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Explicit porn pamphlets on display for all to see in Japan’s hotels

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This week’s topic comes courtesy of M.J., who contacted Lifelines after her experience at a Tokyo hotel. M.J.’s school-age son was competing in a national children’s event that weekend and the family had chosen to stay at the hotel conveniently located next door to the event hall. However, M.J. was far from impressed by what they found in their room:

There was a very explicit porn pamphlet set on the desk right along with the ones on how to connect to the Internet and how to use the TV. The room was extremely hot, so I looked for how to call the front desk. As there was nothing next to or on the phone, I looked over at the desk. On a stand was a guide to using the internet, the TV and an adult videos guide with explicit photos and even English words like “f—-.”

While M.J. is no stranger to the fact that many Japanese hotels have adult videos, she found it highly inappropriate for the guide to be displayed so prominently. Moreover, the hotel was “full of families” that particular weekend, she says, who had all come for the same event in which her son was participating. Since the event hall is associated with the hotel, the staff certainly knew to expect lots of youngsters that weekend.

The facility in question is one of the Meilparqe hotels, a mid-to-upper-range chain that offers special plans for women, couples and families on its website. M.J. also points out there is a “children stay free” plan, and that the chain promotes itself as family-friendly.

M.J. addressed the issue with the hotel’s manager.

“He listened well to my concerns and did say that he and the hotel would consider the situation to see what they could do to better accommodate guests,” she says. “He actually thanked me for bringing it to their attention. They hadn’t even though about it before.”

This last statement sums up the situation in a nutshell. Adult video channels are so commonplace in Japanese hotels that most establishments probably never consider they could be a problem for certain guests.

In order to get a feel for management’s position, I called Meilparque’s head office and spoke to a staff member from corporate affairs. He listened politely but didn’t seem to consider it a problem.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time someone has complained about the adult channel guides in the room. We are certainly not the only hotel that offers such channels,” he noted. In fact, some 90 percent of establishments in the Tokyo Hotel Business Group offer adult entertainment guides in their rooms somewhere. I suggested that perhaps a hotel that attracts many families should give more careful consideration to where they place these guides, and that was the extent of the conversation.

In a country where pornographic magazines are easily viewable at any convenience store, it is easy to shrug and say, “Well, this is Japan and it’s the norm here — get used to it.” However, the number of foreign visitors to the country continues to climb, and Japan is eager to attract even more ahead of the 2020 Olympics. Moreover, how does “porn as the norm” in the country’s hotels align with the Abe administration’s oft-quoted goal of creating a Japan “where all women shine?”

Someone who knows about trying to change ingrained attitudes to pornographic images is Matthew Apple, one of a group of parents who took part in an email campaign to try and stop Amazon Japan and Rakuten hosting third-party sales of photo albums featuring underage children in sexually suggestive poses. Some months afterwards, the Japanese police conducted raids on Amazon’s offices and were investing the situation. (More details can be found on Apple’s blog: bit.ly/amazonpornjapan.)

“Japan is well known as a world hub of child porn and porn in general,” Apple says. “I was accused of being a ‘prude’ online by anonymous commenters, who demanded that I not foist my ‘Western morals’ on Japan. As a father of two, I felt (and still feel) an ethical obligation to speak out. And there are fathers everywhere. I seriously doubt they’d want to stay in a hotel with porn cards out in the open for their kids to see,” he notes. “If Japan wants families to visit from overseas, it had better clean up its act.”

While nobody is accusing the business hotels of promoting underage porn or doing anything illegal, the issues are not unrelated. Ironically, around the same time that M.J.’s query came to Lifelines, a Japanese friend told me she had signed up for a scheme that roughly translates as “Committee Member to Protect Youth and Promote a Pure Environment.” Upon further investigation, I found out this is a nationwide program run by police stations, with volunteers who check out their local businesses to ensure that kids are not exposed to undesirable influences. Perhaps that list should also include business hotels.

Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for the NHK Nodo Jiman show, among other things. Your questions and other comments: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp