|Nagano's Monkey Onsen!|
Most onsen are same-sex only, which minimises the chances of creepy older men trying to check out your boobies. Still, mixed-sex ones do exist, and it's hard to find places where bathing suits are allowed. While most British women I know would balk at the notion of letting their friends see them naked (ever tried that awkward move in the swimming changing rooms where you dry yourself while hiding everything?), the supposedly shy Japanese women have no reservations about whipping off all of their clothes and sitting together in the water, chatting. Before every otaku out there gets too excited, the majority of women I've seen at these places are very old and large... still, for me that means even less reason to be embarrassed about letting it all show. And yes, I've tried it. It was really weird at first, all of us trying to hide our blushes with towels before submerging ourselves in water. After a while, though, it felt like the most natural thing in the world to chat to my friends in my birthday suit. The weirdest part is how... un-weird it feels.
2) Hostess/Host Bars - if you've been in Japan for more than five minutes, chances are you'll have run into something like this. Clubs with pictures of pretty women and signs advertising prices - things such as "1 hour set - 5000円". What do these places offer? Well, they range from hostess bars to sex clubs, although your average place is probably a hostess bar.
It's definitely an interesting sign when a married man would rather pay to talk to a young, pretty girl than go home to his wife... but that is only the tip of the "Japanese married life" iceberg that intrigues me so. It seems that many people hide behind so many walls of social persona that they lack deep, genuine bonds with their own spouse, and feel the need to pay a stranger to act interested in them. Just as strange (perhaps) is the masochistic paying for teasing, knowing that it won't lead anywhere but enjoying the pretense that it could. What's that all about? Well, for the gentleman who wants a little more than teasing, there are...
3) Blowjob bars, Soapland and sex clubs! - now, rumour has it (in other words, I read Tokyo Vice) that providing actual vaginal intercourse is illegal in Japan - but that anything else is OK. This means that sex clubs have to use a lot more imagination with the things that they offer. "Soapland" is a term used for something similar to a massage with a happy ending, only the girls soap up the lucky guy to "get to know him" before it becomes OK to pay for services (I worry that there's something deeply Freudian about getting off in a bubble bath, but hey). Blowjob bars? I'm sure you can guess. I've heard rumours of no-pants restaurants and the famous eat-sushi-off-a-naked-woman restaurants, although I've never found out where they are. Oh, and of course there are strip clubs and lapdancing bars... I've heard it said (tsk, male friends) that the strippers here get you to remove their clothing for them. Intimate... but surely "stripper" wouldn't be the right word, then? That's like a comedian who asks you if you know any good jokes.
|Hotel Chapel Christmas, Moriyama|
|Haven't you always wanted to get it on in your little bro's bed?|
|Southern Cross, Nagoya - a "room menu". Check out the top right.|
5) Child-eye-level-porn! - Well, I did say that manga wasn't exactly all fluffy kittens. In fact, there's a game I play in the convenience stores called "find-the-rape"... it involves flicking open any piece of manga and counting how many seconds it takes before finding a cartoon scene involving sex that looks slight, well, coerced. The usual amount of time is five to ten seconds.
|What, no Beano?|
But those are the ones that you can read in the shop. The more "graphic" looking magazines, usually featuring a demure, scantily clad cartoon lady covered in what I hope children believe to be milk or ice cream, are not hidden up on the top shelf. Oh, no, they're about three feet up from the ground, at perfect child eye-level. Sure, they're sealed closed with tape so you can't look inside, but the covers leave little to the imagination as it is.
However, as I write this, I have just discovered from this interesting blog that a manga ban is beginning to come into force in Tokyo. Manga fans do not appreciate their beloved comics being dubbed "pornography", especially when it seems that all manga, regardless of adult content, is being tarred with the same brush and hidden away in "adult" sections of stores. The picture there (sorry for borrowing!) is from the blog I just linked to, and apparently depicts Tokyo before the ban started coming into effect. Whether this wave of censorship will sweep across Japan, I don't know.
So, there you have it. I said there were 5 things, but while searching for pictures of love hotels, I found this article about love DOLL hotels. Apparently even a prostitute isn't good enough anymore... too much human interaction?