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Tohoku author documents Tokyo brothel quarter post 3/11

'A Soapland Helper'
‘A Soapland Helper’

TOKYO (TR) – It has been nearly three years since the Great East Japan Earthquake devastated the north coast of Japan.

Over that period, numerous stories about survivors overcoming tragedy and loss — most notably last week’s gold medal triumph by Sendai native Yuzuru Hanyu in men’s figure skating at the Winter Olympics — have filtered through Japan’s vernacular media.

As far as uniqueness, it would be hard to top the tale contained within ‘A Soapland Helper.’ Released last month by publisher Saizusha, the book chronicles the life of another Sendai resident who migrates to Tokyo for employment in the sex trade.

Soon after March 11, 2011, chef Jiro Tamai found himself jobless and in need of money. The 50-year-old husband and father at one point contemplated suicide but rationalized that there was no courage in such an action. He subsequently gained employment as a male staff member at a soapland erotic bathhouse in Yoshiwara, the largest brothel quarter in the metropolis.

Known as “boy-sans,” these assistants welcome and see off visitors, clean and partake in a number of menial jobs.

Such work is not for the meek, assures Tamai, who writes under a pseudonym: A clearly established pecking order places enormous amounts of stress on new recruits.

“It’s a last resort,” he tells Da Vinci News. “It is a place where you can reflect on your life as you have to throw away your dignity and pride as a human being.”

For example, should an awahime (foam princess) find a single hair on the floor after the bathhouse has been cleaned, he will be ridiculed and required to make amends.

Now matter how unreasonable the request, there is only one suitable response that he may provide: “Certainly!”

Indeed, broken pride is the norm. A sports newspaper may advertise a monthly salary of 400,000 yen, but upon arrival at the interview he will be told that wage is attainable only after a promotion.

Boy-sans are stereotyped as robust young lads sporting sharp crewcuts. But, says Tamai, rookies don’t last long. Most of the staff members are in their 50s or 60s, often consisting of ex-bosozoku biker gang members or former company presidents of bankrupt companies.

Tamai has since returned to Sendai, where he works as the head chef of a restaurant. In looking back at his experience in Yoshiwara, he says he was able to realize just how precious life and a family can be.

“But I wouldn’t do it a second time,” he laughs.