Just south of Osaka Zoo is Tobita Shinchi, Japan’s largest prostitution district.
Technically, prostitution is against the law in Japan. These establishments pose as “restaurants”.
When I give visiting friends my Alternative Osaka tour, I take them to Tobita Shinchi and the homeless area just to the West.
Compared with Red Light districts in the West, this place has a safe, tidy ambience. The one thing you absolutely can’t do is take photographs.
When Google Streetview passed along the streets of Tobita Shinchi, it just happened — conveniently enough for the Japanese authorities — to be the early hours of New Year’s day 2010. Very few of the prostitutes were on show.
Nevertheless, a doorway here and there is visible. You can see the standard Tobita Shinchi presentation format: an older lady sitting in the door, beckoning customers, and the prostitute herself, sitting on a raised platform, lit from below in pink and white, surrounded often by lucky charms (maneki neko, flowers, toys, slippers, gifts).
Tobita Shinchi isn’t a sexy experience; I’m more likely to go skydiving than take one of these girls upstairs (11,000 yen for fifteen minutes, it says).
What interests me is the presentation. Just like the Chit-Chat magazine entry, the doorways of Tobita Shinchi present a series of variations on a distinctive theme.
Walking past the doorways, you feel as if you’re flipping through a calendar, or seeing a series of tableaux vivants trundle by on carnival floats.
While the panders beckon, the girls themselves seem spectral, reacting only minimally to passersby.
The low-angled lighting adds to the strange impression. The doorways of Tobita Shinchi are holographic portals to the ukiyo, Japan’s ancient floating world.