Monday, 20 June 2011

Sexy Japan - 5 Things That Might Shock You! (Warning - 18+)

When people think of the Japanese people, all kinds of adjectives come to mind. Reserved. Weird. Polite. Wacky. Welcoming. Shy. Friendly. It depends on where your ideas come from. If you've browsed the internet a lot and come across a lot of Japanese porn  (sorry, bad choice of words), you might think that we have here a nation of possibly perverted, sexually repressed individuals. I've heard it said plenty of times - "they produce so much porn because they're so sexually repressed", to paraphrase many self-proclaimed experts on culture and psychology.

Well, it's certainly true that Japan produces a lot of porn. And it's true that a lot of that porn seems to depict girls of questionable ages being pressured or forced into sexual acts that they're not up for (at first, anyway). But a sexually repressed nation? I'm not so sure. While my 15-year-old students seem innocent and naive about all matters grown-up, I've peered inside enough manga (comic) books to know that this isn't exactly the case. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm no believer in "let's shelter our children from all knowledge of sex or violence"; I think that this almost casual exposure could be a positive thing if done properly. A lack of decent sex education has been blamed for many teen pregnancies, although that debate is for another time. What fascinate me are the differences in attitudes towards all things sexual between Japan and the "Western" world which I'm used to. Before I prattle on any longer, let me tell you about some of the things that are a part of Japanese life, and I'll let you make up your own mind.

Nagano's Monkey Onsen!

1) Onsen - not a sexual thing on its own, an onsen is a hot spring (or could be used for an indoor hot bath) where people go to soak. Sometimes containing minerals, the hot spring is thought to have many health benefits, the most obvious of which is a relaxation of the muscles. After a stressful day, the Japanese love a hot bath (but only after showering off all the dirt, of course). The onsen provides a public extension of this private ritual - bathing with your friends and strangers. The catch? Everybody is naked.

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.
*Prettiness is not guaranteed

What's a hostess bar? Well, it's where your stereotypical (married) salaryman goes after a hard days' work with his co-workers and pays to have pretty* women flirt with him. That's right - for only 5000円 (at least) per hour - that's about 40 pounds - you can sit at a table and have women TALK to you. Nothing else, although they might sing karaoke with you and tease you with the illusion that you could have more. On top of that, you might have to buy them drinks.  Some are subtle and only list prices on the door, while others display some of the women they have on offer. My rule of thumb is - if a bar has no windows, looks for a price list...
For some reason, all hosts look like boyband rejects

It isn't just for men who want a bit of attention, though - there are also host bars, for the lady who wants a bit of pretty-boy attention. I've heard that the main customers are hostesses, tired of talking to boring, balding salarymen and wanting a bit of attention from a young, attractive guy. Wow! Now, I've never been to one of these establishments, but a friend of mine told me of how he "accidentally" entered one and ended up paying 5000円 for a drink and a chat with a girl who wasn't that attractive and could barely speak a word of English.

 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.

 Have I been to one of these establishments? Alas, no! And unfortunately I can't give tips of where to find such gems, either. Perhaps it's fear of linguistic miscommunication, dodgy practices or just plain racism, but it seems that most sexual playgrounds won't allow foreigners. So, if you "look" Japanese and can speak enough of the lingo, you might be lucky... or, of course, if you know the right people. Some places do cater to (and target) foreigners, though - the most famous red-light district is Kabuki-cho in Shinjuku, Tokyo, where I hear it's hard to walk around at night without being offered all kinds of sexual adventures.

Hotel Chapel Christmas, Moriyama
4) Love hotels - or, more accurately, sex hotels. Many young Japanese people live with their parents until they're in their mid-twenties, and as Japanese homes are quite small, bringing your new lover home might not be the best solution to your hormone-fuelled needs. Sure, you could take a drive down a deserted road at midnight, but this is a society where social face and shame play big factors (not to say that one of my friends hasn't encountered such things). Waiting until marriage certainly isn't an expected thing over here, and due to over-protective parents it might be hard to stay away for a night without raising suspicion. Or, of course, you're married and you've just gotta get some cheating done without ruining the tatami and ruining the game. Enter the Love Hotel. Thousands of these places exist in Japan - some subtle, hidden hovels, others massive neon beasts with unmistakable names like "Hotel Love". Some stand alone, others reside in "love hotel" districts, which are easy to find if you type ラブホテル (Rabu Hoteru) into Google maps and zone in on your desired area or look around at night for neon hearts.

Haven't you always wanted to get it on in your little bro's bed?

What makes these hotels different from normal hotels? Well, while you can stay overnight, they also have hourly rates for the daytime. Some charge around 2000円 an hour for a stay, while others will charge around 4000-6000円 for "free time" (i.e. as long as you want between set hours). Overnight and weekend stays are more expensive. The beauty of these things is that they are quite anonymous - no need to give details when checking in. You enter the lobby and view a light-up "menu" of available rooms, with rates and pictures. You usually select your desired room with the push of a button, and go to it. Sometimes you pay up front, other times when you leave, and sometimes through a machine inside the room itself. Oh, and there's no need to reserve (you usually can't) - it's more a case of "turn up and see what's available".

Southern Cross, Nagoya - a "room menu". Check out the top right.

Perhaps the most defining feature of the love hotel is the fact that some are themed. Type "weird love hotels" into Google and you'll find some fascinating designs - the most weird being a Hello Kitty bondage room. You can find S&M, Disney, Christmas, classroom or jungle themes if you look around. Unfortunately, many love hotels look good from the outside but are full of boring rooms. Still, the majority provide spacious, en-suite rooms (sometimes with jacuzzis) that are nicer than your average Japanese business hotel. Room service will bring you a variety of meals (sometimes Dominos pizza) and sex toys while the big TV provides an array of channels for getting you "in the mood". Instead of mints on your pillow, you'll find a couple of condoms and perhaps a sachet of lube.

How do I know so much about them? Um, well... they're usually nice places to stay, no reservation required, usually better value than your average hotel, and we were curious. Seriously, those beds are far more comfortable than the tiny ones found in reserved hotels... but when you think about how many people have "used" those rooms, it gets a bit icky.

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?


  1. This was great fun to read, thanks, Gwynnie! I have a book about UK porn, which has a section on bukkake, and the author has heard that Western people frequently get ushered away from Japanese prostitution not out of racism, but fear that they would not cope with Japanese tastes! I obviously don't know how true that really is!

    Also, I agree that the British have a funny attitude to nudity: it's just a human body, after all, and there should be no reason why we're often scared to see each other nude. And we call the Japanese repressed...

    1. Well, that's news to me. I thought that Asians are the repressed ones.

  2. Great article, very well and carefully written, interesting and hilarious (parts of it). Thanks

  3. Pretty good write up. There are in fact many pinsaros (blowjob bars) open to foreigners in Japan. In Thailand and Vietnam they are ALL open to foreigners. Anyone with interest could do a google search for "Blowjob Bars" to find my extensive writing on the subject.

  4. If you are dating with a Japanese college girl, you may surprise that how many guys’ phone numbers on her cellular phone. Of course, not all the college girls in Japan are playgirls, but you will find many selfish and sneaky Japanese college girls who look so innocent outside!

    - See more at: Watch out! Japanese playgirls

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. In the library near me in Cornwall I did work experience and the woman there wouldn't let me look at the Yu-Gi-Oh manga, saying all the manga was for adults. It wasn't even manga I was that into, it was just something to take my mind off the useless, shit week that didn't give me anything for the world of work!

  7. I am sorry. The link I provided earlier was incorrect.

    Here is working link to the Tokyo Sex tourism guide.

  8. Hilarious and interesting. I just spent a month and a half trekking through Japan, struggling to get to grips with the various demands of when and when not to 'get naked'. It sure is a tough one for a prudy Brit to get used to... check it out!