in the early 1980s, a countryside doctor in Japan met a chief of a yakuza gang and history was made...the first of two Yakuza books to be "accidentally" written; in that a writer accidentally meets a significant organized crime figure and then characterizes that life. (the other being the one about an Italian-American in Occupied TOkyo). the author is a doctor; his patient happened to be a very interesting gambler-style crime boss (rather than drug or violence sector crime boss, although of course his life included violence). I can't overstate how great this book is: wikipedia even reports http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confessions_of_a_Yakuza
that Bob Dylan
lifted two lines from the book for a song !
this reason why this book is so great is because you can have a writer or a writer's personality (a) or you can have a really interesting unique life (b), but finding a and b together is not always so easy to find. I can find a dozen creatives in a few hours just poking around the internet. but how many actually crime bosses could I locate and how many would be willing to disclose details of their life? many crime bosses die; many just repeatedly sell amphetamines or whatever; Saga was living on the crux of things and saw war, a love affair, torture, rise and decline, defeat, occupation, the korean war's impact on defeated japan etc.
the goodreads description is actually spot on, indeed pushing on spoiler. contains romance, violence, nostalgia for the 'early' yakuza. etc. well-written without filler, well-structured, and not unmoving . contains heavy period detail so if you are curious as to what pre-war tokyo's atmosphere was like; some of the social realities of pre-war; how a town dealt with soldiers being sent out and some of the life of the soldiers in manchuria; and what the crime bosses were doing as the surrender hit in august 1945 (they were gambling, naturally...) then this is excellently written and full of great detail.
wandering the misty mountains of Japan, the gambling-style yakuza. (classic literary moment)
you get war; you get prison; you get the aftermath of war; you get action up in the first colony of japan; you get the earthquake of 1923 and the ashio copper riots; you get life in downtown tokyo... and then after 1945, little much (kinda like memoirs of a geisha)
a clear reference work for the japan library, and of immediate and obvious historical interest.