Japan: Wacky, weird or wonderful?

Venkatesan Vembu

Last month, Kazuhide Uekusa, one of Japan's most celebrated economists, was arrested on the charge of groping a schoolgirl on a Tokyo subway train: it was the third time in eight years he'd been caught in cases involving pretty young girls in short skirts.

The high-profile status of the accused served to refocus media attention on one of Tokyo's blights: the groping of women, including schoolgirls, by testosterone-driven men who take advantage of cramped conditions in trains.

Even the introduction of 'Women Only' carriages hasn't rendered commuting women entirely safe from the hands that stray.

Increasingly, however, Japan's inveterate 'train gropers' - among other fetishists - are finding new avenues for gratification, thanks to the thousands of themed 'sex clubs' that have come up in most big Japanese towns. A new book, Pink Box: Inside Japan's Sex Clubs (to which DNA gained exclusive access), offers insights into these uniquely Japanese institutions that pander to every conceivable male fantasy, for a price.

For instance, one of the clubs, which caters to train gropers, simulates a 20-minute train ride in a carriage, complete with conductors' announcements and 'stops' where women in short skirts (who are on the club's payrolls) get on and off. For about 6,000 yen (about Rs 2,300), 'commuters' can ride the train -and fondle as many of the pliant women as they please.

No other sexual contact is permitted on the club premises, but of course, there's nothing to stop the liaison continuing at a nearby "love hotel", another Japanese cultural icon! The club owners claim that by providing a release for gropers in simulated conditions, the train clubs actually make real-life train rides relatively safer for women.

Other clubs play on fantasies involving professionals in different walks of life, with appropriate settings and sexual props: waitresses, airhostesses, office secretaries, nurses, teachers -and even schoolgirls in skimpy tartan skirts.

Another doubles as a coffee shop with pantyless waitress (and mirrored floors!); and there's even a club where men can trade in their business suits for diapers and bibs and receive tender, loving care from a young "mommy"! Since these clubs cater only to Japanese males, they were a closed world to outsiders - until Pink Box came out earlier this week, with photographs of hundreds of clubs and of women who work in them.

The photographer, Joan Sinclair, a blonde American corporate lawyer who took a year off to pursue this documentary project, told DNA that she'd first heard of these clubs when she was teaching English in Tokyo some 10 years ago.

"Although these clubs are a part of mainstream modern culture in Japan, they're not something foreigners hear about."

At $20 billion, the sex industry is Japan's second largest industry (after automobiles). Sinclair notes that the clubs operate under very complicated licensing procedures -"so complicated that they were operating outside of their licensing, in a semi-legal state."

But in every other way, they operate transparently, she adds. "The prices and house rules are all written out in detail on 'menus'. Nothing is left to chance."

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: