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Photo credit: Jean Marc Roche and Various

SLOPPY SECONDS OVER TOKYO  Enter Kabuki Cho

More than a "rub n tug"

Of course, Kabuki-cho is by no means the be-all and end-all of the sex ind ustry in Japan; indeed, many of the quirkier innovations to be found there were pioneered in Osaka or elsewhere. But with the competition for business as fierce as it is, entrepreneurs are quick to respond to new trends. All you could ever want is right here. For the meal of a lifetime, try any of the S&M restaurants (and we don't mean Spanish and Mexican food) ... where you (ot a waitress) hangs from the ceiling-in chains.

The Powers That Be?

This is not to say that Kabuki-cho is all for sheer aesthetic pleasure. There's a reality behind these fantasies, and, more often than not, it isn't pretty. One coffee shop owner agreed to talk to us on how the squeeze works."There are more than 14 yakuzagroups numbering over 1,000 soldiers working in Kabuki-cho," our ''Deep Throat" explained. "They are able to get young Asian women into the country through political connections with the right wing.

Unless the immigration authorities can determine that a woman is using a false name, forged passport or some other flagrant violation, the people at immigration have their hands tied. Of course, enforcement is possible afterwards if they overstay their visas, or are caught in the act, but the sheer numbers make it hard to do more than occasional sweeps.

"The gangs make their money in a number of ways. They automatically collect ¥2,000 per head per day in shoba-dai (protection money) . Therefore bars here must count on paying ¥60,000 a month right off the bat for each foreign hostess just to do business, even on the days when the girls don't work.

Of course most bars are open seven days a week. "Then there's the money the gangs make from their own activities; commissions on the bar revenues, other types of protection, and so on. I suspect a portion of this goes back to the politicians to keep the whole process flowing smoothly."

The Dark Side

Unfortunately, things don't always run smoothly in the private sector. There have even been gunbattles in the Okubo district, bordering on Kabuki-cho. The flying lead is the mark of "foreign intervention." Fights have been between Taiwanese gangs - disrupting the harmonious flow of Japanese fantasy. The Japanese Asahi Shimbun reported last August that Taiwanese police pressure has driven two gangs, the ChulienBang and the Suhai-Bang, out of their country.

They have reportedly surfaced here in the form of restaurants, serving as "outposts" for prostitution, gambling and stimulant drugs. Another stratagem has been tie-ups between small travel agencies in Taiwan and the gangs here, arranging recruitment of prostitutes and forging visas when entry to Japan could not be obtained by legal means.

The Asahi article alleged that at least 10 known gang members, including their leaders, are now in Tokyo, but the actual picture has proved difficult to determine. What is certain, however, is that the danger is real. According to official sources there was a yakuza "altercation" - complete with gunfire -just outside a bar we used as a meeting place for this article two days previous.

The Good Guys

The Kabuki-cho police box,located on Hanami-dori just behind Koma Stadium, is reputed to be one of the busiest in Tokyo. On any given evening, calls to the koban implore Tokyo's finest to settle petty squabbles, monitor complaints from customers on overcharging, and deal with a gamut of crime ranging from assault, petty theft and break-ins to parking violations, in addition, the police also dole out instant coffee to sober up drunks.

Surprisingly, the Kabuki-cho koban is manned by a team of only seven uniformed cops during the evening hours And although undoubtedly a difficull assignment, the supervisor there said thai no special criteria are demanded for , Kabuki-cho assignment. Cops on this beat do tend to be mostly young.

That is probably fitting, because the visitors to this supposed den of iniquity are getting younger and younger as well. The sheer number of people on the street: of Kabuki-cho belies its sordid reputation. In the evenings, Kabuki-cho is aswarm with young office workers, teen agers, and uniformed female high schoo students. Even pre-teens come for the movie and linger afterwards in respectable places like Mister Donut. (The shop, a huge split level establishment with rotating merry go-round horses and countertop jukebox selectors that don't accept coins, serve light meals in addition to confections. The background music is right out of American Graffiti). A popular hangout for young women who aren't selling themselves, exemplifies the "new" Kabuki-cho.

End Of An Era

The "old" Kabuki-cho makes no pretenses about its origins. It remains steadfast in its ways, popular among both young and old.

It's not Kabuki-cho's prurient interests which threaten its existence. It's the classic Tokyo bug-a-boo: the tidal wave of real estate dealings. Along with the decline in the older, cheaper watering spots is the the inexorable rise in land costs.

The relocation of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to an ultra-modern high rise headquarters in NishiShinjuku is expected to put additional pressure on Kabukicho to clean up its act.The irony is delicious to the critics of sensual fantasy. More than any feminist, Kabuki-cho's specter of doom is not an army of puritans, but a growing mob of real estate speculators.

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Update

The practice of nampa as it exists today, with young men openly standing on street corners and approaching women without any embarrassment, probably started in the 1970's, it was in this period that the phrase came into common use. The term comes from the late Meiji period, and was originally used to describe teenagers who could not control their sexual desires or associated too much with women, the soft faction, who were felt to be inferior to the hard faction, the more masculine, athletic boys (why the ones with strong sex drivers were not called the hard faction is a mystery however.