Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tokyo Stories: 2

I didn't last long at Greengrass either, and I truly hated that place. This club had a stiff atmosphere and a skeleton in the closet.
Greengrass, or Casanova as it was called then, was the hostess club where Lucie Blackman had worked. This was where she met the man who killed her. Lucie, a 20 year old former British Airways hostess from Kent, England came to Tokyo in 2000 intrigued, as many girls were, by travelers' descriptions of Tokyo as a goldmine for young Western women. The rumors, and they were true, told that you could make a huge amount of cash by just hanging out in bars with old rich men. Working as a hostess in Japan involved topping up the customer's whiskey glass, lighting his cigarette, singing karaoke, listening to and feigning fascination at his stories, all of which was to be done with elegance and dressed in an evening gown. The hostess was supposed to make the customer like her so much that he would take her out to dinner before coming in to the club together; this arrangement was called a dohan. Securing dohans was the point of all the smiling and feigning in the club, for a hostess would be penalized for not meeting her weekly quota. A customer upon whom you could rely for regular dohans was your customer, Lucie Blackman was murdered by her customer, Joji Obara. The misfit son of Korean immigrants Joji frequented Tokyo's hostess clubs. He was known in many, including Cadeau whose owner Kazuo later appeared in the press with a story about how he had personally rushed one of his hostesses to hospital with suspected poisoning after dinner with Obara. I didn't believe this story as I couldn’t believe that Kazuo would care so much about any of his girls.
It was in Casanova/Greengrass where Joji met Lucie. She disappeared after their dohan and was not seen again until her dismembered body was found buried on a beach. Obara was charged with drugging, raping and murdering Lucie and of the manslaughter of a Canadian hostess in the early 90's. He was acquitted of Lucie's murder, despite a mountain of evidence against him.
In my native Great Britain this story understandably received a lot of attention: pretty young blonde butchered by foreigner so far from home. Perhaps it was insensitive of me to worry that the intensity of coverage; the news reports, TV specials and magazine articles would lead my parents to figure out what it was I had been doing in Tokyo in the summer of 1998 when I said I was just working in an ex-pat bar. Fortunately the subject has never come up, our family does not talk about things that make us uncomfortable.

In a half-hearted attempt to distance itself from the murder, Casanova changed its name to Greengrass. But that is all that it changed, many of the customers and all of the staff were the same in 2005; the same unsmiling Burmese waiter and sour manager. We all knew but we were forbidden from saying it, a whispered "don't mention Lucie" hung heavy in the air. Occasionally at the sushi bar after work a few words could be teased out of a few; "yes, I knew her", "I took her for sushi one night", "I saw her the night before she disappeared".
In truth, I didn't last long enough at Greengrass to pry any further, I was fired on my way to the dressing room at the end of a quiet Monday night, presumably in retaliation for the evening’s poor takings.

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