka, the politician who took the art of political corruption to new levels. The presentation is entirely anecdotal with no pretense at analysis, but Zappetti's life would hold anyone's interest.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 1999


Page Count: 384

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1998

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