Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

No-pan kissa (No-panty cafes)

Legs and skirtAt no-pan kissa (“no panties” coffee shops), waitresses wear short skirts and nothing underneath. Customers of these establishments are happy to pay a hefty premium on the overpriced food and drink to see a little more of the staff, and someone willing to pay extra for a better view might innocuously tip a waitress to reach for something from a shelf, or to bend down and pick something up. Many places are decorated with mirrors, avoiding too many strained necks. Many girls employed in Japan’s voracious sex industry prefer working in this kind of place, because they pay relatively well and generally operate a “no touch” policy.

The first no-pan kissa, ‘Johnny’, opened in Kyoto in 1978. Similar establishments popped up in the entertainment districts of Tokyo and Osaka, where the no pan boom took off on the back of Japan’s economic glory days. Popularity peaked in the 1980s, but many faded away soon after 1985, when new vice legislation started driving them out of business.

The no-pan glory years

The no-pan phenomenon has not been limited to cafes – no-pan restaurants (typically serving shabu-shabu or yakiniku) enjoyed brief and intense popularity. During Japan’s boom years, they were a favourite venue for risqué corporate outings and political entertaining (all on the company expense account or the taxpayer, of course).

Roran, in Tokyo’s Kabuki-cho red light district, was one of the most famous no-pan shabu-shabu joints, and is still open today. At one point, the restaurant had more than 15,000 members, many of whom were Japan’s richest and most powerful. Roran’s innovative owner had fans built into the floor, blowing up the waitresses’ miniskirts to created an x-rated Marilyn Munroe effect. Another popular feature was the video cameras built into the floor.

The beginning of the end for no-pan dining came in 1998, when several of Roran’s waitresses were arrested for indecent exposure. The restaurant, and no-pan in general, had just come to Japan’s attention as the backdrop for the country’s latest government scandal. Two finance ministry officials had been leaking confidential information to bank executives while being treated to evenings at the Roran. The exotic combination of corruption, cooked meat and bare crotch sparked massive public intrigue, forcing police to raid the restaurant.

Extinction

Almost all no-pan cafes and restaurants have been replaced by fashion clubs and other establishments offering more “straightforward” services. The few that survive exist on the fringes of the law, and are generally much seedier, offering backrooms where frustrated customers can be relieved. Some have equipped their waitresses with see-through panties to avoid police interference, but even this could get the proprietors into trouble.

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5 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Amos

    They should setup a non-pan airline. That would really rock :-)

  2. BMR

    Great stuff!

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