All teenage boys want to make men of themselves. True to their natures, they prefer chasing after pretty girls, earning quick cash, and living a life free from parental supervision instead of experiencing another dreary moment of school. Girls, money, and an adventurous lifestyle, Eiji Ijichi—once a starry eyed teen—had it all.
At age fifteen, after abandoning his failing academic career and mundane life at home, Ijichi beings working with his uncle at a coal depot. After one year passes, young Eiji begins to gravitate towards the dazzling light of organized crime and gambling. His boyish youth hardening, he welcomes the newfound life of the yakuza, a member of a traditional organized crime syndicate in Japan.
His steadfast loyalty to the brotherhood and burning ambition escalate him into position as a gambling boss in the Dewaya gang. Before even reaching the age of twenty, Eiji, proud and honorable, has already trudged through life-changing events such as the Great Earthquake of 1923, WWII, and the nightmarish punishments executed within the Japanese penal system.
Confessions of a Yakuza, also known as The Gambler’s Tale, follows the detailed recollections of Eiji as his health starts to fade in accordance with the mysterious lotus and dragon tattoo that stretches across his back. The dying man confesses everything—his sins, his encounters with beautiful women, and his quirky tales of the human condition—to Junichi Saga, the author of the memoir who also served as Ijichi’s personal doctor as he was dying.
“The yakuza back then had class.” This glittery apothegm, wheezed out sporadically by Ijichi in his last few days, emphasizes the sense of pride that the “old school” yakuza members lived with, the banner of justice swaying between the yakuza and the police forces. Contrary to the modern yakuza, these men regard themselves as professional businessmen who profited from an uncorrupt gambling industry while maintaining a respectable image with the townsfolk, “nothing more, nothing less.”
The police resemble a group of sadistic thugs who use their powers to “lawfully” torture and punish any criminal in prison and, more often than not, the real criminals are the average citizens committing heinous crimes such as manslaughter and drug trafficking due to their thirst for greed as well as revenge.
In this world, proficient men seemingly working against the law are the ones who fiercely preserve the balance within society. If anything, Eiji’s short memoir broadens the traditional definition of “villains” and “heroes,” uniting both historic context and breezy language to make a captivating story for all readers to enjoy.
If you enjoy reading about sentimental, chivalrous criminals and crime syndicates of the early 1900s, this is a book you definitely do not want to miss.
Saga, Junichi. (1991). Confessions of a Yakuza. Japan: Kodansha International Ltd.