Is Jake Adelstein a Real Journalist? Where is He Now?

Image Credit: James Lisle / HBO Max

Japan is known as the Land of the Rising Sun, but it has its share of darkness. The HBO Max series ‘Tokyo Vice’ seeks to explore the depth of that darkness through the unique and thorough perspective of its American-born protagonist, Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort). He was born and raised in Missouri before traveling to Tokyo, Japan, where he received a degree in Japanese literature. Afterward, he takes the entrance exam for the Meicho Shimbun, a prominent newspaper.

Even though Adelstein fails to answer several questions in the exam due to inattentiveness, he gets the job, becoming Meicho’s first foreign reporter. Like most other journalists, he begins his career at the bottom of the barrel, working as a crime reporter. However, Adelstein soon garners the interest of both the Yakuza and the police. If you are wondering whether Jake is a real journalist, here is what you need to know. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Is Jake Adelstein a Real Journalist?

Yes, Jake Adelstein is a real investigative journalist who has spent about three decades reporting on the criminal underworld of Tokyo. The series is based on Adelstein’s 2009 memoir ‘Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan.’ Adelstein grew up in Columbia, Missouri, as Joshua Lawrence Adelstein. At the suggestion of a teacher at school, he learned karate to deal with bullies. The martial art helped in spawning interest in the Japanese language in him.

Image Credit: James Lisle/HBO Max

After he enrolled at the University of Missouri, Adelstein studied Japanese in his freshman year until he suffered a fall inside an elevator shaft at a local bookstore. The resulting head trauma reportedly wiped out all his memories of high school. In 1988, when Adelstein was 19-years-old, he came to Japan. At some point after that, he changed his name from Josh or Joshua to Jake. As the show mentions, Adelstein studied at the Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan. However, the Meicho Shimbun is a fictional newspaper.

Adelstein actually worked for the Yomiuri Shinbun — which is reportedly the largest newspaper in the world in terms of circulation — for 12 years between 1993 to 2005. He was the first foreigner to work in its Japanese-language section. In 1994, he started covering the Organized Crime Control Division in Saitama Prefecture. Five years later, he began reporting about Kabukichō, the famous red-light district in Tokyo. During his years at Yomiuri, Adelstein became close to both the police and the Yakuza. He met Detective Chiaki Sekiguchi of the Saitama Police Department, who became a mentor and father figure to him.

In 2008, three years after leaving Yomiuri, he put out an exposé in The Washington Post, mentioning that the FBI arranged alleged yakuza boss Tadamasa Goto to travel to the US to receive a liver transplant at UCLA. He claimed in the same article that he received threats from Goto’s subordinates for investigating the matter.

Where Is Jake Adelstein Now?

The Yakuza’s hold on Japanese society has diminished dramatically since the implementation of the yakuza exclusion ordinances. Meanwhile, Adelstein continues to live in Japan and write for publications such as Vice News, The Japan Times, and The Daily Beast. He also served as a Chief Investigator for a study on human trafficking in Japan, sponsored by the US Department. In Spring 2011, Adelstein was reportedly diagnosed with early stages of liver cancer and underwent treatment. He also reportedly has Marfan syndrome.

Adelstein apparently holds the positions of a board member and advisor to the Lighthouse: Center for Human Trafficking Victims. Adelstein is quite active on social media, especially Twitter. He has also published several other books, including ‘The Last Yakuza: A Life in the Japanese Underworld’ and ‘We Sold Our Soul For Bitcoins.’ The sequel to ‘Tokyo Vice,’ ‘Tokyo Private Eye,’ is slated to be released in Spring 2023.

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