Japan’s sex industry has a number of innovative variations on the brothel, but none of them seem as perfectly, hygienically Japanese as soaplands. They offer “assisted baths” that include the services of a prostitute. When a customer enters, he chooses his bathing companion from a selection of half-naked girls, who takes him to prepare for his “bath”. This preparation might be a plain old regular bath, or may include some time building up a head of steam in the sauna before the real fun begins. A common service is for the girl to lather the customer up using only a little liquid soap and her naked body.
Soaplands are known for having some of the better looking, more skilled staff in Japan’s sex industry, which is why they tend to be more expensive than other establishments – ¥50,000/hour is fairly typical.
Like other areas of Japan’s sex industry, soaplands usually don’t allow foreign customers. This is partly because of a widespread belief that AIDS is un-Japanese – carried mainly by foreigners – and that many foreigners in Japan have the disease.
These bathhouses were once called toruko-buro (“Turkish Baths”). Under pressure from the Turkish embassy about this “derogatory and extremely injurious” treatment of Turkey’s reputation, the Ministry of Health and Welfare moved to stop bathhouses using “toruko”.
The Tokyo Special Bathhouse Association, unsure of what to call their establishments, launched a nationwide competition to find a new name. From 2,400 entries, “soapland” was chosen, and the winning entrant given a 3-day holiday in Hokkaido. This is often abbreviated to just “soap”.
Japanese vice laws – prohibit straight sex but everything else (masturbation, anal, oral) falls between the cracks. Also, there’s very little the authorities can to prevent the sale of straight sex if it is a private agreement between a man and a woman.
Girls not officially employed by soaplands, technically they are renting rooms to the girls. The owner charges customers a fee for bathing, but any negotiation for further services is (officially) with the girl herself, not the establishment. The “service fee” she is paid by the customer is the only money she takes home.
Soaplands take a substantial cut of service fees as “expenses” – presumably because the towels and bath lotions they provide, and which they are already charging the customer for, are extremely expensive. These expenses are used to prove to the police or the taxman that they are not actually employing the girls.
Yoshiwara, soapland capital
Yoshiwara, which has a long history as Tokyo’s most prominent red light district, is the soapland capital of Japan. This makes it a popular place for sex tourism from all over Japan, with some men coming to Tokyo just to spend some time in Yoshiwara’s brothels.
In 2001, the son of North Korea’s bullish leader Kim Jong Il was caught trying to enter Japan illegally. Japanese intelligence thought he was procuring technology to produce weapons in his homeland, while he said he was trying to “visit Tokyo Disneyland”. It later emerged that he had been visiting Japan frequently to cruise Yoshiwara soaplands.
Japan’s economic difficulties have hit soaplands hard, particularly the more expensive places in Yoshiwara. At the same time, they’ve also come under a lot of pressure from cheaper competition: delivery health, pink salons and foreign prostitutes. A 2002 study found that the number of soaplands has fallen since the 1980s, from 1,700 to 1,200, at a time when revenues for establishments at the cheaper end of the sex spectrum have soared.
Many of the soaplands that have stayed in business have been forced to slash their prices. Some even offer special offers, like an “early riser” discount for appointments before 8am.
- ‘Just between us girls, the secret slang of Japan’s soapland industry’ (Asian Sex Gazette)
- ‘Soaplands and love hotels’ (Salon)
- “Turkish baths” by any other name
“The politics of Japanese rubdowns”
The list of foreigner friendly adult service houses in Japan
“We are making the list of houses where the foreigner can play with the Japanese girl.”
- Soaplands (Wikipedia)
- ‘Early birds hunt for soapland bargains’ (Crisscross News Japan)
‘Women turn to selling sexual favors in Japan’
- ‘Japan: Squeaky-clean hicks get dirty in soapland’ (Asian Sex Gazette)
- ‘A look inside the sex industry’ (Criscross News Japan)
‘Kim’s “Son” Tried Japan’s Soaplands’