Tokyo Underworld – Coming to a Theater Near You!

Aug 7th, 2009 | By | Category: Reading Room

419TF7X1AEL._SL160_Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan by Robert Whiting was a great read – a historical page turner that takes a look at life in post World War II from the point of view of Nick Zapetti, a shady character and sometime con-man who finds himself “in bed” with the yakuza, the Japanese mob, and a number of other shady characters during his years operating a pizza parlor in Tokyo’s Roppongi neighborhood.

After the war the city and the whole country was in economic and political turmoil that was a perfect breeding ground for a thriving black market and the devious and often violent tactics of the yakuza.   Illegal gambling, prostitution and professional wrestling were just a few of the enterprises that Zapetti dabbled in during the turbulent era that was 1950’s Japan.  Zapetti found himself dealing with nefarious characters, multiple marriages, a number of lawsuits, some jail time and finally failing health and the loss of the pizza restaurant that was once the place to go for expatriates, ballplayers and pretty much anyone who was anyone in Tokyo at the time.

Whiting’s detailed research is woven into a story that is hard to put down and sheds light on the thinking of the Japanese people and what the governments of both the United States and Japan were willing to turn a blind eye to in the name of economic and social recovery of Japan.

A movie of Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan has been in the works for some time and Whiting recently told the Japan Times that “a resolution is in sight and Martin Scorsese says he is going to direct it.”

Whiting is also working on a sequel to Tokyo Underworld based on the life of Ted Lewin.

“He was a former heavyweight boxer from New York who also had a really good mind for numbers,” Whiting reveals. “He was a natural gambler and knew Meyer Lansky, who sent him to Asia to open clubs for the mafia.”

“He went to Shanghai and Manila before the war and when Japan invaded the Philippines, he enlisted in the army,” Whiting continued. “He was captured and took part in the Bataan Death March. He was held in a camp outside Manila and taught Japanese officers how to gamble, and, as a result, got special privileges.”

Source: Baseball expert lines up new book on mobsters in Japan

Robert Whiting make his home in Tokyo and also wrote You Gotta Have Wa and equally interesting look a the world of Japanese professional baseball.

Tokyo Underworld offers insight in the formation of Japan as we now know it based on the experiences of her people during the turbulent 1950’s and is just one of the selections highlighted in our new Books on Japan Amazon store.

Read a good book about Japan before you travel and your trip will be enriched.  I have found that to be the case over and over again during my time here – I gain a little nugget of insight from each book I read about Japan, or by a Japanese author, whether it is fiction or non-fiction and so will you!

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