Tokyo Underworld tells the true story of Nick Zapetti, an American ex-pat in Tokyo and his colourful and turbulent life in Japan. Initially stationed in Japan for the Occupation period after World War II, Zapetti stayed on after his tour of duty and set up trying to make as much money as he could. Initially involved in the black market and illegal banking, Zapetti eventually went into the restaurant business, opening up the legendary Nicola's in Roppongi, and whilst this was a legitimate business, he was forever involved with organised crime.
Whiting's book is meticulously researched, and Zapetti's story is told in tandem with a social history of the Tokyo that he was involved with. From the post-war black market (in operation just three days after the Japanese surrender in a city lying in ruins), through the pro-wrestling boom of the fifties and the rise of the yakuza in the sixties, Whiting shows us the development of modern Japan. As is probably typical in any post-conflict area, politics, industry and organised crime were very closely linked in the rebuilding of Japan, but what is particularly interesting about Japan is that those close ties persisted through Japan's rebirth and through to the end of the century, and there is no reason to believe that anything has changed in the last decade.
A truly compelling book, Tokyo Underworld has to be one of the best books written about Japan in recent years. I've also noticed that Warner Brothers have bought the film rights to the book, so it'll be interesting to see how this is portrayed on the big screen if it goes into production.