This review does not include any major spoilers. TLDR; I recommend the book, first few chapters are a bit hard to get through though.
Japan is a mysterious culture with ever-shifting views surrounding it, proving with each closer look to have layer after layer of context. This enticing country creates cult fandoms, interest and scholars swarming around it to take a bite out of the mystery. Japan itself is a proud country, and shares its best and most appealing sides to the world, presenting itself as the hub of innovation and mecca for arts and creativity. This book, however, shows a completely different side of Japan and the people that end up there.
I would like to start out by saying that the experience in this book, though fiction, is real. There is a type of foreigner that is drawn to Japan, drawn to its "different-ness", and they are easily susceptible to this cold and dangerous reality of Japan. The book plays on extremes, maybe to the point of hurting the relatability of the text, but I recognised a lot of people in the book, including myself. Hopefully, in knowing this, you can get past the first few chapters filled with obligatory romaji-basic-Japanese words and obvious cliches.
"If you scream on a deserted Tokyo street, on a Sunday, in English, do you really make a sound?"
Lost Girls and Love Hotels by Catherine Hanrahan "is a fast-paced, wise-cracking, chaotic guide to Japan. Margaret is doing everything in her power to forget home. Tokyo's exotic nightlife- teeming with drinks, drugs and 24hr love hotels- is just about helping to keep her demons at bay. Working at Air-Pro Stewardess Training Institute by day, and losing herself in sex-and-drug-addled oblivion by night, Margaret represses memories of a painful childhood."
This book includes nihilism, a juicy love plot and mixes in with yakuza; everything to really seal the deal and say you've been to Japan, am I right?
Our main character is broken. She has the kind of trauma that isolates her from others. The kind of trauma makes you feel like you don't belong. The kind of trauma that forces you to find something unique to the others, some kind of high ground that allows you to look down on the rest of the world you knew, and not ever have to touch it. The kind of trauma that draws you to Japan- the most elusive, yet tangible place in the world. It's so ambiguous of a place to those not from it, that whatever you do with your life can still pass for put together- impressive even. For someone like our main character, it's a perfect place to feel like she has a direction and a life, when in reality, she's stuck poking at a still photo, caught in the cracks of the frame.
"I want to reach up into the weird quiet of the night, tear a strip off the black sky and wrap it around me"
Hanrahan does a beautiful job of capturing one-night stands in Japan. Somehow very lude and raw-adult and yet, somehow extremely innocent. The sexual encounters our heroine indulges in show us how available sex is in Tokyo, how strange and fetishised the whole experience is- and how Japanese men think that they have some form of moral high-road on the women they sleep with. Somehow, despite already eagerly going to fornicate at a 2-hour rest stop love hotel, they still find the time to tell you, you could have more than this. That they want to get to know you, that you should do this again (with them of course). It's almost as if their entire concept of love and sex comes from porn. Oh...right...
"I want to know your mind," he says
"No you don't."
"Maji-de. It's true. I'm interesting."
Sexuality in Japan is a loose term. While the west spends its time pinpointing every whim and feeling into a label of sorts, Japan prefers not to think about it at all. And no, not in the way where they stuff queerness into a closet and lock the door, but in the way where the lines are so blurred there's little need to define the difference. I thoroughly enjoyed peripheral tidbits of culture like these alongside her perhaps cliché love story with a thug-hunk. Hanrahan did an amazing job of creating snapshots of Japan's culture as a backdrop to her story, succeeding in making this book into a form of guide to Japanese nightlife despite the format. I hope this book starts a lot of conversations about these cultural aspects that differ from the normal assumptions about Japanese people and their lifestyle.
"A Japanese girl asks me if I can use chopsticks. Then she asks me if she can please squeeze my boobs, holding her cupped hands out to me."
You can purchase the book on Amazon, here.