Tokyo hums to its own uniquely distorted sexual rhythm; it’s not all octopus porn but the city is certainly a hive for impulsive indiscretions. There are moments along the great plain of human sexuality where things can start to get a bit weird, and no-where on earth does weird better than Japan. Everyone has heard about the vending machines that dispense used underwear, unfortunately they were eradicated a few years before I was living there which is a shame because a) I was secretly curious and b) I was openly pretty curious. In any case, there is a lot to explore for an open-minded foreigner with a basic grasp of Japanese, so a housemate and I jokingly suggested to “go and watch a peepshow or something”. I guess it was as much a way to fill up a free evening, as it was a new wave example of male bonding.
The peep show houses, known locally as ‘Nozoki’ are hidden behind layers of sex-shops, love hotels and neon-signed blowjob bars along Tokyo’s red-light district: Kabukichō. The majority of these establishments have very strict rules about no foreigners. After a bit of negotiating, a few beers and some embarrassing hand gestures later, a few street hustlers hastily guided us into the elevator of one of Tokyo’s oldest and apparently cheapest peep shows.
Something about being in the land where Geishas come from had led me to expect some class, some elegance and maybe even some ceramic pond with koi fish serenely swimming around and not judging. The reality of the situation was of me crouching into a squalid little alcove which kind of felt like an old armchair in Starbucks had evolved into a waiting room. There was porn playing on an LCD screen suspended above the reception desk, we paid 2000 yen each and were told to take our seats and wait for the next show to begin. The last thing I felt like doing was making any kind of eye contact so I was relieved to see a drink machine in the corner. I felt like a beer would at least make the situation a little less tense and perhaps give me some confidence to ask if we could politely switch to a DVD that didn’t pixelate the genitalia. The drinks machine was weakly stocked with the only available options being Mountain Dew and ice tea. Above all else I recall from this night I remember this being the most shocking thing. Who the fuck goes to masturbate anonymously to a strip show and then drink a lukewarm Mountain Dew to take the edge off?
For about 10 minutes I smoked a lot of cigarettes and reverted back to being a 16-year-old boy for a while until there was a little bell signifying we could now progress to the next room. In a worryingly pavlovian fashion we downed our sodas and filed into the showroom. It was a poor turn-out, just the three of us, two 6’2 white foreigners clearly trying this for the first time and a much older local man who looked like something of a seasoned nozoki enthusiast. Like, if they had membership cards he would definitely have one.
We took off our shoes (it’s Japan, duh) and filtered into individual chambers, spaced apart by the empty booths. My knees were hunched up around my chest, sort of like when you see tall people driving cars that are too small for them. The surfaces were completely wooden and lacquered with a shiny finish, which made everything feel laminated; I guess that made sense though. To my horror there was no lockable door behind my booth, let alone a door, just a filmy curtain that I tried to fasten behind me. The girl slinked onto the stage, separated from me by a panel of one-way mirror. She was sort of attractive, nothing like the Sailor Moon-esque girls of anime dreams but she was confident. How could she not be? Don’t we all feel our most sexiest when we’re surrounded in a room of one-way mirrors, disco balls and perverse strangers? She stripped and danced provocatively for about fifteen minutes. The speakers played “Tainted Love” by Marilyn Manson, which whilst not the best song, it was perfect for the situation, I suddenly felt badass and darkly voyeuristic; I remember thinking that this is probably what Patrick Bateman would do if he went to Japan.
We were made aware that the show was over because they overlapped the soundtrack with sounds of moaning and finally the orchestral version of a girl climaxing in a crescendo. The grand finale was accompanied by a reverberating sound of tissues being snatched out of boxes and bin lids being guiltily pressed shut. If you hadn’t finished or felt unsatisfied there was a separate booth, which looked like a utilities closet, where I imagine you could pay a little extra for an encore handy-j or whatever. I slipped passed this and made for the exit, I caught my friend’s eye as we left, both of us sporting cheeky smiles that were half schoolboy grins and half “did we really just do that?”
My elevator ride up to the surface was one of elation. Yes, I felt kind of dirty and underhanded but really it was the glow of having had that rare kind of cultural experience that’s never going to be found in Lonely Planet. You can’t live in big cities and not dip your toes in the freak pool now and again. I suppose, that like strip clubs, peep shows are the kind of thing you either go to once in your life or you go to all the time. Remember the guy who looked like he would hold a proverbial membership card? I saw him hastily fingering through his wallet in a conflicted sort of way, clearly trying to decide if he could justify dropping another 2000 yen for a private session in the extra time room. So maybe that’s a life-choice I hope I never have to make.