Played, reviewed and fact-checked. With the Yakuza.

Several months ago, I introduced you to Jake Adelstein, the fearless-to-a-fault Jewish-American reporter who spent 12 years as a crime beat reporter in Japan and wrote about it in his book Tokyo Vice. In Tokyo Vice, we meet Adelstein's arch-nemesis, a former yakuza boss named Tadamasa Goto; we also learn Adelstein he has a hodge podge of allies in the pervasive Japanese underworld. Turns out he's good enough friends with a few high-ranking gangster bosses that he was able to convince them to conduct an experiment for Boing Boing: to evaluate Yakuza 3, a popular video game about the infamous gangsters created for ordinary citizens. And so it was that Adelstein showed up at a shady real estate office in Tokyo one Thursday afternoon with a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of Duty-Free whiskey to teach these gangsters how to handle a PlayStation controller. — Lisa

It's a Thursday afternoon in Tokyo, and I'm sitting in the reception area of a real estate rental agency playing a video game. The real estate agency is actually a front company for the yakuza — the reception area doubles as a mini mob office, and on the same floor are the living quarters for young yakuza in training. The young yakuza come in and out of the room on occasion to empty the ashtrays and pour us tea. A security camera gazes down at us from the door.

This spring, Sega USA released Yakuza 3, the US version of the popular yakuza simulation/action game Ryu Ga Gotoku 3. The player takes on the role of Kazama Kiryu, a former yakuza boss and legendary enforcer. The story revolves around Kiryu's new life as the manager of an orphanage and his return to mob life when a real estate development project in Okinawa — linked to corrupt politicians, another yakuza group, and the CIA — results in circumstances which force him to fight back and protect the orphanage from being torn down. He must avenge attacks on his nobler yakuza brethren and reunite his former gang. In the process, he visits hostess clubs, reads sleazy magazines in convenience stores, and kicks the ass of every street-punk and loser that crosses his path. He also spends the first part of the game taking care of cute orphan kids and cooking for them. (Rarely have schmaltz and violence been so well integrated into a console game!) As Kiryu, the player gets to explore in depth the island of Okinawa and the red-light district of Tokyo, Kabukicho (renamed Kamurocho for the game).

As a game for katagi (yakuza slang for "civilians" or "non-yakuza"), it's tremendous fun — but what do the yakuza think of this game? How do they rate it? I was able to get three reviewers from the major crime groups who do not want to be identified by their real name. (While yakuza fan magazines do exist and the yakuza are not a hidden part of Japanese society, due to recent crackdowns by the police, the "reviewers" here choose to remain anonymous.) Midoriyama is a now-retired former mid-level faction boss. Shirokawa is a high-ranking boss from a different group connected to Midoriyama through a ritual sake exchange. Kuroishi knows them both but is also from a different group.

I enlist the aid of a teenager to show the yaks how to actually play a videogame. Even then, it's tough going. Of the three reviewers, only Kuroishi manages to play it all the way to the end. Two of the three are missing their pinkies — in the old days, when a yakuza or his subordinates screwed up, they chopped off pinkies as an act of atonement — and this seems to affect their gameplay.

Except for some hamonjo — notices of expulsion of a yakuza member circulated amongst yakuza groups — taped to the wall above the couch, this could be a waiting room at the Sony headquarters. There's a small bookshelf full of phone directories, files, manga, magazines, and DVDs. (Among the comic books I notice several issues of Shizukanarudon, a long running comedy series about a white collar worker employed at a women's underwear manufacturing company by day and transforms into a tough-as-nails yakuza boss at night.) The only other slightly unusual detail is a semi-nude centerfold of a young Japanese porn star posted on the wall, close to the door, with her signature on it.

I ask the yakuza to compare the game as they play it to their actual life experiences as yakuza; here are some highlights.


M: I've never been to Okinawa, but Kabukicho is dead on.
S: You mean the old Kabukicho. Governor Ishihara's totally ruined the place. It's like a ghost town.
K: It's like going back in time. Koma Theater is there, the pink salons, the Pronto Coffee shops, the Shinjuku Batting center, the love hotels.
S: You got your salaryman in there, the delinquent school girl and her sugar daddy, Chinese people, and even those Nigerian touts. What's with all the fucking gaijin (foreigners) in the area anyway? It used to be just Japanese, Koreans and Chinese.
M: Don't say gaijin. Say Gaikokujin. It's more polite. Jake's a gaijin.
S: Yeah, I forget sometimes. What's with all the fucking gaikokujin in Kabukicho anyway?
K: Internationalization. The world's a smaller place. The Nigerians? They marry Japanese chicks. They get a permanent visa. They stay. The cops can't get rid of them and they're good at steering customers into shady places. The young Japanese punks we hire, they give up, they don't browbeat drunks into bringing business to our establishments. They got no backbone. The Nigerians are aggressive. They can make good touts. By the way, Adelstein, usually when we say gaijin we mean non-Asian foreigners like you and the Nigerians. Not the Chinese or the Koreans.
S: Yeah, Koreans are chosenjin, not gaijin.
M: I like the fact that you power up by eating real food. Shio ramen gives you a lot of power — CC Lemon, not as much. It all makes sense.
S: The breaded pork cutlet bento box is like mega power. More than ramen. That's accurate.
K: If they had shabu (crystal meth) as a power-up item, that would be realistic. It's a yakuza game.
S: They have sake!
M: Kiryu is an executive, right? We all know the guys at the top don't drink or do speed.
S: Yeah, not anymore.
M: Can you smoke in the game? I forget. That should be a power-up.
S: Cigarettes and shabu should be in every yakuza game.


Author's note: A heated discussion takes place as to whether the game is stereotyping the yakuza, which is resolved when Midoriyama points out that the stereotypes about the yakuza are more or less correct, with the exception of their alleged prowess in martial arts.

M: The corporate yakuza guys get a thumbs up for realism. Nice suit. Smart. Financially savvy. Obsessed with money. Sneaky and conniving. Ruthless.
S: There are a lot of guys whom I feel like I know. The dialogue is right too. They sound like yakuza.
K: Braggarts, bullies, and sweet-talkers. I agree — it feels like I know the guys on the screen.
M: Kiryu is the way yakuza used to be. We kept the streets clean. People liked us. We didn't bother ordinary citizens. We respected our bosses. Now, guys like that only exist in video games.
S: I don't know any ex-yakuza running orphanages.
K: There was one a few years ago. A good guy.
M: You sure it wasn't just a tax shelter?
K: Sure it was a tax shelter but he ran it like a legitimate thing. You know.


Author's note: Kuroishi and Shirokawa are both wearing dark green suits, the former by Armani and the latter handmade in the posh Ginza district from local fabric. Midoriyama is wearing gray sweatpants and a faded sweatshirt emblazoned with a drawing of Doraemon.

M: What's the deal with Kiryu's scarlet red shirt? He's supposed to be a former boss of the Inagawakai--and he dresses like a chinpira (low level yakuza punk). He's a yakuza, not a host.
S: Except for Kiryu's crappy shirt, it's realistic. The top executive yakuza are all wearing good suits. They look like businessmen. The cabaret girls have incredible outfits.The hosts in the game are dressed like hosts. Somebody did his homework.
K: The lady cop, her outfit is perfect too. The boring black suit with the white blazer. That's what a woman yakuza cop dresses like.
M: Except for Kiryu's shirt, good. And his tattoo.
S: Not much of a tattoo.
K: Only on his back as far as I can tell. Maybe he ran out of enough money to get it finished.


Author's note: Midoriyama gets very excited during the fighting sequences, standing up from the couch at points and actually lurching towards the screen. Kuroishi never loses his cool playing the game and keeps practicing combinations until he gets it right. Shirokawa curses under his breath, but whenever he wins he yells "Yatta!". They all agree that the combat is strictly fantasy material, with some exceptions.

S: Nobody ever dies. It's unrealistic.
K: Kiryu is fighting all the time. He's gotta be a fucking idiot. No yakuza is going to run around getting into fistfights like that. Especially not an executive type. He'll wind up in jail or in the hospital or dead, maybe even whacked by his own people for being a troublemaker. These days, he'd probably get kicked out before even going to jail. Guys like that start gang wars and nobody wants that now. When a yakuza gets into a fight, it's serious business.
M: A real fight--it's short and it's brutal. Over in a minute. Nobody goes around trading blows and crap like that. Usually the first guy to punch wins.
K: I like that you can grab things like ashtrays or billboards and beat the crap out of the punks bothering you. Or smash their faces into car windows. That's what you'd really do in a fight, grab something and use it as a weapon.
S: Why doesn't he just shoot them?
K: That would be unrealistic. Nobody is going to waste a bullet on some street punk, like the ones that keep bugging Kiyru.
M: If they wanted to make it realistic, he'd pull out a gun and shoot it and miss! Or the damn thing wouldn't fire. That would be realistic. (They all laugh).
K: Shooting people sends a message.
M: So does shooting anything. Shooting people gets you sent to jail.
K: That's part of the job description.


M: The whole plot about resort expansion in Okinawa and the CIA and the politicians involved and all that? Wow. That game came out last year, right. That's totally happening in Okinawa right now.
K: The politicians and the yakuza always have worked together. The game has got that right.
S: Yakuza and politicians, pretty much the same thing. We all have badges, we all have factions, we all have our oyabuns (father-figures).
M: Don't forget that there are some yakuza who became politicians.
K: And still are. The CIA part of the story, I don't buy though. Too nutty for me. What do you think Adelstein? You used to work for them right.
A: I never worked for the CIA. Well, not directly.
M: The Mossad. You're Jewish.
K: He'll never admit it.
A: I'll admit it. I'm Jewish. You overestimate the CIA. The CIA is not nearly as competent an organization as the Yamaguchi-gumi.
S: Well, I guess they wanted to make the game more international. And let's face it, these days, Americans and the CIA make great villains.
K: And the Japanese yakuza kick their ass! Go Japan go!


Overall, the game is favorably received by the three yakuza playing it. While it vilifies organized crime in many parts, in the end it glorifies the yakuza and gives the protagonist just cause — it was good PR for their profession. Plus, it is not wildly off the mark in depicting the modern yakuza. Ironically, the sections that Shirokawa seemed to enjoy the most were cut out of the US version: mahjong, the sexual massage parlor, and the hostess clubs. After I explain to him what Sega cut from the US version, he said: アメリカ版を買った奴がかわいそうだ。セガUSAが最低だね.(Translation: I feel sorry for the people who bought the American version. SEGA USA sucks.)

Words: Jake Adelstein • Edits: Lisa Katayama • Design: Rob Beschizza • Screens: Sega

114 Responses to “Yakuza 3 reviewed by Yakuza”

  1. MrJM says:

    God bless you for using this format.

    This may be the most readable thing I’ve ever seen on the internets.

    • oohShiny says:

      I’ll second that, it was a brilliant format. The content was amazing too :)

    • jamiethehutt says:

      >>This may be the most readable thing I’ve ever seen on the internets.

      Ever since I got an ebook reader I’ve been copying articles onto that to read, if this was a little longer I’d have done it with this. Since getting my ebook reader I’ve really realised just how crap computer screens are for reading on…

    • Jake Adelstein says:

      Please thank the designer, Rob and Lisa Katayama. I can barely color by numbers let alone design anything.

  2. AbKi says:

    Truly brilliant. I really enjoyed this, thanks for posting it!

  3. Powell says:

    Amazing! great article!

  4. damageman says:

    I love it!

    I really love that the Yakuza reviewers are now afraid to put the name of their organizations out there. Very funny. A little bit of baseball betting and Sumo seems to have been enough to take down the Yakuza. Or at least it was the beginning of the end for them.

    • Jake Adelstein says:

      It’s not just the baseball and the Sumo. The yakuza, or rather the Yamaguchi-gumi Kodokai (4,000) the largest faction in the Yamaguchi-gumi (40,000) have so antagonized the police and broke so many of the unwritten rules that allowed the police and the yakuza to sort of strangely co-exist, that the cops and the prosecutors declared war in September of last year. Literally.
      Ando Tokuharu, the head of the National Police Agency made a speech and set up a special division to crush the Kodokai. And the sumo investigation is one battle in that war. The Kodokai is pulling back. There are fewer “card-carrying” yakuza. Banks are now closing yakuza accounts down. The National Police Agency is sharing its data on organized crime with the finance industry for the first time ever. It’s a whole new game. If you’re really interested in the meats and bones of the whole thing, see and search for “Kokokai.”

  5. blueelm says:

    This is an awesome review, and also a beautiful format.

  6. Trent Hawkins says:

    this is amazing!

    Also, Sega US sucks!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Makes me want to buy the game (not the US version though) and I don’t even play games. Kudos for getting realistic evaluations.

  8. Anonymous says:

    This was phenomenal. The dialogue is fantastic- so personal, trite, and human. The format, layout, and selection were a real treat – this is what the intertubes were made for- expanding our world, brining the words of people we would never have met into our lives in such a personal, intimate way we can extend our concept of “us”, perhaps even gradually erasing the poisonous social concept of “other”.

    “…this seems to affect their gameplay.”, indeed. :::snort:::. Fucking delightful, the whole thing. Thank you so much.

  9. Krackatoa says:

    A very awesome piece. Probably my favourite bit of games journalism this year.

  10. Anonymous says:

    This was super awesome, much like your prior articles with Adelstein. Also loving the article layout (yay HTML5).

  11. Anonymous says:

    This is just awesome. Best piece of journalism on the internet.

  12. Daedalus says:


    I can’t wait until we have actual extraterrestrial reviewing Halo.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I hate to say it but I feel sorry for some of the mid-level yakuza. They worked for years and now they don’t even get a badge to wear. Kinda sucks for them.

  14. mdh says:

    Impressive piece in every aspect. Great concept, execution, editing, and design. Thanks for a good read!

  15. UnnecessaryUmlaut says:

    Well, well done. Such an interesting read. Thanks, BB!

  16. sg1969 says:

    Thank you for the article, was a very good read.

    Having been born and lived in Tokyo for 18 years, I did get the feeling that this game was failry authentic in its depiction of Yakuza, but it’s nice to have the real deal confirm this.

    The bit about the red shirt, i’m sure that was to appeal more to the younger generation, to whom the game is marketed. Like they say, only young “chinpira” dress like that.

    It’s true that most people don’t fear the Yakuza in general. You don’t toruble them, they don’t trobule you, and they do keep the streets clean from lesser gangs and wannabes who will start fights for the sake of it.
    I lived in an area which used to have a lot of Yakuza around, and I have never felt like I might be in danger or anything like that. At least thats how it used to be

  17. KittyHeart says:

    With only a passing interest in Yakuza, I found this fascinating. Kudos to the game developers for making such an accurate game; and to the journalists for such an article!

    The format is beautiful. Who says print has the monopoly on great presentation?

  18. max hodges says:

    some photos of Yazkuza in Kabukicho here:

  19. Anonymous says:

    What does Adelstein mean that he never worked for the CIA “directly”….? I think that’s the real story here.

    • Jake Adelstein says:

      It’s a joke! Sort of. I worked for a company a few years ago that had a lot of ex-CIA, ex-NSA, ex-DIA spooks working for them. They were all retired. I suppose that the firm might still have had some ties to the agency but I didn’t know and I didn’t want to know and I don’t ever plan on asking. So I’m just being honest when I say I never directly worked for the CIA. By the way, read LEGACY OF ASHES if you really want to know how the agency doesn’t function well or Bob Baer’s SEE NO EVIL. Both are excellent books. I like Bob a lot. One of the most enjoyable interviews I ever did was with him in DC. James Bamford and his books on the NSA (Puzzle Palace) are also excellent. Robert Whiting’s book TOKYO UNDERWORLD also discusses how US intelligence worked with the yakuza after the second world war. So the whole CIA/Yakuza connection isn’t as crazy as it sounds–if it was 1949.

  20. EscapingTheTrunk says:

    Props to Jake for going the Reservoir Dogs route and naming the guys Mr. Green, Mr. White, and Mr. Black. That was really cute.

    This was also a more thorough review than most of the ones I’ve ever seen or read. Maybe it’s because the guys weren’t regular gamers, but I felt like they noticed details that other reviewers miss. Like that thing about shio ramen vs. CC Lemon! Food in games always bugs me for exactly that reason.

    • sg1969 says:

      Damn, I havn’t even noticed that, all I thought was “what unusual fake names to pick” – need to pay more attention!

  21. JohnnyQuest says:

    Great article! More from Jake, please. (Sometimes they forget he’s a gaijin – how cool is that?)

    Also agree on the design – great job, Rob! I have a relatively small monitor, and the blocks fit perfectly. Easy read!

  22. Anonymous says:

    this had to be the best thing i’ve read all week

  23. flosofl says:

    What an interesting and original review.

    I also have to echo what others have said about the layout. I’m reading this on my iPad right now and each “page” fits almost perfectly on the screen in landscape. Very nice.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Awesome article! Stuff like this is why I come to BB!

  25. Anonymous says:

    Excellent work! I’m an American fan of Yakuza and a Japanese-language learner. Much appreciated!

  26. Anonymous says:

    This is great. You can tell a pro-writer from an amateur by the details they leave in for flavour. I want to go and find more of Adelstein’s wor know!

  27. insert says:

    I’m confused — why is Jake Adelstein’s religion relevant?

    • Raj77 says:

      It’s a reference to the conversation, presumably- the CIA/Mossad crack from his friend.

      • insert says:

        Mmk. Just strikes me as strange to identify Adelstein as Jewish in the first sentence of the intro in order to set up a gag many hundreds of words later.

        (But just so no one thinks I’m overly sensitive, I thought the CIA/Mossad joke was totally hilarious and not at all problematic. I just think the “Jewish-American” id is a little weird.)

    • invictus says:

      Now that you point it out, I’m not sure why Lisa chose to explicitly state Adelstein was Jewish. That said, one can be ethnically Jewish without practising Judaism.

  28. Anonymous says:

    “This may be the most readable thing I’ve ever seen on the internets.”

    Agreed. Read every single sentence.

  29. Peter K. says:

    Loved this exchange:

    S: What’s with all the fucking gaijin (foreigners) in the area anyway? It used to be just Japanese, Koreans and Chinese.
    M: Don’t say gaijin. Say Gaikokujin. It’s more polite. Jake’s a gaijin.
    S: Yeah, I forget sometimes. What’s with all the fucking gaikokujin in Kabukicho anyway?

    Like dialogue right out of a Tarantino film.

    • SamSam says:

      Loved this exchange […] Like dialogue right out of a Tarantino film.

      Totally agree, awesome dialog, and thanks for drawing attention to it.

      To make it more Tarantino, I mentally replaced the words with other words — e.g. “Don’t say cracker. Say white person. It’s more polite. Jake’s a cracker.”

  30. Anonymous says:

    Great read.

    and thank you for the remarkable presentation!

  31. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the article, it was really intriguing hearing a perspective I otherwise would have never heard.

  32. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been toying with picking up this title, and this review has made it that much more enticing. Great idea, great write. Very interesting to hear their perspective.

    Love the format as well.

  33. Anonymous says:

    A great article, presented beautifully. I wish more Web sites were doing pieces like this.

  34. fergus1948 says:

    This may be the only place I get to say this so…

    Thank you Jake for ‘Tokyo Vice.’ It’s the most riveting book I’ve read in ages and I should add that you must have cojones the size of footballs, my friend! An excellent book.

    And a fascinating review of the game here!

    • Jake Adelstein says:

      Thanks for the kind words. I don’t have cojones the size of footballs; I’m just obstinate and I hate to lose.

      I was a little surprised to about how insistent they were that street fighting was now unacceptable behavior but not “shocked.”

      There’s a great saying that the yakuza have about gang wars. It’s a variation or pun based on this saying: 勝てば官軍負ければ賊軍。Kateba kangun, makereba zokugun. Translates: “Win and you’re the imperial army, lose and you’re a bunch of pirates.” The yakuza version of this is: 勝てば監獄、負ければ地獄。 Kateba kangoku makereba jigoku. Translates as:” (Whack a rival gang member and) win and you go to jail; lose and you go to hell.”
      If you think about it that way, you can see why these guys would like to avoid fights.
      From my perspective, the same thing applies to getting on the wrong side of a yakuza group. You might win a battle but you won’t win a war.

      It was kind of fun getting together the three of them for this article. I’m always surprised at how rival gang members can get along with each other, even becoming blood brothers across organizational lines. It’s also surprising that they send each other New Year’s cards. I can’t imagine the Crips and the Bloods sending each other Christmas cards. Maybe it happens .

      • EscapingTheTrunk says:

        You know, you could probably pitch this article to NHK as a dorama, or something. 3 yakuza and a foreign reporter? Throw in a bar/corner store/hair salon and you’re ready for primetime. I’d watch. Granted, I’d have to wait for fansubs, but I’d watch. :)

  35. Verloren says:

    This review is probably the best I have ever read. Very interesting and in a super nice format that’s easy on the eyes and not overwhelmingly ‘texty’.

    I applaud the awesomeness of this idea and it’s execution!

  36. Anonymous says:

    what’s with all the praises about readable format?

    after reading this fantastic article , I assume there would be nine positive comments on the content for every one about the format.

    I think this article is truly boingboing wonderful.

    1) It’s about a game ; yet, it skips all the technical details which would not have been interesting to non-gamers. There’s probably more non-gamers than gamers on BB.
    2) Jake brought in actual Yakuza to comment on the game. There were (count-em) three members from different groups too. That’s heavy hitting journalism. How often do you see an article about anything where you get more than two sources.
    3) It’s not scripted/directed. It would be easy to interview the Yakuza, but instead, they were given free range to talk to each other.

    Brilliant! wish it was longer.

    • Jake Adelstein says:

      #43 It’s very hard to triangulate any article. Nice when you can. Thanks for recognizing the importance of that in the nuts and bolts of writing an article. It was much more fun to pose a question and let them talk amongst themselves. They have a nice banter going when they’re together

  37. Anonymous says:

    A review has never so much made me want to purchase a game.. even if the US version is inferior! Well done, Boing Boing!

    This was sent across my office and to friends

  38. dw_funk says:

    Thanks, Mr. Adelstein, this was really fascinating. I’m reminded of a New York Times blog a few years back that involved watching The Wire with actual gang members, and it was similarly interesting.

    And kudos to the Boing Boing crew as usual for continuing this trend of doing long stories justice with really good style. These articles are – by far – the best treatment of journalism I’ve seen in HTML.

  39. chrism says:

    Excellent feature – and a great pointer to the way long-form features ought to work on the net. Rolling Stone, Time, National Geographic etc are fine in print, but haven’t sorted their online presence yet. This was a superb example of gravitas plus web graphical excellence. Sterling work. More, please

  40. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for putting this article together! It’s one of the best I’ve read on BoingBoing – funny and informative. Jake, I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve seen of yours – thanks for the great reporting.

  41. Jamie Heron says:

    That was a great article, I particularly liked the discussion over whether or not a Yakuza would run an orphanage. “Of course it’s a tax shelter.” Is it bad that I laughed?

  42. Anonymous says:

    great article worthy of this outstanding layout.

    readers, yakuza, sega and the authors should be happy: (win win)²


  43. Anonymous says:

    I never had so much fun reading a Review, fantastic read.

  44. Anonymous says:

    I loved this article and definitely fascinated by the divers into the influx of some Nigerians in Tokyo into the Criminal underworld and their grudging respect for them. I found it Hilarious and poignant as a signifier of how small our world has become. I love the self-censorship of potentially racist terms because of the reporter presence. These people are so endearing that you almost forget that they are Yakuza until you read the part about them missing pinkies for screwing up.

    • Jake Adelstein says:

      They’re reasonably decent guys for yakuza. Each of them has their own code which they follow and while they are criminals, they are honorable in their own way and thus we manage to stay friends. Sometimes, they’re pretty funny as well. If every yakuza was a violent, lying, dishonorable sociopath—they wouldn’t be allowed to exist in Japan.

      Personally, I don’t mind the word “gaijin”. It’s just easier to say than “gaikokujin”. But if you want look at the word, gaijin, literally 外 (gai/outside) and 人(jin/person) then you can take it to mean something like “not human.” I don’t think it’s meant that way. Adding the 国(koku) just seems like more of a mouthful.

      • querent says:

        Thanks for weighing in, Mr Adelstein. I was not familiar with your work till now, and definitely feel like checking out Tokyo Vice now.

        Best of luck.

  45. Anonymous says:

    Great read and article. Nice to see a real opinion on the game and current affairs in Japan, not the typical dribble. The Nigerian thing was interesting too. Always interesting to see and hear the opinion of other races/cultures in a foreign country, even though they all seem to say the same thing (They are stealing our women) haha.

    Keep up the good work!

  46. will_orz says:

    As a HUGE fan of the Yakuza series, I love this article. Big kudos to you for getting some actual yakuza to play a Yakuza game! I wonder how they’d feel about the Kaoru romance subplot in Yakuza 2…

    Thankfully SEGA USA got the message and aren’t gonna cut anything out of Yakuza 4…

  47. Anonymous says:

    This was a fantastic idea for an article and well-executed.
    Well done.

  48. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic Article, those Yakuza were hilarious!
    It’s cool how they all say Kabukicho (Kamurocho) is dead-on, reference wise, but they say the ‘old’ Kabikicho.
    I was there in May, and like Shirokawa said, It was pretty dead, but only in the day-time, I went back at night and there was actually quite a lot of tourists around (and i did see some Yakuza, kinda scary looking btw)

  49. Anonymous says:

    Nice article. I didn’t like the demo for this game, but the article makes me want to buy the game. I like the layout like others said. I had to zoom in to read it on my TV and it magically fit everything to display perfectly.

  50. Anonymous says:

    Jake ,

    wonder if you can host a tv show with a revolving a cast of Yakuza , and may be a guest comedians, celebrity , actress for balance.

    The show can consist of a mix of tightly edited sections ranging from 3-12 minutes.

    Some ideas …
    – round table talk on latest news.
    – movie reviews of old or new gangster movies.
    – cooking (people like to talk while cooking).
    – traveling going to tourist places or local hole in the wall places
    – Sampling weird food or sake or beer
    – Yakuza narate their best stories – animated section or re-enactment
    – asks a Yakuza
    — real people given a mic to ask a question
    — e.g. a kid (4-7 yr old) – my brother beats me up , what should i do
    — e.g. what’s the best tattoo ?

    I bet that’ll be real popular and like nothing else anyone has ever seen. I think the key would be to have someone that is trusted/connected like you , Jake. Once they open up, it’ll just be editing to pull out the golden moments.

    • BastardNamban says:

      That is a fantastic idea. They need a variety show with “ask a Yakuza”.

      I’d watch it! It’d be better than watching endless commercials for old lady clothes and whale meat QVC.

      Fantastic layout, I wish everything on the net looked like this.

      Jake, this is hands down the best interview concept I’ve ever read. My hat’s off to your 3 gentlemen.


  51. blueelm says:

    This post has inspired me to finally read the book I ordered (due to BB too). I haven’t had a lot of time to read for pleasure lately.

    So far the writing is more of the same, which is to say really good!

  52. Darkpen says:

    I really enjoyed reading the article. Finally got around to it after seeing it linked at a few places. I love that you went and did this with real Yakuza to get a sense of how authentic the game is, and how it holds up.

    I wish there was a bit more to read, though, like a blow-by-blow transcription of their thoughts at some choice moments, or their entire argument over yakuza stereotypes.

  53. ju2tin says:

    If Jake were Christian, would you describe him as “Christian-American”?

    If not, then knock it off and stop treating Americans who happen to be Jewish as some kind of exotic special case. They’re Americans, and their religion is a separate and unrelated matter that should only come up if relevant to the subject at hand.

    • Jake Adelstein says:

      “Jewish-American” is how I’m defined in Japan and thus part of the description of how I’m introduced. I talk about it at length in Tokyo Vice but there is a significant number of people in Japan who believe that the Jews are a cult and/or race that control the world economy, thus I’m often reminded by Japanese cops and yakuza that not only am I an American–i’m a Jewish-American.
      Jews are a source of fascination to the Japanese public and Jewish conspiracy books always sell. My “jewishness” was brought up in my last job interview for the Yomiuri and I didn’t flinch. That’s just how it is.
      Really, about the only thing Jewish I do is celebrate Chanukah, and the only parts of the Bible (notice I don’t say Old Testament) I like are portions of Isiah and Ecclesiastes.
      Ecclesiastes is quite zen in some ways, and it’s nihilism is not far from the yakuza mindset.

      I also thought, “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”
      So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?

      9 Two are better than one,
      because they have a good return for their work:

      10 If one falls down,
      his friend can help him up.
      But pity the man who falls
      and has no one to help him up!

      11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
      But how can one keep warm alone?

  54. Anonymous says:

    A fantastic read, thank you so so much. Very very interesting. Would have loved a video :D

  55. Anonymous says:

    Easily the best video game related article I’ve read in a LONG while. It’s personal, engaging, and informative, and answers a question that’s been on my mind since the first Yakuza was released: how much truth could there be to this Yakuza game, anyway? Now I’m closer to knowing. Thanks for the excellent read!

    • Jake Adelstein says:

      Thank you! You are very welcome. The creator of the game did incredible research and it shows. I’d like to interview him some time. I’m going to try at least.

  56. Anonymous says:

    Super hardcore means you can wear Doraemon all you want.

  57. Anonymous says:

    I know I’m not the first to say it, but the layout was amazing! It makes the design nerd in me squee with joy.

    Hooray for good formatting for good writing!

  58. Anonymous says:

    Pretty good, Japan has an interesting culture.

  59. Jake Adelstein says:

    If you’re interested by Yakuza and/or Japan’s subculture/adult entertainment industry and are willing to read a book. Here are a couple of ones that I recommend:
    TOKYO UNDERWORLD by Robert Whiting
    Great true account of post-war yakuza history in Japan and a US mobster who tries to make it in Japan. Anything Bob writes about Japan is worth picking up.
    THE JAPANESE MAFIA: Yakuza, Law and the State by Peter Hill. The best academic thing I’ve ever seen written on the yakuza and their spheres of influence. Highly recommended.
    THE YAKUZA by David Kaplan and Dubro
    A seminal book on the yakuza that is a good introduction but slightly out of date now.
    TOKYO VICE. Well, it’s terribly immodest to recommend my own book but yet here I am doing just that. It’s not all about the yakuza either. It’s about the police beat, human trafficking, serial killers, suicide manuals, Japanese society, giri, ninjo, ATM robberies and the yakuza.
    If you can find a copy of MINBO (The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion) by the film director Itami Juzo, worth watching. Not out on DVD in the US but some VHS copies are still on Amazon. This movie got the director attacked and later, it probably got him killed in a staged suicide. Shows the yakuza at their worst.
    THE YAKUZA with Robert Mitchum and Takakura Ken (DVD available) show the Yakuza at their best.

  60. Jake Adelstein says:

    Also, I forgot three other great books. PINK BOX by Joan Sinclair is a beautifully done photo/text coffee table book about Japan’s sex industry. Unsurpassed. Amazing. JAPANAMERICA by Roland Kelts does a fantastic job of showing how Japanese pop culture has permeated the west and vice-versa. SEEING TOKYO by Kaori Shoji, is also an awesome phot book about Tokyo as an urban landscape. An eerie book in some ways. Kaori Shoji also writes the most acerbic and witty movie reviews I know for the Japan Times.

  61. VICTOR JIMENEZ says:

    Awesome and hilarious article! Love the readable format and the yakuza guest.

    The yakuza´s chat reads nearly as a 4Koma:

    “S: I don’t know any ex-yakuza running orphanages.
    K: There was one a few years ago. A good guy.
    M: You sure it wasn’t just a tax shelter?
    K: Sure it was a tax shelter but he ran it like a legitimate thing. You know. “

  62. humanresource says:

    Awesome game review. They’d give Zero Punctuation some serious competition if they animated it (and in Japan, how hard could that be?)

  63. Anonymous says:

    This article is great. I’m going to buy Tokyo Vice now.

  64. Anonymous says:

    Jake, have you ever read/heard of a book called “Yakuza Diary”, by Christopher Seymour?

    It’s the first book I read about the reality of the yakuza, and I’ve always wondered about the veracity of it, although it does seem to stroke with what I’ve read since on the subject.

    PS: great article, nice layout, but is there a chance we’ll get to see a less/un-edited version? Would that even be worthwhile?

    PPS: loved your other work on BB, too :)

    • Jake Adelstein says:

      I’ve heard of the book but have not read it yet so I can’t recommend it. WIll check it out this summer.

  65. Anonymous says:

    Awesome article!

  66. Anonymous says:

    Purchased the Japanese copy during a visit to Taiwan in 09, didn’t know it differed much from the US copy.
    good article

  67. Anonymous says:

    I bought your book for a close friend who loves reading about organized crime and he loved it, and this article is awesome, I LOVED Yakuza 3!

    Thanks for using a great format also!

    You should get the exact same 3 guys to review the 4th!

  68. Anonymous says:

    Awesome article! Great idea!

  69. Anonymous says:

    This is really a great article.

    Playing “Yakuza 2″ got me interested in the whole world of the yakuza.

    Regarding the Nigerians, I’ve had a friend, who used to teach English in Japan, managed to get them off his back. He acted NY-ghetto style to them and it worked for the most part.

    Is it just me or do yakuza seem stuck in the past? I spoke to some Japanese-American people and they told me it’s as if they’re still not used to modern society today in terms of racial diversity.

  70. Anonymous says:

    is it just me, or are there two homeless dudes making out in the background of the first picture??

  71. Anonymous says:

    Loved Shirokawa throughout the entire article and I especially agreed with him on SEGA USA being a bunch of spoilsports. Still don’t see why they had to cut any of it even after reading all of the excuses.

  72. Anonymous says:

    great great. I agree with all the comments. Good job, good layout. Nice to read something new and interesting.

  73. Santos says:

    Jake is buddies with Barry Eisler. He’s awesome and ex-CIA.

    The two Taxing Woman movies as well as Mimbo would be great released here with commentary by Jake and Barry.

    I bet Boing-Boing could make that happen.

  74. Anonymous says:

    Itami Juzo getting his face slashed up is a nice example of what
    happens when you depict the reality of the Yakuza. NHK’s Yakuza Money
    documentary was a great depiction of the modern yakuza but that was
    publicly funded. Burning Production and Yoshimoto Kogyo are both under
    control of organized crime (Yamaguchi-gumi) and are the most powerful
    players in the entertainment industry. So there.

    Re: “dramas and games
    in Japan must not depict the
    reality of yakuza or gang. Due to this moral code, TV dramas and games
    exaggerate yakuza, often exessively.” yes or no?

  75. Anonymous says:

    Is there any particular reason why two men kissing are depicted directly behind the yakuza figure in the first picture?
    Is some kind of symbolic message intended?

  76. jackm says:

    Well impressed. Thank you for this.

    Ever since I used to spend time hanging out with gang-members, I always thought it was interesting to see how the “other half” sees itself.

  77. 松本 says:

    Fantastic! I know it is very hard to make a good review like this even if the three yakuzas has good senses of humor, because I wrote some articles based on interviews in the past as a Japanese writer and know it takes much effort to capture what those Japanese people mean. When you put their words on the paper, suddenly the most interesting part vanishes. You need deep understandings to recreate what they really mean and this one is how it should be done. Thank you!

  78. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed reading this article as much as I found it educational. Thank you for posting it.

  79. kaolin fire says:

    Brilliant! :D

  80. Anonymous says:

    Bloody hilarious. How about a transcript of their banter in the actual Japanese? Authenticity for one thing, but it’d also be great for us students of 日本語. Still waiting on the Japanese version of Tokyo Vice!

  81. teapot says:

    Missing a stylesheet, Lisa? The Times is making my eyes bleed!

    Hey – what’s next? You gonna track down some Chikan to rate the realism of subway-rape games?

    The scum of the earth (Yakuza) should be taunted for the bottom-feeders they are and nothing more. They are all dirty little chimpira, if you ask me.

  82. teapot says:

    What’s with all the fucking gaikokujin in Kabukicho anyway?

    What does this moron think is gonna happen when one area of Shinjuku is dedicated to host/hostess clubs, strip clubs, brothels and love hotels? Also, if he wasn’t such an uncultured gronk, he might understand the influence of Nobuyoshi Araki’s work on the international fame of Kabukicho… but he’s a gronk.

    I personally dislike Kabukicho (They have an awesome pool hall though), but whenever I go there I think “Whats with all the fucking chimpira?” and “Don’t these lame old turds have anything better to do than hang at 4am in the gutters of Tokyo?”

  83. Anonymous says:

    It really just surprised me that Nigerians have such a big presence in Japan. Really? who would have thought?

  84. Anonymous says:

    Wow this is the best game review I have ever read. Both thumbs up for this amazing piece of work. I never would have thought to read such an unusual but fascinating review.

    Now where do I get a PS3 and the (uncut version) of the game .. damn ^^

  85. *bj* says:

    Absolutely great read, I couldn’t believe it when I found this article by chance after reading Tokyo Vice about 4 months ago and just getting Yakuza 3!

    Some real gems in there:

    “S: I don’t know any ex-yakuza running orphanages.
    K: There was one a few years ago. A good guy.
    M: You sure it wasn’t just a tax shelter?
    K: Sure it was a tax shelter but he ran it like a legitimate thing. You know.”

    Thank you Adelstein-san!

  86. Anonymous says:

    I have to say, this was a very entertaining and innovative way to review the already awesome game, not to mention the reactions and comments those yakuzas made. Not the typical “youngsters these days…” mentality all the way, instead open-minded, not over the top serious, and understandable. Now I wonder: if some western developer team would do a Godfahther game similar to the Yakuza games, what would those mobsters say about that?

  87. Anonymous says:

    Very cool! Nice investigative work!

  88. Anonymous says:

    It makes me want to meet the three Yakuza face-to-face and hug them. That, and ask them many questions about the Yakuza period. These three guys sound like they would be a pleasure to talk to.

    Have to admit, knowing that three actual Yakuza played and reviewed this game makes me want to go out and get it.

  89. Anonymous says:

    big fan of yakuza series. gr8 game

  90. Anonymous says:

    This reminds me of the thieves’ guild in Pratchett’s books. Do the Yazuka have an ill-gotten gains quota?

  91. Anonymous says:

    …The dialogue made me want to be a yakuza. um. I have to go read that book of yours, Jake. Yakuza often seems to be over glorified in stories and all.

    …I still want to be a yakuza. Think they’ll take in female members? Ok. Off to read Tokyo Vice. And saving money to buy Yakuza 3. Oh wait. It’s not out in my country yet(the game). Damn.

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