Exploring Earthquakes and the Sex Industry Through the Lens of a Journalist | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Exploring Earthquakes and the Sex Industry Through the Lens of a Journalist

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The arch of Kabukicho Ichibangai, where the lights went out due to the impact of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Many adult entertainment establishments were closed for power-saving measures. (All photos provided by Mr. Ikoma)

In the Noto Peninsula Earthquake that occurred on January 1st, a soapland in Kaga City, located at the southwest end of Ishikawa Prefecture, was affected. The soaplands “Birthday” in Yamanaka Onsen and “Imperial Taipei” and “Eikoku-ya” in Katayamazu Onsen were temporarily forced to suspend operations. All three establishments quickly recovered and resumed operations soon after. For the regular local customers, this must have been a relief and source of strength.

Among the soaplands that recovered, “Eikoku-ya” in Katayamazu Onsen was one of the first establishments to offer support as a relocation destination for sex workers affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. When the earthquake forced the closure of the establishment, they wanted to provide support for the girls who lost their workplaces. The manager at that time, as mentioned in the adult entertainment magazine “Ore no Tabi,” said, “We have girls from Tohoku here, and when we were asked if there was anything we could do, it was the trigger. Fortunately, we have dormitories, so if there are women who want to work here, we can accept them.”

In disaster-prone Japan, the adult entertainment industry has provided various forms of support for recovery efforts. During earthquakes, several soaplands have offered free use of their facilities.


Soapland became a bath for local residents

During the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake that occurred on January 17, 1995, soaplands in relatively less affected areas like Fukuhara in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture, opened their bathing facilities for free to local residents one week after the earthquake.

Soapland buildings were originally constructed with significant investment in facilities, and many of them remained standing due to their sturdy construction, despite the earthquake. While electricity was available, water supply was disrupted. Fortunately, the boilers were still operational, so nearby saunas and restaurants transported groundwater to heat water. From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, hot water was provided in all private baths, and they were open for free to local residents, volunteers, and even the Self-Defense Forces for over a month. Many families came to bathe together.

The expenses for electricity and heavy oil were all borne by the establishments, undoubtedly resulting in considerable costs. However, they refused to accept any money, adhering to the principle of “mutual aid” in times of need.

During the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, a soapland in Onahama, Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, opened its baths to victims. Another soapland in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, conducted fundraising efforts for disaster relief.

During the Kumamoto Earthquake that occurred on April 14, 2016, soaplands in the central area of Kumamoto City quickly resumed operations and contributed to early recovery. Many of these establishments had boilers for hot water that were not affected by the interruption of city gas supply. Although they remained closed on the 16th and the following day after the main quake, they resumed business on the 18th. In severely affected areas with a shortage of hot water, a different demand arose than the usual entertainment purposes of these establishments, with about half of the customers coming not to play but to bathe.

In the Hokkaido Eastern Iburi Earthquake on September 6, 2018, soaplands in Susukino, Sapporo City, offered baths for 500 yen on the day after the disaster. This fee wasn’t for profit but merely to cover the fuel costs as if they were public baths. The night of the earthquake, when the staff announced on Twitter, “We are now operating as a public bath!” it was retweeted over 16,000 times. From the next day until the morning of the day after, about 70 people visited the establishment, including tourists from other prefectures, families, and sexual minorities who found it difficult to use public baths. All were individuals whose baths at home or in their accommodations were unusable due to the earthquake.

Soaplands have also supported victims even in non-disaster times. During Typhoon No. 15 in Reiwa 1 (September 9, 2019), a soapland in Sakae-machi, Chiba City, opened its baths for free and provided charging stations. Their tweet stating, “We will open the baths for free to those affected by the typhoon. We hope we can be of some help,” was retweeted over 4,500 times, with numerous replies expressing gratitude and admiration. The establishment provided new towels, toothbrush sets, shampoo, and body soap specifically for the victims.

In all these cases, the motivation stemmed from a desire to help those struggling in the disasters, to contribute to the local community, and to assist those in need, even if only in a small way.

In the second part, “Amidst Evacuating Sex Workers, Those Heading to Disaster Areas as Well. Insights from a Sex Industry Journalist on ‘Earthquakes and the Sex Industry,'” further detailed introductions will be provided on sex establishments and the actions of sex workers who faced the impact of the disasters.

The second part is here: “While some sex workers are evacuating, others are heading to the affected areas… A sex journalist’s view of the “earthquake and fuzoku”” (Japanese only)

Soap house “UKIYA” in Katayamazu Onsen, Kaga City. At the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, it was the first to accept prostitutes from the Tohoku region affected by the disaster.
Imperial Taipei, a soap in Katayamazu Onsen, Kaga City, reopened after being forced to temporarily suspend operations following the Noto Peninsula earthquake in January.
Birthday” soap in Yamanaka Onsen, Kaga City, also temporarily closed due to the Noto Peninsula earthquake.
A soap store in the central area of Kumamoto City. Soap shops in this area recovered quickly, but at that time, many customers wanted to take a bath.
Sakae-machi, Chiba City, lined with soap stores. When the typhoon hit in 19, the soap stores themselves were also damaged.
  • Interview and text Akira Ikoma

    Pen name is "Master Ikoma. He is the chief editor of "Ore no Tabi" series. His motto is to conduct thorough on-the-spot interviews, and he has completely explored all of the entertainment districts in Japan. As a freelance editorial reporter, he continues "Ore no Tabi" through articles in magazines and websites, as well as on his own SNS. Author of "A Modern History of Fuzoku" and "Reporto Nihon no Ijikai Chizu" (co-authored).

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