Lust for Life

In 1947 there was only one subway line in Tokyo, compared with the 13 now operating, but its glorious terminus was Asakusa (pronounced Asak'sa), then Japan's place to play—to Tokyo what Times Square is to New York. This major entertainment district was described in a popular song of the day: "Asakusa is a human market/ Asakusa is Tokyo's heart." Asakusa was a whole community of shows and shops, bars and brothels, with everything for sale—in particular, matters of the heart.

One spring day that year, I had hesitatingly stepped into the Ginza subway station, Asakusa-bound. Hesitatingly because the...

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