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People Who Eat Darkness

Book Review

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

By Richard Lloyd Parry

Japan has such a civil and well-ordered society that when one comes across horrible stories of crimes and the victims there it can be very disturbing. However, this is indeed a part of Japanese life, and one can learn a lot about the true nature of the country when one takes a close look at such matters. That is because the Japanese deal with them in their own unique way. Although it may be painful to see the depths of depravity that human beings can sink to, there are sociological factors that play roles that one could scarcely expect.

I remember reading about this true story of a young Englishwoman working as a hostess in a nightclub in Tōkyō who disappeared in the summer of 2000. For a couple of weeks it was in the headlines, and then it faded away. From time to time there would be a related item in the news, but it would not develop into anything. Then, a few months later, a suspect was apprehended. That seemed to have settled everything, and few people ever gave it a second thought.

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That is, except the loved ones of the victim, who were devastated by the loss of a lovely young woman who had her whole life in front of her. It is to be expected that they would be affected profoundly, but there was someone else who could not get the affair out of his mind: Richard Lloyd Parry, The Times of London’s Asia correspondent. At first it was just one more story for him, but as he investigated further, he became drawn deeper and deeper into it. In fact, he eventually found himself defending himself in the Japanese courts as the results of his efforts.

But it started simply enough. On July 1, 2000, Lucie Blackman, a 21 year old woman from England failed to return home and was reported missing the next day by her roommate. The Japanese police were not impressed. Lucie had been working as a hostess in a nightclub, a job that has a somewhat suspect reputation in Japan. It is not unusual for people in that world to drift in and out of respectable society.

However, Lucie’s father, Tim Blackman, and her sister Sophie immediately flew to Japan to search for her. And, as luck would have it, the Group of Eight summit meeting of the industrialized countries was being held in Okinawa at the end of that month.

“I knew about the G8,” said Tim. “And I thought, ‘If there’s this summit out there, the whole world and his mother will be watching Japan, and this will help us. If we can get people back home interested, if we can get the electorate concerned about Lucie and what’s happened to her, then any politician, including the prime minister, is going to be duty bound to ask questions—otherwise it looks like he’s a crap bloke.’”

Tony Blair did, in fact, take an interest in the matter and spoke directly to the Japanese prime minister about it. That lit a fire under the police.

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Within a matter of days 30,000 flyers were distributed all over the metropolitan Tōkyō area with Lucie’s photograph and physical description of her. A hotline was set up for tips about what had happened and many people volunteered to help. Tim and Sophie set up camp in a hotel and held one news conference after another in a desperate effort to find Lucie.

But as the days dragged on into weeks, their hopes began to fade, along with the interest of the public. The police seemed to be doing little to help, despite the initial activity that followed the intervention of the government. They eventually returned to England and tried to resume their lives.

These kind of sad stories have occurred many times in Japan. Parry relates one such case that concerned a twenty-two year old British woman named Lindsay Hawker, who was murdered in the suburbs of Tōkyō:

She was a teacher of English. One Sunday, she went to the apartment of a twenty-eight-year-old man named Tatsuya Ichihashi after giving him a conversation lesson and never returned home. When the police called there the following day, Ichihashi fled from them in his stockinged feet. The officers found Lindsay buried in a soil-filled bathtub. She had been beaten, raped, and throttled.

How many times foreigners—in Japan and Britain—commented on “how Japanese” Lindsay Hawker’s death was, without ever being able to say exactly why. The case spoke to unarticulated but deep-seated stereotypes. A jumble of images and ideas were called to mind, involving stalkers, repressed and perverted sexuality, pornographic comic books, and notions about the way Japanese men regarded Western women. It was as if, far from being an appalling aberration, the death of Lindsay Hawker was an accident waiting to happen.

“People Who Eat Darkness” is filled with comments like this, well-written, well-informed about Japanese society, but dealing with the seedy side of life. All too often Westerners romanticize Japanese culture, blithely ignoring those unseemly parts that do not fit in with their preconceptions. It is fortunate that works such as this book are written to give the outside world a fuller picture of Japan.

Parry has spent decades in Japan, and he knows the country inside and out. Whereas in the past books about Japan have frequently contained mistakes about the culture and language, “People Who Eat Darkness” gets all of the facts straight. It has been praised by publications such as The Economist, The Guardian and the New Statesman for its outstanding reporting. The book is eminently readable, almost like a murder mystery. And it has as many dead ends, red herrings and false leads as a detective novel.

But it also shows the parts of Japan that are hidden most of the time: the ethnic prejudice, criminals like yakuza who play their own role in society, and the right wing crazies who cause their own kind of trouble for the authorities. Although the book is haunting in its sadness, it also provides great insight into Japanese society.

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