Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

Happening bars

Happening barsHappening bars (“hapu-baa”), one of the newer fads in Japan’s thriving sex industry, are swingers’ clubs that also cater for single people. Cocooned in unremarkable-looking buildings in Japan’s urban entertainment districts, these are forums for group sex, groping, costume play, spanking, and anything other “happening” that might enter the imaginations of a horny group of half-naked strangers in a dark room. Customers are encouraged to bring a partner, although wife swapping’s not so common – this is not the kind of pastime most Japanese people want to share with their families.

Happening bars started appearing in late 90s, originally just as places for swingers to drink, and they’ve since popped up all over Japan. Privacy and secrecy are sacrosanct, so it’s difficult to say how widespread these bars are, but there are rumoured to be 20 or so in Tokyo alone.

Built for fun

Bars have different themes, and various services are provided, including costumes, sex toys, fully-equipped BDSM playrooms and couples-only rooms. Obviously, having sex in a room on your own might defeat the purpose of coming to this kind of club in the first place, so peep holes are often provided for the titillation of others and the thrill of the performers. Porn producers, never hesitant to turn a fetish into a profit, have reportedly shot adult movies in the bars, with the willing customers as participants.

Membership at the most exclusive (infamous?) bars costs around 10,000 yen for couples, 20,000 for single guys. After that, customers pay an entrance fee every time they go. Happening bars in less salubrious entertainment districts would cost less, and might not require membership. To keep a healthy balance of sexes, men must pay considerably more if they are unaccompanied, while a single woman would pay very little. Entrance might include a couple of drinks, and some bars even offer nomi-houdai (all-you-can-drink) as social lubrication.

Chocoball Mukai

Happening bars broke into Japan’s national consciousness in 2004, with the arrest of Chocoball Mukai, pornstar cum pro wrestler, for indecent exposure. Police interrupted a sex show in Member’s Club Rock, a happening bar in Roppongi, Tokyo, and took the unusually pigmented Chocoball into custody, along with the actress he had been performing with and the staff of the club.

Like many areas of Japan’s “pink” industry, happening bars are technically illegal, but the police are generally content to look the other way. However, by promoting the live event on his website, Chocoball committed a breach of etiquette that the police were forced to punish. The subsequent conviction for indecent exposure earned him a 5-month prison sentence, suspended for 3 years on condition of good behaviour. Given that “good behaviour” isn’t particularly compatible with a job like his, his porn career may have been ruined. Just as well he has the wrestling to fall back on…

What’s the appeal?

Happening bars appeal strongly to voyeurism, which seems to be a powerful element of Japanese sexuality (particularly for men), and exhibitionism, which is less easy to explain in the context of Japan’s rigid, uniform social ethic. Japanese people, who are no strangers to role-playing in their daily lives, might be able to slide comfortably into new roles, often strongly dominant or submissive, in a sex club. The size of the female clientele of these bars is also surprising – perhaps drawn by anonymity, or a sense of liberation from the oppressive double-standards of Japan’s gender politics.

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5 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. you’ll find bars who have girls that will eat shit in tokyo
    it’s no big deal in the immoral country of japan

  2. Justin

    How is that immoral?

    Its just odd, and gross. But not immoral, who is she hurting by doing that? Nobody, but maybe herself..

  3. Dave

    It’s also untrue. One of those things that gets bandied around by people who don’t know what they are talking about.

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