Tokyo dolls and affairs

Two pulp thrillers by John McParland

By William Wetherall

First posted 1 September 2006
Last updated 1 June 2010

John McPartland, Tokyo Doll, 1953
John McPartland, Affair in Tokyo, 1954
Linguistic note The semantic wrinkles of "jo"

Love Me Now, 1952
Cover by Barye Phillips

John McPartland
Love Me Now
(A Gold Medal Original)
New York: Gold Medal Books, 1952
184 pages, paperback (GM263)
Cover by Barye Phillips

John McPartland

John McPartland (1911-1958) lived only a few years after becoming one of Gold Medal's most popular authors of the sort of sexy action thrillers now called "noir fiction". He wrote eleven such stories, beginning with Love Me Now (1952) and ending with The Last Night (1959), which was published posthumously. Only his seventh novel, No Down Payment (1957), came out in hardcover -- a measure of recognition that he had become more than a mere "paperback" writer.

Like many writers of pulp thrillers, which rarely came out in more than multiple editions, McPartland was prolific, and most of his stories were close to the contemporary bone. He turned out nearly two books a year, and the lag between their fictional plots and real life was seldom more than a year or two.

The Last Night, which came out in 1952, features a court-appointed attorney who has to defend a beatnik woman against a murder charge. Tokyo Doll and Affair in Tokyo, published in 1953 and 1954, are respectively set during and shortly after the Korean War, which unfolded from mid 1950 to mid 1953.


Cover of Tokyo Doll, 1953
Cover painting by Barye Phillips
Back of Tokyo Doll, 1953
Graphs reading "joka hanzai"
mean "crimes of burning passion"

John McPartland
Tokyo Doll
(A Gold Medal Original)
New York: Gold Medal Books, 1953
160 pages, paperback (GM336)
Cover by Barye Phillips

Blonde geisha with gray eyes

As is clear from the cover, not all geisha in Japan have black hair and dark eyes. McPartland beat the film "My Geisha" (1961) to the punch by several years, and Shirley MacLaine was ahead of Liza Crihfield (Dalby) by about a decade. McPartland, for that matter, was hardly the first to contrive a blonde, gray-eyed geisha.

The front cover tells us that "Her glittering beauty symbolized this city of delicate cruelty". The blurb on the back begins with a "free translation" of the characters Δƍ (see image).

Freely translated means: I found my love, a tall golden girl, in the cruel, teeming, thousand-angled city that was Tokyo, post-havoc, mid-occupation, death-hungry for Mate Buchanan.

I am Buchanan.

Mate Buchanan, that is, ex-G.I., court-martial and all, sent to this smiling, bowing, treacherous town on a mission, literally, of life -- or holocaust for the world at large.

The golden girl is Sandra Tann, the one they call the Witch of Tokyo. She of the velvet voice, the unsavory Nippon friends, and an incurable desire to meddle in my affairs.

I saw her first on the broad street between Hibaya [sic] Park and the Imperial Hotel.

Three men were trying to burn her to death.

How could any red-blooded browser at a paperback rack resist?

Tokyo Doll is full of mid-Korean War, late-Occupied Japan ambiance that would strike a chord with tens of thousands of U.S. Forces personnel and American civilians in the country at time.


Cover of Affair in Tokyo, 1954
Cover painting by Clark Hulings
Back of Affair in Tokyo, 1954
Omnipresent graph for "passion"

John McPartland
Affair in Tokyo
(A Gold Medal Original)
New York: Gold Medal Books, 1954
157 pages, paperback (GM406)
Cover painting by Clark Hulings
[Also Sydney: Star Books, 1956
114 pages, softcover (stapled wrappers)

Affair in Tokyo

"Sin priced high in this city -- a dollar, dope -- or death" claims the cover of Affair in Tokyo. The characters on the vertical sign suggest that the cover artist didn't know much about calligraphy.

The character appears on the back above a hand with a syringe and needle, and a piston in a hand, below this teaser.


The Tokyo route, they called it -- the girl, the drinking, the needle -- and even the Americans went for it. Most of them ended in the stockades, gray, rotten husks of men, trembling with the heroin need, or face down in the black canals that lace the city.

Like Lonesome Lee almost did.

I know. I'm Lee, and the intimate evil of postwar Japan left is mark on me.

And on my red-haired love -- as we fled hand in hand from murder.

"I know. I'm Lee," has the same narrative ring as "I am Buchanan." In other ways, too, Affair in Tokyo has overtones of Tokyo Doll -- as though McPartland himself stuck in a rut of interest in American men who had affairs with American dolls in Japan.


Suehiro Kei's Joen, 2002
Suehiro Kei's Joka, 2006

Linguistic note

The semantic wrinkles of "jo"


The characters Δƍ on the back cover of Tokyo Doll are brushed correctly if not very artistically. The on the back cover of Affair in Tokyo is a cut and paste from the Δƍ calligraphy.

This is worth pointing out because graphic designers infatuated but unfamiliar with characters often mangle them. The characters on the front cover of Affair in Tokyo are a case point.

How Gold Medal's graphic designers -- if not McPartland himself -- came across the expression Δƍ is probably unanswerable. The history of , though, is somewhat knowable.

Crimes of passion

Δƍ, though not an established expression, is both plausible and clear. An extensive search of Japanese sources would probably come up with an example or in a work of non-fiction if not a novel.

The characters read "joka hanzai", which means "crime of passion" -- though "crime of passion" is usually sƍ (jochi hanzai) or sƍ (chijo hanzai), but also ƍ (gekijo han), or even s (chijo han) or (gekijo han) in Japanese. All of these compounds have phrasal variations using the verb (yoru) and the postposition noun-marking adverb (ni), as in ɂƍ (gekijo ni yoru hanzai) or "crime due to passion".

The most common expression in Chinese seems to be ƍ (ji1qing2 fan4zui4). (C. ji1aing2, J. gekijo) means a "strong passion" such as an impulse of jealous rage that triggers murder, arson, and other acts of violence.

Flames of passion

ƍ is the standard word for "crime" while is also an established compound meaning the "flames" or "fires" of a passion so strong they cannot be put out.

, though, is not the word most generally be used in Japanese where one would say passion in English. It implies a burning and uncontrollable lust more than merely strong sexual emotions.

is therefore most likely used in titles of novels and movies about burning desire. It is the Japanese title of an August Strindberg (1849-1912) story translated by Yoshida Hakko in 1908 (Shinshicho, January to March). It is also the title of an 11-reel Shochiku film released in 1952.

However, is most likely used in association with an agent or locale in the translated titles of movies.

"Das Karussell des Lebens" (1918) [The Carousel of Life]
΂̉Q, Joka no uzumaki [The whirlwind of passion]

"The Flame of the Desert" (1919)
̏, Sabaku no joka [The passion of the desert]

"The Fire Flingers" (1919), by William J. Neidig
΂̐l, Joka no hito [People of passion]

"Lost and Found on a Southern Sea" (1923), aka "Passion of the Sea"
C̏, Nankai no joka [Passion of the southern seas]

"Broadway after Dark" (1924)
あs, Tsureyuku joka [Accompanying passion]

Synonymous metaphors

is not even the most common metaphor for passion as a flame or fire. That honor goes to  (joen), which is not equivalent to metaphorically, but is also more familiar and productive in titles of movies and novels.

Some writers have swapped the two. Kayama Shigeru (1904-1975) later published ^q`̏ (1950) [Tahichi no joka, Passion in Tahiti], a short story, as y̏ (1959) [Rakuento no joen, Passion on paradise island].

Other writers have used both. Suehiro Kei (b1940), who likes two-character titles that allude to sexual craving, has published several erotic suspense thrillers with (jo, passion) in their title, including  in 2002 and in 2006. Both of these novels were brought out in original pocketbook editions by Futabasha, which specializes in books and magazines on the risque side of popular.