Beppu’s other Hell by Sian Thatcher
When I stopped by the Fukuoka Now offices to offer my services as a writer, little did I know my first assignment would be so stimulating! My boyfriend and I were planning a weekend trip to Beppu, Oita Prefecture to check out the famous blood red Pools of Hell. But then I heard about another attraction, also on the hellish side – Beppu’s infamous Hihokan Museum, otherwise known as “the Sex Museum”. What is a sex museum? Who goes to them and why? I knew my boyfriend would love my first mission!
Welcoming us were two mild-mannered middle-aged ladies behind glass cases crammed full of dildos, costume uniforms and naughty videos. From them, I learned that this particular sex museum was founded in the 1980’s. Apparently, the owner was an avid collector of sexual artifacts in his home (yeah, right!) and one day he decided to turn his hobby into a business by creating a gallery for the public to enjoy.
We started our tour, looking at the rows of phalli and statuettes in different and incredible positions. “Is that really possible?” The Phalli Display, featuring a huge 9-foot wooden member and shelves of smaller twisted, ridged or smooth appendages was most impressive. So remarkable that we speculated that this display might scare more than a few less fortunate men.
Next, we tagged along with a group of ladies in their thirties and fifties past exhibits of mannequins posed in thematic scenes, from erotic to downright silly. For example, a model reclining in a chair with a cigarette in hand and a dog in front of her. Press the button and the dog’s head bobbed back and forth pulling at her panties! The ladies enjoyed a good giggle. But why were these housewives here? Was it a daring, and risqu thing to do? Was it curiosity? Perhaps they were there to pick up a few pointers? (bad pun, sorry). The porn theater was next. Inside was an endless looping film depicting three girls, one at a time with the same man, puffing their way through no less than 12 positions. Personally, I felt it had a school educational video feel to it especially with the play-by-play commentary as provided by an enthusiastic obaasan. “Ganbatte Yuki-chan” she shrieked!
The Japanese also appear to be concerned with size, as the next exhibit featured a comparison of penis sizes and shapes from the animal kingdom. Whales are the biggest, followed by elephants, and then Canadians (my editor forced me to write this!). Things just became more twisted at the “Snow White” exhibition. There my childhood heroine was being tormented by what looked like the Seven Voyeuristic or Masturbating Dwarfs, and she was loving it! The purpose of this eluded me. Is it novelty, art? Either way, Walt would not approve. The second floor of the museum houses the older exhibits, the stuff of which samurai dreams were perhaps made. Intricate and colorful scrolls displayed couples in coitus. Surprisingly explicit, they would probably find their modern day counterpart on late night television or in hardﾐcore magazines.
When asked who comes here the most (OK, that’s my last pun), the “museum assistant and resident sexpert”, told me, “Mostly couples and groups of women.” She said, “Some come to laugh, they find it amusing. Others are serious and visit for educational purposes. Some just come to buy sex aids. It’s a fun job and I have interesting conversations with lots of people.” The museum is as much about kitsch novelty and fantasy as it is about rare traditional exhibits. We concluded that it was primarily a novelty attraction, but also an ideal date spot for a couple and possibly a nice change from Sunday afternoon at the pachinko parlor. The museum is open until 11pm, and a love hotel would seem to be a perfect choice for a nijikai.