JAPANESE ONLYIn Ikebukuro, along a street lined with ladies offering "messaji," I saw stairs leading down into a sort of club or restaurant. Above the door below, a sign, in clear black Roman letters - "JAPANESE ONLY."
All over urban Japan, neon backlit signs promote small clubs in the upper floors of short narrow business buildings. If you feel like a massage, or paying a $70 cover charge to have some drinks, you are lead to believe you will be surrounded by lythe ladies for your chatting pleasure.
After a few hours of wandering Roppongi and chatting with the street level sex peddlers, I decided to take my camera and notepad indoors. The Bunny's Club stood out no more than any other club; since there were two or three young Japanese blokes on their way up in the elevator, I figured I would join them.
They couldn't have been much older than my 26 years - we all seemed to be young professional men. They didn't talk, they looked uneasily at each other, and then at me. I didn't press any buttons, I stood with my back to the elevator door, my eyes on them, waiting to go wherever they were headed. On the 4th floor, the doors opened into a rather nice interior - low lights, almond covered walls, some wood panelling visible down the hall.
They started to make some awkward noise. I turned and strode out of the elevator down the hallway. In the distance I spied a small Japanese gal in a bunny getup bending over a table, serving drinks to a few young seated Japanese dudes. Plenty of lightrope, towards the ceiling.
the long arm
One of the young men from the elevator approached me from behind. He was shorter than I, shorter than some of the others, and just a touch wider in the face. He wore a light gray scarf, looked like cashmere. He positioned himself between me and the promised land. Holding his hand up to my chest, he said with some accent, "Sorry, Japanese only."
"What do you mean Japanese only? I'm cool, I have money!" (At least one of those statements was true).
"This club for Japanese Only." He seemed sorry to be presenting incontrovertable fact. Confident perhaps that a language barrier would prevent explanation. And sure that the situation would become so obvious to me that I would be sorry too, and I would leave without a fuss. I can't imagine what would have gone down otherwise.
I protested some, boasting of my own Japanese qualities, all the while realizing that a tall white dude in a yellow suit jacket arguing with young men in broken English for access to their club after midnight was fruitless, and it prevented any possible stealth participation or observation on my part. I returned to the street, wanting to cooperate with their smoothness by not further upsetting the seemingly sophisticated presentation of the club. I waved goodbye to the incredulous but smiling men in the hallway, resisted the urge to photograph the scene, and returned to the street to continue consorting with the people who would deign sell me pleasure.
night and day
Clearly they didn't want my money; they preferred to keep their club familiar and insular. I wonder if any of those young men thought later with some regret, "Gee, maybe we missed out on the chance to hang out and share our culture with a freak foreigner!"
Should I expect that I would be welcome at the Bunny's Club, or at the Capsule Hotel for that matter? If a Japanese young man pulled in to north central Nebraska and sat down alone at the Range cafe, he would get a lot of looks, a menu in English only, and maybe some strange comments. Most all friendly, but some somehow pushy. I guess there are places in all countries where foreigners aren't welcome. I don't remember too many foreigner-unfriendly places in Honduras, but I didn't go out at night; I stayed away from whorehouses and nightclubs after I saw gunplay at the first club I visited. A foreigner going out at night is like a fish swimming towards Tsukiji.
sex in the balance
Here some sex was in the balance. The young man's hand at my chest perfectly prevented me from courting his race of ladies in his presence, if you call big tipping for watery drinks served by wage-earning women courting.I wonder if it would be much different if either a Japanese kid or myself showed up at a place like the Player's Club Ice Cube chronicled. Some folks might stop us at the door and tell us "we didn't belong." Perhaps true bravery lies in crossing those lines, stepping over the threshold across a racist arm and buying everyone a round of drinks and ending up with a pair of panties on your head. Optimistic and difficult. "Gentlemen's Clubs" are places men go to feel some power, to feel attended to. Strangers, foreigners, they intrude on our security and illusion of having power over this limited domain. Perhaps.
Someday I want to learn some serious Japanese, or grab a Japanese buddy and head back to the Bunny's Club for some answers.