Book: Yakuza Moon by Shoko Tendo

Interesting, but not very illuminating, story of a Japanese woman's horrible youth

Shoko Tendo
Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster's Daughter
Kodansha, 2007
ISBN: 978-4-7700-3042-9
187 pages
Translated by Louise Heal; originally published in Japanese in 2004.

Shoko Tendo was born in 1968 in Osaka prefecture in western Japan. At the age of 34 she began to write a memoir of her youth, from her early memories to the death of her father in 1998. Her youth is remarkable for nothing so much as how horrible it was. Bad luck compounded by bad decisions and a fierce temper make it remarkable to my mind that she lived to write the book.

The "yakuza" in the title of Yakuza Moon refers to Japanese gangsters and her father was one until business problems forced him to resign when Ms Tendo was 16. There's actually little in the book that's explicitly about yakuza. Her father's occupation did cause considerable social exclusion for Ms Tendo in school and for her family in general. That would be bad enough anywhere, but in group-oriented Japan it has to be especially unpleasant. That said, there isn't a whole lot in the book that's distinctively Japanese. Ms Tendo's troubles she has seem pretty universal.

Ms Tendo says in the book's afterword:

    I became a juvenile delinquent at the age of twelve,
    soon became hooked on amphetamines and sex,
    and was involved with a string of married men.
    (p. 177)

Actually, that's a rather mild summary. Before amphetamines, Ms Tendo huffed paint thinner. Her father was violent and she had a long succession of violent boyfriends. She spent eight months in a reform school. And she was the victim of rape, attempted rape, and coerced sex.

Ms Tendo's narrative of all that is clear and precise. And so is her description of how she slowly, and with some backsliding, got her life under control. What the book lacks, alas, much sense of a larger meaning. There isn't very much to be learned here, either about Japanese culture from what might have been an interesting perspective, or about Ms Tendo herself, since she is not especially introspective.

Ms Tendo is admirably served by her translator, Louise Heal. With very minor exceptions, the text is smooth and clear. I might have suggested that Ms Heal translate the Japanese slang term "yanki" on its first use, but its meaning (juvenile delinquent) quickly becomes clear. The phrase "swallowed a very large prey" (p. 8) might have been re-cast, and "the cherry had lost all is blossom" (p 12) might have been better as "the cherry trees had lost all their flowers" or something similar.

Posted: Fri - July 27, 2007 at 06:55 PM   Main   Category: