Friday, November 23, 2012

Confessions of a Yakuza, by Junichi Saga

(pb; 1989, 1991: nonfiction.  Previously published under the title A Gambler's Tale.  Illustrated by Susumu Saga.  Translated by John Bester.)


Confessions is a real-life tale told to the author, by an old school yakuza (Ijichi Eiji) who, by age 73 ,had experienced some of the twentieth century's more interesting and sometimes darker events - three wars, prison, military service, shifts in early yakuza mentality and morality, and his relationships with fellow yakuza and women, which were influenced by ever-shifting Japanese cultural mores.

Eiji's recollections, intertwined with Saga's, emanate from a bygone time, when the yakuza was more interested in honor and getting along with one's non-yakuza's neighbors (so as to keep their gambling joints full and smooth-running), not drugs and the exaggerated violence we often see in films, and, on Saga's end, what it was like to hear these stories.

Eiji also provides a picaresque, relatable historical context for how things ran - e.g., how yakuza and (sometimes) political financing was structured, what winter-hellish prisons (military and civilian) were like, and other intriguing, often personable stories.

Worth owning, this, whether you're reading it for the yakuza angle, the Japanese angle or the historical/interesting character angle (or all three, like myself).

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