Sunday, July 29, 2007

postheadericon Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster's Daughter by Shoko Tendo

Translated by Louise Heal

Hardcover 192 pages

Genre: Memoir/non-Fiction/Japan

Publishers : Kodansha Intl Jul, 2007
Price : $22.95

Distributers (Canada):Fitzhenry & Whiteside

I grew interested in this story after reading about it in the Guardian UK. Shoko Tendo is the daughter of a member of the Yakuza in Japan. According to Wikipedia, the Yakuza (ヤクザ or やくざ ) are members of traditional organized crime groups in Japan. Yakuza groups are referred to as the "Japanese mafia" with reference to Italian-Sicilian organized crime.

Shoko had a pampered childhood but when she was six her father was sent to jail and that event triggered his descent from a top ranking member of the Yakuza to a man hounded by debtors. His descent also meant troubling times for the home and family and when she was 12 years old Shoko, in a fit of rebellion, decided to follow in her older sister's footsteps to become a yanki. Yankis are usually a sub-culture of bored, disenchanted Japanese youth between the ages of 14-19 years. They love to ride fast bikes, sniff paint thinner and embrace a lifestyle of sex, drugs and violence.

Soon, running around sniffing paint thinners didn't do it for Shoko anymore and she graduated to hard drugs (speed) and would attach herself to men who would be willing to buy the drug for her. Many of the men she hooked up with just used and abused her but she put up with it because she needed the drug, also, going home to a house besieged with creditors made her very depressed.

Finally, in her late 20's after a botched suicide attempt Shoko decides to ask forgiveness of her parents (especially her mother) for putting them through all of us and settles down into a more normal lifestyle but not before she takes herself off to a tattoo parlour and gives herself
a tattoo that winds its way to her chest and across her back, culminating, on her left shoulder, in the face of Jigoku Dayu, a famous courtesan from the Muromachi era with breast exposed and a knife clenched between her teeth.

I was quite disappointed with the book. Shoko is not terribly different from any adolescent anywhere in the world who falls in with the wrong crowd and adopts the sex,drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle. As the daughter of a Yakuza I expected there to be more information on the Yakuza, their origins, how they operate, the culture, etc., instead, what you get is the story of a desperately unhappy girl who makes so many wrong decisions in the early chapters of her life. I guess some would argue that
much has been written about the male members of the yakuza fraternity already, the drink, the money, the women, the fast cars and the violence. Much less is known about the women in their lives, their wives, daughters and lovers. Tendo has been all three.

The book made me think about tattoos though and their significance. For some they are just body adornments done on a whim and sometimes regretted because of their permanency; for others, it is a religious ritual and they will, as mentioned on Chumma Chumma's blog have a prayer or a deity drawn for strength or spiritual well being ; some sport military tattoos that tell a story of the battalion, brigade or platoon they belong to; some use tattoos to indicate which street gang they belong to, but I am most interested in that group of people that use tattoos to commemorate milestones in their lives for they always have the best stories.

If you would like, feel free to chime in with favorite your tattoos or tattoo stories. Mine has to be the one of the woman who had "DO NOT RECUSITATE" drawn across her chest. Guess she was really serious about doctors not trying to prolong her life. Read about it at the BBC site here.

Finally here's a cool site mooched from Tanabata's wonderful blog

What is your Japanese name?

My japanese name is 長谷川 Hasegawa (long valley river) 千秋 Chiaki (very fine in autumn).

Take your real japanese name generator! today!
Created with Rum and Monkey's Name Generator Generator.

Pictures of the author, Shoko Tendo


Sanjay said...

Hey Lotus, Thank you so much for this review. I can see why you were fascinated by this book. Am sorry that you were disappointed with it.

But perhaps because the Yakuza are dominated by men, may be the reason why she never truly might have had a ring side view of their functioning? Also her fathers fall from grace meant she was out too by virtue of what happened to him?

Her story does sound like that of any adolescent around the world who makes a wrong choice.

Tattoos are permanent but with lasers one can remove them. People who get tattoos on a whim on visible parts of themselves have later had to regret them (the military can reject you for certain kinds and types).

I don't have a tattoo and don't plan to get one. My mom has one though on her forearm, 3 dots arranged in the shape of a triangle.

Loved the Japanese name is mine..
Hasegawa (long valley river) Kazuma (one reality).

tanabata said...

I noticed this one in the shops a little while ago and have been eyeing it ever since. Thanks so much for the review, I don't think I'll bother with it now.
And I do like your name. :)

Megster said...

Hi Lotus,
Thanks for the review- I enjoyed reading it..had never heard of the Japanese mafia..only Sicilian, and Chinese, so far...

I plan to get a tattoo as well, on my 30th b'day but am still debating what kind:)

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sanjay

First off, so sorry for the delay in responding to your comment!

It's quite possible that she (Shoko)herself never really knew the inner workings of the Yakuza but I was so hoping she would research it for her readers (yeah, I am hard to please!) :)

Laser removal of tattoos can be very painful, can they not?

Do you know the significance of your mom's tattoo?

Kazuma....I am sure I have heard that name before! Glad you were able to try the name generator and thank you for stopping by!

Lotus Reads said...

@Nat ~ Thank you. My daughters were quite fascinated by the name generator as well. My older daughter in particular, loves Japan and everything Japanese. Thank you for stopping by Nat and sorry for the delay in responding to your comment.

@Megs ~ Wow, well you must let us know once you've decided what it is you want to get. I am not sure I have the courage for a tattoo (I'm a chicken for the pain), but if I did get something I suppose it would be a mantra or something like that. I'd love to know what you get!

Sanjay said...

@Lotus, No problem about the delay.:)

I agree with your thought process (and think it was neat of you too!)about Shoko researching the Yakuza as an insider of sorts, and as a woman she might have brought a different angle?

I think getting tattoos is more painful then removing them by laser?

No I don't know the significance of my mom's tattoo, but perhaps I will ask her when I visit?

Thank you for your response. :)

hellomelissa said...

my next door neighbor just asked me to design a tattoo with her. it's so personal and permanent... could i do that for another person?! i did it for myself, but still...

Jac said...

Lotus, that was very very intresting even to the point of non stop eager reading...and ofcourse the tattoos too.

Hmmm. hope you rememeber me LOL ???

Canary said...

Hey! long time!
Happy New year! :)

Owen said...

hey get back to the blogging great site!

Madeleine said...

Hi Lotus, I do not know if I could wear such a tatoo, it is beautifully done. I always think one must remember as we age a tatoo might not look so good. I have no tatoo, thought about it but n the end ,no.

My name in Japanese is:

Kojima (small island) Ayumu (walk, deeper meaning: walk your own way)

Strangely it fits me well

When candlelight dances on my paper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
When candlelight dances on my paper said...

I generated my Japanese name, and It showed my fav name along with another name. Sayuri. ( 猿渡 Saruwatari (monkey on a crossing bridge) 小百合 Sayuri (small lily))

Ever since I'd read memoirs of a Geisha, I was in love wiht that name. May be because, there's a resemblence with my real name and I feel it fits me well. Now I'm really thinking about using This as my blogger name.

Thanks... will be back to read more.

Anonymous said...

Tattoos are an amazing piece of art. Your body is like a canvas... I have a lot of work done, and I don't think I've ever just gotten something to get it. Everything has a story behind it. My family is a big inspiration, so is my heritage, and images that let me know I'm only human, and that shit happens, but I'll survive.

Sorry that the book disappointed you. I hate when that happens.

Take care.

笨蛋 said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................

Putri Babakan said...

excuse me, where can i get more informations about shoko tendo ?
do shoko tendo have a blog or official website? thanks before :)

John M. said...

Lotus, I really enjoyed your review of Eileen Chang's Lust/Caution and the Ang Lee movie of same name. I'm now trying to find the book.
But the surprising info I want to tell you concerns the muse (or one of the muses) that Chang used to construct her story. It is none other than one of the most fascinating personalities of 1940's Shanghai: the legendary Yoshiko Yamaguchi, aka Li Xianglan, aka Ri Koran. This woman deserves mich better than history has given her. I was so affected by her life story that I wrote one of the best biographies of her life - it's at

In my blog I've posted a well-known picture of Eileen Chang seated next to Li Xianglan, taken in 1943 at the height of Li's success as an actress/singer beyond compare.
I hope you enjoy it!
John M.

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