Confessions of a Yakuza – Junichi Saga: End of an Era

I’m not usually one for nonfiction. Even if it is something as exciting as a Yakuza Biography. I think because it closes the gap between real life and the world of literature much more directly compared to fiction, aaaaand I like the gap. But this read has got me excited to try more narrative nonfiction. It showed me that a real story, when written in the right way, can be just as enthralling as fiction, where anything goes. Part of my problem in fact is that I often think nonfiction is trying to teach me something, it feels like a preaching moment, and I’m not often up for a preaching moment when I’m doing something I enjoy, like reading.


Sometimes, a good indication that a book had some kind of impact on you, is if it randomly pops into your head during the day, even if maybe you haven’t picked it up in a few days. With this book I couldn’t help thinking about it when I was at spin class. Yes, you heard me, Spin class. So a little background information is that I’m not in shape, so I’m very much fighting for my life for all of those 45 minutes, the other thing you need to know is that there are a few instances in which the protagonist is tortured, and, as would be expected of a yakuza, he never caves. Annnnnd that will probably sound incredibly superficial and naive, as if I’m deep in the hetero male side of the fitness world and I regularly use the word “warrior” un-ironically. However, as my brain is struggling to get me through the rave-like music drilling into me as I peddled away, my brain just kept on saying “if this random guy can get through torture for no apparent reason, then you can keep peddling you little shit”. This while also reminding me that I would not have survived during any other period in history. I would be the first to lie down and die during an apocalypse.

The meat

Junichi Saga is a doctor, documenting the life of one of his patients, an elderly yakuza boss. Most of the book is the patient telling his story through important life events and sometimes anecdotal stories about people he felt would be of interest maybe in general, maybe to the doctor in particular. However, it’s interspersed with moments from the present where the narrator is frail and sick. Those breaks in the narrative didn’t really add anything to the book other than the very utilitarian function of reminding you that this is a real story, and maybe to highlight the passage of time through Eiji’s body.
Junichi Saga also features little black and white illustrations that I really enjoyed, they were small enough and sparse enough that they didn’t clutter the writing but instead really added to it. Maybe I also just appreciated it as a foreign reader that maybe wouldn’t have had the image ready in my head as easily.

Confessions of a yakuza Junichi saga open book
Van Gogh Museum not sponsored


A misconception I’ve found that I have is that Non Fiction would feature deeper human connections and a more genuine way of relating to each other. In fact, the only person that the narrator truly seemed to have a deep-felt emotional connection with was his “boss”. Having said that, I’m not trying to say that either the writing or the story itself were superficial in their representations of his interactions with the many people he encounters during his lifetime. I felt that there was a disconnect between the reader and the story and therefore also between the narrator and the people he meets, a coldness.

Women of the past


“I sometimes think, you know, that deep in her heart she was glad I killed her. I mean, would she ever have been any happier with the-cleaning man than with me?”

Something that I can’t avoid talking about is the role of women in the story. A shocking revelation for me at least was that up until seemingly the Second World War, men could still sell their wives to brothels or use them as collateral for loans. Most of the women that feature are from Geisha houses and brothels, which gives the impression that many more women than I had pictured, were involved in sex work at those times. A notable exception, on the opposite side of that world, Eiji has one encounter when he’s still young with a girl of high standing, and his entire interaction with her really reminded me of The Makioka Sisters that I read a few years ago. The contrast between the life of these women underlines how the options for women at that time were seemingly only in extremes. However, remember this is all from the perspective of men.



The writing is meant to mimic conversation so it’s a breezy read and you’ll certainly learn something. I did at least. With all the biographies of famous and known figures floating around I’d say it doesn’t hurt to get a more on the ground perspective.


3.3Overall Score

Confessions of a Yakuza

I’m not usually one for nonfiction. Even if it is something as exciting as a Yakuza Biography. I think because it closes the gap between real life and the world of literature much more directly ...

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