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People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry.

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Title: People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo—and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up.
Author: Richard Lloyd Parry.
Genre: Non-fiction, journalism, traveling and exploration, true crime.
Country: U.K.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 2011.
Summary: Lucy Blackman—tall, blond, twenty-one years old—stepped out into the vastness of Tokyo and disappeared forever. For months, the police's only lead was a suspicious message left with Lucie's best friend claiming she had joined a religious cult. The truth would prove much darker. Who was the mysterious man she had gone to meet? What exactly did Lucie do at her hostess job in the notorious Roppongi nightclub district? How many others had suffered—and will suffer—her same fate? The author, a foreign correspondent, covered Lucie's case from the beginning. He tracked the story across four continents, earned the trust of her family and friends, won unique access to the Japanese detectives and legal system, and delved deep into the mind of the man accused in Lucie's disappearance, Joji Obara—described by the judge as "unprecedented and extremely evil."

My rating: 8/10.
My Review:


♥ The crows flap and complain as Lucie steps outside. As she does, she experiences the small daily shock of reentry that every foreigner in Tokyo knows. A sudden, pulse-quickening awareness of the obvious: Here I am, in Japan. Every morning it takes her by surprise—the sudden consciousness of profound difference. Is it something unfamiliar about the angle of the light, or the way that sounds register in the summer air? Or is it the demeanor of the people on the street and in the cars and the trains—unobtrusive but purposeful; neat, courteous, and self-contained but intent, as if following secret orders?

Even after years and decades have passed, you never get over the excitement, the unique daily thrill, of living as a foreigner in Japan.

♥ At six minutes past seven, when Louise is back at home, her cell phone rings again. It's Lucie, full of high spirits and excitement. He is very nice, she says. As promised, he has given her a new mobile phone—and a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne, which she and Louise can drink together later. It's not clear exactly where she is, and Louise doesn't think to ask. But she will be back within an hour.

At seventeen minutes past seven, Lucie calls the mobile phone of her boyfriend, Scott Fraser, but connects only to voice mail. She records a short but happy message, promising a meeting tomorrow.

There Lucie vanishes.

It's the beginning of a Saturday evening in Tokyo, but there will be no girls' night out and no date with Scott. In fact, there will be nothing else at all. Stored in the digital data bank of the telephone company, where it will be automatically erased in a few days' time, the mobile phone message is Lucie's last living trace.

♥ It should have been obvious, for we all know it from our own lives, but after twenty-one years, Lucie's personality and character were already too various, too complicated for any one person, even those closest to her, wholly to understand. Everyone who knew her knew someone subtly different. A few years on from childhood, her life was already a complexity of allegiances, emotions, and aspirations, often contradictory. Lucie was loyal, honest, and capable of deceit. She was confident, dependable, and vulnerable. She was straightforward and mysterious, open and secretive. I felt the helplessness of a biographer in sifting and reconciling this material, in doing justice to an entire life. I became fascinated by the process of learning about someone whom I have never known, and could never have known, someone of whom I would have been oblivious had she not died.

Within a few weeks of her disappearance, many, many people had heard the name Lucie Blackman and knew her face—or at least the version if it that appeared in the newspapers and on television, the Alice face of the girl in the missing-person poster. To them she was a victim, almost the symbol of a certain kind of victimhood: the young woman who comes to a ghastly end in an exotic land. So I hoped that I could do some service to Lucie Blackman, or to her memory, by restoring her status as a normal person, a woman complex and lovable in her ordinariness, with a life before death.

♥ It was Sunday afternoon, and the five members of the family were sitting together in the front room. A fire was burning in the grate. Jane had prepared what the children called "colored toast," striped with a tricolor of Marmite and apricot and strawberry jam. "We were watching The Wonder Years, which I used to love," Jane remembered. "We all used to love it. Tim had Rupert on his lap, and I'll never forget what he said. He said, 'I love being family,' as we all sat there together. I'll never forget it. 'I love being family.' That's what he said. And then the next day it was all over."

♥ Finally, hours before the flight to Tokyo, she considered the ultimate sanction—hiding Lucie's passport. Rupert Blackman remembered his mother standing on the stairs brandishing the passport and screaming down at his sister. "But I thought, 'If I do, she'll just get another one, and she'll be cross with me,'" said Jane. "And I didn't want her going to Japan cross with me."

Val Burman became irritated with Jane's flapping. "I don't understand why you're behaving the way you are," she told her friend. "Anyone would think you'd suffered a bereavement." And Jane replied, "It feels like that."

♥ And yet the impression created by this scale and density was the opposite of chaotic. Tokyo was clean and sharply defined to the eye, with none of the blaring squalor of many Asian cities. Sealed beneath a film of indifferent calm, there was a machine energy and ticktocking efficiency. For most first-time arrivals, it was an atmosphere unlike any they had encountered before; it produced a sensation not of straight-forward exhilaration but of obscure excitement at mysterious possibilities.

... To arrive in Tokyo was to be transformed in a way that felt almost like a physical metamorphosis. For a start, there was the debilitation of jet lag: what felt in the bones like the middle of the night was actually day, and vice versa. Even more crippling was the sudden deprivation of language: at a stroke, the foreigner was rendered not only incapable of speech or comprehension but also illiterate. The relative smallness of the people, the lower height of doors and ceilings, the narrowness of chairs, even the smaller portions of food created the illusion of having grown measurably in size, like Alice down the rabbit hole. In twenty-first-century Tokyo, people rarely stared openly at foreigners, but always one was conscious of being the object of an unaccustomed attention from the rest of the human population—not outright gawping, neither unambiguous affection nor disapproval, but simply the discreet registering of difference. In Japan, you became a citizen of a new nation—that of the gaijin, the foreigner. It was a stimulating and frequently exhausting realm in which to live. "Life here means never taking life for granted, never not noticing," wrote the American expatriate writer Donald Richie. "It is with this live connection that the alert foreigner here lives. The electric current is turned on during all the walking hours: he or she is always occupied in noticing, evaluating, discovering and concluding... I like this life of never being able to take my life for granted."

But this was not to be the experience of Lucie and Louise. Without even knowing that they were making the choice, they turned away from the Japaneseness of Japan. Lucie had fifty-nine days to live, and she would spend them in a few hundred square yards of Tokyo engineered for the pleasure and profit of gaijin: Roppongi.

♥ In Japan, where everything had its place, hostessing, hostesses, and hostess clubs did not exist in isolation. The jumble of nightlife establishments to be found in Roppongi—downmarket and upmarket, decent and disgraceful—was encompassed by a beautiful and suggestive term: mizu shōbai, literally, the "water trade." The phrase was mysterious. Did it refer to the drinking, which was an essential part of the nighttime experience? To the evanescence of its pleasures, flowing past like a stream? The image of water brought to mind sex, childbirth, and death by drowning. At one extreme, the mizu shōbai included the geisha, female entertainers of exceptional skill and refinement who were to be found only in the most old-fashioned quarters of Kyoto and Tokyo; at the other were hard-core S & M and torture clubs, where the most extreme degradation was exchanged for cash. In between extended a spectrum of sleaziness and elegance, cheapness and expense, openness and exclusivity.

Some Japanese would include within the mizu shōbai ordinary bars, pubs and karaoke parlors, but most definitions required the presence in some capacity of women attractive, at least notionally, to men. This might be no more than the mama-san of a tiny neighborhood "snack" (in Japanese, sunakku), a four-seat counter presided over by a middle-aged proprietress-barmaid whose active powers of seduction were on the wane. Some sunakku had younger waitress-hostesses who chatted and poured drinks under the mama-san's direction. The bigger of these shaded into the hostess bars and clubs, more likely to be found in larger cities, where female company, for conversation and karaoke, was provided at a price, along with drinks and snacks. "Gentlemen's clubs" were ones in which the female companions talked at the table but also stripped to nakedness during a public pole dance and in one-to-one "private" dances in a closed booth. The dancer writhed and gyrated astride the customer, who was allowed to touch and suckle her nipples and breasts, and who, in some places, could pay to go further. So, as the barmaid became a hostess, and the hostess overlapped with the stripper, so stripping evolved into prostitution.

♥ The U.S. military took over the barracks after the surrender, and around its entrance sprang up little bars catering to off-duty soldiers, with names such as Silk Hat, Green Spot, and Cherry. It was at this time that Roppongi's curious motto originated. Locals noticed that the American GIs would greet one another by slapping palms together above their heads. One could imagine the scene late at night, as a curious Japanese barman asked his customers about this, and the long, drunken attempt to explain the theory and practice of the high five. It was mistranslated into Japanese as hair tacchi, or "high touch"—hence the slogan on the walls of the Roppongi expressway: "High Touch Town."

♥ Yet for all this, she insisted that the club was not principally about carnality. "We were taught three things when we started. How to light our client's cigarettes, how to pour his drinks, and not to put our elbows on the table. We were also advised not to eat in front of him: it shows lack of subservience. Those rules aside, your job was to fulfill his fantasy. If he wanted you loud, you were loud. If he wanted you intelligent, you were intelligent. If he wanted you horny, you were horny. Sordid? Yes. Degrading? Yes. But one thing it wasn't was the White Slave Trade. The one thing the hostess bars are not about is sex."

♥ The argument of Nightwork was that, rather than sex, hostess clubs were actually about work. By encouraging and subsidizing the salaryman to spend his evenings together with colleagues, clients, and hostesses (rather than at hone with his wife and children), Japanese corporations enabled him to discharge stress and frustration in a way that served the corporations' ends—bonding with his workmates and building good relations with clients. The hostess club was both leisure and work; in colonizing the salaryman's after-office hours, as well as the working day, the company ensured that his first loyalty was not to his family but to his job. "They are tired when they arrive and the last thing they want to do is flog their wits to entertain either a client or a woman," Professor Allison wrote. "The hostess solves that problem. She entertains the client, flatters the man who is paying, and makes him look important and influential in front of others... If that same man went to a disco, he would probably fail to pick up a woman and go home feeling deflated and rejected. The hostess clubs remove the risk of failure."

Tokyo is the extreme land. Only high as a kite or lower than you can imagine over here... never anything between the two.

♥ After spending a little time in Roppongi, one's eyes became attuned to its spectrum, and it became possible to perceive the differences between a waitress and hostess, stripper and "massage" girl. But to most people, these distinctions were not obvious, and not especially interesting. "Some hostesses don't consider themselves part of the mizu shōbai because they are not having sexual intercourse," said Mizuho Fukushima, a female member of Japan's parliament who campaigned for the rights of foreign women in Japan. "But people outside consider what they are doing part of the sex industry."

Anne Allison writes, "There is something dirty about [the hostess], the sexuality she evokes, and the world of the mizu shōbai she represents. All of this sexual dirtiness, in turn, makes the woman who works in this world ineligible for respectable marriage, ineligible therefore to become a respectable mother with legitimate children... in a culture where motherhood is considered 'natural' for woman, the mizu shōbai woman is constructed as a female who transgresses her nature. For this she is degraded; for this, however, she is also enjoyed."

♥ His answers were prompt and efficient; as a provider of information he could not be faulted. But—from the point of view of the photographers and reporters and TV cameramen—that was not his role. Occasionally, in press conferences and conversation over the telephone, Tim would pause before delivering an answer. The pause would extend and lengthen until it filled the room with tension. At these moments, one had an inkling of great, gaping emotion held in check. But a silent pause cannot be quoted, cannot be photographed.

♥ He knew, too, that she had debts: Lucie asked him directly if he would pay them off. "I helped her manage them," he said. "I gave her bits and pieces, but I wasn't really in a position to write out a check for five thousand pounds, and I'm not sure that's something you want to get into the habit of doing. Of course, I live with the idea that if I'd paid her debts she wouldn't have gone to Tokyo. But I don't know that for a fact, and I'm not going to beat myself up about it, because there's no way out if you get into that trap. It's not going to make any difference to anything."

♥ Tim was discovering the power that an individual, at the tight moment, can exert over the media, the power of creating headlines.

♥ The most painful sight of all was a toy that Lucie had had since she was a tiny girl. Its name was Pover, a childish attempt at the name "Rover." It was a battered dog with long soft ears, which Lucie used to suck and nuzzle. Even as a young woman, Lucie never left Pover behind. He had accompanied her on all her trips with British Airways, growing mangier and more bedraggled with the years. He had gone with Lucie to Tokyo—and now here he was. "And that was a really bad sign," said Tim. "That was a very, very bad moment. It brought home what we were facing. Because if she'd gone away anywhere by choice, this thing would have been stuck in her handbag. But it was here. It all said: 'I planned to come back. I didn't.'"

♥ "Dealing with the press," Tim told me later, "it was a game. And I enjoyed it, if I'm honest: I did enjoy it. That doesn't mean that I was enjoying the situation I was in. But we felt that if we showed great strength then everyone else would respond, because they knew that we wouldn't give up. When I met Tony Blair, I didn't want to be patted on the head, and told, 'Oh poor you, how awful, never mind.' If I was strong, I'd make a bigger demand on his resolve. That's what you can do from a position of strength."

♥ Tim understood that there was more to it than a simple story of an evil con man and an innocent victim. He had needed Mike Hills, and, in some sense, out of grief and need, he had created him. Mike was Tim's version of the psychics to whom Jane was so susceptible. One promised deliverance based on supernatural insights; the other offered cruder and more palpable tools—bags of cash, guns, beatings.

"When I realized it was all lies, that was my concern," Tim said, "that this lifeline had been wrenched out of my hands. I wasn't concerned about the money, or whether I'd been conned. I felt no hurt about having been targeted or being the victim of a crime. Those things weren't of any interest or importance to me at all. The only soreness I had was the soreness of my hand, where this safety line had been wrenched out of it."

This was what I admired in Tim, and what was also so off-putting about him: even in confusion and grief, he had the capacity to step back and scrutinize his own situation in all its psychological complexity. How many men in his situation—humiliated, as many people would see it, by a con man—would have the courage and clear-sightedness to say, "It was money well spent"?

"I didn't feel angry," Tim said. "I just felt as if I was falling into an abyss—no lifeline and no hope. Where were we going to find it now, the next bit of hope?"

♥ The families of the missing are doubly burdened: first by the pain of their ordeal, and then by our expectations of them, expectations of a standard of behavior higher than we require of ourselves.

As humans, we seek naturally to help fellow creatures in distress. But most of us, whether we are conscious of it or not, expect something back—the flattery of helplessness and of need. Tim hid his pain and panic behind a screen of energetic concentration and activity, which deprived people of this comforting response. But Jane Blackman delivered it. Jane's pain was unconstrained and heartfelt. She needed help, appreciated it warmly, and her helpers were immediately able to feel themselves to be doers of good.

♥ Japan has the cuddliest police in the world. To many Japanese, the mere sight of omawari-san (literally, "Honorable Mr. Go Around," the expression for the cop on the beat) provokes feelings of tender pride more conventionally aroused by children or small, appealing animals. To the foreigner, too, there is something touchingly nostalgic about their neat navy blue uniforms and clunky, old-fashioned bikes. It is hard to believe that the handguns they carry at their hips contain real bullets and impossible to imagine them ever being fired (prudently, they are attached to their uniforms by a cord, like a child's mittens). And then there is the symbol of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, the country's proudest and most prestigious force: not a stern mastiff, or a watchful hawk, but a cheerful orange fairy named Peepo. The police are one of the things that impart to Tokyo its quaint, innocent, 1950s flavor: a tribe of earnest Boy Scouts, protecting the city from evildoers.

On the face of it, they are astonishingly and uniquely successful. Japan, like most nations, goes through spasms of anxiety about youthful delinquency and the erosion of traditional morals. But the essential fact remains: by every measure, Japan is the safest and least crime-ridden country on earth. Offenses like muggings, burglary, and drug dealing, which city dwellers in the rest of the world have learned to accept as part of everyday life, are between four and eight times lower than in the West.

Violent crime is rarer still, and for all of this the Japanese police proudly take credit. They believe that because Japan has the world's lowest crime rate, they must therefore be the world's greatest crime fighters. For years, this was the view of the Japanese population. One encounters little of the low-level cynicism that the inhabitants of other world cities instinctively feel towards the forces of law and order. But in 2000, at the time that Christa Mackenzie went to Azabu Police Station, this loyal consensus was unraveling.

♥ "We were motivated by our instincts as veterans. And then there was the fact that this girl was British, and the fact that she had been a cabin attendant for a famous company such as British Airways, a job that many girls aspire to."*

*One of the cultural differences revealed by the Lucie case was the differing international attitudes to flight attendants. In Britain, the figure of the "trolley dolly" is regarded with as much mockery as admiration. But in Japan, air stewardesses are a high-altitude elite, the epitome of feminine glamour and sophistication. At the height of their ascendancy, in the bubble years of the late 1980s, they were from time to time chosen as brides by pop stars and sumo wrestlers. For many Japanese, it was incomprehensible, indeed highly suspicious, that a woman would choose to give up a job at British Airways to become a bar hostess in Roppongi.

♥ The question of whether drugs might have come into it was quickly settled. "Louise wasn't using drugs, judging from the color of her face," Matsumoto said. "And from her physical state when she was talking with us for long hours. There were no bubbles around her mouth, as you sometimes see in drug users. She wasbn't thin, and she didn't get tired easily. There were none of those signs." In other words, because a person was not pallid and emaciated and foaming at the mouth, she could not be a user of illegal drugs. This was an elderly maiden aunt's view of narcotics and their effect. Coming from a proud detective, it was comically naïve, another sign of the innocence and unworldliness of the Japanese police, who faced so little serious crime that they sometimes had only the crudest idea of what it looked like.

♥ Surrounded by powerful and aggressive neighbors, Korea had been a battlefield throughout its history. As far back as the sixteenth century, samurai armies had plundered the peninsula, returning across the narrow Strait of Tsushima with treasures, slaves, and the severed ears of slaughtered Korean warriors. Japan began to dominate Korea once again to the end of the nineteenth century; in 1910, the country was formally annexed into the emerging Japanese empire. The colonizers built roads, ports, railways, mines, and factories, introduced modern agricultural methods, and sent the children of the Korean elite to be educated in Tokyo. But whatever good Japanese power brought in the form of economic development was eclipsed by the racism, coercion, and violence of the imperial occupation.

The policies of the Japanese administration shifted over time. But by the late 1930s, its goal was not merely to control Koreans and exploit their resources but also to dissolve their culture ad colonize their minds. The Japanese language was made compulsory in schools; students were required to worship at Shinto shrines, and Koreans were encouraged to take Japanese names. Infrequent uprisings were quelled with arrests, torture, and killings. And a vast and unequal human exchange took place, as Japanese bureaucrats and settlers were shipped over to govern and farm the new lands, and poor Koreans sailed in the opposite direction to find work in the industrial cities of Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka.

At first, this migration was voluntary, but as the Pacific War turned against Japan, its colonial subjects were forcibly conscripted, both by the Imperial Army and civilian industry. By 1945, hundred of thousands of Koreans were scattered across Asia with the Japanese forces, as soldiers, orderlies, camp guards, and military sex slaves (the "comfort women" whose existence was officially denied for almost fifty years). In Japan itself there were two million Zainichi, most of them concentrated in ghettos close to the mines and factories where they were set to work. As much as anything, it was the sudden presence of so many foreigners in the motherland that showed up the hypocrisy of Japanese colonialism.

Government policy was bent on the complete assimilation of Koreans, whose own culture and language would be swallowed up. But while Japan was content to obliterate their identity, it could not bring itself to allow Koreans the privileges and status enjoyed by its own people.

♥ In Japan, a crime is regarded not merely as the act of a criminal; in some deep sense, it originates from within his family. Morally, if not legally, his closest relatives also bear a responsibility—hence the spectacle, surprisingly common in Japan, of a wrongdoer's parents (and sometimes siblings, schoolteachers, even employers) bowing deeply before the cameras and offering tearful apologies for deeds over which they had no influence or control.

♥ Japan immediately after the war was poor and chaotic, but for Koreans it was a moment of rare confidence and opportunity. One can imagine the powerful, even violent, exhilaration: after thirty-five years as despised underdogs, Zainichi stood suddenly alongside the victors, a liberated people in the heart of the defeated country. Osaka, like almost every other city, had been substantially destroyed by Allied bombing. Title deeds to property had been lost forever; in the confusion that followed, force was enough to make claims to land that might never be overturned. Black markets sprang up in the ruins, dominated by the Japanese yakuza on one side, and on the other by the people referred to as sangokujin, or "third-country people"—newly liberated citizens of the former colonies. They were murderous turf wars. The police looked on helplessly as armies of gangsters fought pitched battles with hundreds of Koreans, Taiwanese, and Chinese. Many Zainichi hurried back to Korea after liberation, but conditions there were as wretched and desperate as in Japan. And after the exultation of victory, those who stayed behind were soon faced with the reality of their situation. They were still poor, still disadvantaged, and still the victims of prejudice. And with the defeat of the empire and the liberation of Korea, they were unambiguously foreigners, stripped of even the basic rights of colonial subjects.

♥ The yakuza had always been a refuge for those with nowhere else to go, for the poor, outcast, and marginalized. Koreans were prominent in the great Japanese gang syndicates—the Yamaguchi-gumi in Osaka and Kobe, and the Sumiyoshi-kai in Tokyo—and there were Korean gangs too, such as the Yamagawa-gumi and the Meiyu-kai, notorious for their aggression, who defended Zainichi shops and ghettos.

♥ People who lived through the ten years after the war remember a period of acute hardship and food shortages, in which grown adults sometimes died of hunger, but they also talk of fellowship and camaraderie that are rarely present in times of prosperity and of a dark, gallows humor.

♥ "Most Zainichi Koreans aren't conscious of discrimination," an Osaka journalist told me. "That's just who they are—they get on with their lives. It's the people with ambition, who want to rise in society, they're the ones who hit the glass ceiling. Most of the time they don't realize they're captive. It's only the ones who try to escape who suddenly become aware of the cage. These are people who've grown up in Japan, speaking Japanese, eating Japanese food, never imagining that they are objects of discrimination. For people like this, in the second or third generation, the shock of discrimination is very great."

♥ The story is called "It Happened One Day," and its protagonist is a Zainichi named Bun'ichi Ri. He is sitting on the subway when three Japanese men of his own age board the train; he understand immediately that they are deaf. Unintelligible whooping sounds come from their mouths. They communicate with one another in sign language, with busily moving hands and exaggerated facial expressions. Bun'ichi wonders if subtle emotions and nuances of feeling can ever be expressed with fingers and eyebrows. But the deaf men are struggling so hard, with such physical effort, to communicate with one another. The sight of them moves him deeply.

Bun'ichi, we are told, had "problems at home." To escape them, he first put his energy into "social issues," also of an unspecified kind. But he became disillusioned with the "phoniness" of the Zainichi organizations in which he participated and preoccupied by painful questions about discrimination. He identifies this not only in the treatment of Koreans by Japanese but also in a sense of superiority over others that he recognizes in himself. If Bun'ichi is a victim of racism, he also has to own up to prejudices of his own. "What are we to do with this habit, this instinct to discriminate against others, to feel good in setting another below ourselves?" he asks. "In thinking about such things, he felt the weight of a stone on the top of his head." Bun'ichi feels himself to be divided within, to carry inside him a consciousness separate from his own—a cold, scrutinizing intelligence that passes judgement on him for saying one thing while intending another. It is the absence of this self-consciousness in the deaf men on the train that moves him so much. "They struggled without self-deception," he observes. "There was no dishonesty in their desperate struggle to communicate."

A drunk Japanese man walks down the subway train—in his shiny suit and white shoes, he looks like a yakuza. One of the deaf men unintentionally brushes against him. The drunk reacts furiously, grabbing his collar and demanding an apology; all the deaf man can do is whoop wordlessly. Bun'ichi stands up and shouts at the bully to lave his victim alone, and so the man turns upon him. In a fight between the stocky thug and the tenderhearted Bun'ichi, it is obvious who will come off best. But before any blows are exchanged, the three deaf passengers come between the two of them—and in the end, it is the handicapped men who save the Korean from a beating by the Japanese gangster.

Bun'ichi had intervened out of what he identified as a sense of fairness and justice. But in his humiliation, the voice in his head passes a harsher verdict. He acted because he had judged the deaf men to be weak and vulnerable. His anger against the drunken thug was actually based on a kind of prejudice and an assumption of superiority over the disabled—not so different from the prejudice he faces as a Zainichi. "Are we the strong if we name them the weak?" he asks himself. "Then what about Koreans in Japan who are discriminated against even in our jobs in this closed Japanese society? Which are we, the strong or the weak?"

He gets off the train and walks home from the station, filled with confusion and self-reproach. "Am I no different from those I despise?" he asks himself. "Why do human beings want to discriminate against human beings?"

He finds himself walking past a big house with an imposing front gate, a garden of "huge heavy stones, so huge that an ordinary house might be built with them." A Cadillac drives past with its headlights blazing. "Bun'ichi wondered if people who live in such a house would ever think about what troubled him."

This house, although few readers of the story could eve have known it, is recognizably the house of the Kin family in Kitabatake; the Cadillac is probably old Kim Kyo Hak's car. And so, in a story about self-reproach and isolation, Eisho Kin turns the final reproach against himself. He has created a sympathetic character, who articulates complicated feelings of alienation and self-disgust. But he has done so from a situation of unearned privilege, from behind the high walls in Kitabatake. Even the young man in his story, isolated as he is, is less isolated than the people in the big house. "Those parents and sons, so used to their wealthy life," Bun'ichi reflects, referring, although he doesn't know it, to his own creator. "What about me?"

♥ Obara was held in one of the cells inside the same building. In theory, criminal suspects in Japan are supposed to be kept in detention centers from which they travel in the morning for questioning and where they are dropped off after working hours. In fact, they are almost always held at a police station, where the organization investigating them also controls every aspect: visitors, the time and duration of their interrogations, their food, even the lighting in the cells.

Many of the rights regarded as fundamental in British and American justice are unavailable to the suspect in Japan—or, if available in theory, waived or ignored in practice. He has the right to see a lawyer, but the frequency and duration of the visits are decided by the police. He has the right to remain silent under questioning, but he is obliged to sit through the questions, which can go on for hour after hour through relays of fresh officers until the suspect is numb with boredom and fatigue. There is no obligation for detectives to record interrogations. Instead of a verbatim account, they produce at the end of the proceedings a summary (known within the justice system as the "prosecutor's essay") to which the exhausted suspect is simply asked to put his name.

An arrest warrant allows the police to hold a suspect for three days, but with the permission of a judge this can be extended, twice, by ten days at a time. The judge almost never refuses. For twenty-three days, then, a person can be incarcerated incommunicado by the police, without any access to lawyers, family, or friends, and without any charge being brought against him. "The formal legal system in Japan provides detectives with so many advantages that they rarely need to resort to obviously illegal tactics," writes the criminologist Setsuo Miyazawa. "The whole system is designed and implemented in such a way that the suspect will offer apparently voluntary confessions to his captors."

But the detectives and prosecutors work under one particular pressure of their own: the pressure to obtain a confession. Unlike British or American court, where it is necessary only to prove the facts, Japanese courts attach great importance to motive. The reasoning and impulses that led to a crime must be proved in court; they are a crucial factor in determining a convicted criminal's sentence. The who, what, where, and when are not enough: a Japanese judge demands to know why. A detective, then, is obliged to get inside his suspect's skull. If he fails to do that, he is not considered to have done his job.

... And Japanese suspects do confess, whether they are guilty or not; over the years, they have confessed more and more. In 1984, eleven out of twelve people brought to criminal trial in Japanese courts admitted the charges against them. By 1998, the proportion was fifteen out of sixteen. From time to time, police and prosecutors break jaws, mash noses, and bruise genitals. ("To us Japanese, hitting in the head is not serious," one prosecutor said. "Kicking is serious.") But physical abuse is usually mild, intended to be humiliating rather than painful: slaps; light kicks; deprivation of sleep, food, and water; cigarette smoke blown in the face. More common is psychological intimidation; Johnson described "suspects [who] were threatened, intimidated, worn down, led, induced, scolded, berated, manipulated, and deceived." But given the police's overwhelming power over those in their custody, such crude measures are rarely necessary. Japanese detectives, by and large, are calm, polite, detached, insistent, and relentless. They simply ask the same questions, over and over again, for the twenty-three days—or 552 hours, or 33,120 slow minutes—that they have suspects in their power. Most of the time, all they have to do is wait.

These, then, were the powers ranged against Joji Obara when he was arrested in October 12, 2000.

♥ This was the time of Japan's notorious bubble economy, the period between 1980s and early 1990s when Tokyo fleetingly became the wealthiest city in the history of the world. After forty years of steadily accelerating growth, the Japanese yen, the stock exchange, and, above all, the value of land began to rise with intoxicating speed. Anyone holding property became rich, whether they deserved it or not, and Japanese banks competed with one another to lend them money without asking very many questions.

These were giddy years in London and New York too, but nowhere was the consumption more conspicuous than in Tokyo. The grossness of bubble excess has become the stuff of urban legend: the nightclubs with mink covers on their lavatory seats, the cocktails sprinkled with gold leaf, and the banquets of sushi eaten off the naked bodies of young models. The Japanese who had lived through the war had seen Third World poverty and destitution; now their economy was close to overtaking that of the United States. Foreign tourists, who were accustomed to being the wealthiest people in the country, found themselves impoverished by the strong yen, which drew in a new working gaijin population of bankers, businessmen, English teachers, and laborers. And the Japanese took pride in this. Not only people of the poorer countries of Asia but now also Americans, Australians, and Europeans were coming to Tokyo, not as transient businessmen or idle backpackers but as worshippers at the shrine of Japanese economic might. The symbol of this was the gaijin hostess clubs, where the pretty foreign blond flirted submissively with the rich, newly potent salaryman.

♥ Carita's body was placed in front of a Buddhist altar in the basement of the hospital. Annette and Nigel spent the night there, watching over her and lighting sticks of incense. The day after next, they made the long drive to the crematorium on the other edges of suburban Tokyo. They said goodbye to Carita, who lay peacefully in a coffin full of rose petals, and watched her disappear behind the steel doors of the furnace. None of them was prepared for what came next.

After a pause, they were led into a room on the other side of the building, and each given a pair of white gloves and chopsticks. In the room, on a steel sheet, were Carita's remains as they had emerged from the heat of the furnace. The incineration was incomplete. Wood, cloth, hair, and flesh had burned away, but the biggest bones, of the legs and arms, as well as the skull, were cracked but recognizable. Rather than a neat box of ashes, the Ridgways were confronted with Carita's calcined skeleton. As the family, their task, a traditional part of every Japanese cremation, was to pick up her bones with the chopsticks and place them in the urn.

"Rob couldn't handle it at all," Nigel said. "He thought we were monsters even to think of it. But perhaps it's because we were parents, and she was our daughter... It sounds macabre, as I tell you about it now, but it didn't feel that way at the time. It was something emotional. It almost made me feel calmer. I felt as if we were looking after Carita."

♥ I got a sense, hearing people talk about the police, and hearing the police talk about themselves, that they felt hard done by. A fundamental rule—that criminals confess—was being willfully broken. Under such conditions, how could it be surprising that they struggled? The idea that cunning, stubbornness, and mendacity were to be expected from a criminal, that it was in order to deal with such people that the police existed, did not occur to many of the detectives, or not for much of the time. They were not incompetent or unimaginative or lazy or complacent—they were themselves victims of extremely bad and unusual luck: that one in a million in Japan, the dishonest criminal.

♥ One thing stands out above all in considering the differences between the courts of Japan and those of Western Europe and North America: the conviction rate. Courts in the United States typically convict 73 percent of the criminal defendants who come before them, about the same as Britain. In Japan, the figure is 99.85 percent. Trial, in other words, brings almost guaranteed conviction: walk into a Japanese court, and you have the smallest chance of leaving through the front door. And this is reflected in the way that the public, the media, and even lawyers regard defendants. In Japan, for all practical purposes, you are not innocent until proven guilty. "You're guilty from the moment of arrest," one of Obara's lawyers would tell me. "Look at the amount of space given to reports of criminal cases. In a newspaper, the arrest of the suspect is huge. When charges are brought, that's smaller. Conviction and sentencing is a minor story."

Even the Japanese language colludes in this assumption. From the moment of arrest, sometimes before charges have been laid, a suspect ceases to be referred to by the conventional honorifics, -san or -shi, and comes -yogisha. Obara-yogisha: not Mister, but Criminal Suspect Obara.

♥ Japan had abandoned jury trials during the Second World War. Since then, exclusive power to determine guilt or innocence, and to impose sentence, lay with a panel of three judges.*

*"Lay judges"—members of the public who sit on the panel alongside the professional judges—were introduced in 2009, part of broader reforms intended to increase the pace and efficiency of Japanese criminal trials.

♥ To Western eyes, junior judges, with their soft, plump faces and pimples, looked incongruously young. Their authority was emphasized by long back robes; the occupants of the courtroom rose to their feet as they entered the chamber. Witnesses took a solemn oath before their testimony; lawyers and judges addressed one another politely and formally. But there was none of the dignified theatricality that one encounters in a British court, and little sense of the court as a place apart from the world around it.

Cross-examinations were pedestrian and anticlimactic. Statements were read gabblingly; legal motions were dry and unimpassioned. No one ever lost his temper or raised his voice, or displayed any personal care about the outcome of the proceedings. There was no oratory, no grandstanding, no conflict, no drama, and little display of emotion beyond occasional mild irritation. Rather than a majestic legal inquiry, the trial had about it the air of a teachers' staff meeting at a stuffy school.

♥ It was necessary to show the court that a man could have cut a body into ten pieces and disposed of them without leaving a trace if his victim's DNA. In May 2004, the police had attempted to do this by sawing up a dead pig inside a tent.

... But when the pig experiment was done, Chief Inspector Akakime reported, not a trace of red fluid had escaped the tent.

♥ One of the effects of Japan's astonishingly high conviction rate is that very, very few people want to be criminal defense lawyers. Why would they? Compared to commercial cases, such work is poorly paid and brings none of the compensations of glanour or social recognition. Japanese tend to regard criminal defenders suspiciously, as people who try to justify the actions of criminals—and, because almost everyone who comes to trail is convicted, there is a logic to this belief. Based on the prevailing rates, the average defense lawyer can expect to achieve an acquittal once every thirty-one years.

♥ "..I see somebody who is the same age as me, and who has by their actions produced the most terrible, terrible trouble for themselves, and done something so appalling to someone else's life. And in a very strange way, there's a degree of... pathos that tends to neutralize what might be more natural anger."

I asked, with more surprise in my voice than I intended, "Do you feel sorry for him?" and Tim said, "I do feel sorry for him. I do. I do feel sorry for him."

Tim and Obara had been born just eleven months apart. They both owned boats; both of them made their money in property. Nothing better caught the complexity of Tim's own character, his stubborn unorthodoxy, which to me was so likable and admirable but which to many people was repellent. Almost on principle, he refused the obvious point of view and the temptations of conventional morality. The high ground was his for the taking, but instead of marching ahead to claim it, he dawdled and skirted around it, finding shades of pathos and ambiguity where others could see only black and white. Onlookers were not merely puzzled by this—they were appalled.

If Lucie Blackman's killing was not a straightforward example of good against evil, then what was? To be told by none other than her father that there was complexity here, to see Tim striving to be fair and sympathetic to his own daughter's killer, undermined people's certainty in their own sense of right. They took Tim's lack of orthodoxy as an affront to their own. They identified him as a transgressor, almost a blasphemer, against acceptable ways of feeling.

♥ The payment of cash from perpetrator to victim is a well-established procedure in Japanese criminal cases, frequently encouraged by prosecutors. A dangerous driver who has injured a pedestrian, a shoplifter, even a rapist, can reduce his sentence, and occasionally avoid prosecution altogether, by making a financial settlement, often accompanied by statements of forgiveness or appeals for leniency from his victim. To a Western mind, such agreements are a dangerous interference with the impersonal workings of justice. But to many Japanese it is common sense that an offender should do what he can to compensate someone whom he has hurt. In one gang-rape case, for example, defendants who paid ¥1.5 million to the victim received a three-year jail sentence, compared to four years for those who did not, or could not, find the money. "In case of this kind, ¥1.5 million is about the 'exchange rate' for a one-year reduction of sentence," writes David Johnson. "In murder cases, where terms of imprisonment range from three years to life (and capital punishment is a possibility), the desires of the victim's survivors have an effect that must be measured in years, if not in life itself."

♥ The experience of bereavement is often compared to the loss of a limb, but rarely is it a nearly sutured surgical amputation. In the case of a young person who dies violently and unexpectedly, it is like the tearing of an arm from its socket. Muscles and arteries are ripped open; the shock and loss of blood threaten the functioning of organs far from the wound. After Lucie died, the private world through which she had moved was tipped permanently off its axis. The pain of the event surged outwards, afflicting not only her immediate family and close friend but people she had never known.

♥ And then there was the baffling, protracted trial: grim and comic, lurid and tedious at the same time, with dead pigs in tents, frozen dogs, politely obliging gangsters, and the dark, evasive villain at the center of it.

A crew-cutted thug, a svelte psychopath, or a twitching inadequate—any of them would have been more satisfactory than Joji Obara, with his lisp and his loneliness and his fastidious, outlandish determination.

♥ Japan has a population more than double that of Britain, but in 2005 it recorded 2.56 million crimes, fewer than half the 5.6 million reported in England and Wales. MOst remarkably, only 3.5 percent of these were crimes of violence, compared to 21 percent in Britain.

♥ The notion that Japanese men are "obsessed" with Western women is a racist cliché: cocky, skirt-chasing foreign men with an appetite for Japanese girls are far more evident than the famous gropers. Japanese pornography and manga are unique in their style, but the idea that the Japanese masturbators are greater consumers of porn than their counterparts in the West is contradicted by all the facts. And anyone who believes that this is a sexually repressed country has only to spend a Friday night among the Roppongi girls, who feed on foreign men with equal enthusiasm and appetite.

What makes Japan "so very different"? Not merely the characters on the signs and the faces of the people. There is something far deeper, a fugitive quality, difficult to put into words, the source of so much of the pleasure, as well as the frustration, of the life of the gaijin: a drastic unfamiliarity about the atmosphere of the streets, gesture of individuals, and the emotion of the crowd. An intense and thrilling energy drives Tokyo, but it is narrowly channeled by constraints of convention and conformity. The closest most people come to identifying this is to talk of Japanese "restraint" and "politeness," and it greatly complicates the business of reading people and understanding situations.

Japanese men rarely make the overt displays of aggressive masculinity that Westerners deploy to impress or intimidate. They seldom preen or strut; almost all of the time, they are the opposite of menacing and sinister. To newcomers like Lindsay or Lucie, with no command of Japanese, they appeared "sweet," "shy," often "boring." In fifteen years, I have seen only two fistfights in Japan. Each one exploded out of nowhere, with no preliminary shouting or goading or facing off, and came to an end with equal abruptness.

The effect of this, for many foreigners, is to disable instincts of caution and suspicion that guide and protect them at home.

♥ But, after such a day with such a man, would it have seemed incautious or unusual to have accepted a glass of champagne, to have raised a toast, and to have drunk?

Many young women would have done the same thing in similar circumstances. Many more will in the future, and only the smallest fraction of them will ever come to harm. This, I began to think, was the sad and mundane truth about the death of Lucie Blackman: not that she was rash or idiotic, but that—in a safe, yet complex, society—she was very, very unlucky.

♥ Superintendent Udo, and the handful of other officers of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police who agreed to talk to me, were sincere, committed men who worked night and day in the hunt for Lucie's killer. Unfortunately, they served an institution that was, and is, arrogant, complacent, and frequently incompetent. The inadequacy of its police fore is one of the mysterious taboos of Japanese society, a subject that the media and politicians strain to avoid confronting, or even acknowledging.*

At the local level, as directors of traffic, helpers of confused old ladies, and chastisers of the drunk and disorderly, they are outstanding. In cases of more serious crime, they are competent at wringing confessions out of conventional Japanese criminals. But against almost any out-of-the-ordinary crime, they are lamentably ill equipped—sclerotic, unimaginative, prejudiced, and procedure-bound, a liability to a modern nation. Their performance, in the Lucie Blackman case and many others, suggests that the true reason for Japan's lack of crime lies not with its guardians but with is people, who are law-abiding, mutually respectful, and nonviolent not because of but despite the performance of the Japanese police.

*Other taboos include the power of organized crime and the ultranationalist far right, and the Imperial Family and its role.

♥ Shape-shifter, he was the pain of his victims; whatever mysteries he kept close, he was the damage he had done.

He was Jane's crusading fury over the "blood money" and Tim's stubbornness and humiliation in accepting it. He was the pills and vodka in Sophie's blood, and Rupert's lost year of mental breakdown. He was the rage kindled in Jamie Gascoigne. He was the effect of all of this pain at two or three removes—the suffering and confusion it brought to Jamie's girlfriend, the family memory of dead Lucie—aunt, great-aunt—in children yet unborn.

Humans are conditioned to look for truth that is singular and focused, hanging for all to see, like a clear, full moon in a cloudless sky. Books about crime are expected to deliver such a photographic image, to serve up a story as dry as a shelled and salted nut. But as a subject, Joji Obara sucked away brightness; all that was visible was smoke or haze and the twinkling upon it of external light. The shell, in other words, was all that was to be had of the nut. But the surface of the shell turned out to be fascinating in itself.

♥ It is exciting to imagine ourselves in extreme circumstances in which we are tested, morally and physically; in our own minds, we always pass such a test. Everyone who has children has dreamed of their deaths and understood it to be the worst of all losses. But beyond that, we can do no more than fantasize. We may hope that we would behave with dignity, restraint, and determination. But none of us can know with certainty, any more than we can predict the course of a rare and life-threatening disease.

♥ People are afraid of stories like Lucie's, stories about meaningless, brutal, premature death, but most of them cannot own up to their fear. So they take comfort in the certainty of moral judgement, which they brandish like burning branches waved in the night to keep off the wolves.

♥ But there is no right and wrong to loss, to grief. The pain is circular; it is its own fulfilment. Summoning the strength to break out of it was the task each of the Blackmans faced.

♥ All of this brought a kind of satisfaction, but Tim smiled wryly and shook his head when well-meaning people spoke tentatively to him of the possibility of "closure." No success imaginable—in his charity, in his professional or personal life—was ever going to equal or exceed or cancel out the loss of Lucie. The most he could hope for was to contain the loss and prevent it from overwhelming everything else in his life. The image came to his mind of a bulging black rubbish bag, stuffed with all the grief and frustration and regret associated with Lucie and her fate. The thought of opening the bag and sifting through its slimy contents made him feel that he was unraveling. He never acted upon suicidal thoughts, but they occurred frequently. It was not only the urge to escape from the heaviness of life but also the hope that, in dying, he would be reunited with Lucie.

♥ It was not that justice was unimportant. But it altered nothing, or nothing that really mattered. It was as if, after a frantic contest of strength between two equally determined and unyielding opponents, one had simply relaxed its grip and walked away. Lucie was still gone—and what could ever make a difference to that? Such a loss was unquenchable. What might have been consolations—arrest of suspect, trial, a guilty verdict, ¥100 million—evaporated into it like spoonfuls of water tossed into a desert. What if Obara had admitted guilt, begged forgiveness, wept out his black heart? What if he had been charged with murder, rather than manslaughter, and sentenced to hang? Imagine the most extreme vindication and retribution—nothing that mattered would be alleviated or improved by it. There was no satisfaction that could be imagined, only greater and lesser degrees of humiliation and pain. Lucie had been a unique being, a precious, beloved human creature. She was dead, and nothing would ever bring her back.

♥ It happened again on the day of the funeral, as Jane stepped out of the dark church into the light. Perched in a tree opposite the door was a blackbird, and as the service came to an end it fetched up a loud singing that filled the air above the graves. Lucie's friends and family milled outside in small groups and gradually broke off and left the churchyard, while above them the black bird trilled and fluted in the branches of the tree. "It started up as we were all walking out," Jane remembered, "and I said to myself at once, 'That's Lucie.' Everyone noticed, it was so loud. Tim even looked up at it and commented on it—'Listen to that bird! Isn't that bird making a lot of noise?' I just smiled to myself." And how sweet death would be, if it could all have ended there, with the image of a bird in a tree, pouring out its song.
Tags: 1st-person narrative non-fiction, 2000s, 20th century in non-fiction, 21st century - non-fiction, biography, british - non-fiction, cultural studies, death, diary, feminism, interviews, japanese in non-fiction, journalism, legal non-fiction, my favourite books, non-fiction, politics, prostitution, psychology, race, sexuality, social criticism, sociology, travel and exploration, true crime
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