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Fukushima soaplands slash prices to bone in revival bid

Shukan Asahi Geino Dec. 20
Shukan Asahi Geino Dec. 20

Like other businesses in the Tohoku area, the erotic bathhouses comprising the Onahama soapland district in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture suffered hardships following the Great East Japan Earthquake of last year.

Keiichi Yamaguchi, the chief of the brothel quarter’s organizing body, tells Shukan Asahi Geino (Dec. 20) about the tactics used to keep things pumping along, so to speak.

One issue was the delivery of hot water. Though the area’s 18 clubs are located a mere 200 meters from the coast, impacts from the tsunami that rushed ashore following the 9.0-magnitude earthquake of March 11 were minimal. Damage to storage tanks and pipe networks utilized by water suppliers, however, forced all the clubs to close down.

Later, one club began heating water on its premises with a kettle. Others then expanded on that idea. “No club has more than 10 rooms,” says Yamaguchi. “So if a club has around seven rooms, they would simply use seven small water heaters.”

The “reconstruction bubble” that ensued brought in more customers. “It wasn’t easy for TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) to find quality employees,” says Yamaguchi of the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that leaked radiation after being damaged during the disaster. “So these guys would show up drunk and carouse wildly.”

But things changed in November of last year.

“In order to avoid trouble regarding the disclosure of information, TEPCO placed restrictions on workers regarding their ability to leave the plant,” explains journalist Tetsuya Shibui. “As a result, the town got real quiet.”

Onahama has been known for its fishing industry. But the negative rumors regarding radiation exposure to agriculture products and seafood from the area caused many local residents, who were Onahama’s core group of customers, to relocate.

“Workers employed for the reconstruction efforts helped,” says Yamaguchi. “They were much more professional (compared to TEPCO’s employees), but they would only come once every one or two months. So overall the number of customers slumped.”

Given the nature of its business, the bathhouses did not attempt to apply for compensation from TEPCO. Instead, Yamaguchi urged the female staff members to work harder to ensure customers would return. He also suggested that clubs drop their entrance prices of 16,000 yen for the first 60 minutes of services to as low as 5,000 yen. Soapland Ourin (on Twitter @playmate0000) even offers an early-bird rate (valid until noon) in which the entry price is 3,000 yen for 40 minutes.

As a result, business has boomed, with Shukan Asahi Geino saying that there is even a shortage of awa hime, or foam princesses, in Onahama. Journalist Shibui says that the clubs are not just staffed with gals from Tohoku; women from the Kanto area are also employed.

“It’s a festive atmosphere again,” says the writer, comparing the current environment with that of nine months ago. “Quite simply, the number of lights has increased; male and female street touts are out and about, and their faces are happier. I didn’t have this kind of experience before.” (K.N.)

Source: “Fukushimaken Onahama soopu kateiyo kyuyuki wo donyu shite 5000en waribiki wo jishi,” Shukan Asahi Geino (Dec. 20, pages 81-82)