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Confessions of a Yakuza: A Life in Japan's Underworld Paperback – July 15, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A wonderful storyteller with a variety of unusual experiences." -- Washington Post Book World

"Fascinating ... gang hierarchy, the relationship between the police and the mob, the organization of gambling sessions and of prison life." -- Quadrant

"Packed with colorful details and insights, told straightforwardly without machismo or exaggeration... Important and entertaining." -- Manoa

"This is the kind of history that rarely gets recorded... Interesting, candid, and honest." -- Far Eastern Economic Review

"Vivid and accurate." -- Los Angeles Times

About the Author


Dr. JUNICHI SAGA is a medical doctor with a general practice in Tsuchiura, Ibaraki Prefecture, on Lake Kasumigaura. He began taping his elderly patients' reminiscences about thirty years ago when he realized what a wealth of detail and information they contained. He has published numerous works of local history and ecology, two of which are available in English: Memories of Wind and Waves and Memories of Silk and Straw. In his spare time he does ink painting.

JOHN BESTER, the translator, is one of the foremost translators of Japanese fiction. In 1990 he was given the first Noma Award for the Translation of Japanese Literature, for his English version of a short-story collection by Yukio Mishima entitled Acts of Worship.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 253 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha USA; Reprint edition (July 15, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 4770019483
  • ISBN-13: 978-4770019486
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 0.9 x 4.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,467,787 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Zendicant Pangolin on September 27, 2002
Format: Paperback
Okay, Okay, so the reviews below probably have said it all for me rendering this opinion moot but for the fact that I wanted to boost the star rating of this charming little book: A book that will have you wishing it was twice as long before you are half way through it. This is ostensibly the autobiography of a dying, retired yakuza boss as told to his attending physician. An interesting contrivance but not essential to the story at hand which is random, expertly told vignettes describing the life of a really extraordinary character whose life happens to revolve around the Japanese underworld. Extraordinary I say because this was a boy born into a family comprising the then nascent Japanese middle class: the future "sarariman," who nevertheless is so high spirited that he turns his back on what promises to be a life of relative ease (if only through dint of hardwork) for one of adventure. Extraordinary because the fellow is six feet tall in a world where the average man's height is 5' 4"; extraordinary because he is a fellow who is not afraid to buck the rules of a hidebound society, even those of the underground world which embraces him after he has left mainstream society; extraordinary because he has the kind of personality that causes his superiors to become devoted to him and his inferiors to buckle under to his rule when it is time for him to lead, and finally extraordinary because the fellow has the uncanny ability to recite events in a page turning manner.
This Yakuza's confession is a look at Japan during its transition into the industrial age; a time when the country's view of itself as the land of the rising sun was just begining to take on the sinister overtones that led to the second world war.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Edward Forsythe on December 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
I thought this was an interesting peek into a shadow world that few non-members live to tell about. The interview style of writing keeps the story moving and allows the author to interject his own insights. There are a few areas where the translation was editted and anecdotes are glossed over, but they don't detract from the overall enjoyment of this work. I recommend it for anyone interested in seeing what life in the old-time Japanese mafia was like. I enjoyed this book so much, that I passed it along to my Dad. If you like Japan and its culture, you'll like this book. Gambatte!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mellow Monk on November 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book is a "memoir" of sorts, a biographical tale of a retired yakuza as dictated to his doctor. This man is a "yakuza" in the word's original sense--a professional gambler, not the organized gangsters that the word is used to refer to today.

The ex-yakuza in this story, as he tells his tale over the months, knows he is slowly dying. He starts to see the doctor, a general practitioner in a quiet suburban neighborhood, when he realizes that is body is really starting to fall apart. His doctor knows the man's in a bad way, but he replies with optimistic predictions when his patient asks things like, "I don't have much time left, do I?"

Over several visits, the doctor realizes what a hard and amazing life the man has led. He asks to interview him for a book, and the yazuka agrees. The doctor then deals with a range of emotions: a desire even he doesn't understand to record the man's tale and tell it to the world, a sense of urgency due to his knowledge of the man's health, and an awareness of the need not to pester the old man with daily visits and long interviews. (This hesitance may arise from a healthy respect for the still-formidable old man.)

Anyone looking for graphically violent and prurient tales about modern-day Japanese gangsters robbing banks and shooting at each other will be greatly disappointed--although there is some violence. The most fascinating aspect of this novel is its portrayal of how people interacted with each other so much differently back then--ways we would consider cryptic today, hiding their emotions, putting up with insults, acting with almost subservient humility to save face for their companions or organization. Putting on a brave face when faced with amazing adversity.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 18, 1997
Format: Paperback
The book is a soft read; it keeps you interested only if you enjoy reading of real life Japan, which I do. Not one
of the best flowing tales with a lot of holes (probably due to the translation of the extended interview the book is based on.) Story does not delve deeply into the "world" of the yakuza but tries to show it on the surface through the story of one of its fringe members. Human interest vice violence
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bernard Chapin on January 2, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It may sound odd that I use the word honor in the context of a gangster which is exactly what the yakuza were and are, but the man profiled here is completely old school in all its best connotations. Essentially, the background concerns a very old man about to die who tells his story to the random doctor who happens to examine him. The interviews are conducted over a series of weeks and they occur at the yakuza's home. To say that he lived in interesting times is definitely an understatement. Most of the action occurs before World War II, and, in those days, being a yakuza meant only running gambling houses. To do anything else was beneath them. One can see why the police were rather tolerant in regards to their general operations in light of this eventuality. The man described here eventually became the head of a local branch of the brotherhood, but the stories of his rise and his ever-so-complicated interactions with women were what most impressed this reviewer. This was a pretty fantastic read, and its value is all the greater should you be rather ignorant about Japan (as was the case with this reviewer).
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