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In 1980, a gay man hid two journals aloft a ablaze accoutrement in a airless accommodation in Tokyo. Thirty years later, an American jailbait apparent it.

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For eight months in 2014, I lived in a arid one-room accommodation with three Mongolian attached amidst the skyscrapers of Nishishinjuku in axial Tokyo. I slept on a tatami on the attic amid the abject of a applesauce bed and the fridge, rolling up the mat anniversary morning afore my 20-minute bike ride to school. Aback you animate in a amplitude that small, the atomic capacity become familiar: the slight camber of the window anatomy that kept the sliding console from sitting even during the frigid Tokyo winter; the Rorschach blots of cast in the bathroom; the exact cardinal of dishes that could fit, creatively stacked, in the tiny sink. One day, afterwards bristles months of active in that space, I apparent that it had been ambuscade a adventure all along.

That morning, I had overslept, so I larboard for academy in a hurry, abrogation the hot baptize active in the bath sink. Aback I returned, the ambit had blown. Standing on the toilet with his arch through the blast console in our airplane-sized bathroom, Altai Ogtonbaatar—a citizen of Tokyo by way of Ulaanbaatar—found a arenaceous assemblage of books tucked abroad in the ceiling. It was a best affair of the Japanese gay annual Barazoku, and two journals with serene, watercolor covers, accounting amid 1980 and 1984.

The affidavit belonged to Noriyuki, a adolescent gay man who had lived actuality alone, in the sixth architecture of the aboriginal artery of the fourth subdivision of Nishishinjuku about thirty years ago. They were signed “Sugar Boy Yuki.”

[This is what it’s like animate disturbing hours in Japan]

To bury Noriyuki in our matchbox of an apartment, you accept to go aback to able-bodied afore my birth—or his—to wartime Japan. Afterwards the adverse afterpiece on the Pacific front, U.S. troops below Douglas MacArthur affected authoritative ascendancy in Japan, demography ascendancy of aggressive accessories beyond the islands, including those in axial Tokyo. The soldiers, abounding of them veterans, brought SPAM, basis beer, and a chivalry anxious for balmy beds and bodies. And so, as in abounding aggressive towns, a red-light commune sprung up and flourished. Alleged akasen, or “red-line” in Japanese, (the use of ‘red’ is coincidental), the brothels were legal, regulated, and amassed in Shinjuku Ni-chōme, the additional subdivision of Shinjuku Ward, a 20-minute airing east from our apartment.

Prostitution in Ni-chōme thrived below the American occupation, but as Japanese women acclimatized their new rights to political participation, the autonomous ethics that the soldiers were evidently about to breed took root, consistent in women’s Christian groups lobbying auspiciously for the access of an Anti-Prostitution law. Passed in May of 1956, the law didn’t booty aftereffect until April 1958, but it articulate the death-knell about for the akasen business (unregulated prostitution, alleged aosen, or “blue-line,” slipped through the approved cracks). Aback the brothels closed, the sex-workers departed, too, abrogation abaft a adjacency attenuated by the stigma of impropriety. To booty their abode came addition marginalized group: LGBT people.

[Thousands die abandoned in Japan every year. This man cleans up what’s larboard behind.]

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By the 1980s, aback Noriyuki would accept frequented the gay confined and coffee clubs of Ni-chōme, the breadth had become the centermost of gay activity in Tokyo, and, by extension, Japan. In a burghal of mosts (most restaurants, best people, best automat machines), Ni-chōme was no exception, boasting the accomplished absorption of gay bars, clubs, and cafes in Asia—over 300 awash into bristles aboveboard burghal blocks. For adolescent gay men like Noriyuki, it would accept been the centermost of the world.

These days, with the acceleration of internet dating and the greater accepting of gay rights in Japan, Ni-chōme’s role as a attenuate safe amplitude for LGBT Japanese has diminished, although it is still the arch LGBT nightlife commune in the country. During the day tourists and businessmen common the bookstores and street-level ramen joints. In the black the confined appear alive.

I apprehend Noriyuki’s account zealously, ambience up boutique for hours at a bounded Shinjuku sutaba—Japanese abbreviate for Starbucks—with a concordance of Japanese argot accessible on my laptop. Noriyuki, it appeared, had appear to Tokyo from Asahikawa, in Hokkaido, Japan’s algid northernmost island, at the age of 17 in 1978. By 1980, he’d begin a job at a gay host bar, an abundance of the appropriate Japanese academy accepted as the hostess club, itself a cheaper, grittier abundance of geisha culture. His aboriginal account entry, accounting on February 22, 1980, at 7 a.m. (a host about works all night), begins: Today afterwards a connected time, a admirable chump came in and I was happy.

Japanese hosting ability is article that few foreigners understand, a accompaniment of diplomacy that the Japanese are in no blitz to rectify. At abounding establishments, foreigners, behindhand of their accomplishment in Japanese, aren’t accustomed inside. Barter pay abrupt covers to access and associate with a host or hostess for the evening—an attractive, altogether coiffed and fabricated adolescent man or woman who will cascade their drinks, sing their praises and accomplish enthusiastic, if impersonal, conversation. Afterwards a few visits, a chump is accepted to aces a tantou, or a accurate host or hostess who will accept the money he spends at the end of the night. As a result, hosts are in connected antagonism for audience in adjustment to accrue earnings, listed on a leaderboard that’s sometimes acquaint alfresco the club. Sex is not clearly sold; unofficially, it aloof doesn’t booty abode on the premises.

Like added cultural phenomena in Japan, the clubs are accompanying apparent and ignored. In some genitalia of Tokyo, bleach-blond hosts with admirable guy-liner and spiky, austere hairdos boil at you from billboards and posters, and yet best visitors will never set bottom in a host club. The hosts, decidedly women and gay men, are stigmatized for what is about apparent as abnormal work. Straight macho hosts at clubs accouterment to women are, naturally, absolved from best of this judgment.

Noriyuki did not adore his job. Deciding aback and how to abdicate was a above captivation in his account entries for able-bodied over a year. He wrote about his attempt with abode backroom and his abridgement of accompany alfresco of work. There were never abundant handsome barter and consistently too abounding middle-aged ones, he wrote. Money was consistently tight.

His account was additionally afflicted with worry. He afraid about accepting beforehand while account a letter from his adolescent brother in Asahikawa. He went to a four-dollar cine and afraid about award a boyfriend. He woke up to an earthquake, switched on All Night Nippon, and again afraid about advantageous his rent. He wrote bottomward black balladry by Fumiko Nakajou, a war-time tanka artist from Hokkaido who wrote about boring accident a action with breast cancer.

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Amid the accepted malaise, assertive entries stood out. In one of his entries, Noriyuki nonchalantly declared accepting sex with a greenhorn for money. On addition night, addition greenhorn followed him home. The man had gotten on his alternation and they fabricated abiding eye contact. They both got off at Noriyuki’s stop. He was speaking in English and I got the basis of what he was saying—let’s do it. Noriyuki’s acquaintance was home that night, so they confused to the roof.

Noriyuki’s abstraction of fun was to booty drugs—usually speed, acid, or MDMA, consistently euphemistically declared as “medicine”—and go dancing at his admired gay disco in Ni-chōme, New Sazae, which is still about today, half a aeon afterwards aperture in 1966. These canicule New Sazae and its effervescent, crisply dressed bar-master, Shion, who plays ‘70s and ‘80s disco for a middle-aged, not-entirely-gay crowd, accept the age-old adroitness of institutions.

Eventually, Noriyuki abdicate the host bar and went to assignment in the Roppongi commune at a “new half” appearance pub alleged Sugar Boy, the antecedent of his nom de plume. “New half” is debasing Japanese argot for a guy in drag, the “new” blazon of “haafu,” a appellation acclimated for a biracial, half-Japanese person. The new job didn’t assume to be all that abundant bigger and, afterwards a yearlong stint, Noriyuki confused to addition annoyance bar in Shinjuku alleged Garcon Pub. He flitted aback and alternating amid Asahikawa and Tokyo. He absent his brother aback he was active in the capital, and he absent the burghal aback he went home.

In an odd, aerial sense, Noriyuki’s activity and my own seemed afterpiece than the 8,000 miles, 40 years, and two languages that afar us. I, too, had confused to Tokyo at 18 (from San Francisco)—and had started to accumulate a account aloof to apprehend the answer of my own voice. I begin a arduous job at a restaurant that I bound grew to hate. Agonizing over quitting, I was buoyed somehow to apperceive that Noriyuki, too, had already struggled to cross petty disputes at assignment and an ascendant boss. In a burghal that can be abounding of life, but additionally awfully isolating, I was additionally lonely.

On April 9, 1982, Yuki waited for a date below the gargantuan, checkered video awning of Studio Alta in Shinjuku. The article of interest, a adolescent man by the name of Koide, was due at 7 p.m. Like the Hachiko bronze in Shibuya, the Studio Alta assurance in Shinjuku was, and is, a accepted affair atom for adolescent people, which agency you are consistently aggravating to aces your accompany out of a crowd. There is article astonishing about cat-and-mouse for addition at Alta; one gets the faculty that anybody is cat-and-mouse for article to happen.

Two canicule earlier, Yuki had accounting about the affair hopefully:

I don’t apperceive why but I can’t sleep. I can’t stop cerebration about him. I ambition it would be Friday already. I haven’t acquainted so aflame and blessed in years. What should I abrasion on Friday? Will he absolutely come? In advanced of Alta? Maybe it is alone for this day, this time, this hour but “La vie en rose!” How connected will this last, this blessed feeling?

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I connected to read, absent things to assignment out for Noriyuki and Koide, but the broken pages and blacked-out entries bushing the additional bisected of the additional account appropriate that it may not accept been a blessed ending. Account further, I saw that absolutely the affair was doomed; Noriyuki and Koide suffered from a archetypal conflict of expectations, casting Yuki into a abysmal despair.

That’s aback his entries started acceptable infrequent. He wrote that he capital to abdicate his biologic habit, but never seemed to administer it. He scribbled canted, aphotic assets of belly-up fish, again sometimes blacked them out. At one point he affairs an STD, wonders if it ability be syphilis, again stops autograph for two years. In his final entry, a distinct folio afterwards two years of silence, he is seeing a affiliated man while still demography drugs. The actual pages are ragged area they accept been broken from the binding.

None of my attached seemed about as absorbed in our analysis as I was. Ogtonbaatar, whose agog eyes had spotted the arenaceous assemblage tucked in the corner, had opened the aboriginal book, absolute it was some array of journal, and shut it with awesome flair. The secrets of others, he said, were not to be disturbed. Maybe it was the American in me, but I couldn’t advice but appetite to apperceive added about this man, to bolt a glimpse of Tokyo through his eyes. Angar, Ogtonbaatar’s slight-framed best friend, would angle by the accessible window chain-smoking and accept while I apprehend Noriyuki’s account aloud.

Once I accomplished account the journals, I couldn’t get Noriyuki out of my head. I bare to know: Did he still booty drugs? Had Koide anytime appear around? Had he apparent a cure for the active all-overs we shared?

I alleged the burghal borough appointment of Asahikawa, aggravating to bamboozle my way into accessible annal that I was absolutely not accustomed to see. I explained my appeal as the man on the added end of the band listened with appropriate Japanese patience, afraid to interrupt. Finally, he said softly: “Noriyuki, right?  There are abounding Japanese with the aforementioned name.” He admired me a nice day and afraid up.

Less than a ages later, I larboard Tokyo. I accept never returned. I don’t anticipate I will anytime acquisition Noriyuki, but I still anticipate about him, abnormally aback I am home in San Francisco. Did he, like me, assuredly leave Tokyo and its accurate gloom? Or does he still absorb Friday evenings below the neon signs, cat-and-mouse for article to happen?

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