In 1993, the New York Times ran a story about how the gritty Kabukicho red-light district of Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward was in danger of becoming gentrified following the establishment of a government-run, multi-service complex. As well, the article discussed how the area was becoming a target of foreign gangs and prostitutes.
“On the surface this has become a much more healthy place,” complained Naoyuki Ogawa, the proprietor of erotic parlor American Crystal, which had opened 10 years before.
Fast forward 25 years, and gentrification Kabukicho is still a topic of conversation. As well, the foreign gangs and prostitutes are still present — and so is American Crystal. In a special section in Shukan Post (Dec. 22), the weekly tabloid takes a look at why the parlor has managed to stay in business all these years.
In looking back at the parlor’s beginnings, Ogawa, whose term as proprietor ended in 2009, explains how American Crystal, which allows a customer peruse a lineup of women seated atop a mirror such that their underwear is visible in the reflection, differed from the competition.
“At a no-pan kissa” — where the female staff do not wear underwear — “a customer can only look, but at American Crystal he entered a private room with his favorite waitress, said Ogawa. “It was termed an ‘exciting cafe,’ one where the services were a bit extreme.”
Lines forming outside
The price was not cheap: 12,000 yen for 30 minutes, but its popularity exploded after it was introduced by film director Shinya Yamamoto on the late-night program “Tonight” on TV Asahi. Following the airing, more than 300 customers were served each day, with lines forming outside.
The success of the parlor can be attributed to its ability to change with the times, according to the magazine.
In the 1980s, the popularity of no-pan kissa establishments hit a peak. However, a change in legislation rendered the establishments as being subject to the Law Regulating Adult Entertainment Businesses in 1985. The result was that most went out of business.
For American Crystal, it exploited a loophole in the law by adding a shower room and changing its business model to that of a so-called “fashion health” parlor, whereby customers are afforded hand- and blow-job services by women in costume.
Emergence of AIDS
The emergence of AIDS proved to be another challenge. Three years after American Crystal opened, Japan experienced its first case. The result was both female employees and male customers shunning commercial sex (fuzoku) establishments.
As a result, American Crystal changed the content of one service from that of a blow-job without a condom to a hand-job. The establishment also added an ear-cleaning service and the opportunity for customers to draw on the bodies of the staff members with a paint brush for a fee of 10,000 yen.
It did not take long for customers to return to the parlor. “During the AIDS disturbance, we racked up sales of 300 million yen,” says Ogawa.
Three decades later
Today, the parlor is still going strong 35 years after it opened. “I have profound memories of all the women,” beams Ogawa.
As to why American Crystal remains a hit even now, Ogawa says one factor is that its services were never too extreme. This is important, he says, since the parlor benefits from customers who come seeking peace of mind — in addition to erotic fun.
“American Crystal has many elderly customers who are regulars, and I think that there is demand from them for softer services,” he says.