Ken Watanabe, playing a grizzled Tokyo detective, and Ansel Elgort, playing reporter Jake Adelstein, are pictured in a Tokyo Vice publicity poster. Source: HBO

Yakuza and Asia Times go way back together, to the daily’s very first day. The Japanese gangsters, then burrowing ever deeper into legitimate business, were a frequent topic of reports from the late Richard C. Hanson and myself in the Tokyo bureau of the fledgling Bangkok-based broadsheet during its maiden year and a half of print glory, 1995-97.

A news vendor hands out copies of the first Asia Times issue in Hong Kong on December 6, 1995. Photo: Asia Times / Stephen Shaver

That ended, for a while, when the company closed down as the very first victim of the Asian financial crisis.

After the print closing, however, a few survivors took things to the purely online next level. The thus-relaunched Asia Times resumed its keen interest in the subculture of the tattooed hoodlums – whom one might call digitally challenged, in their own peculiar, literal, muscle-and-blood fashion, thanks to the custom of chopping off a pinky joint as a gesture of ritual apology. (I knew a low-level mobster who, for his sins, was missing three joints.)

Participants show their traditional Japanese tattoos related to the Yakuza during the annual Sanja Matsuri festival in the Asakusa district of Tokyo on May 20, 2018. Photo: AFP/Behrouz Mehri
Japanese show traditional tattoos related to the yakuza during the annual Sanja Matsuri festival in the Asakusa district of Tokyo on May 20, 2018. Photo: AFP / Behrouz Mehri

In recent years our all-digital news outlet has published articles by such giants of yakuzaology as Robert Whiting and Grant Newsham.

And now we’re proud to note the success of another prominent representative of our lineup of Japan underworld observers, the American Jake Adelstein, whose 2010 memoir Tokyo Vice has been made into a fictionalized TV series by HBO Max.

Adelstein, through amazing effort as a young ex-pat language student in Tokyo, passed the entrance exam to join the world’s largest newspaper, Yomiuri, as a cub police reporter. As the HBO series dramatizes, that eventually brought him face-to-face with some yakuza who were, shall we say, not totally appreciative of his efforts.

Jake Adelstein. Photo: Twitter

The first three installments of the well-reviewed streaming series have come out this weekend, with the others due later in the month. YouTube carries a trailer.

Follow Jake Adelstein on Twitter: @jakeadelstein and follow Bradley K. Martin: @bradleykmartin