Daikancho, A Sea of Snack Bars
Every city in Japan has it’s own shady street; A particular red-light district or series of small alleyways that feature various shops selling love in all its forms. Since the 1980’s Japan has heavily adopted the concept of, “service industry” as a catalyst for capitalizing on every fundamental human desire.
We’ve all become aware of the existence of Maid Cafes, particularly in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, where young girls in pigtails and high squeaky voices energetically call you, “Goushujinsama”(or, “Master.”) The idea there was to service the desire of young men for a cute girl to be almost irrationally kind to you while they utilized extremely complementary honorific speech to enlarge your perceived sense of status or worth. But nowadays, there’s a café for everything. There are cuddle cafés, cross-dressing cafés, butler cafés, tsundere cafés and even, “no-pan cafés”. (Where the floors of the space are all mirrors, and all the waitresses and not allowed to wear underwear.) Needless to say, Japan loves combining sex with business in every form except the most straightforward.
At the moment, I live in Izumo City, within Shimane prefecture. It’s the second least populated area in the country, with a majority of its residents over the age of sixty. So how does a young man like myself at the age of twenty-two find some young people to experience camaraderie with? And where can I go to get a girlfriend? The answer is still floating somewhere overhead, but for now the solution to cure my loneliness has been to sometimes wander the city’s own affection-industry district, Daikancho.
A few minutes away from the main train station, Izumoshieki, one merely need take a quick right turn into a narrow street before the large, pink, heart-shaped signs affront your taste. “ALL YOU CAN TOUCH, 5000 YEN PER HOUR.” “LADIES BAR. DON'T SING KARAOKE ALONE.” It’s designed to be as appetizing as possible, but from an American’s perspective, it can sometimes be a little depressing. Although the area is focused on snack bars and hostess clubs, one can occasionally find a small bar where a group of coworkers raise their glasses and toast to the end of the day. The men get beer, while the girls get anything pink and sweet.
On a Friday or Saturday night, if I walk through Daikancho, I usually only see two-three types of people. The first is the hostess on her way to work. She’s dolled up, hair flawless, makeup immaculate, and dress so tight you could swear it’s her own skin. But her expression is one of complete indifference as she walks to her club. She’s tired, bored, and maybe a little lonely herself.
The second type of person is the salaryman- the john. Most of them tend to be over the age of forty. It’s always a little strange to see a gang of white-haired short Japanese men staggering out of a hostess bar together. As they finish their time at the club, drunkenly sliding into the taxi and occasionally bumping their head on the roof, the hostesses wave goodbye before quickly dashing back inside to continue the never-ending crusade for a good tip.
The third is myself, the stranded pilgrim in an unknown land. Standing at 190cm, with both of my arms tattooed, it’s not uncommon for young Japanese people my age to be a bit weary of trying to talk to me. So I’m often left deprived of a certain essential amount of human interaction. At least that’s been the case since I moved here from New York a month ago. As a result, there’ve been times when I’ve almost stepped into the hostess clubs, the Thai massage parlors, and the “all-you-can-touch” snack bars. But each time, I quickly stopped myself and realized that affection wasn’t something that truly could be bought and sold so easily. Because I had experienced enough heartfelt moments with women in the past to know well what was genuine and what was simply bad acting. But maybe for many of those older men who stumble out of Daikancho, with their suits reeking of cheap perfume, and their smiles wide as can be, they realize exactly how ridiculous it all is. And they don’t care.
“Love is a fog that burns with the first daylight of reality.”