The Secret Sits

Lost In Tokyo: Part 2 - Club Casablanca

October 26, 2023 John W. Dodson Season 3 Episode 2
Lost In Tokyo: Part 2 - Club Casablanca
The Secret Sits
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The Secret Sits
Lost In Tokyo: Part 2 - Club Casablanca
Oct 26, 2023 Season 3 Episode 2
John W. Dodson

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In our second installment of Lost in Tokyo, Lucie Blackman and Louise Phillips have obtained hostess jobs at Club Casablanca in Roppongi, Tokyo. Their new jobs involve entertaining male customers, but is there more to this job than it seems? As Lucie and Louise adapt to life in Tokyo, they form connections with some of their new clients, however, their newfound stability is shattered when Lucie goes missing, leaving her family devastated and prompting their relentless quest to find her.

Join us as we delve into the mystery of Lucie's disappearance, where the line between her life inside and outside the club blurs. Follow the Blackman family's journey to uncover the truth, only on The Secret Sits.

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#LostInTokyo #ClubCasablanca #Mystery #LucieBlackman #Roppongi #HostessLife #CrypticCall #FamilySearch #TokyoLife #GeishaCulture #JapaneseNightlife #CulturalExchange #MissingPerson #InternationalMystery #TrueCrimePodcast #TheSecretSits #TonyBlair #HighTouchTown #DesperateSearch #UnwaveringHope

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Show Notes Transcript

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In our second installment of Lost in Tokyo, Lucie Blackman and Louise Phillips have obtained hostess jobs at Club Casablanca in Roppongi, Tokyo. Their new jobs involve entertaining male customers, but is there more to this job than it seems? As Lucie and Louise adapt to life in Tokyo, they form connections with some of their new clients, however, their newfound stability is shattered when Lucie goes missing, leaving her family devastated and prompting their relentless quest to find her.

Join us as we delve into the mystery of Lucie's disappearance, where the line between her life inside and outside the club blurs. Follow the Blackman family's journey to uncover the truth, only on The Secret Sits.

Send show suggestions to:

Follow us on our social media at:

TheSecretSitsPodcast (@secretsitspod) / Twitter

Support the show

All sources can be found in the show transcript.

#LostInTokyo #ClubCasablanca #Mystery #LucieBlackman #Roppongi #HostessLife #CrypticCall #FamilySearch #TokyoLife #GeishaCulture #JapaneseNightlife #CulturalExchange #MissingPerson #InternationalMystery #TrueCrimePodcast #TheSecretSits #TonyBlair #HighTouchTown #DesperateSearch #UnwaveringHope

Support the Show.

Lost in Tokyo a story in 6 parts: this is part two: Club Casablanca

[Underscore Music]

Lucie Blackman and Louise Phillips have moved to Tokyo, Japan and they both obtained jobs as hostesses in Roppongi, in 58 days, Lucie will disappeared.

[Theme Music Start]

We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the Secret Sits in the middle and knows.

[Theme Music Play Out]

[Under Score Music]

Lucie Blackman and Louise Phillips have only just arrived in Japan and with a great amount of luck, they have both secured jobs as hostesses at Club Casablanca in Roppongi. In the great sea of buildings that is Tokyo, Club Casablanca is little more than a footnote. Inside of a narrow brown building sits Club Casablanca, you would only know of its existence from the neon sign board out front. The club sat on the 6th floor of the building, which can be reached by elevator, as the door of the elevator opens [Elevator ding] you come face to face with a door upholstered with padded leather, a brass plate bearing the Club’s name is embedded into the upholstery. As you enter the club you find yourself inside of a dimly lite room, 20 feet by 60 feet, on your left are rows and rows of bottles tucked neatly behind the bar. To your right sits an electric keyboard and the backdrop and speakers of the club’s karaoke system, a favorite past time for the club’s many patrons. As you look around the perimeter of the club you will see the many comfy couches and armchairs in a soft pail blue, small drink tables dot the landscape and, in the background, hanging on the walls are many indistinguishable art pieces, they look murky in the background, the club’s dim lights obscuring the art within the frames.

A bar host will guide customers to a table, there they will place a complicated looking glass siphon that dispenses water through a pump. Next the barman will bring a bucket of ice, a set of metal tongs, and a decanter of whisky. These were a hostess’s tools of her trade, the tools for making mizuwari, the staple drink of Japanese businessmen, a simple mix of whisky and water. 

As you are picturing Club Casablanca in your mind, let me add to the picture, take everything I have described and lower the glamor level about 5 notches. The whisky is cheap and sickly tasting, the electronic keyboard is clunky sounding, and the speakers popped with age. The club wanted to be a lot of things but what it truly felt like was a relic from Las Vegas built in 1973. This atmosphere had a night owl type of allure to Japanese clients. After the barman had settled in a new client with their mizuwari, the club manager would signal to the hostesses and two of the women would cleave themselves from the pack and join the new client at their table.

In Japan, working as a club hostess can be quite an interesting job. In Japan, hostesses are known as "kyabakura" or "kyabajo," they work in establishments called hostess clubs or cabaret clubs. The main role of a hostess is to provide entertainment and companionship to male customers. A club hostess engages in conversations, pours drinks, participates in games and activities, and creates a pleasant and flirtatious atmosphere. Excellent customer service is crucial, and they often earn commissions based on sales. Hostesses pay attention to their appearance and grooming to present an attractive image. It's important to note that while some hostess clubs may have elements of the sex industry, the job of a hostess itself is purely focused on social interaction and entertainment, without involving sexual activities. Hostesses maintain professional boundaries and adhere to the rules set by their individual establishments.

Club Casablanca opened its doors each night at 9PM, just before opening, the 12-15 hostesses working that night are cramped up in a tiny dressing room in the back of the club. The ladies change from their jeans and t-shirts into elegant dresses, and they apply fresh makeup. These hostesses hail from all over the world; England, Australia, Sweden and even the United States. The only true requirements of the job were to keep the customer’s drink filled and never allow them to light their own cigarette, other than that the job was mostly talking. This was the part that proved difficult for many of the woman as they could hardly say more than hello or thank you in Japanese. Some of the Japanese men took this as a challenge, spending their time with the hostesses while helping them learn to speak better Japanese. The hostesses of course were flirty with their clients, that was part of the job, but it was only superficial flirting with no expectation of anything taking place inside or outside of the club. At Club Casablanca, the girls felt safe performing their work, they knew they were watched over by Caz and Nishi the bar’s manager and barman, not every club in Tokyo was as safe, and those who worked at Club Casablanca recognized and appreciated that.

The practice of Japanese men paying for female companionship has a long and noble history dating back to the beginning of the geisha. The geisha is an iconic figure in Japanese culture, and they have a rich and fascinating history that dates back centuries. Originating in the 17th century, geisha were skilled entertainers who specialized in various traditional arts such as music, dance, poetry, and witty conversation. Originally, they were predominantly male, but over time, women took over the role. Geisha flourished during the Edo period, becoming an integral part of the pleasure districts where they entertained wealthy and influential patrons. While geisha was sometimes associated with the world of courtesans and prostitution, they developed their own distinct identity, emphasizing refinement, grace, and artistic abilities. Today, geisha continue to captivate the world with their exquisite kimono attire, elaborate hairstyles, and mastery of traditional arts, representing a cherished aspect of Japanese cultural heritage.

In 1945, a seven-year long occupation of Japan began, World War 2 had ended, and the United States Military moved into the county who had just waged war upon them. It was during this 7-year occupation that Roppongi emerged as a place of adult recreation within the large metropolis. The Roppongi area held a large block of Japanese military barracks, this facility was overtaken by the US military when they moved in, and they began occupying the large space. Off-duty US solders spent their days and nights in and around the area known as Roppongi and it was at this time that Roppongi developed its titular moniker High Touch Town or Hai Tacchi, due to the way US solders would greet one another by slapping their hands together above their heads, in the US we call it a High-5.

If the jobs of Club Hostesses were confined to the walls of the club, I would not be writing this story today, but sadly the work is not so easy to explain. Club hostess work is rooted in what is known as Shisutemu or the system, these are additional charges, a la carte items or experiences a client can pay for. At Club Casablanca a customer paid $115.00 per hour, for time with a hostess, this came with unlimited beer or whisky and the company of a lovely young woman. From this the hostess receives approximately $20 per hour. The math for this line of work would net Lucie Blackman around $2,500.00 per month. This was before any a la carte items were paid for by clients and there is the rub. Once a hostess has sat with a client for one night, she can then be specially requested on the next visit to the club, a requested hostess earned a $40.00 bonus, a good incentive to have repeat customers. If a client purchased a decent bottle of champagne or whisky, the bottle would be labeled with the client’s name and kept at the bar for future visits, this also earned the hostess a commission. Hostesses were also encouraged to go on dohans and this is where they could earn real money. A dohan was a dinner date, outside of the club, the hostess would meet their client before the club opened, go to a nice fancy dinner and then the pair would travel to the club after the dinner. Dohans were not a required part of the job, but they were highly encouraged, if a hostess went on 12 dohans per month, they earned a $1,000 bonus, not bad for 12 free meals. While they were not required, if a hostess booked less than 5 dohans per month, they faced a real chance of being let go from their club, this caused a lot of anguish for club hostesses, who would sometimes go on a dohan with anyone who was willing, just to keep their jobs, some would even pay their male friends to request them for a dohan just so they could keep their jobs.

And this was the life that Lucie Blackman and her best friend Louise Phillips found themselves in, they lived together at shithouse and biked to work together each evening. Lucie quicky obtained a couple of regulars at the club, she regularly corresponded with a client named Hajime Imura, a sweet older businessman who visited her nightly at the club. Another of her regulars, Kenji Suzuki, was a wealthy owner of an electronics company and he assured Lucie if she was ever not making her numbers, she could contact him, and he would come in to the club immediately.  Ken, as Lucie called him, was a very attentive client, he showed up at the club every day unless he was out of town on business, and he loved taking care of Lucie. Ken remembered Lucie telling him that what she missed most from outside of Japan were black olives, so on their very first dohan, as they arrived at the restaurant, Lucie saw a bowl of black olive pre-set on their table, a special arrangement from her biggest admirer, Kenji Suzuki. Ken also had the broken glass in Lucie’s watch fixed and he drove her around the city in his fancy Alfa Romeo sports car.

But Ken’s world was slowly crumbling as his company began treading water, all the while Ken continued to spend lavishly on Lucie Blackman.

Now two episodes into this story, it might seem like Lucie and Louise had been in Tokyo for quite some time, but remember they obtained jobs on day 2, now the girls have been in Tokyo for only 20 days and Lucie writes an entry in her journal. “20 days is all it has been. We arrived in a shithouse, but slowly turned it into our home. We have survived mass starvation and drunk any weight that dropped off, right back on. We found jobs as hostesses at a club called Casablanca. We have drunk more alcohol in the last 20 days than I have ever consumed in my whole drinking lifetime… It has been an extremely hard and emotional taxing 3 weeks. Tokyo is the extreme land. Only high as a kite or lower than you can imagine over here…never anything between the two.”

On the next page in her diary Lucie covers the page in bold glittery letters that overlap, the letters spell out, Tokyo Rocks.

The club closed each night at 2am. After all of the patrons had taken their leave, the girls changed back into their jeans and t-shirts, and they walked out into the untamable streets of Roppongi. It was at this point that the women had to make a choice, go home and sleep and have some semblance of a day tomorrow, or go to another bar and continue drinking through the night. Lucie wrote a letter to her friend Sam back home, “For some reason I got plastered ever night from Wednesday onwards. You get so many drinks bought for you after work, and as work doesn’t ever end before 2 really before you know it its 7am daylight and you’re falling around the streets of Tokyo. The bars are very cool, you just can’t help it.”

Lucie Blackman had traveled to Tokyo with every intention of paying down her outstanding debts, she was swimming in debts that totaled around $8,000 plus her rent payment for the shithouse, and rental charges for her bicycle. All of this took every penny Lucie earned as a hostess and she quickly began to realize that to pay off her debts, she was going to have to stay in Tokyo much longer than she anticipated.

After being in the city for 3 weeks, Lucie began having doubts and all her little fears began to seep into the nooks and crannies of her brain, embedding themselves and taking over. In Lucie’s diary from this time, she writes many worrisome statements, “I’m not coping well here…I feel so ugly and fat and invisible… I hate myself…I feel so outside, I’ve nothing anywhere.” Lucie was not doing well mentally in her new life living in Tokyo.

As the second week of June arrived, Lucie’s spirits began to lift and she stated, once again, “having hope for her future.” Louise had begun dating a Frenchman named Come, Like Lancôme, one Friday night the girls went to meet up with Come at a club and he had promised to bring a friend for Lucie. The ladies arrived at the club and waited, the men were late arriving, but when they finally arrived Come walked in accompanied by the sexiest man Lucie had ever seen. His name was Scott Fraser, a 20-year-old cowboy from Texas, his southern drawl made Lucie melt, he had piercing blue eyes and he stood at 6’2’’ with broad shoulders and a washboard stomach. On top of all of this, he was a United States Marine. The two spent the evening together and they got along like a house on fire, according to Lucie herself.

At the end of the night, Come was stumbling drunk, and Louise decided it was time to take him home. Scott had missed the last train back to his aircraft carrier and so Lucie decided to bring him back to shithouse, but before she did, even drop-dead gorgeous Scott received Lucie’s pre-prepared Fuck Off speech, it went a little something like this, “Look, you’re cute. I’m sure loads of girls will sleep with you, but if that’s what you want from me, you’ve picked the wrong girl, so just fuck off now if so.” When the two arrived at shithouse, Lucie kissed Scott, but then just as she said, she left him downstairs to sleep and refused to allow him up to her bedroom.

[Music Change Romance]

Lucie and Scott spent as much time as they could together after their first meeting on June 9th, 2000. During the daytime they took the train to Harajuku. Harajuku is renowned for its vibrant and youthful atmosphere that captivates visitors from all around the world. This bustling neighborhood is a hub of creativity, fashion, and self-expression, attracting fashion enthusiasts, trendsetters, and artists alike. Harajuku's iconic Takeshita Street is lined with colorful boutiques, trendy cafes, and unique shops, offering an eclectic mix of fashion styles, from kawaii to gothic and everything in between. The streets are filled with young people showcasing their individuality through daring fashion choices, vibrant hair colors, and eye-catching accessories. Lucie and Scott strolled down Omotesando, known as the most romantic street in Japan, Omotesando street is a beautiful combination of Asian and Parisian influence, the tree lined avenue gracefully slopes down toward the entrance of the Meiji Shrine. Lucie was in heaven with Scott, they got along so well, and she always felt safe around Scott, something that was very important to Lucie.

[Music Change]

On Saturday July 1st, 2000 the girls awoke in the late morning hours, they had been in Tokyo for 2 months now and finally they felt that their lives and goals were getting onto the right track. Both girls had built up a steady roster of clients for the club and their individual love lives were going splendidly as well. After their shift that evening, they went home and sat up talking until 4 in the morning, drinking tea and eating buttered bread. They had done it, they made it two months in Japan, they would get paid on Monday, it was all starting to come together.

[Music Change]

This same Saturday afternoon, Lucie walked out of shithouse for the very last time, one day later, on Monday morning Louise would go to the police station, and that very afternoon, Louise would receive a cryptic phone call that would change her whole world.

Two days past before Louise Phillips built up the courage to call Lucie Blackman’s mother back in England to inform her that her daughter had inexplicably gone missing in the largest city on the planet. 

[Music Change]

Jane was preparing a package of sweets to take to the post office when the phone began to ring. When she answered she stood transfixed as Louise provided as many details as she could about Lucie’s disappearance. There had been a strange phone call to Louise in which a Japanese man told Louise not to look for Lucie because she had joined a new religion and that she was going through some king of training. None of this made any sense to Jane, but this confirmed all of Jane’s fears and the trepidation she had before Lucie had left for this mysterious foreign land.

Jane called Sophie and Rupert home and Sam Burman also rushed to the house, the information they were receiving was almost impossible for the group to process. All they knew was that Lucie was missing and what was there to do when someone goes missing all the way across the world in Japan, a country they knew nothing about, a country where they had no contacts. After the information had settled in a bit, the frantic Jane called her ex-husband and Lucie’s father, Tim. This was the very first time Jane had spoken to Tim since their divorce and the conversation did not go well. But there are multiple sides to a story, Jane says that Tim was dismissive and when he was told that Lucie was missing, he responded with, “well what do you want me to do about it?” Tim, in his defense, denies that this is how the conversation went and he says that Jane was irrational and began cussing at him because he did not decide to fly to Tokyo within 8 seconds of being told his daughter was missing.

After the phone call ended Sophie announced that she would travel to Tokyo, Sophie stated “We know that she is in Chiba, so I’ll go there and find her. If she has been kidnapped by a religious cult, then I will offer myself in her place. I’ll bring her home.” Was this Sophie Blackman or Liam Neeson, if I am ever taken in a foreign country, maybe think of sending Sophie Blackman to save me, that’s all I am saying.

Jamie Gascoigne, Lucie’s quasi boyfriend from back home in England would travel with Sophie to Tokyo, neither of them had ever been this far from home. 

Sophie was 22 and Jamie was 23, much younger than I was the first time I traveled to Japan, and they were not going for pleasure, so their trip was harrowing right from the start. Sophie had never cared much for Jamie, which made the trip even more uncomfortable, but Jane insisted that he accompany her, she would not lose another daughter to Nippon. The two arrived in Tokyo and spent 7 days searching the largest city on the planet by themselves. They went to the British embassy to report Lucie missing and to request help, then they traveled to the Azabu Police Station in Roppongi, where police officers greeted them with foeign indifference. Louise had already filed a missing person report with the police before the pair had arrived. Now in Japan, the two learned what the word Chiba meant, Chiba is not only a small city of 900,000 residents, it is also the name of a prefecture containing 5 million residents, it would be impossible for them to locate Lucie in the vastness of Chiba, forget Tokyo as a whole. They also quickly learned what, newly risen religion meant in Japan, in a nutshell this term referred to new age cults, of which there are several thousand operating at any time all around Japan. Back home in England Jane was almost comatose with grief and worry, while Sophie was speaking to Tim, her father, every few hours, the two kept putting their heads together, trying to come up with a plan to get Lucie back home alive. There was a moral dilemma that they had to face, should they go public with the information about Lucie’s disappearance? If they kept out of the news there was a chance, they would never find Lucie, but if they went public about Lucie’s disappearance and someone was holding her captive, it may incentivize them to kill her if they thought people were looking for them.

The Japanese police wanted nothing to do with journalists and if the Blackmans started to involve local new outlets, any cooperation from the local police would absolutely cease to exist. Sophie stated: “We had a choice, get all that we could from the police and stay away from journalists, or keep the case high profile, put pressure on the investigation, but learn nothing from the police at all. And we chose the media.” After Sophie Blackman went to the media, the story gained no traction, it had no teeth for Tokyo journalists. The police refused to say anything, and the British Embassy was just as tight lipped, there was nothing for the media to write about and the story faded into the background, another foreign girl lost to the big city. And then, ten days after Lucie Blackman disappeared without a trace, her father Tim Blackman landed in Tokyo and as soon as he landed, he did one thing that would become synonymous with him name, Tim held a press conference.

The actions of people in many different circumstances are different all around the world. In Japan, a family in the Blackman’s position would humbly shuffle in front of the television camaras, their eyes downcast, their faces twisted with grief, and they would express their love for their missing child, they would appeal to the good nature of their child’s abductor and plead for their safe return. Then the family would apologize for an inconvenience they have caused with their plight. This is not what happened as Tim stood before a room packed with camaras at the British embassy.

The room was filled, every seat was taken and the camaras clicked and whirled as Tim and Sophie quickly introduced themselves. Tim spoke directly and answered the press’ questions, he explained that he and Sophie were in Tokyo to assist the police in their search for their missing daughter and sister. Tim’s answers were blunt, but truthful and poignant, he did not exaggerate but he included enough specifics and details to be thorough. The Blackmans were very good at holding themselves together during interviews and this was almost a fault. In order to sell papers, the Japanese journalists described the Blackmans in ways that were simply untrue, “Frantic dad Tim” or “Fighting back tears” these were all lies but they needed sensationalism to make the story interesting. Journalists would ask questions about Lucie’s personal life, her sex life or even about her possible drug use. Lucie’s sister Sophie would not abide any of these journalists’ attempts to write a sensationalized story about her sister, when one reporter questioned Sophie about Lucie dating Scott while in Tokyo, Sophie responded with, “she said she’d met a chap over here, and that’s all you need to know. The details of what she said are none of your business.”

At the end of July, the G8 summit was to take place on an island off the southern tip of Japan called Okinawa, this was also where Mr. Miagi was from if you are a big Karate Kid fan. The group of eight industrialized counties would be meeting including US President Bill Clinton, the Japanese Prime Minister, and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and all of them would be passing through Tokyo on their way to the summit. Tim knew that he needed to get Lucie’s story in front of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, so the British Prime Minister could speak to the Japanese Prime Minister about Lucie during the summit. Surely the Prime Minister being on the Blackman’s side would put a fire under the feet of the Tokyo police.

Before Tim had even left home, he had held a press briefing in England, when he got onto the plane to fly to Tokyo, he was accompanied by a gaggle of reporters from England, all clamoring to write a hit missing person’s story for their own news outlets. When Tim landed in Tokyo he traveled to the Diamon Hotel, where Sophie had been staying for the week, she had already been in Japan. All of the British reporters followed suite and also obtained rooms at the Diamon Hotel. There was an initial fear that the British reporters would cast dispersions on the missing Lucie, due to her employment as a club hostess, the western world would most likely assume that this was simply a cover name for being a call girl and it would be hard to get the Prime Minister to care about a missing sex worker. To the Blackman’s relief, the press did not cast Lucie in a negative light and instead described her as “the former British Airways Stewardess” far more often than they called her the “missing bar girl”.

During the latter half of July, after Tim had been in Tokyo for three weeks he held his 6th press conference, by this time all of the journalists from London had traveled back home, so the press before Tim had greatly diminished from the levels of previous briefings. Tim’s stoic nature had been relevant at each press briefing, but during this briefing, as things wrapped up and there were very few camaras left in the room, Tim let go and allowed his face to slack, from Tim’s downturned face came a tear, slowly falling down his cheek and in that moment, click [Large Camara Pop], the perfect picture of a grieving father, an opportunity which had been withheld this whole time. Tim would reveal years later that this tearful moment had actually been a well-orchestrated plot, a way to make sure the press stayed interested in Lucie’s story.

Tim and Sophie quickly established a routine in the city, calling the British press early in the morning and then traveling around the city during the day meeting with other press agents and TV stations. In the afternoon they would go to the police station for interviews with the detectives in the case. 

The police questioned them about Lucie, why had she come to Japan, what was her education level, and they asked about her debts. They questioned Tim about why he thought a crime had even been committed. As Tim and Sophie answered their questions Superintendent Mitsuzane simply nodded and held a distant smile on his face. Each day as they left the police station, they would encounter Louise Phillips who was headed into the police station to sit for her own interview. Louise told the two that the police requested that she not speak with them, but aside from that Louise seemed cold and distant from people she had known for most of her life.

Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed to meet with Tim and Sophie when he arrived in Tokyo for the G8 summit. After speaking with the Blackmans, Prime Minister Blair agreed to speak with Prime Minister Toshiro Mori about the case and request any assistance he could provide, that afternoon, with Toshiro Mori by his side, Tony Blair thanked the Tokyo Police for their ongoing efforts and asked that everything possible be done to find Lucie. Mr. Mori added, “The Tokyo Metropolitan Police are doing all they can to find Lucie-san. I want them to continue to do so.” Simple but powerful words.

Tim’s strategy worked, he had gotten the Prime Minister to enforce the efforts to find his daughter, Tim later stated, “The pressure needs to come from the top. If I stamp my feet, they’ll just think I’m a nuisance, but if it’s coming from the top, it’ll have far more of an effect.”

Coming up next week, we invite you to join us as Tim and Sophie Blackman delve deeper into their relentless search for Lucie Blackman. Stay tuned for their gripping journey filled with hope, determination, and unwavering resolve, only here on The Secret Sits. We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows.

End of Part 2 – High Touch Town

To preserve the confidentiality of those affected, certain names and nationalities have been modified.

Full Sources:

All descriptions of Tokyo, Japan, observations about Japanese culture, and impressions of the warmth of the Japanese people stem from my extensive travel experiences in Japan and are reflective of my personal insights. – John W. Dodson 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: 9780374230593: Richard Lloyd Parry: Books. (n.d.).

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