The Way We Love Now: Natsuo Kirino
Eroticism and its various definitions exist in paradox. It’s the nature of human beings to be held captive by eroticism. Even while longing to be set free, we still seek to be held captive. It’s a strange desire that tears the heart apart. Perhaps it points to the true state of being human. Based on this observation, I would like to discuss my work and some relevant issues within Japanese society.
In recent years, I have depicted in my novels mostly the losers in the game of eroticism. I am more interested in exploring the heartbreak and misunderstanding that sex triggers in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, as well as its aftereffects, including despair and disappointment. In my novel Grotesque, which is currently being translated into English, there are two sisters, one who is incredibly beautiful and the other who is ugly. The youngest sister, Yuriko, has an otherworldly beauty, which has triggered men to pursue her ever since she was a child, but as she enters junior high, she becomes a prostitute. Why? Yuriko harbors an emptiness in her soul. Each time she has sex with men, she realizes that she exists solely as an entity to be taken from. And what is taken from her? When she realizes that the men themselves don’t even know what exactly they are taking from her, she comes to the understanding that she can never escape from the emptiness.
There is another girl who is a friend of both sisters. She is a smart girl who is average in all other ways. The girl’s name is Kazui, and she is the main character of the story. Kazui is a hard worker who tries to get good grades in school to secure a position at a prestigious company. She works equally hard at the company but she comes to a realization soon after she turns thirty: No matter how hard she tries, men maintain a standard that judges her on physical beauty, rather than on merit. She will never be judged for the qualities that lie within.
Kazui, who had worked hard all her life, finds but one path that will set her free: She decides to become a prostitute. This side job that Kazui keeps ends up splitting her apart. Day job and night job—her identity during the day and her identity at night. As the story unfolds, Kazui becomes anorexic, eventually losing so much weight that she physically morphs into a monstrous creature and is murdered by a customer. Yuriko, who is a professional streetwalker by then, is also murdered by the same man. The murderer is not simply a criminal but a man who symbolizes exactly what Yuriko has been robbed of. The man, for his part, does not understand what he is taking from prostitutes or what exactly he detests about them.
In this way that Grotesque encompasses the topic of eroticism and women, women and work, social context, the Japanese education system, and other issues. The point I was trying to make in this work is that perhaps there are no winners in this game of eroticism. I do understand that it is not simply a matter of winning or losing. When Yuriko, who has been a streetwalker for quite some time, bumps into Kazui, they have this dialogue:
“Yuriko, you really despise men, don’t you? I always thought that you couldn’t help yourself from loving men.”
Yuriko responds to Kazui: “I dislike men, but I like sex. It’s the opposite for you, isn’t it?”
Kazui responds that she likes men, but dislikes sex. There is no way out for her.
Yuriko’s response: “If you and I together became one woman then we could probably have a good life. But a good life means close to nothing as long as we are born a woman.”
It’s precisely here where readers notice that love is nonexistent in my novel. I took careful measures to eliminate love from the very beginning. Sex and love have two separate identities in Japanese culture. The reason I write about losers in the game of eroticism could be because I was born a woman in Japan. Japan had long had a system of authorized prostitution—places called yukakui, which were licensed whorehouses. Men drank, bought women, and went home the next morning. Men who considered the yukakui their playground were often thought of as cool and clever and even lauded for their behavior.
Of course there are no longer any yukakui in post–World War II Japan, but they do remain in existence in a different form. It would not be an exaggeration to say that these yukakui are responsible for building what would be considered Japan’s culture of eroticism. In other words, the healthy love and romance that is born of modern male-female relationships is not the kind of eroticism that is desired. Instead, what is desired is a culture of eroticism that is strange in form, dependent on the woman establishing a separate identity from her everyday self. Love and sex form separate identities, and even if there is a period of happiness where they come together as one, it’s in complete isolation from everyday existence. Japan showed us this strange culture at its root, and this was why, in Grotesque, I depict women who mainly long for the reunion of sex and love in bed. In addition, I depict the men who watch the besieged women in bed unable to make a move.
I don’t think there have been any changes to better this situation. In recent years, there has been an increase in crime aimed at virgins—partly because the culture that kept love and sex as separate entities was internalized, and women started to step out into society, which caused men to develop a fear of the mature female. These men who rob women of their virginity are also losers in the game of eroticism. I intend to keep observing and gazing at these losers straight in the face.