Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster's Daughter by Shoko Tendo (Kodansha))

From Tokyo, Ernie Hoyt offers a new reading suggestion with his review of a highly original memoir.

Many people think of the Yakuza in its simplest terms - the Japanese mafia-- an image they've probably learned from bad Hollywood films or Takeshi Kitano movies such as "Brothers" or "Dolls". While it may be true that the Yakuza controls most of the red light districts, as well as having a hand in loan sharking, money laundering, and gun running, it is also an established part of Japan's society, although most Japanese would rather not talk about it.

Now there is a chance to explore the world of the Yakuza through the eyes of someone who was not only part of that world but was born into it. The daughter of a local Yakuza boss, Tendo feels that the literal meaning of yakuza is "rooted in a territory, taking care of a territory" and that the Yakuza are akin to a closely knit family.

In elementary school, Tendo becomes aware that she is treated differently from other kids. Parents of her classmates tell their children to avoid playing with her. At school, she is bullied, called "that yakuza kid," and treated as an outcast.

One day while cleaning the classroom floor, Tendo hears a teacher say,"Shoko Tendo? She can draw, and maybe her basic reading is OK, but that's about it. There's not much you can teach an idiot like that."

The other teachers laugh, responding,"You're not kidding." Only then do they discover that Tendo has overheard them. They quickly change the subject and praise her for cleaning the classroom, teaching her early on about the Japanese practice of "tatemae" or being two-faced.

As she gets older, Tendo becomes a yanki, a slang term for kids who defy authority and cruise around town causing trouble. She starts sniffing glue and quickly moves on to speed, becoming an addict by the time she's twelve.

As a teen, she escapes a near- rape from one of her father's underlings and learns to avoid his associates. However she suffers beatings from older members of her gang who don't like her attitude and think she's namaiki--impertinent and needing to be taught a lesson. Trouble catches up with her. She is sent to a reform school but once she gets out she reverts to her old habits and her old friends.

During the bubble years of Japan's economy, Tendo becomes a nightclub hostess. In love with a customer who happens to be married and has no intention of leaving his wife, Tendo believes this man will eventually get a divorce. She realizes that this is not going to happen only after he tells her that his wife is pregnant.

With the death of her father, Tendo reacts by thinking about her future, working harder than ever at the nightclub, and saving money. She reaches her goal of ascending to the position of Number One hostess and then quits with the intention of becoming a writer.

A woman with no qualms about who she is or where she's from, Tendo tells an inspiring story of how she survived the Yakuza--and escaped it.

Her book has become a bestseller in Japan and has been translated into more than a dozen languages.