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  • Topographies of Intimacy:Sex and Shibuya in Hasegawa Junko’s Prisoner of Solitude
  • David Holloway (bio)

This essay begins at the end, with the question that brings Hasegawa Junko’s (b. 1966) novel Kodoku no ii nari (Prisoner of solitude) to a close: “Hey, wanna have some fun?”1 The novel’s protagonist, Mayuko, who is not yet adjusted to her life as a streetwalker, chooses an unlikely interlocutor. With a hunched back and bird-like face, he does not fit the profile of a typical john. But there on the street, she is inexplicably drawn to him. The man seems burdened by loneliness, the narrator explains, just like Mayuko. So she calls out to him. But the novel ends before he can respond, a fitting conclusion to a narrative concerned with the ways in which Mayuko has been betrayed by intimacy’s empty promises.

This essay is concerned with Mayuko’s story, and the critique of gendered institutions of intimacy that is embedded in her descent from being a woman who aspires to love and affection to one who has settled for picking up men on the street. Rather than exploring the possibilities of streetwalking as a vehicle for female and feminist agency, Hasegawa uses Mayuko’s turn to the street to ask why some women feel worthless without men, why women’s bodies continue to be of critical social importance. Mayuko does not find streetwalking exhilarating or empowering. Instead, it is an expression of her powerlessness and invisibility: only by reducing herself to a body is she able to draw the attention of men who otherwise have no interest in her. Thus Hasegawa interrogates the instability of emotional intimacy and human connection in the face of sex with no strings attached. [End Page 51] She does so through dialectical conceptualizations of intimacy. She offers Mayuko, all heartbreak and failed relationships, as a casualty of intimacy gone wrong; yet she presents Mayuko’s doppelgänger Ai, who is only interested in sex, as the solution.

At the core of this critique of intimacy is the locale where it takes place: Tokyo. In what follows, I demonstrate that Mayuko’s changing relationship with intimacy is reflected in her changing relationship with Tokyo itself, particularly Shibuya. Elizabeth Grosz argues that “the city is made and made over into the simulacrum of the body, and the body in turn is transformed, citified, urbanized as a distinctly metropolitan body.”2 At the end of Prisoner of Solitude, Mayuko and Ai become a single character, an anonymous body who takes to the streets of Shibuya looking for anonymous men to have sex with, divorced from the trappings and complications of emotional attachment. My essay is also invested in demonstrating the relationship between sex, intimacy, and the urban landscape. Following Grosz’s words above, it invites us to think about the interplay between how we connect to each other and where we do so.

Volatile Connections

Hasegawa’s novel is predicated on exploring the potential consequences of a life devoid of love. Following Mayuko as things go from bad to worse in the days after her thirty-fifth birthday, the novel constantly divulges everything that can possibly go wrong when intimacy fails to work, including the effects of eating disorders, domestic abuse, and fraying mental states. The text reflects Lauren Berlant’s comment that human connections are always tumultuous and prone to failure: “‘I didn’t think it would turn out this way’ is the secret epitaph of intimacy,” she suggests.3 We approach intimacy—friendship, family life, romantic love—with a particular and predetermined vision of success that has been woven into our lives through novels, movies, and other media. But as Berlant observes, relationships are at varying times distracting, disrupting, and exhausting, inducing betrayal, neglect, and, at worst, violence.4 Berlant’s vision is not optimistic, but neither is it incorrect. Hasegawa’s Prisoner of Solitude asks readers to consider what is at stake for women who risk everything for romantic attachment. In addition to betrayal, neglect, and violence, Mayuko experiences isolation and self-alienation, and finally becomes a casualty of the built environment and of the men circulating within its imaginary walls...