When I was getting my visa renewed a few days ago I also got my work permit renewed. This allows me to work part time, which isn't normally permitted on a student visa. I mainly need it for the editing and research jobs I do for some profs on occasion.
While the immigration official was explaining the limits of my work permit (can't work more than 28 hours per week, etc) he made a point of telling me I was not permitted to do any "fuzoku" work. This made me laugh out loud as "fuzoku" jobs are basically jobs in the sex industry. In other words he was warning me against working as a male prostitute.
Above: exactly the type of thing immigration officials are striving to keep out of Fukuoka.
Decidedly not reassured by my reaction, he drove home the point "Seriously. Don't work at Nakasu Soapland. It will be a violation of your work permit and you will risk deportation."
Looking down at my T-shirt and shorts from discount retailer Uniqlo, rubbing my 33 year old pot belly with one hand while running the other through my buzz-cut hair (1,000 yen at the mall) I thought of asking him what on earth made him think I was somehow the type of person who would be likely to find work in the sex industry. Realizing that no matter how I phrased it such a question would only lead to trouble I instead opted to meekly thank the official for his wise guidance and promise to refrain from embarking on any untoward career moves.
Afterward I kind of got to thinking with some amusement about the Nakasu district of Fukuoka. You know a neighborhood has a bad reputation if immigration officials are specifically enjoining foreign residents from working there by name as a condition of their getting a work permit.
As I've noted before Nakasu is the centre of Fukuoka's red light district. Its actually a small island separated by canals from the rest of the city (though you barely notice this when riding through). I have to cross through there on my way to and from downtown, though I've never really explored the area. Mainly this is because I'm a little scared of the place after dark - all sorts of aggressive and shady looking characters populate its sidewalks at night so I just zip on through.
Since I've been keeping this blog though I've really wanted to take a few pictures there because its the sort of thing you don't see back in Canada. As I was passing through at around 1 o'clock in the afternoon today and I thought everything was closed (and thus no aggressive/shady people around) I determined to take a quick spin through the streets of Nakasu. My trip revealed to me the folly of believing that Nakasu ever closes down.
The main street that I often cross, though almost never ride down, was in fact more or less empty:
The store fronts of hostess bars had pictures of the women who worked there and their rates. Hostess bars I should note are not a form of prostitution. They don't really have an equivalent in Canada. They are just bars where women work and their job is to pour drinks and laugh and listen to the stories of salarymen who want to feel like important guys:
I also stumbled across one of the weirder fads in Japan these days, maid cafes. To the best of my knowledge these are just normal cafes except the waitresses are dressed up as maids. The mere fact that places such as these exist just perplexes me to no end.
Men also work in Nakasu at places geared towards a female clientele:
If it hadn't been for the helpful warning from the kind immigration official, my face might have ended up on this billboard. I would probably have adopted the facial expression of the guy second from the left.
Up until this point I had just been riding along the main street, which was more or less empty in the middle of the afternoon. Emboldened by this I resolved to do a little cycling off the beaten track and into some of the interesting looking side streets. This turned out to be something of a mistake.
It turns out that the main street of Nakasu is just where the more pedestrian businesses are mostly located. The seedy, blatantly obvious brothels are located on the side streets. Or at least on the side street that I happened to ride down.
While riding the empty main street nobody had bothered me at all. The side street looked pretty quiet at first, but the very second my front tire crossed into it I was swarmed by the Japanese equivalent of pimps on all sides trying to get me into their establishments.
"Come and look at the pictures of my girls" said a middle-aged woman, running backwards in front of me "they are so beautiful."
"Come here, you'll have such a good time with my women" said an older man ambling over to me on the other side who could best be described as a Japanese version of Jack from "Father Ted":
It was all too much for an innocent boy from rural Ontario like me to take. "abdabadabeduh" I stammered, my face turning bright red, "heh-heh, no thank you.....heh".
I pedaled past the woman, desperate to find an exit to the bloody street. More pimps bellowed at me to come into their establishment. "No thank you" I said, smiling while desperately hoping not to run into anyone I knew, "I promised immigration I wouldn't."
Finally I came to the end of the street, which was at the canal that formed one of the borders of Nakasu. I spun around and took a picture of the street which, disappointingly, looks like just any other street in photo form.
Each of those shop fronts has a kind of "pimp" (not necessarily an accurate word to describe them, but I don't know of another that accurately conveys the meaning of "someone who stands on the street and looks for clients to have some sort of sexual service performed by a third party") sitting in front who springs into action the moment a person walks past.
Yet another seedy part of Fukuoka's urban fabric laid bare. With that I headed home.
Postscript (November 4, 2010):
Since I put this post up I've noticed that my blog has rather oddly started to get a lot more traffic than it used to. This got me curious.
Google blogger has a neat function that allows the person running the blog to know what search terms people entered into google in order to reach the blog. So for example if you reached my blog because you did a google search for "Fukuoka sightseeing" I would know that fact thanks to blogger.
Prior to putting up this post, I used to get a lot of visits by people looking for relatively innocent information about things like "Kyushu University information" or "Fukuoka travel" or something. After putting up this post, which regrettably has the word "sex" in the title, I started getting visitors of a different kind.
I won't put up any of the more imaginative search terms here (this is a family friendly blog after all) but suffice it to say that judging from some of them my blog and this post in particular seem to be getting visited by a class of people that I would generally characterize as "out of town businessmen looking for information about where they can procure the services of prostitutes during their stay in Fukuoka."
Now, I'm not a particularly judgmental kind of guy, but I have to say that I do not in any way want my blog to in any way be facilitating the sex trade. Its a brutal industry that promotes either directly or indirectly all sorts of bad things against vulnerable people - probably the most notorious being human trafficking. So I've gone through and edited out all the details of my trip so as to minimize its use for that purpose.
Fukuoka Night Rider
Embarrassing Google Searches and My Little Blog