Social Histories of Japan 1 – Confessions of a Yakuza
Confessions of a Yakuza by Dr Junichi Saga pub: Kodansha International Press
History books are so often about generals and leaders and battles and wars. The majority of histories of Japan seem to be about either World War 2 (variously known as The Pacific War, The Showa War, or The War against Japan. ) or the Tokugawa Samurai period.
These are neither. They are about relatively ordinary or even marginalised people from the first half of the 20th century, Late Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods. They are also first hand accounts of these peoples lives. It would appear that in Japan the good old days were niether all that good nor all that long ago.
There are 4 books I want to blog about.
The first is “Confessions of a Yakuza”.
The slightly lurid title is for the western market. The original title is 「浅草博徒一代」 and it was first published as “The Gamblers Tale” in English.
It was written by a country doctor from stories told to him by a patient. It is the first person reminiscences of a Yakuza’s life from the 1910′s until 1954. Interesting times indeed, several major events are referred to; the Great Kansai earthquake, The Bombing of Tokyo, The American Occupation, as well as some large events just mentioned in passing like sinking of the Toya Maru in Hokkaido.
Ichiji Eiji had an eventful life. He killed a man. He spent time in prison on more than 2 occasions. He was head of a gang. He cut two of his fingers off as a sort of debt of honour over a woman.
I’m sure a lot was left out of his stories. I can’t really believe it was all so peaceful and only about gambling. But perhaps it was only in later years that violent excess happened.
I once saw two Yakuza in a sentou in Kagoshima. The older had a full body tattoo; the younger obviously just starting out only had his arms tattooed. I think they had all their fingers. The older one was certainly macho. Jogging on the spot in front of the heater in the sauna. The mobile phones they left lying in the dressing room were certainly safe, who would steal a yakuza’s keitai? They didn’t seem the type of people you could test your Japanese on however.
And even Dr. Saga didn’t feel he could ask to take a photo of Mr. Eiji’s tattoos.
Two stories stand out. The first is an eye-watering kill-or-cure treatment for syphilis. No anti-biotics or anaesthesia here. The other is a second hand account of how the naval stores in Tsuchiura were looted to bare earth between the time of the surrender and before the occupation. I think it would make an excellent film, except I doubt a Japanese company would want to make it.
It is available on Amazon