Things You Might Not Know About Shinjuku Kabukicho, Tokyo’s Red Light District

What comes to mind first when someone discusses Japan? Think of the first thing that springs to mind when you think of this country. When most people hear this word, they appear to fall into one of four categories. The first category is “interesting, rich culture,” which includes samurai and ninja culture, temples and shrines, and museums that portray the country’s rich history. The second category is “anime paradise,” where popular animated shows and comic novels come to mind when the nation of origin is mentioned. There’s also “crazy technology,” which includes bullet trains, gadgets, and robots. Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, the last one will be “sex” or “prostitution.” Why?

This may (or may not) come as a surprise, but Japan has a thriving sex industry that dates back hundreds of years. The (often extremely bizarre) porn movies made in Japan featuring odd scenes and stories are quite well-known among adult genre fans, and prostitution is still very much prominent in big metropolitan areas.

Tokyo has a tremendous nightlife, and the metropolis is so large that even the most daring night owls would never be able to explore everything the city has to offer for night amusement, even if they lived there for years and went out every weekend. With the famous gay bar street on 2-Chome (pronounced ni-cho-mei), many clubs and pubs, and, of course, the Shinjuku Kabukicho Red Light District, Shinjuku in central Tokyo is regarded one of the most vibrant places for nightlife in the country.

In Japan, There Is a Thriving Sex Industry

In Kabukicho, which is in Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s most popular districts for its many retail malls, parks, restaurants, bars, and unusual structures, the Land of the Rising Sun contains one of the world’s largest and most successful red light districts. Sex is a prominent motif in Japanese art history, dating back to the 8th century with the appearance of sexual paintings or “Shunga (しゅんが),” sensual art.

The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, a woodblock print design by Katsushika Hokusai depicting a lady having intercourse with two octopus-like monsters, is a classic example of Japanese erotic art. It’s weird, yes I know and this is just one example of the sexual art seen in Japan. It’s fascinating and perplexing that, despite the fact that sex is celebrated in art and current pop cultures such as animation, and that many sex shops can be found in Tokyo’s Shibuya and even Akihabara, the Japanese as a society remain, on the surface, hesitant and reluctant to discuss it.

Premarital sex is not considered taboo in Shinto, one of Japan’s major faiths. This is unusual in comparison to most other religions, and it may have influenced Japan’s overall stance on prostitutes. However, it’s uncertain whether this is accurate, especially since Buddhism, Japan’s other major religion, has restrictions against premarital sexual encounters.

Furthermore, prostitution, like many other nations, has a long history in Japan, with “oiran” and “geisha” being well-known instances of Japanese entertainment and prostitution. Rich men’s (and sometimes women’s) nightly pleasures are not a novel concept. Are you intrigued in seeing what this strange street has to offer? Well, stick around longer to find out.

The Prices Are Mind-Blowing

Prices vary widely depending on the type of service, the size of the club, and, of course, the “quality” of the lady or gentleman you choose to spend time with, just like they do in every red light district. The red light district offers a variety of services; you can pay a prostitute for just speaking with no physical contact, or you can pay for special care. The more you want to “enjoy” the person, the more you will have to pay. So, how much does it cost?

Even if you merely want to have a drink in a club, you must pay the so-called “entry fee,” which is normally around 7000 yen and must be paid before entering the premises. This does not, however, imply that it is an “all beverages included” package, as one might assume for such a high price. Every drink you order at the club will be charged separately, so plan ahead if you want to order beverages once you’re inside. If you choose a girl for company, you will burn a few thousand yen for every hour you spend with her. Other fees may be charged by some clubs. This is why a night like this might end up costing you hundreds of dollars, even if you don’t touch any of the girls!

Do you wish to have a conversation that is more than just a conversation? Then be ready to burn a huge hole in your pocket. Pink salons that specialise in oral sex charge roughly 6000 yen for only 30 minutes of service. Pole dance performances cost roughly 10,000 to 12,000 yen per hour, and if you want a “better class” escort, you can expect to pay upwards of 80,000 yen per hour.

Getting Ripped Off

Rip-offs are regrettably all too common in Kabukicho, as they are in every red light area. An agency will normally advertise a reasonable price to tourists, but when the bill comes, it can be far greater than what was initially promised. So, what are the staff’s tricks for inflating the price? Club owners frequently use the tactic of adding extra costs to the bill without informing their customers in advance, then claiming ostensibly acceptable reasons later. For example, you may be offered 15,000 yen admission to a pub or club, but you will be charged 20,000 yen extra in the end. What is the value of 20,000 yen? You may be told that it is an obligatory first-time customer surcharge, a mandatory membership cost, or any other justification they can come up with.

A few months back, there was a news report about a bar that allegedly charged its clients 2.6 million yen (about $23,000 USD) for drinking while promising them a 4000 yen bill. After refusing to pay, the scam victims were threatened with violence. Although the club owners were detained, it is not uncommon to be charged far more than the promised amount.

It doesn’t end there, either. If you’re a man or a group of men, you’ll be approached by a slew of people who will try to get you into their clubs by showing you photos of young, attractive hostesses. Don’t believe the pictures on them! You may see a young-looking girl in the photo, but when you meet the promised girl in reality, it is sometimes obvious that she is several decades older!

“Japanese Only” Signs 

“Can I come in?” “Sorry… “I don’t speak English.” Due to the language barrier, most Kabukicho bars do not welcome international customers. They may not put any signs up on the door, but everything will be written in Japanese. This is a kind way of indicating that foreign visitors are not welcome. If you pay attention, you’ll discover that many lawyers in Kabukicho refuse to speak with Westerners. There are a handful that do, but they are few and far between.

If you’re dead set on going to one of these bars, go with any Japanese pals you have. If you travel with someone who speaks Japanese, you will have no trouble getting into Kabukicho’s bars and clubs. Any service can be obtained as long as someone is available to translate. You might also try going into the bars yourself if you know a little Japanese. Mark my words: knowing some basic language skills can make all the difference in your quest!

Are you scared that if you don’t know Japanese, you won’t be able to enjoy the nightlife in Kabukicho? There’s no need to worry; Japan isn’t particularly anti-foreigner, and there are always some foreigner-friendly bars waiting to serve you. You will, however, have to put up some effort in order to locate them. Travel with a local if at all possible. A linguistic barrier may significantly raise your chances of being duped.

The sex industry is referred to as “fuzoku(風俗)” in Japan. It’s not to be confused with “mizu shobai,” which refers to the style of hosting featured in Sega’s yakuza games. The “sex industry” (fuzoku, meaning “public morals”) in Japan is not the same as prostitution. To stay legal, most fuzoku only provide non-coital activities like chatting, dancing, or bathing.

“You gotta be kidding!” you could say at this point. I’ve seen people walking into hotels with a prostitute!” They are not convicted, though, because any legislation has loopholes. Remember how the law prohibits prostitutes from having sex with their clients? What if you aren’t a customer of theirs? The prostitution agency will only need to set up a “blind date” for you with your chosen female to make it legal. After the date, you are officially a “couple,” and you can legally conduct business together. Now that you and your partner are having sex as a pair rather than as a customer and prostitute, no one is breaking any rules. Aren’t some firms extremely astute?

The Yakuza

Another little secret about Kabukicho is that it is a place that is crowded with members of the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Yakuza members are all over the place in the Kabukicho area because it is the place where most of their businesses are run. This is why you can see policemen on duty in many places in and around Kabukicho. Not all of the bars and clubs are Yakuza-operated, but their intimidating presence alone is enough to give most people goosebumps. Ask any of the locals, and they will tell you that it is better not to cause any trouble in Kabukicho because you might get much more than you bargained for.

Remember, in Japan, gangs and the mafia are legit, and the Yakuza is officially recognised as a real organisation. So make sure you keep yourself in check at all times and avoid making trouble, especially if you are drunk. In fact, the Yakuza and the Japanese police are working hand in hand to ensure security in their areas. In some cases, the police even have to ask the Yakuza for help with cases. The Yakuza don’t like it at all when people make trouble in their territory! If you have a tendency to break laws or get crazy when you drink, maybe Kabukicho is not the right place for you to visit.

After reading all this, what do you think? Is Kabukicho a good place to visit? If you see through the not-so-great things that can happen here, it is actually a unique way to enjoy the sleepless city of Tokyo. Everybody has their own interpretation for enjoying life, and not all countries can have red light districts legitimately, after all. If you have never seen a red light district in your home country before, Kabukicho is, by all means, a highly recommended spot for you to explore in the heart of Tokyo. As long as no unhealthy or unsavoury activities take place, chatting with a host or hostess can be a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable experience to try out! Just be very careful to keep yourself out of harm’s way.

More articles like this here.

Sarmilan Gaijandren
Sarmilan Gaijandren
Just an English Major from UTAR who is a part time rapper

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