OSAKA (TR) – Prior to June, the last time the Tobita Shinchi brothel quarter shut down was three decades ago.
Well, if Shukan Jitsuwa (July 18) is anything to go by, the results of the most recent closing — on June 28 and 29 to coincide with the Group of 20 summit — locals will happily wait another 30 years for a repeat.
“Sales? I have losses,” a proprietor grumbles to the weekly magazine. “The G20 summit? I don’t know anything [about it]. I want to do business.”
Located in Osaka City’s Nishinari Ward, the 159 shops in Tobita Shinchi make it the largest red-light district in the Kansai area.
The area consists of alleys of brightly lit two-floor ryotei structures. In the first-floor doorway of each establishment sits a woman attired in revealing clothing. Next to her is an elderly female proprietor who verbally solicits clients.
“In order to prevent confusion and maintain order, decisions were made on a voluntarily basis by the union, rather than by any guidance provided by the government or the police,” a representative of the district’s cooperative union was quoted.
In addition to shutting down completely for the aforementioned two days during the summit, shops tried what was called a “Curtain Festival.” Between June 21 and 27 and again on June 30, the establishments pulled their curtains closed but remained in operation.
During the summit, the streets, usually filled with the calls of the female proprietors, were quiet, and the customers that were present seemed uncomfortable, the writer for the magazine noted.
As a trial during the curtain period, the writer peered into one parlor, where the available girl usually sits. “I know it is a bit strange, but can you come inside a little further?” a voice greeted him. “The girl will come to the second floor.”
A writer who covers the fuzoku trade tells Jitsuwa that the use of the curtain was “to shield” members of the foreign media who follow dignitaries attending the summit. “But because it is a beautiful area that retains the charms of a red-light district, I don’t think anything can really be covered up,” the writer says.
According to the union, the last time Tobita Shinchi shut down was for the funeral of Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, on February 24, 1989.
For the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in 1995, the establishments remained open but the female proprietors were not present in the doorways, a move that was done, observers at the time said, so as to not not give “the wrong impression” to foreign visitors.
Over the past few years, the number of foreign visitors coming to Japan has surged. Of those who make their way to Tobita Shinchi, some take photographs of the ladies in the entranceways, this in spite of signs clearly indicating that photography is prohibited.
The magazine speculates that the curtains over the entryways during the summit could in part be a precursor to what winds up being a permanent countermeasure for the banned photography.