Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lessons from the Yakuza

Below is an excerpt from an article from the Japan Subculture Research Center. This is the first of a very powerful series of articles. It's well worth reading in it's entirety. The whole article may be read here.

Everything I Ever Really Needed To Know I Learned From The Yakuza or The Cops

By Jake Adelstein
Published: 25 January 2010

Entry 01. ”There Are No Small Promises.”

When I was a young reporter, circa 1995, I made an appointment with a Sumiyoshikai (住吉会)boss, Kaneko Naoya, at his office in Minami-Ginza at 7pm. I showed up at 7:20. And Kaneko was pissed. Unreasonably so, or so I thought.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” I said apologizing.

“Why were you late?”

“I had some work to do.”

“Why didn’t you call?”

“I guess I should have.”

“No, ‘I guess I should have’ isn’t good enough. You should have at least called. And you should have been here when you said you would be here in the first place.”

I bowed my head and apologized again.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were so busy.”

“I’m not busy,” he laughed. “That’s not the point.”

“Then why are you so pissed?”

“Because you promised you would be here at 7pm.”

“Is it such a big deal? It was a little promise. (大した約束でもないでしょう)”.

He was silent for a second and then stared me in the eyes, and said, “There are no small promises. You need to learn this now if you’re going to be a good reporter and if you’re going to walk in and out of our world. If you’re going to be a man. Trust is built on little promises and it can all be lost by failure to live up to them. All promises are important. Do you know the saying, 武士に二言はない–bushi ni nigon wa nai? *Literally—A samurai does not have a second word.

I said I wasn’t familiar with the proverb and asked him what it meant.

“It means this: a samurai values his honor, his good faith more than anything and once he has given his word, once he has made a promise he always keeps that promise. If you say it, you do it. I’m not saying I’m a samurai but this is what an honorable man does. If you didn’t think you could have been here exactly at 7pm you shouldn’t have said that you would. “

I was a little pissed when I heard this, the way anyone is when he or she gets lectured. I thought he was just being a cantankerous old bastard or giving me crap because he could.

“I’ll say it again—I’m sorry. I’m sorry I couldn’t keep my promise.”

“Could not or did not? Which is it?”

And before I opened my big yap one more time, I thought about it again. I’d spent too much time at a bookstore on the way there. I stopped to have a can of coffee. I could have been there on time—I wasn’t. For him, my answer was going to be critical in his decision if he could really trust me. I could feel that.

“Did not. I’m sorry I did not come here on time. I do not have an excuse. I will try not to do it again.


He offered me a cup of tea and smiled.

“That was almost the right answer. Don’t try, just do it.


He then very politely explained to me why I should pay attention to his words.

“When you’re a yakuza or a reporter or a cop, people count on you to keep your word, to do what you’ve said you’ll do. In our business, sometimes we got to war—over turf, over money, over a meaningless quarrel. But that’s part of the business. If we’re going to bump heads with the Kokusuikai and one of my soldiers says that he’ll be at his post at seven pm sharp and he’s not there—what do you think will happen? Maybe the guy he’s supposed to back up will have to go in alone—maybe his buddy will get killed. Maybe we’ll lose the chance to make the strike. Apologies don’t cut it. You’re a reporter, you have deadlines. If you don’t meet your deadline—what happens? Can you just blow it off? Do you think your editor will just say, ‘no problem, we’ll just leave part of the paper blank.’ I don’t think so. You can get fired for things like that. I don’t know how it is in America, and maybe I don’t know how it is for the civilians but for us, a man’s word is the most important thing in the world. You need to learn not to promise things lightly and to know the difference between promises you can’t keep and promises you don’t keep. Nine times out of ten, the failure to keep a promise is in yourself, not something you can blame on the world.”


Al in Vancouver said...

Hmm, funny, I'm just now reading his book. I recommend it.

Rick Matz said...

I'm planning on getting it the next time I order books from Amazon.

Al in Vancouver said...

Lucky for me my partner is a librarian.

Terry said...

Not something I would have sought out. So I'm doubly grateful for this interesting article.


Rick Matz said...

There's always something interesting to read there.