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Soap-nomics: Kobe’s Fukuhara bathhouse district adapting to hard times

Shukan Jitsuwa Sept. 4
Shukan Jitsuwa Sept. 4
When it comes to soapland bathhouses in Kansai, no district is more famous than Fukuhara.

Located in Kobe, the area has faced tough times over the past five years as legislation has prohibited soliciting customers in the street and the operation of guide booths.

But, according to Shukan Jitsuwa (Sept. 4), the introduction of new services is bringing customers back. Dubbed “soap-nomics,” a reference to “Abenomics,” the collection of economic initiatives authored by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the competition is rejuvenating the previously moribund quarter.

“With the economy being poor there has been an increase in old shops being sold off,” says an employee at an advertising company. “As a result, new shops have entered, and they’ve done so with new ideas.”

At B-2nd, the soapland is offering the service known as hanabira kaiten (literally “flower petal rotation”), which is a very familiar topic to astute readers of The Tokyo Reporter.

Choosing the hanabira kaiten option allows customers to change, or rotate, from one masseuse to another (and even possibly to a third) during a single session. Prices at B-2nd begin as low as 19,000 yen for the first 60 minutes. The establishment boasts that its roster is restricted to women under 25 years of age.

For its part, E-girls is introducing multiple partners into the mix. That is, one male customer can engage in a session with two costumed masseuses, but, crucially, those figures are reversible. (For details, videos are provided on the club’s site.) The price for a 60-minute session starts at 22,000 yen.

Echika from B-2nd
Echika from B-2nd
In days past, Fukuhara was dominated by a membership system that placed restrictions on new customers. That has since faded, and the new soap-nomics dynamic is taking hold.

“If one shop hears about a low price at another, they’ll drop their prices,” says the aforementioned advertising employee.

This copycat attitude is also true as far as a theme. For example, should one soapland promote a relaxing mood, others will follow.

“Even the old shops are thinking about how they can get their old customers to return,” the source continues. “And what proved to be the spark was the introduction of the new shops.”

The manager of a one Fukuhara soapland tells Shukan Jitsuwa that it may not be a simple matter of economics, citing a shift in morals as one other crucial reason for the renaissance.

“Beautiful women born during the Heisei Era do not have a hang up about earning a living by working in the adult-entertainment industry,” says the manager, referring to the period that started in 1989. “Therefore, the quality of the ladies has improved, and the number of repeat customers is on the increase.” (A.T.)

Source: “Shinki ten ga zokuzoku kinsen bijin awahime mo kyuzo kokeiki ni waku Fukuhara soopunomikusu,” Shukan Jitsuwa (Sept. 4, pages 216-217)