“When I was in the Onahama district of Iwaki City to view the tsunami damage, one of the locals advised me to check a certain place out,” writes the reporter for Spa! (May 3-10). “I walked along streets lined with rubble and eventually came to some fairly robust ferroconcrete structures that were still standing.”
Onahama, according to a resident in his 60s who’d been evacuated from his flattened home, had been quite prosperous thanks to its local fishing industry. Perhaps it was for this reason that it also had a thriving red-light district.
“I used to go there quite frequently, but not any more,” the man admits.
Indeed a happy haven for rough-and-ready seamen and casual visitors, Onahama was home to no fewer than 17 soaplands (erotic bathhouses). The female proprietor of one, named “Idol,” talked to Spa!’s reporter.
“The walls collapsed and the road was torn up,” she sighs. “Onahama tends to have lots of earthquakes, but nothing like the one that struck on March 11. The whole soapland district erupted into a panic, and both the masseuses and their customers went rushing out into the street in terror.”
Then moments later came the tsunami warning, and most people fled for the high ground. Soapland “I,” the town’s oldest establishment and the closest to the harbor, was inundated and most of its ground floor damaged.
“The boiler for heating water were damaged by the flooding, so we had to shut down,” says the boss of one shop. “Now a month after the quake, four or five shops have managed to obtain new boilers from outside the prefecture and are finally back in business.”
But as if things weren’t already bad enough, the shops have become the target of criticism by those who regard such “recreation” in post-quake Fukushima as undesirably frivolous.
“We hear people who walk past on the street mutter, ‘Hmph! How can they operate such businesses at a time like this?'” Says the aforementioned bathhouse operator. “But our girls have to earn a living too. Besides, they’re helping to perform a useful social service by giving men an outlet to relieve their frustrations.”
Currently licensed soaplands, incidentally, are banned by the public morals law from rebuilding or relocating, and according to Spa’s source, the operators of several of Onahama’s shops have made the decision to close their doors for good. (K.S.)
Source: “Shinsai higai wo ‘kowadaka ni apiiru dekinai gyokai’ no kuno,” Spa! (May 3-10, page 26)