Black Labyrinth: The True Story of the Lucie Blackman Case, 15 Years On, the Japanese translation of People Who Eat Darkness, was just published by Hayakawa Publishing. Among the extras in the Japanese edition is a new Afterword by Richard Lloyd Parry—a heartfelt search for the “surviving traces” of a tragedy that shook the world. But bear in mind that is an Afterword—if you're highly spoiler-sensitive (we don't think there's anything too dangerous), you might want to go ahead and read the book first (you can get a taste here)...
AFTERWORD TO THE HAYAKAWA EDITION
Last autumn, fourteen years after their fateful coming together, I took two days off work and travelled in search of the surviving traces of Lucie Blackman and Joji Obara. I have lived in Japan long enough to know how quickly its cities change, their neighborhoods razed and rebuilt, their landmarks obliterated. But I was amazed by how little remained of the places I had got to know in those first years of the 21st century.
The pokey gaijin house where Lucie had lived was now an arty cafe, selling framed paintings and expensive coffee. In Roppongi, immense shopping, hotel and office developments were threatening to overwhelm the old mizu shobai establishments beneath a wave of consumerism and respectability. The club where Lucie had worked was gone – shut down, rumor had it, after a raid by police and immigration officers two years earlier. And the foreign hostesses who remained were no longer the British, Australian and Canadian girls of Lucie’s time, but a new cast of South Americans, East Europeans and Russians—more hungry, more mercenary, and more cynical.
The poor Osaka neighborhood where Obara grew up had also disappeared under a vast new shopping centre (although the big house in Kitabatake was still there, still giving nothing away from behind its rampart of walls and surveillance cameras). A decade and a half has passed, after all. Japan has absorbed the drama of Lucie and Obara, and moved on. And this is both inevitable and disturbing.
The case has not been without consequences, most obviously for the way that Britain and Japan deal with similar tragedies. Tim Blackman's bulldozing determination was a jolt to the authorities of both countries, and they learned from the experience. A British family whose loved one comes to grief abroad today will receive a degree of official attention and support quite unavailable to the Blackmans (from, among others, the charity which Tim established in his daughter's name). The Japanese police have learned a lesson too, about the importance of dealing sensitively with the relatives of foreign victims—at least, foreign victims from rich, “respectable,” western nations.
But in most ways, Japan's police remain unreformed, and new examples of their incompetence and dishonesty emerge with disgraceful regularity. To cite only the most extreme recent examples: Govinda Prasad Manali, an innocent Nepali, spent 16 years in prison for murder, after police bullied and bribed witnesses into signing false statements; Iwao Hakamada, who was tortured into confessing to a murder he didn't commit, was finally released last year after 45 years under sentence of death. The problem is structural: the police do not improve because they receive no effective oversight, either from their toothless “regulator,” or from a timid and reverent media. Japan expends much energy these days contemplating the future of its military forces. Much more urgent, in this age of trans-national crime and international terrorism, is reform of the police.
But I tried always to tether it to the experience of individuals, all of whom are still around today. The rift between Tim Blackman and Jane Steare is unbridged, but both live contentedly with their new partners. Sophie Blackman has emerged from the despair of Lucie's death as a happy, grounded and successful professional, a manager in a large public hospital outside London. Lucie’s brother, Rupert, lives in the Netherlands, and has a flourishing career as a singer-songwriter.
Both Tim and Jane read this book as soon as it came out; I was curious, of course, and a little nervous, about what their reaction would be. Both responded separately with what amounted to the same complaint: that the book was biased in favor the other. For a short while, I felt sad about this; and then I felt relief. In a story which, in part at least, is about a failed marriage, it is probably the best I could have hoped for. I remain in touch with Tim and Jane, and the signs are that whatever bias they detected has now been forgiven.
And what of Lucie? She would have turned 36 last year. By now, I have little doubt, she would be a wife and a mother, living close to the town where she grew up. In Britain, she is lovingly remembered by her family and friends, and through the work of the Lucie Blackman Trust. But on my nostalgic night out in Roppongi last year, it was jolting to discover almost no one there, among the bar hostesses and street touts, who even remembered her name, let alone the fate that had befallen her in these same streets.
Late the next morning, I took the train out to the Miura Peninsula, and visited the beach where Lucie's body was found. The autumn sea was very cold and clear. The cave was as dank as ever, but it was not empty. On the sand, directly above the spot where Lucie lay for seven months, was a small, makeshift shrine. A withered flower in a jar. A child's soft toy. A tiny bell, and a few sticks of incense. Someone was still coming here, someone who had never known Lucie, to offer prayers, and tokens of consolation. Even after all these years, Lucie was remembered.
Now that you’ve read the Afterword, maybe you should try the Prologue...
Richard Lloyd Parry is the Asia editor and Tokyo bureau chief of The Times (London) and the author of In the Time of Madness and the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller