(Image from Amazon.com)
It may feel like an arbitrary year, but I chose 1981 quite intentionally as the year in which Gina in the Floating World takes place. Here are some of my main reasons:
1981 is close to the period when I was in Japan and worked as a bar hostess. I wanted to be sure that what I recalled and wrote about in my journal and letters matched the aspects of Japanese life and culture that I was sharing.
The 1980s was a booming time for Japan’s economy. I felt that was an important backdrop for the story. Businesses had money to spend on after hours entertainment.
Summer 1981 was just before the AIDs crisis became public. I’m not so sure my protagonist would have been quite so cavalier about her behavior once she was aware of AIDs.
Computers were a standard feature in the workplace, but there were no home computers, no cell phones, no Internet nor easy access to technology. Any or all of these would have made for a different story.
Although hostess bars, the sex trades, love hotels, and the yakuza all exist in today’s Japan, practices have changed in all these areas since the 1970s and 1980s. I had access to some excellent research from that earlier time that fit well with the story I wanted to tell.
Women’s role in American society had started to change, especially during the 1970s when career opportunities began to open for women. In addition to the professions of law and medicine, female college graduates were drawn to careers in business. As a former career counselor, I worked with these young women, who were attracted by the prestige of a certain field or were influenced by peers and others and who did not always consider the suitability of their choices for themselves. My protagonist fits that description.
Japanese society at that time was even more dominated by gender roles than American society. What we would now view as sexual harassment was a ritualized and accepted part of bar culture there, but it was also something women largely put up with in the US as well.
1981 specifically felt like a good year, especially with the two markers I name in the first sentence of my novel—Dolly Parton’s hit “9 to 5”, which vocalized the fantasies that women had about changing the workplace, and the selection of Sandra Day O’Connor as the first female Supreme Court Justice. Times were beginning to change, but we still had a long way to go.
Other events of note in 1981:
Ronald Reagan becomes the 40th President of USA and is shot a few months later by John Hinckley.
Iran releases 52 American hostages who were held for 444 days.
Space Shuttle program officially launches with the successful mission of the Columbia after a deadly test run earlier.
Lady Diana Spencer marries Charles, Prince of Wales (no fairy-tale marriage, that one!)
Can you think of others?