Today we have a guest post from author Mark Hersberger author of Tokyo Lives. Today he's going to talk a little about his book and the setting of the book.
Welcome to Shibuya, Tokyo’s hippest, most happening neighborhood. By day teenagers and young adults from across Japan flock to the trendy department stores and boutiques. Schoolgirls in their “sailor suit” uniforms roam in packs, while well-manicured office ladies tote $1,000 handbags. The silver, cylindrical Shibuya 109 presides as a youth fashion Mecca and Shibuya’s literal and figurative epicenter.
As night falls the vibe transforms and Shibuya re-casts itself as one of Tokyo’s raunchiest, most decadent red-light districts. In a tangle of alleys known as the Dogenzaka—or Love Hotel Hill—bright neon signs glowing pink and red light the maze of streets. Fleshy female images tease passersby. The strip clubs, porn shops, and prostitution houses cater to every sexual fantasy imaginable—and some that are unimaginable. Salarymen, Japan’s black-suited army of corporate warriors, canvass the alleys in small groups as they look to blow off steam after another 14-hour day. And the Dogenzaka is ruled with an iron fist by the yakuza, Japan’s shadowy, secretive network of organized crime families.
I chose to focus on Shibuya for this blog post because it is essential to the plot of Tokyo Lives, my mystery novel. The neighborhood is as unique as any character in the book, and in many ways plays a dual role of setting and character. Shibuya has its own life and pulse, its own identity and personality. Shibuya breathes, it shows emotions. It lusts, it desires. When Megumi, a teenage runaway turned prostitute is murdered, Shibuya weeps and mourns her passing. Shibuya is by turns tragic hero and ruthless villain.
Shibuya’s personality is as layered as any character’s in the book. By day it’s young and fanciful, even innocent. At night it’s dark and foreboding, electric and energizing. Its mood can change day by day, minute by minute, block by block.
Each character has a unique, personal relationship with Shibuya. Megumi flees her rural roots, lured to Shibuya by the chance at money and a new life. Shibuya is to be her savior, though it ends up killing her. By contrast, The Snake, a grizzled, whiskey-swilling gangster, is from Shibuya and will do anything to escape. Corruption, greed, and family in-fighting drive him to the brink of emotional despair. But there’s too much holding him back. Shibuya and its rag-tag collection of gangsters, mama-sans, and hustlers will never let him leave.
Everyone who’s visited Shibuya has a deeply personal relationship with the neighborhood. For me, Shibuya was the ultimate microscope through which to study Japan. The clash of teenage innocence and exuberance colliding with the adult word’s deepest, darkest secrets left me fascinated. A casual stroll through the back alleys reveals glimpses of all its characters: teenage runaways huddled in corners using their backpacks as pillows; slick-suited yakuza prowling for their next scheme; thrill-seeking salarymen looking for an escape. Simply put, there’s nothing like Shibuya in the United States. The neighborhood served as my muse, and I had to write about it.
I love that you let the location "tell" the story. I have lived in some seedy places in my life (like my first apartment with the 6-ft barbwire fence around the property and bullet hole in the window) so I was able to get some of the location, but I don't think even with my experience I can fully appreciate Shibuya. I also think that using the location as the catalyst for the story was a great idea. There was so much in this one that related to the city, it was (as you said) as if the neighborhood was a character.
You can read my review of Tokyo Lives here on justjennifereading.