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From poets to prostitutes: Tokyo’s Uguisudani

Shukan Post May 17
Shukan Post May 17

The area known as Uguisudani, located in Taito Ward, is one of the larger red-light districts of Tokyo. Boasting approximately 2,000 working gals with ages that begin under 20 and reach beyond 80, it may be the city’s most diverse.

Shukan Post (May 17) dispatches writer Shoichiro Yamafuji to poke around, so to speak, and he winds up taking a journey back in time.

The writer meets Elena, a 68-year-old call-girl, in front of a McDonald’s outlet near JR Uguisudani Station.

The station gets its name from the call of the Japanese bush warbler (uguisu), which was once found here in great numbers, and the valley (tani in Japanese) in which the Yamanote and Keihin Tohoku lines roll within. Fanning out from here, 70 love hotels fill the district’s narrow alleys and side streets.

Uguisudani boasts approximately 200 “delivery health” (or deri heru out-call sex) operations, which offer everything from basic intercourse to other highly perverted activities.

The action does not begin at dusk. At any hour, a gal in a mini skirt can be seen directing a gent behind the door of an inn.

These days, many street walkers are from Korea, with some having moved on from roles in the nearby Yoshiwara pleasure quarter.

The girls wait on standby in offices or loiter in the street — in either case, they are a short bicycle ride away from a customer.

Times certainly have changed.

On February 1, 1894, the noted haiku poet Shiki Masaoka moved into a six-tatami-mat dwelling in an alley then known as Uguisu Yokocho, which is now in the heart of the love hotel area. Stricken with tuberculosis, Masaoka at that time received many guests from the world of letters at this residence. One acquaintance who could not arrive was Soseki Natsume, who was studying in London at the time. “This is the end for me,” he wrote to Natsume.

During Masaoka’s time in Uguisudani, he also penned poems. He wrote of the birds (both the uguisu and the sparrow), a bamboo house, and the steam train chugging from Ueno that would pass by his window once an hour.

Masaoka would die a decade later. His home is currently preserved by a team of volunteers.

Yamafuji lies down on the floor, just as Masaoka must have done over a century before, and stares at some flowers outside the window. Elena then takes a call on her phone. It seems she has a customer.

The writer exits and strikes up a conversation with a nearby real estate employee, who says the locals living here now dislike the prostitutes who work the streets. “But everything depends on them: From the hotels to the apartments to the restaurants to the offices to the dormitories — all businesses rely on the passengers coming and going at the station as they are the customers of the deri heru girls,” the employee says. “We cannot survive without them.”

Yamafuji then enters a lingerie shop with colorful underwear bottoms on display in the window. “All of my customers are deri heru girls,” says an employee. “They make purchases here so that they can look attractive in promotional photos for Web sites.”

The writer ducks down a side street, where he is stopped by a woman, probably well beyond 60 years of age. She promises to introduce him to a girl for a fee of 2,000 yen.

“A good woman,” she assures in what is clearly a dialect from Kansai.

Poetic? Most definitely. (A.T.)

Source: “Uguisudani haken kata fuzoku,” Shukan Post (May 17)