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Kabukicho drifts downward: Delinquents, dust-ups and drunken dames

Flash Apr. 20
Flash Apr. 20
Tokyo’s Kabukicho area as captured at night by the camera of photographer Hajime Kiyohira is seen to be increasingly turning into a Mecca for Japan’s youth, reports Flash (Apr. 20) in a special pull-out section.

The four-page spread features a drunken girl urinating in a street corner; a salaryman takes a punch from an aggressive street tout in front of the infamous Parisienne coffee shop; women unable to walk are sprawled in the arms of their boyfriends as they are dragged away; a police officer chases and eventually corals another unruly tout; and a man with his clothes piled at his feet at the intersection of the Furin Kaikan building announces, “Hadaka de nani ga warui!” (What’s wrong with being naked!), as passersby snap photos with their mobile phones.

The shift towards a younger clientele started with the closing of the Koma Theater at the end of 2008.

“In the streets, there used to be a lot of yakuza,” Kiyohira says of the gangster presence. “But not anymore. It’s just hosts milling around. The area has changed a lot I think.”

The photographer, who has spent the last 15 years shooting Japan’s largest red-light district, recalls an incident 10 years ago in which a group of girls were approached by two men who asked for their phone numbers. “Soon after, a black car pulled up close,” he remembers, “and a few guys jumped out and started beating them. The ladies appeared to be in close with the boryokudan, maybe working in the mizushobai trade.”

Kiyohara says that the Kabukicho of today is frequented by “normal” people. “In the morning, you’ll see young girls sleeping in the streets,” he says, “and guys will haul them off to hotels. This is happening all the time.”

Photos very similar to those inside Flash were featured in Spa! (Sep. 1, 2009) — most notable were shots of naked university students pole-climbing in the plaza fronting the Koma Theater. In that article Kiyohara explained that the well-known clean-up of the area was misleading: “The big clean-up was simply a performance.”

He goes on to tell Spa! that 10 years ago there were only a handful of underground casinos and shops peddling illegal DVDs but now there are around 30. Similarly, Korean and Chinese fuzoku (sex-related) clubs numbered two or three. Today, the total is over 20.

Kiyohara believes that cops will shut one place but it will open in a slightly different form two weeks later. Kabukicho is still littered with girl’s bars, deai cafes, and fuzoku recommendation centers simply because the government’s tax coffers would be lighter if they were all shut.

“Strange, weird young people are out violating various laws,” he says. “In the end, it is not safe.”

A major theme in the Flash pictorial is the numerous shots of women unabashed about flashing some flesh. Low-cut tops, garters and short skirts are all on display. “It’s such a chilly day yet her panties are readily visible,” reads one caption of a man and woman walking away from Hajime’s lens and down a street.

Subculture monthly Jitsuwa Knuckles (May) also uses similarly titillating photos of Kabukicho from Hajime. In closing, it offers this question: The cherry blossoms are blooming and it is getting warmer and warmer — if people continue with such erotic behavior in public, what’s going to happen next? (K.N.)

Source: “Nisen Junen fuyu Kabukicho erosu & baiorensu,” Flash (Apr. 20, special pull-out)