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2020 Olympics may KO Tokyo’s Yoshiwara brothel quarter

There are roughly 100 soapland bathhouses in Tokyo's Yoshiwara
There are roughly 100 soapland bathhouses in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara

In September, the International Olympic Committee announced that Tokyo will be the host of the 2020 Olympic Games.

Tokyo’s preparation for the Games, reports Nikkan Gendai (Oct. 17), may be the tipping point for the struggling Yoshiwara red-light district.

The quarter, located in Taito Ward, is known for having the largest number of soapland erotic bathhouses in the country.

An employee at a kissaten (tea shop) that serves as a recommendation service for the area’s pleasure spots expects a clampdown on vice prior to the event. “The magazine industry is concerned about what may happen to erotic titles now sold in convenience stores,” says the source. “The same goes for Yoshiwara.”

Times are already hard in the area. At present, Japan has around 1,000 soapland bathhouses, with about 100 of them being in Yoshiwara — a figure that is about one half of its peak. According to Nikkan Gendai, a stroll through Yoshiwara’s streets on a weekday night will reveal very little foot traffic.

“In 1985, a revision to the Law Regulating Adult Entertainment Businesses prohibited the establishment of new bathhouses,” says a fuzoku writer, meaning one who covers the adult entertainment trade. “As well, the businesses can’t operate past midnight. Then, in 2006, soliciting customers in the streets was banned.”

The source adds that “business entertainment” no longer takes place at soaplands. “The number going out of business is on the rise,” he says. “Bargains shops with entrance fees starting at 10,000 yen and targeting pensioners are surviving, as are high-end joints that seek the nouveau rich and Chinese tourists willing to fork out 60,000 yen a pop. It was common sense to believe that foreigners were banned from entry, but not now.”

A gal employed at a soapland says that she is grateful if she gets one customer per day. “There was a time when one would work at a soapland in order to pay off debts,” she says. “But that concept has changed, girls are now working in the ‘delivery health‘ (deri heru, or out-call sex) trade, which has the endorsement of the police. With the Olympics coming, deri heru work may be all that remains.”

Following the opening of Tokyo Sky Tree last year, the neighboring Asakusa area spruced up its image to attract more tourists. That was not the case for Yoshiwara, which remains rather rundown. In October of last year, a large soapland chain was busted for violating the Anti-Prostitution Law — a move that many felt was a warning to the industry.

The manager of a soapland in Yoshiwara does not know what will happen. Would Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose require the area’s soaplands to utilize self restraint and shut down during the Olympics? “But that is seven years from now,” he says. “I don’t even know if there will be any soaplands at all by then.”

Source: “Tokyo gorin ga dodome…Edo kara Yoshiwara ‘yoru no omotenashi’ fuzen no tomoshibe,” Nikkan Gendai (Oct. 17, page 9)