One piece of a sad, grim puzzle was solved last weekend when police confirmed that human remains found in a beach cave in Kanagawa Prefecture were those of a 21-year-old British woman missing since last July. The other piece of the puzzle — who killed her, how, where and why — is not quite in place, although police are holding a suspect in the case on other charges. It is to be hoped for the family’s sake that this crime will be solved as soon as possible.
Lucie Blackman, a former British Airways flight attendant, came to Japan last May and found work in Tokyo’s Roppongi district as a bar hostess. Many young, pretty, foreign girls like Blackman do. The details of her last day are well-known: She left her Shibuya apartment at 3 p.m. on July 1 after receiving a phone call from a man, called her roommate at 5 p.m. to say she had gone for a drive with a client and was heading for the coast, and called again, finally, around 7 p.m. to say she would be home in an hour. The next, and last, call the roommate received was from an unidentified man, telling her that Blackman had “joined a cult” and would not be coming back.
It was confirmed this week that Blackman’s last call was made from a cell phone owned by Mr. Joji Obara, a 48-year-old businessman whom she had met in Roppongi and whose condominium is just 200 meters from the cave where her dismembered body was found buried. Mr. Obara, who has been indicted in six other cases in which women were drugged and raped, one fatally, has been a suspect in the Blackman case virtually from the start. Yet, even now, he is being charged only with abandoning a corpse. People both here and abroad have had trouble understanding the roundabout, step-by-step way police have pursued this high-profile case, which has even been a subject of discussion between Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Police officials, however, have defended their tactics, citing the need to build up a case painstakingly, on the basis of solid evidence. And they received support from an important quarter this week when Mr. Tim Blackman, Lucie’s father, described the investigation into his daughter’s disappearance as “first-rate” and said he was confident of a speedy outcome. “I think everyone will be surprised how fast the police move now,” he said.
Even though Blackman’s family must continue to wait for final closure — which can only come with her killer’s conviction — they told reporters that this week’s news brought them “relief” as well as distress. We are glad of that, but at the same time express our heartfelt regret, as do all people here, at the excruciating disclosures they have had to face. It will take a long time to come to terms with such a loss.
Lucie Blackman’s murder will undoubtedly resonate for a long time in Japan, too. Sometimes a death carries a larger-than-life significance, and this was such a case. Once in a while, it can even be inspirational, as in the recent deaths in Tokyo of two men, one a South Korean student, who were struck by a train while trying to rescue a drunken Japanese from the tracks where he had fallen.
Blackman’s death, while no less tragic, raises more delicate issues. Chief among these is the whole context of the work she did and the kinds of people it brought her into contact with, some of them disturbed or violent or both. The truth is, Blackman, like many other foreign hostesses in Japan’s nightclub districts, ventured into a world where even many Japanese would hesitate to go. In some sense, these young women take their lives in their hands, for whatever reason — the money, of course, but also perhaps for the sheer glamour of it — every time they go to work, and particularly if they socialize with clients outside work. One cannot honestly say Blackman’s death came as a bolt from the blue. Indeed, other hostesses in Roppongi have recently been quoted as saying that they are careful never to go anywhere outside the club with a customer and never drink from a glass that has been left unattended.
Some will protest that even to mention such things in the context of Blackman’s murder is to impute blame to the victim. It is not. Nothing she did warranted what happened to her. But it is to suggest that her death was avoidable. This week, Mr. Blackman said with some asperity that the owners of hostess bars like the one where Lucie worked should look out more for their employees, given the dangers consequent upon “the global explosion of the porn trade.” So they should, but sometimes, too, it behooves their employees to look out for themselves. Bar owners are neither parents nor policemen to these girls. If Lucie’s fellow hostesses learn even this much, then perhaps some good may come from her sad, senseless death.
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