It is rare for James Bond to pass up a martini. But on a visit to Japan in 1967, in “You Only Live Twice”, he opts for sake—served at 98.4°F (36.9°C). “For a European, you are exceptionally cultivated,” enthuses Tiger Tanaka, a Japanese spymaster. Mr Tanaka is a suave, Suntory-sipping spook who runs a ninja school in a remote castle, and helps Mr Bond storm the bad guy’s volcano lair.
In reality, Mr Tanaka would scarcely have a licence to snoop, let alone kill. When Banyan asked a former American intelligence official for his judgment on Japan’s spies, the answer was simple: “pretty woeful”. In a new book—“Special Duty: A History of the Japanese Intelligence Community”—Richard Samuels, a professor at mit, explains why that is so.