National / Media | BIG IN JAPAN

Media whips up fuss over S&M bar claim

by Mark Schreiber

Special To The Japan Times

First came what the tabloids referred to as “W-jinin,” the resignations of two female Cabinet members — Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi and Justice Minister Midori Matsushima — on the same day.

The “W” in this case conveys two nuances: the first being “double,” and the second as the initial letter in the word “women.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s placid composure and quick response in nominating Yoichi Miyazawa as Obuchi’s replacement won him a temporary respite from media critics. But within three days Kyodo News discovered that, buried in Miyazawa’s political fund report for 2010, was an entry dated Sept. 6 for an outlay of ¥18,230 to Mazan, a bar that features sadomasochistic sex shows in Hiroshima’s Naka Ward.

Miyazawa himself appears blameless, telling reporters he had “never even heard of the place.” While the public seems inclined to take him at his word, that hasn’t kept the media from nicknaming him the “SM METI Minister” (METI being the acronym for the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry).

The blogosphere was nevertheless determined to have fun with the latest revelation. One wag described the bar expenditure as having been for the purpose of “SM seiji katsudo,” coining a pun by substituting the kanji for “seiji” in seiji katsudo (political activities) with the kanji for “seiji” (sexual) to create “sexual activities.”

Yukan Fuji (Oct. 25) reported that Mazan has been in business for over 10 years and has, up to now, managed to stay out of the headlines.

“It’s a cozy place combining cubicles and a counter, that seats about 16,” one of the bar’s regular patrons tells the tabloid, adding that two or three female performers typically make use of candles and whips in their S&M shows.

The shows, performed twice each evening, last 15 and 30 minutes. At some events, participation by up to three customers is permitted.

“Customers aren’t allowed to touch the girls, and no nudity is involved,” the patron says. “Male customers are billed ¥4,000 for all they can drink, and females ¥2,000. The ¥18,230 receipt issued to Miyazawa’s office is likely to have covered several customers.”

“It appears that a staff member of Miyazawa’s office in his 40s accompanied four other people,” a local news reporter tells Shukan Shincho (Nov. 6). “SM establishments have long been famous for exercising discretion. For that reason, they are favored by academics, politicians, company owners and the like. As they are specialized places, what goes on inside doesn’t get leaked out into the social mainstream.”

“Submitting a receipt from an SM bar and then admitting to it — that’s got to be some kind of joke, right?” countered rakugo comedian “Black” Kairakutei, adding that “Such a staff member is a simpleton.”

“From the very start of his entry into the Cabinet, minister Miyazawa was spanked and strung up by the opposition. You might say it exposed his masochistic bent,” Shukan Shincho concluded, tongue-in-cheek.

During Diet deliberations on Oct. 28, meanwhile, Democratic Party of Japan member Makiko Kikuta remarked that she found it “repulsive” just to speak the word “SM bar” out loud.

Upon hearing this, J-Cast News (Oct. 29) leaped into the fray, mounting a spirited defense of the S&M trade. It went so far as to imply that such enthusiasts represent a “sexual minority” in their own right and that it’s discriminatory to vilify them.

Some commenters agreed.

“This betrays Kikuta’s mind-set that one occupation is better than another,” said one commenter.

“It shows her total contempt for the people who work in such places — it’s hate speech,” complained another.

A third pointed out: “How can she know? Calling it ‘repulsive,’ might lead some people to conclude it means she has been to one.”

During a broadcast on Fuji TV, entertainer Hitoshi Matsumoto offered Kikuta some advice: “Before you criticize such things, you ought to go there first and see what an SM bar is.”

While no official data concerning Japan’s S&M industry are known to exist, a “white paper on Japan’s underground economy” authored by economic analyst Takashi Kadokura in 2003 gave the number of S&M clubs, show pubs and lounges in the country as 454, with 59 such establishments concentrated in Tokyo’s Gotanda district alone. Kadokura’s figures, while dated, estimated the nationwide average turnover in the rough trade at ¥12 billion a month.

All things said, when it comes to politicians swilling at the public till, an ¥18,230 tab for a naughty night on the town in Hiroshima back in 2010 pales in comparison to outlays by some of the Liberal Democratic Party’s big guns.

Nikkan Gendai (Oct. 30) reported allegations that no less a figure than Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso is given to indulge in nights on the town at pricey Ginza clubs such as “Yumi” and “Maiko,” for which he has claimed reimbursement. On the evening of April 1, 2011 — while Japan was still reeling from the catastrophic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that devastated Tohoku three weeks earlier — Aso allegedly dropped a total of ¥1,268,245 at four different establishments in Roppongi and Ginza, though he and his party weren’t in power at the time. In all, the tabloid reported, Aso has tapped into the fund for some ¥7 million over the past three years.

Nikkan Gendai also alluded to ongoing investigations into the misuse of political funds by three more members of Abe’s Cabinet. This tsunami of revelations may have yet to reach its crest.

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