Is Shibuya Tokyo's new sin city?

Since the tightening of regulations against fuuzoku sex industry businesses in Shinjuku’s Kabuki-cho last year, there have been voices of concern about whether or not the neighborhood will lose its character along with its seedy image.

And it now may have a new competitor. Adult-themed businesses have been sprouting up in the Shibuya area over the past few years as the ever-changing cityscape has begun to take on a pink glow from these:

Two men walk past a "free information center" on Shibuya's Dogenzaka. The sign advertises aroma relaxation, ¥4,000 for 40 minutes.
Two men walk past a "free information center" on Shibuya's Dogenzaka. The sign advertises aroma relaxation, ¥4,000 for 40 minutes.

Once known as the teen-fashion capital of Asia, Shibuya is being slowly overrun by muryo annai-sho, or “information centers” that are the new gateways to adult entertainment.  While the Tokyo Police Metropolitan Police Department has focused its efforts on Shinjuku ward, the Shibuya flesh merchants have taken up residence in this relatively overlooked area–just as they have done in Akihabara and Uguisuidani.  Shibuya, because of its reputation as a teen mecca, also tends to attract a certain type of Japanese man with a fetish for young, and even underage women–so called loli-con or “lolita complex bearing men.”

A "free information center" providing locations of adult entertainment businesses lies on a heavily-trafficked street.
A "free information center" providing locations of adult entertainment businesses lies on a heavily-trafficked street.
An information center lights up the area near Shibuya station 24-hours a day.
An information center lights up the area near Shibuya station in the middle of the afternoon.
Pedestrians pass a "free information center" on Shibuya's Dogenzaka.
Pedestrians pass a "free information center" on Shibuya's Dogenzaka.

These information centers provide information on local sex services, from cabaret and strip clubs to massage parlors, soaplands and other “fashion health” businesses, as well as often serve as a reception center for “delivery health” call-girl services. They may also offer discount tickets for these businesses, earning the name “ticket centers” or chike-sen.

A symbol with two hands and an "18" -- Japan's legal age -- indicate an adults-only business in Shibuya's Dogenzaka area.
A symbol with two hands and an "18" -- Japan's legal age -- indicate an adults-only business in Shibuya's Dogenzaka area.

While some sources say the sex business has been on the rise here since the days of Koizumi, others insist the industry has gotten big more recently, making Shibuya the third-largest fuuzoku capital in Tokyo behind Shinjuku and Ikebukuro.

“They came into the neighborhood earlier this year,” reported one university student working part-time at an izakaya near Shibuya station of the men whose job it is to lure male customers in to cabaret clubs. “I use the Inokashira Line, and on most nights there will be about 10 of them just standing around outside the ticket gates. At first I thought it was scary, but then they started coming to our izakaya and we got to know them.”

An adults-only sign decorates a doorway across from Shibuya station.
An adults-only sign decorates a doorway across from Shibuya station.

Police patrols of the area are also on the rise, with a visible police presence in the Dogenzaka area from the afternoon and on into the night. “There’s more police around nowadays. They walk around asking people what they do for a living and why they’re loitering around,” the girl said.

There are some that are not convinced of the effectiveness of the authorities, however. Said a convenience store owner near Shibuya’s infamous Love Hotel Hill, “You see more cops out there, but I think they’re just keeping up appearances instead of trying to crack down on illegal businesses.”

Since 2006, authorities have been cracking down on the presence of muryo annai-sho by limiting the areas in which they can be opened and restricting their use of signage and photos of “service providers.” The enforcement of these regulations could be questioned when look down through the Dogenzaka area.

One of Shibuya's largest "free information centers" blends into the background on Dogenzaka.
One of Shibuya's largest "free information centers" blends into the background on Dogenzaka.

One of Shibuya's largest "free information centers" blends into the background on Dogenzaka.
One of Shibuya's largest "free information centers" blends into the background on Dogenzaka.
A sign advertising a "Bali-style body wash" by Japanese girls with an average age of 23, ¥4,000 for 40 minutes.
A sign advertising a "Bali-style body wash" by Japanese girls with an average age of 23, ¥4,000 for 40 minutes.

Although some have voiced their suspect, it is not clear if the ownership of these landmark-like guidance centers belongs to one organization. Nor is it known if the Vegas-like pink pet shop sharing one of the buildings is independently owned or another source of income for a company looking to branch out.

Shoppers enter an illuminated pet shop next to a "free information center" on Dogenzaka.
Shoppers enter an illuminated pet shop next to a "free information center" on Dogenzaka.
Passerbys look at animals at an illuminated pet shop next to a "free information center" on Dogenzaka.
Passerbys look at animals at an illuminated pet shop next to a "free information center" on Dogenzaka.

10 thoughts on “Is Shibuya Tokyo's new sin city?”

  1. I think Shibuya has gotten seedier in the last 8 or 9 years. I have noticed the Soapland behind the koban/police box near Tokyu Hands for a few years though, and many similar places were listed in Manzoku magazine (my friend showed me in 2003), and I was shocked that these types of places exist on every station on the Yamanote line.

    Also if you keep going up Dogenzaka near the Hakata ramen shop and 7-11, you will likely be offered a massage.

  2. Stupid question, but do these kind of businesses accept foreign customers? I’m not interested in visiting this kind of establishment but I always understood that they were strictly for Japanese only. However I briefly lived in Japan a few years back, and while walking down the street I sometimes had people from what seemed to be these kind of establishments try and lure me inside. However my japanese is extremely limited, and it was probably likely it was just some sort of club offering extremely over priced drinks and so on.

    Being a foreigner in Japan you never quite know what kind of reception you are going to get. I’ve had the tissue handing out people suddenly snatch the tissues away when they noticed I wasn’t japanese.

  3. Antonio- If they want you, they will come ask you. Otherwise you probably are not a desired customer, unless you are with Japanese friends.

    Beyond the progression of all this in Shibuya I feel more and more, even monthly, that Shinjuku has a shifting dynamic that is more like Roppongi. A lot more foreign friendly clubs both for dancing and for “meeting” women seem to have come up in the last year or two, far more than I saw 3 or 4 years ago, anyway. Even the legit customer traffic in foreign friendly bar’s looks different than it used too.
    My friend’s and I get much more unwanted attention from both “catchers” and from women working the street in Kabukichou than we do in Shibuya, but it was not so much like that just a couple year’s ago.

  4. @Jake, inre: Pet Shops

    I heard the pets shops here in Shibuya, in Kabukicho, and probably in Ikebukuro too now, are a sort of scam hostess girls pull on their customers. The dogs can costs a couple thousand bucks or more, so hostess who are able to talk a customer into buying them one of these god-forsaken creatures as a gift or birthday present can make a quite profit by selling the dog back to the pet shop. This is also why you’ll find pawn shops of luxury bags in these same areas.

  5. I’ve been living on the outskirts of Tokyo for three years now. What I can say is that from my own eyes as well from what I’ve seen on the internet fuzoku is available at nearly every major train station although it’s not nearly as prolific as cabarets are. Anyone living in Japan who can read even a little Japanese can see this.

    One thing I must point out is that the big cities in Kyushu (Miyazaki), Hokkaido and the Tohoku region are just as seedy, if not more than anything I’ve seen in Tokyo thus far.

    Perhaps they are just more open about it since fewer foreign eyes are watching or perhaps they just need the cash more in the countryside.

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