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Sunday, April 19, 2009
Potting the pink in Saitama
By BRETT BULL
Special to The Japan Times
Thumbing through any of the dozen Tokyo sex-service recruit magazines reveals ads for shops, indexed by region, seeking young ladies to serve in various fuzoku (sex-related) clubs and bars.
In recent years, one rather extensive section had been for Nishikawaguchi, located just across the Arakawa River from Tokyo's Kita Ward in Saitama Prefecture.
However, now it is but a footnote. A rash of police busts has shut down a large swath of the 200 salons, pubs, and numerous other palaces of pleasure that employed 2,000 workers as recently as 2006. In their place, the city last year began a campaign to promote so-called "B-class" restaurants, which serve cheap noodle and fried-meat-and-dumpling dishes.
"Right now we are attempting to break the fuzoku image," says Nobuyuki Nakayama, a manager within the Kawaguchi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, whose project is reshaping the streets just outside the West Exit of JR Nishikawaguchi Station. "To do that, we need to bring a lot of people here to see what it is we are doing."
The first step has been to promote the existing eateries with the establishment of a Web page and restaurant map. Further, last November, the third Saitama B-Class Gourmet King competition came to Nishikawaguchi. Approximately, 35,000 people dined on dishes of yaki udon (fried noodles), various soups, yakitori (grilled chicken) and tofu ramen, sold for between ¥100 and ¥200 and provided by 21 shops throughout Saitama. The winning entry, from Nishikawaguchi, was a set meal of tofu-wrapped vegetables and soup.
Since the station began operating in 1954, the surrounding area developed a history of sleaze and sustenance going together. Due to its proximity to the Kawaguchi Auto Race and the Toda Motor Boat Race facilities, gamblers, flush with fresh cash or in need of consolation, would follow their day at the track with a nibble and a bit of nookie.
"Because of this, we thought B-class restaurants already had a start in the area — the history was there," explains Nakayama, whose office, just minutes by foot from the tracks, is in a building that used to house fuzoku operations.
The crackdown started in earnest three years ago following amendments made to the nationwide Law Regulating Adult Entertainment Businesses. The modifications gave the authorities more leverage in closing down adult establishments. These activities coincide with Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara's well-known and ongoing campaign to purify Tokyo's more infamous entertainment quarters, such as Roppongi and Kabukicho.
To walk through the west side of Nishikawaguchi today is to see a virtual ghost town: real-estate signs seeking tenants and boarded store fronts abound. Though it should be mentioned that on a recent weekday morning the clubs Cream (¥15,000 for 50 minutes of adult-oriented fun) and Strawberry House (¥12,500 for 40 minutes) were operating freely, and a delivery business supplying hot hand towels to a string of love hotels seemed to be doing a brisk trade.
The next step will be to bring in new businesses — a process fraught with financial challenges, says Nakayama. For one, straight conversions are not possible. Shower rooms and multiple walls from the previous tenants have to be removed, a process that increases renovation costs.
Troublesome, too, are the steep rents. "The fuzoku places were doing good business," Nakayama explains of the area, whose monthly rents he estimates to be around ¥40,000 and ¥50,000 per tsubo (3.3 sq. meters), a figure roughly equivalent to office space in central Tokyo. "The rents still approach that level. There are people who want to move in but cannot afford it."
Yet one ramen joint opened March 10 and a manju (steamed bun) shop began serving soon after.
"Right now, it is one step at a time," Nakayama says.