Karen’s father never had any reason to go into her bedroom closet. Whenever he stayed at his daughter’s Tokyo apartment while on business trips, she always told him not to bother putting away the futon in the morning and unfailingly reminded him not to touch anything.
But before leaving one recent morning, he pointedly told her she “needed to get one of those closet doors fixed.”
“If he knew the door was broken, he must have opened it, so he must know what’s inside,” said Karen, 24, her dark, fiery eyes as elusive as the smoke being wafted from her cigarette. “But he never asked me about what’s inside. If only he had. I wanted to tell him; I wanted him to know, because I don’t have any hangups.”
The contents of her wardrobe may explain her father’s silence. They include rope, leather whips, handcuffs, vibrators, “penis bands,” tubes and a pair of thigh-high stiletto-heeled leather boots — just some of the gear that goes with Karen’s work as a dominatrix, or mistresss, better known in Japan as joosama (queen).
Karen (her “queen” name) said her interest in sadomasochism stemmed from a taste for “bondage fashion” she developed as a teenager. “Subconsciously I had an interest even then . . . But to be dominated or draw human blood, stick needles in human flesh, tubes down men’s urinary tract, that kind of thing — no. Not this country girl.”
However, when she moved from Tohoku to Tokyo at age 19 to enroll at a fashion design school, Karen soon became involved with a man whose sexual tendencies helped her realize her penchant as a dominatrix. “One day he said he wanted to play SM. He told me I was the M . . . It hurt like hell, but I went along with it for a while, just thinking it was my destined role.
“Then one day I resisted . . . I realized that mentally I was probably more S than M, and that I wanted to reverse the roles. So I found an SM chat room on the Net, corresponded with an M for a while and arranged to meet up. I played out my new role. I loved it.”
In order to become “more accomplished,” Karen started working at an SM club. “The mistress who took me under her wing, there was nothing she wouldn’t do, so I learned a lot and quickly. There were a variety of clients — salaried workers, company presidents, government officials, all with their own individual needs,” she says, adjusting her gaudy tube top.
“I soon learned that the stereotyped image of a mistress I’d read about or seen in films — the whip, the leather boots, the loud voice — was only half the truth. We do some pretty sick things.”
Also unlike the stereotype image, Karen insists no terrible traumas made her the way she is. “My childhood was really happy,” she says. “I was a popular child, raised in a shamefully happy family.”
But then, in a way confirming many people’s preconceptions, she adds, “I never had the heart to tell this to my ‘queen’ friends, because a lot of them tell stories of how they were abused as children or were brought up without a father.”
However, since she started to give free rein to her latent preferences, Karen admits there have been setbacks in her life. Although sexual relations soon became dependent on understanding or like-minded partners, her inclinations in the end accounted for her recent divorce after a three-year marriage.
“Of course my former husband knew I was a ‘queen.’ There was no jealousy and he never objected, which is why I thought it could work,” she says. “But for me SM has never been just work. It’s like a hobby. It’s part of my natural disposition, which created an obstacle for us as a couple: I simply wasn’t interested in regular sex.”
Since the breakup, Karen has shared an apartment with her two younger brothers, who recently moved to Tokyo. She cooks and washes for them, and pays the rent. They both know what she does, but she is not concerned about whether or not she is influencing them. “I found one of them being tied up by a ‘queen’ friend when we had a party at the apartment once. He was drunk, so I took some photos to remind him,” she says with a laugh. “But they are adults, they can decide for themselves. If I tell them we’re of the same blood and that they are probably just like me underneath, they get pissed.”
The enjoyment factor in her work, she admits, is difficult to pinpoint, especially as some of her clients are not exactly turn-ons.
“Right from the start, I never thought it was a drag or anything. Of course, there are some clients I simply cannot stand the sight of. I get them to wear a mask and wrap their bodies in cling film. Even then, it’s both weird and fun to see the pleasure I can give them. “And that, in a sense, is part of the enjoyment. I am fulfilling their desires and they mine. It makes me feel immensely happy that there is someone who will play along with me. I am their ‘queen.’ “
Since learning her trade at the club, Karen has broken away and set up on her own. “I didn’t want to end up like many of the more senior ‘queens’ there who don’t know and cannot do any other work. They are, quite simply, socially unfit.”
Now she usually does about four or five sessions a week with clients who contact her through the Internet and pay her up to 20,000 yen an hour for her services. She also designs Web pages for private clients in similar lines of work and has a part-time job with a magazine publishing company as an adviser for SM-related stories. This is all in preparation for when she finishes being a “queen.”
“I’ll probably carry on as long as I have people who appreciate my service, or I continue finding pleasure in it myself. But, some day I want to marry again. I want to have children.”