Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Aww... Man... the Disneyfication of Kabuki-cho!

Japan's infamous red light district/gangster haunt is practically my second neighborhood. It's my sleazy home away from home away from home; to the horror and delight of my students and Japanese friends, I've stayed there about 14 times or more since I first came to Japan. But according to "Kabukicho Comes Clean," a recent and very interesting article in the Japan Times, it seems like the do-gooders are intent on turning it into a slick, clean corporatized non-entity. The government is cracking down on the shady doings there, and Best Western is moving in.

Good for tourists, not so great for me. My wilder days are mostly behind me now, but I still feel any fully functional society needs scuzzy, dangerous places like the old Times Square and Kabuki-cho as steam release valves. We don't need them thrown in our faces, but a little dirt on the hands and cheek add character and depth. Without them, what would our pastors and Sunday School teachers sermonize about on Sundays, and what would hypocritical politicians demonize in order to impress voters?

Also, there really needs to be a counter to the soul-crushing uniformity of McDonald's and KFC culture. Something sick and degenerate that flouts societal rules and mores in order to make us value them all the more. Someone (a famous person I'm too lazy to look up) once said something along the lines of "They've killed everything good and noble and replaced it with Wal-Mart." Perhaps they're also killing everything evil and lurid as well.

Eventually, we'll live in a Nerf-world, full of Nerf-people. Not that I'm advocating crime or the sex trade, neither of which I participate in. It's just that danger is intoxicating and enriching. Nor am I badmouthing fine Nerf products, which are fun for all. Avoid cheap imitations, though. A true Nerf football is vastly superior to foam knock-offs.

Anyway, enough contradictory pontificating and tongue-in-cheek product endorsements. Check out the article's illustration, a group of "hosts" standing in front of the big Epson building landmark I've so frequently photographed. I don't know much about host bars because I don't swing that way but it's a cool picture and illustration of a side of Japanese nightlife I haven't written much about.

I have been to a couple of hostess clubs. One was pretty tame but the other was a decadent, almost completely nude affair that left me needing a shower. Or three. And possibly a tetanus shot. And I've come to the conclusion that hostess bars don't really need my patronage. They're ridiculously expensive and somewhat demeaning. I'm glad I had the experience, but I wouldn't care to repeat it.

On the other hand, I am interested in sampling what the maid cafes are all about. From a purely sociological standpoint. Yeah. Sociology.

The film festival mentioned in the article is something I'm very much interested in, as are the fashion shows held outside the Koma Theater. To be perfectly honest, if those are indicative of a new direction for Kabuki-cho, I'm actually more likely to go there in the future!

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