The crowded streets of Japan’s red light district, Kabukicho.
The crowded streets of Japan’s red light district, Kabukicho.

Inside world’s most notorious red light district

"CHOOSE your girl."

I've just come out of a tiny lift with a man triple my size. His name is Scott* and he's the manager at one of Tokyo's cheaper adult bars, I find out later, as I'm at the ATM downstairs drawing cash.

He patiently waits for the money he's been promised. I know not to mess with this guy.

I'm in a gentleman's club in Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo's infamous red light district - aptly nicknamed the "Sleepless Town".

For the Japanese, clubs like the one I'm standing in - which is closer towards the cheaper end of the scale - is for many men in Japan a secret sexual outlet and it is here where the country's sex industry thrives.

Kabukicho is one of the world's most successful red light districts. Here, you'll even find information centres where foreigners can grab a map and information about where to go for a good time. The choices seem endless; love hotels, massage parlours, hostess clubs and more.

In Kabukicho, anything goes. Picture: Matt Young
In Kabukicho, anything goes. Picture: Matt Young

All around me are bars advertising blow jobs and good times. A cacophony of neon lights and narrow laneways with something sordid on offer at every corner. It truly is a sight to behold.

On the street, Jamaican men are attempting to convince me to choose their gentleman's lounge, strip club, or "t*tty bar".

I'm not sure why I picked Scott, because as I'm in the lift I'm wondering if I'll make it out alive.

I pay 5000 Yen ($AU58) to enter the premises which I'm told gets me unlimited drinks. This is cheap for a Japanese gentleman's club, 7000 Yen ($AU82) is the usual going rate for an entrance fee.

The lift opens and I follow Scott into a small bar. It's dark inside, tiny and cramped. Hip hop music fills the room. I wonder if I've stepped into somewhere I shouldn't; the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) are notorious in this district and most of the bars here are run by the organisation.

There's only a few tables, a bar - and not one customer. It's just me and about six other girls.

Japanese, Indonesian and Vietnamese. They're dressed in sheer, tight dresses that finish just below the crotch. They look at me and immediately know it's time to get to work. As soon as I walk in they all stand up and start writhing and wriggling their bodies as I'm told to make my choice. I stand there, awkwardly, for what feels like minutes. Considering I'm a gay man this is certainly a first.

There's one girl who is a particular stand out. She's the one who greeted me first. I "choose" her and later find out her name is Linda*.

I order a gin and tonic and we're taken to a private corner. I assure Linda I don't want sex and I just want to talk.

"How many minutes?" She asks. We agree on 10.

She's Jamaican, with big frizzy hair and a smile to match. A bright red dress that wraps around her body and a thick accent.

"In this place there is no sex, just drinks and hostess."

She produces a menu and informs me she only makes money if I buy her a drink. She chooses a 250000 Yen ($AU292) bottle of champagne. I decline and offer her a glass instead.

She tells me she makes 30 per cent of whatever the men buy her. That's her salary. The only way to make the money.

Discreetly, I disclose to Linda that I'm a journalist and I'm curious to write about her life working in Kabukicho. She's happy for me to take notes and she seems to relax slightly.

She runs off to get my drink and I sneak in a picture of the bar; slightly terrified I'll be caught in the act. This is not the type of place to break the rules.

This is the only picture I could quickly snap. Picture: Matt Young
This is the only picture I could quickly snap. Picture: Matt Young

Linda is 28. She tells me she grew up in Japan. Her father is Japanese but her mother is Jamaican. Her parents know about her job. Her father, she says, owns a bar in the area and they don't judge her for her work. I'm not sure how much I can believe.

She's worked at the Smile Lounge for two years now and says she's getting out of the game at the end of the month, she only works weekends from 8.30pm-1.30am to help finance her studies, as she shows me picture of herself at university.

"I need the extra cash but this month, I'm done."

Linda says the men she meets generally "just want to talk" and that "nobody is forcing me to do anything I don't want to do", assuring me she's happy.

She says in Japan places like this are "very normal" and her job is to make her clients "feel good, we're just having fun".

"It's the culture, it's a very cold culture. People work so hard so when they come this place, they just want to talk to the girls."

She says Australian men treat her well and they're "very good" and says foreigners are becoming just as numerous as locals.

"I love Australian guys, they're very social and different. I like British guys, too, they're kind."

I can sense her patience with me is beginning to run out and I wrap things up. With a big smile she wishes me luck and takes me back to meet Scott. As we finish up I'm told the bar is cash only. Most places I discover won't accept a credit card, and I realise I'm without enough to pay the bill.

Scott looks at me straight in the eyes.

"We'll go to the ATM."

I can feel Scott's breath behind me as he escorts me downstairs towards an ATM. After a tense few minutes, I figure out the language barrier and the cash is withdrawn.

With that, he gives me his card and says I'm welcome back any time.

Just bring cash next time, he winks.

 

*Names have been changed

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