10 steps down from geisha, 2 steps up from prostitutes

10 steps down from geisha, 2 steps up from prostitutes

One thing foreigners probably know very little about are Japanese “hostesses” and the “entertainment” district found in EVERY Japanese town and city.

These girls are 10 steps down from the geisha’s of Japan’s past, and two steps up from prostitutes in my estimation.

Every town has a drinking street which is absolutely packed with little bars called スナック (snack) bars. Most of these places have cute, young “hostesses” who hang out the street looking like prostitutes and lure Japanese men into the bars where they dote over them, pour them drinks, and give them artificial attention as long as they keep paying. Often you pay a certain amount per hour and Japanese guys go there in small groups.

American’s would think this is kind of shady, but Japan has a history of non-sexual/non-prostitute female entertainment (along side other things …)

These somewhat legitimate hostess bars do coexist along side prostitution however. In Japan outright sex-for-money is illegal, but the legal definition of sex is extremely narrow and it’s not enforced that strongly, so you will find “blow job bars” around these “entertainment districts” where men can pay about $80 for 35 minutes in a private room with a girl for the purpose of receiving oral sex which isn’t illegal. In most of these places however the girls probably have sex with the clients. You can identify these places by simple signs that usually say “System: 8,000 yen 35 minutes” or something similar.

For the record I have NEVER been to any of these places, nor would I go to any. I know about it because I find these entertainment districts infinitely fascinating and really want to photograph them more. I’ve done research on-line reading the blogs of those who have patroned these neighborhoods as well as asked people here in Japan about it. It’s something completely different from anything in America.

I shot this photo candidly with my vintage TLR camera while wandering my town late one night.

2 thoughts on “10 steps down from geisha, 2 steps up from prostitutes

  1. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Nakasu, the island in Fukuoka famed for having the most entertainment business per square meter in the world (6000 on a island that’s maybe half a kilometer long), but the PE teachers at my school took me to the snack bars there all the time. I have to say that I never once saw anything shady happen. The girls would pat the men on the knee and tell them how great they were and help them sing karaoke, and then hand them the 60,000 yen bill. It always made my jaw drop, and I certainly wouldn’t have paid for it, but I really think the geisha analogy is closer than you think. Essentially the girls are there to make the men feel important, to look pretty, and to show off their entertainment (singing, instrument playing, etc) skills. I know there are establishments like you mentioned, but at least the snack bars I went to were totally above board, and the girls *NEVER* went home with the clients. I went out on a date with one of the girls, after I’d been to that snack bar five or six times. She was very cautious the whole time, and I’m sure that it’s because she was worried that I was expecting something because of her job. I decided then it would just be easier to be friends with her and hang out, so I told her what I thought and she seemed very happy. We met up quite a few times after that in a purely friendly social way. I ran into this situation several times in Japan; groups that are generally ostracized by the Japanese are very happy that foreigners want to talk to them and very friendly.

  2. I think what I’m saying is that these places have an appearance at least that Americans would equate with something different from what they are.

    I do know Nakasu. I get off the subway at the Nakasu-Kawabata station when I go to Canal City 🙂

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