Goodbye Madame Butterfly, book

Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman. By Sumie Kawakami.

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The Preface is also available for download in PDF format along with a sample chapter (The Mannequin):

Thirdly, I decided that I would only write stories about women I like, respect and admire. I know this doesn’t sound scientific at all, but through my bitter experience with my first book, I knew that I wasn’t going to do a good job if I could not relate to my subjects. Surprisingly, by admitting my shortcomings, I also began to listen more carefully to the women I interviewed. I started to understand their stories in a deeper way. I won’t pretend that I know how they feel, but I do believe that this collection shows both the weaknesses and strengths of modern Japanese women.

Fourthly, I decided not to try to wrap up each story and make conclusions about the lives of these women. Instead of looking for generalizations, I worked to get the details right. I tried to reconstruct their stories as faithfully as I could. Readers will find the women’s version of the truth in these pages and can draw their own conclusions.

I fictionalized some parts of these stories to protect the identities of these women as well as their family members, friends and lovers. Some women told me that fictionalization was not necessary, but I still insisted that I make some alterations just to protect others who may be involved, since I had not spoken to any of those people and therefore had no permission to write about them.

Some of these women shared email messages or letters from their husbands or lovers without permission. Other than that, these stories are solely based on the women’s versions of events. They are not substantiated. This was partly because interviewing their partners, lovers and others who may be involved in their stories was difficult. It was also because I felt that this wasn’t my purpose in this book, which is supposed to be a collection of stories told by women. What do the men have to say? You will hear from a sex volunteer and the owner of a sex clinic, both interviewed for this book, but that is it. The men will have to wait for another book.

In order to make these stories ring true to the women I interviewed, I shared draft manuscripts with some of them when they requested it. Some of them tried to rewrite my scripts completely. In these cases, I had to negotiate with them word by word, until we came up with the words we both agreed on.

These stories were born out of collaboration between me and the women interviewed. The interviews were conducted over coffee and cake in the afternoon or over wine in the evening after work. Some of the women broke down and cried as they dug up difficult memories. Some became angry when I peppered them with questions, even to the extent of walking out on me. Still others kept sending email messages to my cellphone, giving me updates as if I were attached to these developments for life.

I questioned them, listened to their stories, nodded in approval, consoled them, cried over their tragedies, even scolded them when I felt it was necessary. I often shared my stories of love with them. Some became my friends, others walked out of my life after just one interview. I know that I broke a lot of rules taught in journalism school, and these stories may not be purely journalistic, but I still consider them to be true. After all, every story has multiple truths — it all depends on who is telling the story and who is listening.

S. K.
—Tokyo, July 2007