We at the Atlas Obscura were lucky enough to be contacted by an intrepid explorer by the name of Michael John Grist.Located in Japan, Grist explores and photographs the ruins of Japan, known as haikyo, including abandoned theme parks, military installations, and ghost towns. Over a period of 6 years he has visited over 60 ruins locations throughout Japan and documented them in the Ruins Gallery.
So with out further ado we are proud to present Michael John Grist with five ruins of the Japanese Sex Industry.
‘Haikyo’ is a Japanese term that means ‘ruin.’
To ‘go on a haikyo’ involves heading out to an abandoned building and exploring the heck out of it, documenting it with photographs, and quite possibly posting the results in a book or magazine.
In Japan haikyo are more popular than ever, with something like two new books of haikyo photography released each month. These typically feature a broad swathe of ruins types- theme parks, ghost towns, haunted hospitals, resort hotels, and ruins of the sex industry, places abandoned after the 80’s economic bubble burst and neglected for the lost decade of the 90’s.
Now let’s look at some of those places in ruin.
Love Hotels’ are a lot like roadside motels, designed with the express purpose of facilitating ‘relations’ between Japanese couples who still live at home, and have no access to a bedroom away from their parents. They are often cheap, and come in a variety of wacky ‘flavors’, decorated in garish hues, with flashing lights, hot tubs, and handy vending machines stocking contraceptives and other toys. You can take a ‘REST’ at a love hotel - one hour, cheap rate - or enjoy a full STAY - up to eight hours and more expensive.
The Akasaka Love Hotel Haikyo in Tokyo reminds us of the importance of that old adage: location location location. Situated at the far end of a strip of Love Hotels on the Lake Tama ring road, its clear this place suffered for lack of passing traffic. Now its forecourt and parking lot are bouldered with rotten 80s styled furniture, burnt-out cars, and avalanches of mounded pillows. Inside, its gaudy rooms still sing of forbidden pleasures, the walls plastered with bright helios, lurking cheetahs, and naked Bathshebas, though I doubt any lusty couples have joined in their bawdy chorus for some time.
‘Soaplands’ are descended from Turkish water brothels, places where the hard-working Japanese salaryman can go to get himself soaped down by a young and nimble nymph. After protestations from the Russian Embassy the name was changed to Soapland. The legality of these places is much in question, with a wider range of deeds considered legal than you might expect. Due to this semi-legality, the places are often run by ;’yakuza’- Japanese gangsters, situated in red-light districts.
The Queen Chateau Soapland Haikyo in Ibaraki is at once a grand but squalid folly. A bath-based brothel rising 5 fairy-tale stories into the sky, cornered with towers and capped with bright red tile, it represents an era gone mad with indulgence, audacity, and hopefulness. Now it lies in crippled ruin, its bright colors fading, its halycon days of glamor and glitz surplanted by ghost-like hangings in its dim and dusty bars. Its grand playing-card Queen still stands aloft emblazoned across the front of the building, but her stare is now more that of the toothless Ozymandius than a haughty mademoiselle.
‘Hostess Bars’ are bars where men pay to be flirted with. Attractive women sit by them, pour them drinks, stroke their thighs, pay them compliments, and can make a fortune from big-spenders seeking to impress the girls with the most expensive champagne and caviar.
The Akeno Gekijo haikyo in Ibaraki is something of an oddity in Japan, as one of only a few actual strip clubs. Of course there are similar venues; hostess bars, soaplands, love hotels, but they each cater to a slightly different crowd and provide a slightly different flavor of tawdry service. To find a straight-up strip club complete with central podium, viewing seats, and dancing poles seems a feat beyond expectation. But there it is, on a small back-road in a quiet rural area surrounded by bamboo, half-burnt to the ground and buzzing with mosquitoes.
The Hotel Royal haikyo in Kanagawa is the grand-daddy of all love hotels, streaking 7 empty stories up into the big blue sky, a giant vermillion flag on the banks of Sagamiko Lake calling out to all and sundry in a mega-watt alto - Need some discreet time alone with your loved one? Come on down!
The ruined hotel has 7 floors with around 35 rooms of varying sizes was presumably targeted at married men and women on surreptitious affairs, looking for an out of the way place where they wouldn’t be seen conducting their illicit liaisons. Obviously not enough of these wayward husbands and wives came to this love hotel as it now stands in ruins.
The Pearl Love Hotel Haikyo in Tochigi is a wreck in camouflage, deeply nested underneath a blanket of scraggy brown vines. Rooms lie in embers, grown through with ferns; once-bohemian beds, chaise longues and chandeliers lie scrapped, dropped, and despoiled with the nests of birds, spiders, and the homeless. The grand two-story executive suite still maintains some of its sordid gravitas, its sultry red round-bedded apex room as faux-regal as ever, now overlooking a graveyard of spent passion inveigled by natures rapacious tendrils.
Editor’s Note: That’s it for now, keep your eye out for more Haikyo from Michael John Grist coming up on the Atlas soon! - Dylan
An interview with him about haikyo will appear in the British print magazine Kindred Spirit early 2010. His photography/guidebook Ruins / Haikyo Exploring Japans Abandonment’s is currently seeking publication. You can see all of MJG’s haikyo explorations in the ruins/haikyo gallery on his website.