What do you think about when someone mentions Japan? Most people are divided into four categories when they hear the word “Japan”. The first category is “Interesting, Rich Culture”, followed by “Anime Paradise”, then “Crazy Technology” and the last one will surprisingly or unsurprisingly be “Sex”. Why sex? In case you are the innocent type, Japan has a very large sex industry. Very well known among lovers of the adult genre are the (sometimes quite outrageous) porn movies made in Japan.
The Land of the Rising Sun also has one of the biggest red-light districts in the world in Kabukicho, Shinjuku (Tokyo). Besides this, sex is an important theme in Japanese art history, which started with the emergence of erotic paintings or 春画 (shunga), erotic art that dates back to the 8th century. On top of that, prostitution has a long history in Japan like everywhere else, with ‘oiran’ and ‘geisha’ being famous examples of Japanese prostitution all over the world.
Are you planning to look for some nightly pleasure in Tokyo’s red light district of Kabukicho? Here are some things to be careful about when going there!
Like in every red light district, prices vary depending on the service, club’s size, and of course, the “qualities” of the lady or gentleman of your choice. Different types of services are available in the red light districts, you can either pay a prostitute for chatting only (no body contact whatsoever) or go for the special treatment. Needless to say, common sense will tell you that the more you want to “enjoy”, the more you have to pay. So, how expensive is it actually?
If you only fancy a drink in a club, you have to pay the so-called “entrance fee”, which usually stands at around 7000 yen, before entering the premises. However, this does not mean it is an ‘all drinks included’ arrangement, which you might expect for such an exorbitant entrance fee. Every cup you drink in the club will be charged separately. If you pick a girl for companionship, every hour you spent with her will burn a few thousand yen. Some clubs will impose other fees too. This is why this kind of night turns out to cost you the equivalent of hundreds of dollars, even without touching the girls!
Do you wish to enjoy more? Be prepared to burn a hole in your pocket then. Pink salons (that specialise in oral sex) will cost around 6000 yen for 30 minutes, pole dance performances will set you back around 10,000 – 12,000 yen per hour, and if you are looking for a “higher class” escort, paying north of 80,000 yen per hour is not unheard of.
As in any red light district, rip-offs are very common, especially in Kabukicho. Tourists are usually offered a low price by an agent, but when the bill comes it can be quite a bit higher than initially promised. So what tricks do they use to make the price go up? A typical strategy used by club operators is adding extra fees on the bill without telling their customers in advance. For instance, you may be offered entrance to a bar for 15,000 yen, but you will be charged 20.000 yen more in the end. What is the 20.000 yen for? You may be told that it is a mandatory surcharge for first-time customers, membership fee (compulsory) or any excuse that sounds legitimate.
A while ago, there was a news story where a bar allegedly charged its customers 2.6 million yen for drinking, in spite of being promised a 4000 yen bill earlier. In this incident, the fraud victims were also threatened with violence after refusing to pay.
And it doesn’t stop there. As long as you are a man, there will be countless people trying to bring you into their clubs by showing you photos of pretty, young hostesses. Don’t trust your eyes on this one! You may see a high-school-aged looking girl in the photo, but when you meet the promised girl in person, it is sometimes clear to see that the lady in question is a few decades older…
“Can I go in?” “Sorry….I don’t speak English”. Due to the language barrier, most of the bars in Kabukicho do not accept foreigners as customers. They may not show the sign on the door as in the picture above, but they will write everything in Japanese. This is a polite way to signify that foreigners are not welcomed. If you are observant enough, you will notice that many solicitors will not try to talk to foreigners in Kabukicho. There are a few of them that do, but it is (still) very rare.
Nevertheless, if you have Japanese friends, entering bars in Kabukicho will not be too difficult for you. You can get any services, as long as there is someone there to translate. Or if you do speak a bit of Japanese, you could try going into the bars yourself. Knowing some basic Japanese can make your journey entirely different, mark my words!
Are you disappointed that you may not be able to enjoy the nightlife in Kabukicho? No worries, Japan isn’t an anti-foreigner country per se, there are always some foreigners-friendly bars out there ready to serve you. However, you will have to make a bit of an effort to pinpoint their locations.
In Japan, there is a law forbidding prostitution. According to the law, a prostitute can not have any kind of sexual intercourse with her/his customers. Do you think it is a joke? No, it is not. It is illegal to have sex with a prostitute. However, you can touch or see a prostitute wearing her birthday suit.
At this point, you may argue: “You must be kidding! I have seen people entering hotels with a prostitute! “. Well, they are not prosecuted because as with any law, there are loopholes. Remember how the law says prostitutes can’t have sex with customers? What if you are not a customer? To make it legitimate, the prostitution agency will only have to arrange a “blind date” for you with your selected girl. After the date, you are now a “couple” and you two can do the business. Now, you two are considered to be having sex as a couple, rather than as a customer and prostitute. Some businesses are smart, aren’t they?
Another little secret about Kabukicho is that it is a place that is crowded with members of the Yakuza (the Japanese version of the Mafia). Yakuza are everywhere in Kabukicho because it is the place where most of their businesses are run. This is why you can see policemen on duty everywhere in Kabukicho. Not all bars are Yakuza-operated, but their presence alone is enough to give most people goosebumps. Ask any of the locals, they will tell you that it is better not to cause any trouble in Kabukicho. Remember, in Japan, gangsterism is legitimate, and the Yakuza is officially recognised as an organisation. So make sure you keep yourself in check at all times, to avoid making trouble when you are drunk. In fact, Yakuza and the Japanese police are working hand in hand to ensure security. In some cases, the police will have to ask Yakuza for help. The Yakuza don’t like it at all when people make trouble in their territory! If you have a tendency to break laws, maybe Kabukicho is not an appropriate place for you.
After reading all this, what do you think? Is Kabukicho a good place to visit? If you see through the not-so-great things that happen here, it is actually a different way to enjoy the sleepless town of Tokyo. Everybody has their own interpretation for enjoying life, not all countries can have red light districts legitimately after all. If you have never seen a red light district in your home country before, Kabukicho is by all means a highly recommended spot for you to explore in the heart of Tokyo. As long as no unhealthy or unsavory activities take place, chatting with a host or hostess can be a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable experience to try out! Just be careful to keep yourself out of harm’s way!