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Little left of what was once-famous Ise island ‘paradise’

In a photo spread titled “Paradise Erased,” the mook “Mystery in Showa” headed off the beaten track to visit to Watakano Island in Iseshima, Mie Prefecture with a centuries-old tradition of prostitution.

In olden times the island served as a typhoon shelter for ships that sailed the coast between Edo and Osaka, and when the ships were in port, local women flocked there to service the sailors for one-night stands.

In more modern times, groups of men from Nagoya, Yokkachi and other nearby urban areas would spend weekends there, organizing group parties at hotels on the island, after which women would be paraded out for after-party (or overnight) frolics. Also available closer to the wharf were “snack” establishments at which Japanese and foreign hostesses could be contracted for overnight.

“Mystery in Showa”

The usual going rate was 20,000 yen for a short-time tryst and 40,000 for overnight, which in both cases were typically consummated in one of the island’s business hotels.

Alas, Watakano’s fortunes have been on the wane for over a decade. The worldwide economic downturn precipitated by the stock market crash in 2008 clearly had a negative impact on both individual and business travelers, and the island’s hotels have deteriorated, becoming grubby and run down. Without the groups of male revelers who formerly flocked there, demand for dames has slackened and the overall atmosphere has become dismal indeed.

Writer Shisho Ikoma (a pseudonym) paid his first visit to Watakano in September, 2000.

“I arrived in the afternoon but didn’t want to wait until evening so I went to a coffee shop and arranged for a woman to be introduced to me,” he writes. “She took me home to her pad, which was equipped with deluxe furnishings and extremely well kept. We did it on a large bed in the center of the room. Her practiced lovemaking techniques left nothing to be desired.

“As I boarded the ferry to return to the mainland, I still have fond memories of how gratified I felt — of what great fun it was to romp with a Watakano woman,” Ikoma writes.