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Book profiles Shibuya’s love hotel district

'The Mysterious Maruyamacho Red-Light District of Shibuya'
‘The Mysterious Maruyamacho Red-Light District of Shibuya’

TOKYO (TR) – It was 18 years ago next month that Yasuko Watanabe was murdered in the Maruyamacho love hotel district of Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward.

Watanabe was an office lady at Tokyo Electric Power Co. who moonlighted in the evenings as a prostitute. Though a Nepalese male was imprisoned for the crime initially, he was later exonerated. The case remains unsolved.

The incident forms one part of “The Mysterious Maruyamacho Red-Light District of Shibuya.” Released by publisher Takarajimasha on Sunday, the book meanders through the colorful past of the area now known for its alleys of inns designed for short-term stays.

Author Nobuhiro Motohashi says that people maintain a special attachment to Maruyamacho that is not found in the red-light areas in the districts of Ueno, Gotanda or Kawasaki City.

“For example, actress Hiromi Kurita starred in the 1973 film ‘After School,’ which is set in Shibuya,” the author tells the Web site for weekly tabloid Shukan Taishu. “Somewhat concealed by Aoyama Gakuin University, the area of Shibuya was a personal favorite of hers.”

At the time of the murder of Watanabe, the area was much as it is today, a jumble of neon and concrete. But a long time ago — roughly half a century before Kurita was a regular — it was home to more than 400 geisha who entertained politicians, industrialists, athletes and celebrities.

Today, there are only four geisha working in the area’s three remaining ryotei restaurants. In “The Mysterious Maruyamacho Red-Light District of Shibuya,” Motohashi speaks with one of them, Kiriya Suzuko.

“Previously I had not been interested in a woman wearing a kimono, but that all changed when Suzuko-san appeared right before my eyes,” says the author. “It was an indescribable atmosphere, one that allows you to forget everyday life.”

A previous book by Motohashi covered the Tokyo entertainment quarter of Uguisudani.

He says that red-light districts evolve with the times — which has been the case for Maruyamacho.

“You’ve still got the politicians, only they are now going to love hotels,” says the author.