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What’s in a name? Soaplands still going strong 25 years on

Shukan Shincho July 2
Shukan Shincho July 2

This coming December 19 will mark a quarter century since political correctness forced the operators of the erotic bathhouses that used to be known toruko-buro (Turkish baths) to drop that term in favor of “soapland.”

Writing in Shukan Shincho (July 2), Yoshinari Fukafue points out that while facilities referred to as Turkish baths first appeared at the Tokyo Onsen in Ginza in 1951, it was only from 1958, when the anti-prostitution law went into force, that such establishments began adding sex to the menu.

Today’s soaplands are largely unchanged from devices and techniques developed back in the 1970s. These would include the awa odori, a sudsy, full body massage atop an air mattress, whose invention is credited to a lady named Hamada working in Kawasaki City; the sukebe isu, a stool without a center section, to facilitate a sensual scrubdown of the male member; and senbokyo (“periscope”), dispensing of oral sex while the customer reclines in a tub of water.

When times were good, some shops took an assembly line approach to servicing customers (“Next, please!”), but with the economy in recession, the bathhouses have become more deferential. Now shops in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara district coddle customers, providing complimentary limousine transport from the nearest rail station and even treating them to drinks after the session.

“In the past, some places engaged in ‘switching,’ where they accepted a customer’s reservations for a particular masseuse, but then assigned him a different girl. They’d claim his choice had been ‘suddenly indisposed’ or some other excuse,” a source in the industry is quoted as saying.

“Customers have become smarter,” he adds. “Differentiation has become important. As with other businesses, the prices have declined, to the extent that bathhouses in Sapporo’s Susukino district have begun offering a special ‘tax rebate stimulus course’ for a flat 12,000 yen.

“The duration is shorter, and the girls aren’t so young, but if you like mature women I suppose you’ll enjoy it,” he chuckles.

Some pros’ services are so highly appreciated that customers must phone ahead and reserve 10 days in advance. They are even referred to as “therapist,” as opposed to awa hime (foam princess).

“I did some part-time modeling work in my student days,” says one such Yoshiwara lady, a 20-year veteran who goes by the professional name of Takechiyo. “Sometimes photos of me were used in ads for the soapland, and men would phone and inquire if I was available. The boss asked me if I was willing to work for him, even one or two days a month.”

While Takechiyo still looks stunning for a gal in her 40s, it’s her acclaimed techniques that bring customers back for more.

“There was this poor guy with a hopeless case of erectile dysfunction. I got him to ejaculate three times,” she boasts.

In addition to servicing clientele, Sayaka, who works at an establishment in Kawasaki’s Horinouchi district, also instructs newly contracted employees from other areas of Japan, such as Ogoto in Shiga Prefecture and Kanazuen in Gifu. Sayaka estimates she’s trained over 1,000, and by discerning certain regional differences in “play” techniques, she’s been known to astonish new girls by correctly guessing where they’d been working previously.

Twenty-five years on from the name change, the denizens of Japan’s soaplands continue to devise titillating new twists on the world’s oldest profession.

Source: “Soopurando saizensen wo tanbo suru,” Shukan Shincho (July 2 page 71)