Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Is Our Daughter at Auntie Norie’s This Weekend?

My new novel, Tokyo Lives, features a teenage runaway-turned-prostitute named Megumi. She’s introduced in chapter one—but don’t get attached because she’s dead by chapter two.

Young Megumi plies her trade in the dark alleys of Shibuya. She’s left home, but we’re not sure why. At this point, it doesn’t really matter. As rain falls and the weather turns, she’s cold, hungry, and desperate for a sanctuary for the night. Along comes a familiar John, and things are looking up.

Never mind that she gets murdered; Tokyo Lives is fiction. But in reality, there are thousands of girls just like Megumi prowling the streets of Tokyo. They’ve alighted from the doldrums of their (mostly) bucolic upbringings in search of excitement and money in the big city. A strong distaste for overbearing or abusive parents is the most common precipitator.

Nobody knows for sure how many runaways there are, or how many end up as prostitutes (though this helpful article includes some stats). The Japanese only grudgingly admit such imperfections exist.

Cultural burdens play a role. The parents are so ashamed that they don’t admit their daughter has run away. With a wink and a nod, people in town whisper stories of visiting relatives or attending boarding school. In Jane Austen’s day, such tales covered up unplanned pregnancies. In modern Japan, they mask crumbling family units. And the smaller the town, the worse the indignity for the family.

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