The sex industry walks on eggshells at the best of times. These are not the best of times. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are approaching.
Will there be a crackdown? Has it already begun? No announcements have been made, hard evidence is lacking, Spa! (May 1-8) can’t be sure, but there are, it says, signs – and precedents: for example, Osaka’s 1990 Flower Expo, which saw the forced closure of numerous soapland establishments on one pretext or another.
There’s always a pretext, Spa! says – if not the anti-prostitution law, then fire regulations, or if not them, a misrepresentation of the true nature of the business transacted.
The Japanese word fuzoku refers to erotic entertainment which may or may not involve the client’s active participation. Organizers of international events like the Olympics want to display their country’s most dignified face to the world. Fuzoku does not qualify. The less seen, the better. The industry’s garish signs are themselves, in the official view, an eyesore.
The city of Oyama in Tochigi Prefecture is about an hour’s drive north of Tokyo. Its fuzoku industry is famous nationwide, says Spa! Attractions include foreign women who are reportedly conspicuously younger than their Japanese counterparts. Among local establishments is one – was one, rather – called the Sexy Beam. Last September it was shuttered and its operator arrested under the anti-prostitution law.
Ex-staffers, left high and dry, pooled their resources and opened another establishment in another area of the same city. They called it Nyu-yoku – a clever play on the Japanese word meaning to bathe, and of course New York. It didn’t survive long enough to open its doors. It too was shuttered. Only the sign remains – a sad reminder, muses Spa!
Does this herald a massive crackdown on Tokyo-area fuzoku as the Olympics approach? Fear that it might is helping to fuel an outward migration to smaller centers remote from the capital. “There are those who say it adds up to an economic revival for the regions,” Spa! observes.
And there are others who are enjoying the development for its own sake – among them the fuzoku workers themselves. “Two weeks out of the month I spend working in the provinces,” says “M-san.” She’s 32 and works for a Tokyo-based deriheru service. The two English components of that portmanteau word are “delivery” and “health,” which means sexual service delivered to your home, if that’s convenient, or, if not, some other venue of your choice – a love hotel, for instance.
A colleague introduced her to the notion, and took her to Fukui Prefecture. Her first thought on arrival was, “What am I doing here?” But the advantages of the setup were quick to reveal themselves – in the form of a transportation allowance, a guaranteed minimum fee, and higher earnings generally. Other women in the trade have made the same discovery. The standard accommodation, M observes, is a 50-room dormitory – and the rooms, she says, are always full, occupied by women like herself, come from Tokyo to exploit regional opportunities.
In whatever part of the country you happen to be, she says, “there’s always a love hotel strip by the main highway. The turnover rate is good. No sooner are you done in one room than you’re on your way to the next hotel – or sometimes to a different room in the same hotel.”
And tips. In Tokyo, maybe one customer in 20 tips. In the country, two or three in 10 do. Often they bear gifts, locally famous treats and the like: “I didn’t know whether you like sweet or bitter, so I brought both.”
Does she have a favorite region? Of course she does. “Tohoku. Tohoku people are not outwardly friendly, but in their own quiet way, they’re very considerate.”© Japan Today