Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan (1999)

by Robert Whiting

The sub-title of Robert Whiting's fine book is a bit misleading.


Robert Whiting

The American gangster in question often disappears from the narrative for long stretches while Whiting explains the extensive history of collusion between Japanese politicians and the yakuza.


Nevertheless, the result is a fascinating social history with plenty of entertaining anecdotes and colorful character profiles.


Chief among the latter is Nick Zapetti himself, the "gangster" who made a fortune with pizza parlors that became the hangout of choice for expatriates, entertainers, and, most significantly, those who make their living on the wrong side of the law, and then lost that fortune through a combination of stubbornness, bad luck, and ignorance.


"Tokyo Underworld" (Japanese)

Another highlight is the career of Rikidozan, the former sumo wrestler who became a national hero and single-handedly established professional wrestling in Japan by defeating foreign wrestlers in scripted bouts, all the while hiding his Korean heritage. Often very funny, this book appeals to both a taste for the prurient and seamy and the desire for a serious, even-handed analysis of the role of organized crime, political selfishness, and short-sighted anti-Communism in Japan's rise to power and wealth.


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