TOKYO (TR) – A leather-clad female physically punishing a compliant male into erotic bliss is the usual image one conjures for BDSM, or bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism. Yet, to spend a Sunday afternoon with the ladies on the roster of La Siora, a high-end club based in Shinjuku, is to realize that the proper delivery of the craft’s techniques involves much more than wanton, grip-it-and-rip-it whipping.
A dominatrix, or mistress, must be proficient in handling a wide range of equipment, be able to read the body language of a “slave,” and ensure sanitary conditions at all times. But perhaps the greatest challenge involves the law.
Up until last year, La Siora, which opened in 1997, served its clientele out of an apartment building in Yoyogi, Shibuya Ward. Last April, a violation of the Law Regulating Adult Entertainment Businesses occurred during a session in which a dominatrix gave a 29-year-old male customer a sexual service not involving intercourse but still illegal given the in-house business arrangement and the club’s registration as deri heru (or delivery health, meaning an out-call service). The police, who made three arrests, had allegedly been alerted to the incident by nearby residents complaining of noise emanating from behind the closed doors.
“I didn’t know that the hand of a dominatrix and that of a slave were considered to be different under the law,” says Rie Asagiri, director of La Siora, during an interview at a Shinjuku coffee shop. Since La Siora would have been on safe legal ground had the slave been pleasuring himself, she adds, “The line of legality is fuzzy.”
The charges were eventually dropped due to complications over exactly who was renting the premises. La Siora has since moved to servicing customers on a dispatch basis inside hotel rooms as law enforcement in Tokyo increasingly puts the squeeze on adult activities.
In the notorious red-light district of Kabukicho, located slightly east of Shinjuku Station, police authorities have been relentless in an ongoing crackdown. The adult-entertainment law, enacted in 1948, was revised three years ago, an action that made it easier to shut illicit clubs, bars and pink parlors. Many insiders in the adult industry believe the increased scrutiny is due to Tokyo’s push for the 2016 Olympics.
As a result, many underground businesses are changing their practices to conform to the increased scrutiny rather than risk running afoul of the law.
Sex-trade publisher Creators Company Connection prints Deri Heru Manzoku, a magazine with ads for girls who can be ordered by phone or via the Internet. Chairman Hiroharu Kimura, whose office is just north of Kabukicho, explains: “The number of legally run deri heru operations has recently increased because of the crackdown on illegally operated brick-and-mortar sex shops. Shop managers have chosen legality over illegality.” (It should be noted that “illegality” refers to prostitution and “legality” to non-coital acts, which are permissible.)
Though certainly seductive in nature, La Siora is not a sex operation, Rie adamantly explains. Domination by the female with no nudity, oral sex or intercourse is the only possibility, but special supplementary services are available, as was made clear in the Yoyogi incident. The general approach, however, parallels the developments in the deri-heru trade.
Later that same Sunday at La Siora’s headquarters, an apartment inside a mansion off Yasukuni-dori, Rie was fielding phone calls from potential clients seeking reservations with her stable of roughly a dozen girls, each possessing varying specialties and experience.
Rie is the queen of La Siora. Confident and articulate, the slim, bisexual 43-year-old, dressed in purple fishnet stockings and a frilly black dress, asks callers about suitable times and the types of girls they are seeking.
BDSM is a consensual mix of violence and eroticism that breaks down the walls between fantasy and reality, a practice that Rie thinks is free form and open to everyone. “BDSM is a way of communicating with people,” offers Rie, whose last name “Asagiri,” or morning fog, is a performing name. “The most important thing for a dominatrix is to meet the customer’s fantasy.”
In Japan, historians trace modern forms of BDSM to nonsexual torture levied during the Sengoku Period (1467-1568), a time of near continual upheaval and wars. Then, in 1742, the Tokugawa government sanctioned various types of public punishment and torture, with whipping and suspension among them.
Rie started as a freelance dominatrix in Nagoya 15 years ago, but she wanted a bigger challenge so she came to Tokyo and started La Siora.
Over the course of a typical evening, Rie’s charges will arrive to pack up suitcases with gear (colorful ropes, hoods, head harnesses, mouth gags and various limb-spreaders) and venture off to meet a client inside a cafe situated at the east edge of Kabukicho. From there, the pair will move to a hotel room, often a love hotel, previously reserved by the customer.
Most of the club’s 70 weekly patrons are Japanese, but about a dozen are foreign. Women, too, are occasional clients. Occupations tend toward the well-heeled, with doctors and lawyers being common.
The change in protocol has not altered La Siora’s basic business plan. Its Web page includes detailed information in both Japanese and English about available services, which require membership registration. For first-time customers, a questionnaire asks about wardrobe preferences for the mistress (perhaps black lingerie, garters or high-heeled boots), particular erogenous zones, favored fetishes and any desired activities, such as caning, candle waxing and a gender switch (wigs provided).
Prices are not inexpensive and begin at 20,000 yen for 70 minutes and move on upward for multiple mistresses and additional time. Included in this fee are the costumes and many of the above- mentioned options.
Hygiene is also crucial. “It is a sin for a dominatrix to not know sanitation and safety,” Rie says. After performances, everything is sterilized at the office — from the tips of the boots to the snake whips.
The small apartment in Yoyogi is also the location for much of the girls’ training, which does not extend beyond the basics. Simple tying, yes, but elaborate details are left up to the trainee.
“If I teach too much, it crushes the personality of the dominatrix,” Rie explains. “It really depends on experience. If you improve your insight, your skill as a dominatrix will increase.”
Mai, dressed in a single-piece black dress, is primarily an instructor and assistant. She believes that perceiving just what it is the slaves wants is almost an art form.
“It is not just language, but body language,” she says. To explain, Rie then gets onto her knees on the office carpet. “Nonverbal communication is important, such as watching the movement of the slave’s hands, feet and eyes. If the slave says ‘it feels good,’ yet his hands are stiff,” the director says, hunching over, “then it is not right. Many times people will try too hard to feel good. Then it becomes a restriction.”
In spite of not being exhaustive, training crucially covers the prevention of accidents. Mai indicates that common mistakes at early stages of apprenticeship, which can extend from weeks to months, include a rope pulled too tight upon a nerve — a painful situation that could result in a hospital visit.
“But if you know where to put the rope or look carefully enough,” she says, “you would know before there is a problem.”
Yet in the current enforcement environment, the La Siora staff is wondering if even basic BDSM tasks could be considered criminal. “It has been a shock to our business,” she says of the police activities. “We are shaken and have become afraid to perform tying.”
Entertainment quarters like Shinjuku and Roppongi have no shortage of clubs offering BDSM performances, but Rie is concerned about the future of this subculture, saying that the random nature of the clampdown is a concern. She relates that the police occasionally make checkup phone calls to inquire about her new business arrangement.
“BDSM is a form of entertainment passed along through the years as an oral tradition,” she says. “Of course, there are textbooks, but mouth to mouth is the best way. The problem is that I am afraid that it will now disappear.”
Note: This report originally appeared in the Japan Times on April 19, 2009.