In the wake of the September murder of a 22-year-old university student by a man she met at a deai kissa, or matchmaking cafe, the Mainichi ran an article (Japanese here) that takes a look inside the very same venue where the pair met. The cafe is still running business as usual, still turning a blind eye to the interactions between customers in their “meeting rooms”. The Mainichi article gives attention to two potential sides of the deai kissa coin, interviewing both a woman who waits for a customer looking to negotiate, and another who visits to escape the doldrums of life as a telephone receptionist.
But what really goes on in a deai kissa? Are the clubs as management makes them out to be–innocuous meeting places for would-be couples–with a stray shady deal happening now and then, or are they knowingly operated as hotbeds for prostitution?
On the surface, they seem like a great way to take the pains and awkwardness out of dating for a society that has become infamous for its timid youth who are reluctant to kill “the wa”. Everything takes place with the cafe staff as mediators. Men can observe unseen from behind glass. Women wait to be chosen, then reject at will without having to say anything directly.
A look online into discussions of the cafes and deai kissa portal sites paints a mixed picture. There is overwhelming yet, for the most part unspoken, implication that these matchmaking cafes are not for those looking to meet members of the opposite sex for simply lunch and karaoke.
Photos of women feature prominently on sites, with many displaying page after page of headless ladies, often claiming that this visit to the kissa is their first experience. Similar lineups of men are nowhere to be found, leading one to believe that free entry and the chance to be ogled by strangers through one-sided windows is enough for women to flock in droves.
One portal site, deai-cafe.net, gives gratuitous PR to certain cafes through contrived conversations with, and lecherous photos of, women who are supposedly just there to blow a few hours talking to strangers.
Although a bit dated, this YouTube video does little to conceal the assumed intention of a visit to a deai kissa: booty.
On his visit to “Cafe de Ai Ai” in Ueno, Abe-san learns how the system works. When he becomes a member of the cafe–a requirement for men using most deai kissa–he holds up the membership card with a grin, the words “passport to sex” flashed below. If you can make it through all the terrible muzak, you see the owner and Abe-san chuckling about a “short engagement” some couples have, and how the possibility of meeting someone (for sex) for much higher than just going up to someone on the street.
Other videos, especially those taken “undercover” and by the cafes themselves are slightly more explicit. In some cases the view pans across a room of waiting women, lingering on the sexy bits. In others, daringly short skirts and low necklines are prostrated in front of the camera. Some have two-way mirrors both above and below the belt, giving men a worms-eye view of stocking-clad ladies seated on high stools.
Despite all this, there is nothing explicitly illegal or wrong about what the cafes are doing. Most allow only those over 18 to enter–in line with the NPA regulations set to take effect in January–and there is no money changing hands in-store. While they may serve as venues to find a quick fling, on the surface its nothing more than a bunch of randy-but-shy adults going about their business.
Below those waters is a different story, however. For one, men don’t have it that easy. The Abe-san video above mentions sakura, or women who work for an establishment secretly, agreeing to go on a date in order to get men to pay the 3,000 to 5,000 yen necessary to take her out then buggering off soon after, or getting a free meal and giving bogus contact information. Likewise, there are women who are habitual deai kissa users known as kaiten-jo, getting free meals or entertainment then extorting money for transportation from their dates before heading back and repeating the process.
This video touches on such kaiten-jo, and explains how high school girls are freely allowed in and out of many establishments despite the fact that minors are technically prohibited. Some cafes split waiting areas into under- and over-18, providing a space where teenagers can go to read manga and eat snacks for free while allowing men to peek up their skirts from the other side of the mirror. One girl says she can get around 20,000 yen from a day at a deai kissa, while a friend has gotten up to 50,000 yen before. Educational analyst Naoki Ogi is interviewed, saying that an estimated 80 percent of men visit matchmaking cafes looking to buy sex. This cafe even uses a high school girl as advertising to attract customers.
Yet there is little hard evidence that these cafes are being used as places to pick up prostitutes, underage or not. A number of people do seem to be using deai kissa for their original intention based on the amount of sites warning against sakura and kaiten-jo. With revisions to the adult-entertainment laws in January putting deai kissa in the same category as love hotels and soaplands, a crackdown on minors in the cafes may succeed in stamping out the problem there, but simply drive enjo-kosai activities to another place.