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Sex businesses vanishing from greater Tokyo metropolitan area

Shukan Jitsuwa Feb. 19
Shukan Jitsuwa Feb. 19

Last November 24, a “B-class Gourmet King Contest” was held on the main drag outside Nishi Kawaguchi Station in Saitama. The media reported the event as part of the local merchants’ “struggle to revitalize the area.”

Nishi Kawaguchi, just across the Arakawa River from Tokyo’s Kita Ward, had previously enjoyed a well deserved reputation as the center of a red-light district full of raunchy sex shops, soaplands and love hotels, which attracted traveling businessmen and men who stopped by for a jiggle or a ‘gasm on their way home from the race track.

But from about three years ago, Shukan Jitsuwa (Feb. 19) reports, the authorities began cracking down with a vengeance. While a few “soaplands” (erotic bathhouses) still remain, all of the area’s “fashion health” massage parlors and “pink salon” risque cabarets have been forced out of business.

The buildings that had formerly housed these establishments stand nearly empty, and the once-glittering neon district has started to take on the semblance of a ghost town, left with no alternative but to organize stuff-’em-up eating contests to bring in business.

“Skinless” Harukawa, a cartoonist known for his depictions of the sex industry, tells Shukan Jitsuwa the police in Kawaguchi went so far as to begin arresting touts on the street. Then armed with a revised ordinance, they began shutting down shops that hadn’t obtained licenses, after which they turned their attention to shops that had.

“Now there aren’t any left at all,” Harukawa frowns. “And police are using these same methods to weed out sex businesses throughout the extended metropolitan area.”

Which means Nishi Kawaguchi is not the only area where energetic efforts are being devoted to shutting down sex businesses. Take Kabukicho and Ikebukuro; except for older shops that obtained permits over 20 years ago, hardly any still operate.

The crackdowns are emanating well beyond Tokyo’s boundaries.

“The many fashion healths, pink salons and kyabakura (cabaret clubs) along Ginza street on the south side of Omiya station have all been put out of business, and likewise for the lingerie pubs,” says Harukawa. “The notorious red light areas in Machida and Koganecho (in Yokohama) were shut down almost overnight. In Kawasaki’s soapland street not a single Korean-run quickie joint remains.”

Next on the agenda for extermination, perhaps within this year, are the smaller-scale adult playgrounds around Kinshicho, Otsuka and Koenji.

“Even now you can spot foreign streetwalkers lurking around back-street love hotels, but the hako-mono (shops dispensing sex services) have been virtually wiped out,” says Harukawa.

Between the worsening economic downturn and ongoing crackdown by authorities, Tokyo’s once brightly lit suburbs in Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures are taking on an increasingly ominous appearance.

“The drinking areas where the sex shops have been closed have lost their main attraction, so the streets around places like Nishi Kawaguchi and Omiya are pitch-black, and feel unsafe,” Harukawa observes. “Now I realize the neon that illuminated the streets served as a sort of protective beacon.” (K.S.)

Source: “Shutoken honban fuzoku ga kanzen shometsu suru hi,” Shukan Jitsuwa (Feb. 19, page 212)