Oyafuko-dori, loosely translated as “street of the wayward child,” earned its name long before I ever started working in Fukuoka back in 1997.While making rounds of the bars after a long absence with a friend who was visiting from out of town over winter break, I realized that the place really seems to be trying to make a point about its claim to dissolution. What a shame.
Fukuoka already has a nationally famous red-light district in Nakasu, so why create another one? Or rather, why be so conspicuous about it? Foku (sex industry) establishments have long been a part of Oyafuko. But the brothels, massage parlors and other types of cash-for-sex shops used to operate quietly, tucked away on upper floors of buildings with sometimes only the name of the place hinting at what customers might find inside; no pick-your-whore pictures, no price charts. I remember my surprise at finding out that a bar I frequented for years on Oyafuko was surrounded by brothels. I had just never really noticed. But now, how can you not notice?
I think the precipitous slide began with the appearance of a huge yellow building, a seemingly innocuous “telekura” or tele-club, a place where gentlemen can go to relax and watch adult programming on screens in private rooms, and, most importantly, call up registered members who might want to meet them for a “date” somewhere. If not providing a space for quick self-relief, then terekura are launching pads for prostitution. Those hostess clubs, strip parlors, and lap-dance lounges have multiplied like roaches. Basically the same thing: a lot of money paid for some sexual excitement that could, if you play your cards (and wallet) correctly, lead to consummation later on. And with these places, gaudy signs have gone up, suggestively-dressed women with their flyers clog the corners, and “catchers” have become ubiquitous. These men in pimp suits generally harass every female that passes by, either trying to get them to work at one of the hostess bars or fuzoku places, or trying to lure them into a host club.
It seems that these places have even rubbed off on some of the older, more wholesome establishments, if they ever could have been called that. I see that one of the old haunts now has a regular panty party, where girls get up on stage monthly and dance for money. The show is even piped out to the street for everyone to see on television screens. This place has always been about cheap thrills, as its name suggests, and who among us hasn’t enjoyed a few there? Only, I thought it had found the cheapest thrills years ago. Apparently I was wrong. Magazine ads for most of the establishments feature similarly scantily clad women. In another bar, I found myself surrounded by women of the illustrious shucch・herusu, or “dispatch health” industry. Really, the euphemisms of Japan can be quite cute sometimes, can’t they?
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I mind having a few drinks with some lovely prostitutes who inform me (after a few drinks) how their otherwise ordinary, society-loving clients like to get their mad freak on. And I can handle nubile young ladies dancing in lingerie, whether it be on a stage or on my lap. But please, let’s leave all that to Nakasu. Why, you may ask. Let me give an anecdote. There is a (literally) decent restaurant in Nakasu that I patronize, but which is surrounded by brothels and sex shops and their rather conspicuous signs. If I take friends, dates or family members there, I inevitably have to make a number of disclaimers before we pass down those lascivious streets into sex central. Even then, I find people are nervous and apprehensive about where I am leading them.
Funny thing, this last time I was with someone on Oyafuko, I found myself making the same apologies and disclaimers and reassurances. Many people have always been a little leery of Oyafuko, but now the scene can really make a date or a friend feel uncomfortable. Tell someone that you were out in Nakasu last night, and they might begin to form different opinions about you. Hell, I sure wouldn’t tell any respectable people I had gone there. But tell them you were out on Oyafuko-dori last night, and who knows, maybe they will make the same associations. Why shouldn’t they? The place is beginning to look like a Little Nakasu. And it’s a shame we can’t have some good old fun dancing and drinking and maybe even hooking up without the sex industry blurring the boundaries which provide sanction for some. Dodesho?
U.S.A. / Graduate Student
Illustrations by Shirley Waisman
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn74, Feb. 2005)