If you have been remotely interested in the news as of the last 6-8 months you probably have heard that Japans population is rapidly decreasing. So much so that they currently sell more adult diapers than baby ones. This fact has been pulled out multiple times by multiple people I know over beers and while it’s something we may chuckle over when tipsy, it is a legitimate shit storm for the Japanese government. I never thought as extensively about the lack of intimacy in Japan as I have whilst in Tokyo.Cover photo: Shibuya crossing by night
There are many things I could mention about Tokyo but I will try just jot down the basics. My husband has this great line he serves up when we are asked our opinions that goes something along the line of “it’s like Star Trek, you soar in on your space ship to an alien planet with their customs and language…” and usually people giggle or agree or something and it briefly validates his Star Trek fixation. When he said it on one of our last nights in the city, the guy being told responded by pointing at a near by drinks menu in Japanese and said ” Yeah! It even looks like Klingon”.
So the first point I want to make is that unless you are Japanese and have spent some significant time growing up in Japan, chances are you will understand nothing and feel like you are on an exotic planet. This feeling of course is fantastic if you are the type of person who enjoys being a little out of your depth. One of my past times in Tokyo was attempting to locate products in supermarkets. I must add that though our initial 24 hours were spent in blissful confusion, we certainly fare welled the city with a lot more of an understanding. I felt at least closer on the scale of the unknown to the motives of those holed up in this jungle of neon advertisements. The culture so obviously has morphed in it’s extreme since the Second World War. Traditional Japanese social ideals put pressure on the teenagers of today who are more concerned with hentai than romance. This is something we as outsiders know though, it’s not as if it’s old news but being in Tokyo and witnessing it as opposed to watching it on VICE are two completely different things. The first time I saw a middle aged office stooge stride into a pink salon (bar for blow jobs) which was heavily decorated with busty anime girls, I realized these things were white bread to the Japs.
For a week I found myself in a city where touching or hugging in public made others uncomfortable yet blow job bars lined most city malls. On one of the seedier nights out, we found ourselves in an unimaginative strip club located in the grimy red light district of Kabukicho. Our threesome was shuffled in by a pushy middle -aged business man on the street. Stumbling through the entrance I was met with blue LED lights and the occasional spatter of a rotating green laser. The floor and walls were a sterile white marble and we were alone all but two slightly overweight Japanese men who appeared to be quite hammered and could have been fishermen. They were slumped on a black leather couch, the sort of setting you would see in an E grade porno and were being falsely doted on by two scantily clad women.
One of the ladies was harped at from behind a wall, I figured she must have been instructed to go and tend to our little group as she immediately walked over. She sat with us and I began to ask her about the work, it was the usual response of money is money and she doesn’t mind the work and some of the men are boring. We partly engaged with the hostess whilst trying to drink as much as we could on the ‘all you can drink for 4000 yen’ deal we had brokered and she continued to laugh at our drunkenness. I don’t remember a lot of the conversations we had with her now, large portions of the boozy chatter would classify as amplified small talk and have been overshadowed by the karaoke that followed.
A porcelain skinned woman had joined our table at this point, she drawled “hello” in a voice I can only relate to that of Fran Drescher.
Her breasts looked as though she had slipped two basketballs up her shirt the way you do when you pretend to have a food baby. My husband was flicking through the karaoke list by now “They have basically all of the Beatles songs! Even B-Sides!”. One of the strippers handed me a microphone post selection. My husband sat stunned at his predicament, smiling stupidly at me as the first bars of ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ spewed out of the speakers. All was running mediocrely well until the madam of the house informed us that in order to stay, we would have to buy drinks for the dancers so we downed the remnants of our glasses and were out before the seats cooled. Too drunk at this point to make legitimate decisions we dared a friend to walk alone down the street as part of a wager that he would be propositioned. He returned to us at the bar we held hostage near by. Drunk and embarrassed, he appeared at our table with a sumo sized man at his wake demanding we pay him for ‘false promise of business’. I hastily found a thousand yen and threw it at him. Feeling like a teenage boy sneaking porn for the first time, I finished my Kirin in shame.
We admitted defeat, hauled into a cab and taxied towards the Koenji Guest House in silence. I thought about our fun and bizarre night and I couldn’t help but feel a little awkward as well as stupid. I mean firstly we hadn’t really gotten ourselves into the thick of anything, we had waded through the shallows and already found ourselves confused and pushed ourselves towards something we weren’t ready for that never even eventuated. As the taxi streaked by each block of functional architecture and utilitarian col de sac, I realised in Tokyo there was definitely something I would never fully grasp and it is that mystery that will keep luring me to the wired up streets of this metropolitan. The smudge free taxi window mirrored my drunken complexion. I pondered over our predicament. Western society in search of something we could quantify in relation to our own perversions, for some sort of reconcile between our taboo and the suppressed sexuality of the Japanese and I realised we would find no less solace here than on our own soil. Via generalization, I will say as westerners we take advantage of the novelty adult industry here in Tokyo, of which is a product of Japan’s concealed sexuality and directly relates to the countries burgeoning population figures. Which might I add we still do not understand fully yet analyse innumerably.
This lack of cultural empathy is very important and something to remember when we attempt to analyse the situation in Japan on various levels. For one we make our own assumptions of the emotional wellbeing of Japans occupants, assuming they must exist sad and lonely in the new single service minded Tokyo and it shocks us that our Hallmark influenced views on romance aren’t reciprocated or missed by our eastern counterparts. If anything, a large percentage of the new breed of Japanese lover is less stressed and would not choose a relationship if given the option simply because they are happier without commitment and the social standing it comes with. This single serving development is obviously working very for Japanese citizens. And for all we know, could be an insight into the future of other densely populated cities around the globe. All of these musings might I add, are simply the tip of the iceberg issue that in the next ten to twenty years will not only become of dire urgency for Japan as a nation but also a fascinating spectacle of fierce individual protest against long-established social norm.