Sometimes I dream about traveling to far off countries, seeing historic sites, meeting new people. And then I think of using public toilets in a foreign country and I think: Nope. Nope. Nope. I have a problem using the toilets at work. Me, travel to a completely foreign country where I might get diarrhea forever? Or eat unrecognizable food. I might have to eat something raw from the ocean that is still opening and closing its mouth: Nope. Nope. Nope. I can’t imagine walking down a narrow street in Tokyo, thinking ‘What’s that smell?’ and ‘Am I ever going to see my mom again?’ and then WHUMP! I vanish from the streets. Nobody saw anything. Nobody heard anything. I never existed.
As detailed by Richard Parry in the true crime book People Who Eat Darkness, that’s exactly what happened to Lucie Blackman in the summer of 2000. Lucie was a 21-year-old British woman in serious debt. The kind of debt that would take a lifetime to pay off. She and her friend Louise heard that if they took jobs as bar hostesses in Tokyo, they could pay off their debts fast. A hostess is basically a kind of fetish for the Japanese man. A hostess, often a foreign woman, gets paid to sit down and talk with a client for a few hours at a bar. Does prostitution come into play? Here’s where it gets a little murky.
Women who are hostesses can also go out on paid ‘dates’ with these gentlemen. The hostess gets part of the money while the club they work for also gets a cut. The men who pay for these dates are their ‘dohans.’ What the women do on these dates with their dohans is up to them. The hostesses are expected to let the men talk, flatter them, sympathize with their daily lives, and so on. Even if they’re the ugliest, rudest, most boring human on the planet. Sounds like a blind date where you’re way too nice to pretend to use the bathroom and then slip out the restaurant’s kitchen, so you sit for HOURS listening to him talk about his garage band and how he’s living in his mom’s basement ‘temporarily.’
One evening Lucie goes out to meet her dohan and calls her best friend Louise and says the man is giving her a cell phone, which was a pretty big deal back in 2000. And that’s it. No one hears from Lucie ever again. A man with perfect English calls Louise the next day to tell her that Lucie has joined a cult and will not be in contact with friends or family members. Lucie was in no way religious but she upped and joined a cult? Thus begins an almost decade long battle for Lucie’s family to find justice for her.
The Japanese police seem baffled as to what they can do to help and initially refuse to search for Lucie. Lucie’s father and sister come from England and begin searching for her, holding media interviews and setting up the Lucie Blackman Trust. There’s something slightly off about the father, nothing horrendously evil but something just this side of smarmy. He doesn’t grieve in the way people think he should. We all react differently to loss and if someone loses a loved one, especially to murder, we expect them to gnash their teeth and tear their clothing. But some people are subtle and subdued grievers.
Lucie’s sister, looking eerily similar to her dead sister, faces the public with anger and bitterness. Other hostesses begin to come forward, telling stories of waking up naked in a strange bed with the night before a blur and no idea what happened to them. They too were dismissed by the Japanese police. They all described the same man: quiet and on the sweaty side. But the man who spoke perfect English on the phone proves to be elusive. It takes several years for this man to come to trial, but it isn’t the end of the heartbreak for Lucie’s family. That kind of pain leaves a stain.
Reading like a novel, People Who Eat Darkness studies not only the relations between foreign countries and differing ideas of justice, but also the relations between family members and the inevitable toll debt takes upon a person. It’s also about a family that refuses to give up on finding answers: living through ten years of court battles that continue on to this day. The darkest hearts don’t reside just in our backyards or the familiar streets of our cities. They are everywhere. They wear the masks of politeness, culture and genteel kindness. But evil lurks behind the most unsuspecting of facades.