The Fate of Lucie Blackman

I had this piece on Richard Lloyd-Parry’s book about the murder of Lucie Blackman published at Matador recently.

I was a little concerned about the editing, in which my introduction was just lopped off leaving the reader with a book review that doesn’t introduce the topic of the book. Readers familiar with Lucie’s name will do fine without an introduction, but for anyone else: Lucie Blackman was an English woman who was murdered in Japan while working as a hostess in a Tokyo club. Her accused murdered, Joji Obara was found guilty of multiple rapes, a murder, and of the disposal of Lucie’s body, but not of actually killing her.

The name of Lucie Blackman frequently comes up whenever I talk about hostessing in Japan. We worked at the same club, not at the same time but the same era; we were the same age, and both British. The flurry of media attention when she disappeared inspired in me a selfish frustration that my secret wasn’t a secret anymore. My story about working in “a bar” in Tokyo became increasingly implausible with each breathless report about the “seedy Tokyo underworld” that foreign girls were “helplessly lured into” (according to the gutter press.)

Parry’s book was one of four I have read in the past year or two that take Tokyo’s shady nightlife business as its topic — the others are Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein, Roppongi Crossing by Roman Adrian Cybriwsky and Illicit Flirtations by Rhacel Salazar Parrenas. All are refreshingly free of the sensationalistic writing that had characterized almost everything I had read about Roppongi, hostess clubs and the women working in them — like this book Inside the Shocking World of Tokyo Nightclub Hostessing (serialized in the Daily Mail, natch) that genuinely and without irony asks if Lucie’s murder was “exquisitely Oriental.” Like Susana Jones in her rebuttal to Campbell’s book, I had grown tired of representations of Japan and the Japanese and sex in Japan as weird, sick, crazy, something to to poked at, examined — as if those things are so clear cut in any other country.

Again, something was lost in the editing of my piece, but I hope that the point made it across. Sorry, Clare Campbell et al, but after several years of Tokyo nightclub hostessing, I can genuinely say there was very little “shocking” about the job that Lucie and I performed. The truth of her death was, as Parry writes, “sad and mundane.” She was “very, very unlucky.”

14 thoughts on “The Fate of Lucie Blackman

  1. So true about all the sensationalist writing about hostessing. I worked as a hostess, also at the same club as Lucie Blackman (then called Green Grass), and although the job was in no way sleaze free, Japan as a country isn’t some weird creepy place full of perverts, it’s actually a very beautiful culture that continually thinks of other people.
    I finished writing my own novel on Roppongi just after Tokyo Hostess came out, and used that particular book as research, BUT! I was pretty shocked by the shameless characterisation of Lucie from someone who’d never met her.
    Tokyo Vice is great – will check out the others. For the record, my book, Glass Geishas, aims to show the nice side of Japanese culture, and the nasty side of westerners who come to Japan to exploit it! God, how I miss lovely Japan! Thanks for a great blog post. xx

      1. Aw, what a lovely thing to say. Equally nice to e-meet a fellow Greengrass hostess.
        Let me know if you ever need any hostess-related bits and pieces. I still have greengrass business cards, photos from inside Casanova’s and Club Vincent/Montecarlo and Tokyo notice boards from 2002, and v happy to scan if you ever need pics.
        Keep up the great writing! Su xx

      2. Oh that’s wonderful. I’m not sure if I have any of those kinds of things any more. Thanks so much. Lovely to meet you and can’t wait to read Glass Geishas! ❤

  2. Karen-

    I always enjoy reading about the back-story and process of writers’ writing, so thanks for this. And agreed- hostessing is just one of many examples of experiences that are sensationalized and made “other” by people who have never actually experienced them.

  3. Hi Karen,
    It has been very interesting reading your more sober take on the realities of working in Tokyo’s mizu-shobai.
    I worked in Roppongi for a total of two years in 94/95 and 97/98 – and have finally this year finished my debut novel ‘Roppongi’ based on those experiences.
    So, I wanted to let you know that novel is scheduled for release on Feb 11th, 2012:
    Having finished the arduous process of writing and editing the novel, I now have a couple of years of promotion, marketing and publicity to look forward to – I think they call it the shameless self-promotion phase!
    So, very shortly I will be distributing pre-publication copies of Roppongi for publicity and review purposes, with a view to receiving quotes and feedback which can be used in future publicity.
    Accordingly, I have selected a number of people who have previously published Tokyo-centric work, particularly where it relates to Japan’s many and varied underworld themes.
    I would very much appreciate receiving something from you, so if you are at all interested in reading, and reviewing or commenting on Roppongi, I would be more than happy to send you a copy.
    Check out the Roppongi website, and if you have any queries, please let me know.
    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Best wishes,

    1. Hi Nick,

      Congratulations on having your book published! I took a look at your website and loved what you wrote about the “Roppongi diaspora” and the special bond we share. I would love to read a copy for review.

      Congrats again!

      1. Hi Karen,
        Just wanted to touch base to check that you’d received your copy of ‘Roppongi’. Looking forward to hearing from you when you have a moment.
        Best wishes,

      2. Hi Nick,

        Yes, the book arrived just before I left on an extended trip. Hoping that I will be able to get to it soon.

        Thanks so much and good luck!

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