Last night I headed to Tokyo’s red light district, Kabukicho.
I’d walked through the area on my first day whilst on my way to the Tokyo Government Building which offered views of the sprawling metropolis. You can even see Mount Fuji on a good day but, as I seem to be cursed with bad weather at the moment, I could barely see out of the window.
I certainly wouldn’t have been able to tell Kabukicho was a red light district, however when I think of a red light district, I think of Amsterdam where the streets are lined with doors and windows filled with working girls. It seemed it was very different in Tokyo as I barely saw one girl all night. There were however plenty of billboards with pictures of incredibly young looking girls on, and a lot of touts trying to usher you into places that you wouldn’t dare set foot inside.
After about the tenth time of someone offering me soap, and checking for the tenth time that I definitely didn’t smell, I looked it up online. Apparently it’s quite a common thing in Japan to get around the fact that exchanging money for sex isn’t legal. A Soaproom is essentially a cover up for a brothel. They provide erotic massage, bathe and wash you, hence the term soap room, and then you pay them for sex. Apparently the touts are only for tourists as Japanese go elsewhere. Not just because they know the right places, the places themselves that cater for the Japanese would never let tourists in. Or rather wouldn’t let anyone in who wasn’t fluent in Japanese. It’s an honour thing. These places are often frequented by Japanese business men and, amongst them and within Japanese culture, honour is apparently a huge deal. If a tourist tried to speak to one of these businessmen in English and they didn’t understand, apparently that would bring shame on them. Therefore the soaprooms separate Japanese from tourists.
For me, prostitution comes under the same bracket as pornography. It’s a symbol of what’s wrong with the world and our attitudes towards our bodies. Or perhaps a fairer summary would be to say that it’s a symbol of what’s wrong with men’s attitudes towards women’s bodies. Whilst it may make us feel better to think that all these beautiful young women are all in this line of work because they just love having sex, if we’re honest with ourselves, both in prostitution and pornography, at worst they’re either trafficked or being manipulated, at best they have some serious issues with how they view themselves and their bodies.
Do we really think these women like getting screwed by god knows how many men each night?
I feel such a deep sadness and immense sense of compassion to women who have to vacate their bodies numerous times each night because, if they don’t, they’ll get beaten or worse. For those who may not do it from fear of violence, the conditions they’ve grown up in and the world that we’re all complicit in creating, has left them with such a screwed up view of their bodies, that they consider this as a profession.
Imagine a woman who’d grown up in a world where the only validation she ever received was when she let someone use her body, in an abusive sense or otherwise. Never received any validation that they can be loved in any other way apart from the physical. Never viewed as anything apart from the physical. Their bodies become the only way they think they can get validation.
Whilst I would never claim to understand a fraction of what this must feel like, it all boils down to the same fact. An unhealthy relationship with the body leads to an unhealthy relationship with the mind.
Whilst I didn’t see any women, encountering the men who were effectively trading these womens’ bodies made me feel like this wasn’t the place for me.
Unfortunately, my knowledge of Tokyo combined with the language barrier meant that I’ve become that guy who tries to find English speaking places. Not quite the guy who goes to Spain, eats at Bill’s cafe each morning and drinks at an Irish bar, but for me it felt that way.
I found an international bar which turned out to be a supposed replica of an English pub. The walls were decorated with names of English football teams. Japanese versions of what they thought were classic English pub food dishes were on the menu. After eating fairly healthy since I’d arrived in Japan, I thought I’d get some nachos.
I’d started chatting to a table of Japanese people and when the nachos arrived, they asked what they were. Fuck. How healthy a nation must you be when you’ve never heard of nachos. I offer them some and they all agree that they’re very good and they go well with beer. International trade relations are strong at this point.
I decided to head home as I’m not really feeling nightlife lately. Drinking I’m good with. Socialising and being out, not so much.
I had what seemed like a lie in this morning and got up at 7am. I knew the weather was going to be better today and even better the next day so my attention had turned to getting out into nature and continuing my work with San Pedro. I decided to have a restful day to prepare for the hike the following day.
I decided to run to Tsukiji fish market where I’d gone for breakfast the day previous. It was about 5km and I got to take in some beautiful scenes. A beautiful view of a dam followed by a section running through a beautiful garden. The cherry blossoms were starting to show their faces and I felt like I was really earning my breakfast of miso soup, tuna sashimi and rice.
They serve bottled hot tea with milk in most local shops here so, prior to breakfast, I treated myself to some tea and a cigarette. It’s never good to eat too soon after exercise.
I enjoyed a lovely, healthy breakfast before returning to the hostel.
As it was a day of rest and recuperation, I decided to head to Odaiba Onsen, a traditional Japanese thermal bath about an hour away. I take a bag of washing with me as I spotted a laundrette near the hostel. The lady in the laundrette didn’t speak any English however when she saw boxer shorts in the bag, she kept raising her arms and making an X shape, crossing her forearms. I instinctively joined her in making these X shapes with my arms but had no idea what she meant. After some time, I realised she was saying they didn’t wash underwear.
It was a small and neat shop and they had shirts and suits hanging up on coat hangers. As she didn’t speak English, 2 more people came out from the back room to help translate. After quite a lengthy and confusing conversation, where they pointed out some holes and burns in my clothes, asked me whether I wanted them on a hanger it folded, I realised I was in a dry cleaners. I didn’t even have the excuse of being stoned. Now it all made sense. The shirts and suits hanging up. The fact they didn’t clean underwear. It was so obvious. It was too late to turn back as I was faced with 3 people that had all become involved in proceedings. After taking the underwear out, I was left with a t-shirt, a gym vest and a tracksuit. Not typically items you’d look to get dry cleaned. I just went with it. I was too invested by this stage. She added up the items and it came to approximately £20. I desperately wanted to bail but they had my tracksuit. The rest I would have happily left.
Life is complicated sometimes.
I decided to just put it down to experience and look forward to putting on my dry cleaned tracksuit in a few days. I imagined how comfortable it would feel before wearing it and stuffing it back in my bag.
I managed to find a laundrette later in the day and washed and dried all my clothes for £6. That’s ok though. The reason I worked hard for many years was so that I didn’t have to worry about making terrible decisions. Pay over the odds for anything. Get ripped off.
I worked hard so that I could afford to be stupid.
I moved on in my mind and looked forward to the onsen.
As I arrived at the onsen after a great journey, I was very relaxed. Normally entering these types of places for the first time would fill me with anxiety. Much like the hospital gown, these types of situations typically present a lot of opportunities for embarrassment. You bathe naked in onsen’s so there’s always a chance you’ll get naked at the wrong time, the wrong place, it’s basically an accident waiting to happen. Second time you’re fine but first time can be tough.
Thankfully, being in Japan, where everything works like clockwork, everything was relatively well explained. I entered, got to pick my Yukata, a traditional robe and belt. I went for a flowery blue robe which I stylishly paired with a bright gold belt. I got changed, hit the baths and felt amazing. It had been quite some time since breakfast so, after 30 minutes of bathing, I thought I’d grab some lunch.
The complex was very impressive, designed for tourists, it had a food hall with numerous options. I thought I’d have a cigarette before lunch so decided to head back to my locker. On the way back I saw people using their phones, carrying cigarettes which seemed a bit impractical. I then saw a guy tuck his phone away in the cuff of his robe. Of course. I’d seen this before in Kung-fu films, they always hide their throwing stars in their sleeves. I checked and there were indeed little pockets in each cuff of my robe. I went back to my locker, grabbed my phone, cigarettes and lighter and started heading back to the food hall. As I left the lockers this time, I noticed a sign on the floor that said please wear underwear beneath your robe. I opted against underwear as the robe was wrapped around me well and it seemed pointless given that I was gong to head back into the baths after lunch.
In certain areas, food choices are very tough. They love pork here. Even what looked like a standard plate of noodles contained pork. I ended up once again ordering Japanese fried chicken and a beer. I looked for a table, armed with a little buzzer that would signal when my food was ready. It was only when I sat down that I realised why the sign said that guests should wear underwear in the food hall. As I don’t ever dine out in robes, I wasn’t overly familiar with how these garments work. It turns out that, as opposed to being stood up where all the material falls naturally, when you sit down, the material gathers up and the position of your knees causes the material to stretch and it’s very hard to retain your modesty.
I suddenly realised the challenges women have to navigate when wearing skirts. I couldn’t seem to find a position that stopped the material of the robe parting. As I thought the buzzer would probably sound any minute, I couldn’t go back to the locker. I was sat at the back of the hall with my legs facing the rest of the room. I crossed my legs at my ankles and managed to tuck all the material around me until I felt there were no gaps, then the buzzer went. I nervously got up holding all the material around me, intensely paranoid at this stage that everyone was staring at me, got my food, sat back down and went through it all again. It wasn’t the most relaxing meal that I’ve ever enjoyed.
I was glad to get back into the baths as, when your completely naked, you don’t really have to worry about that sort of thing. You’re already completely exposed.
Whilst the baths were great for my body and my mind, I didn’t underestimate the power of nakedness that we were all enjoying. Being naked in public, as it was in Hawaii, teaches us to be more comfortable with our bodies. We’re all the same.
Clothes provide so many layers for us to hide behind. It’s like an extension of our egos. Our identity.
I got back to the hostel around 6pm feeling refreshed. I plan to have a quiet night tonight and look forward to embracing nature tomorrow.