MATSUYAMA, Ehime Pref. – A strip club in the famous Dogo hot spring resort in western Japan has been forced to look to crowdfunding to ensure it can survive the coronavirus spread with tourists and longtime customers staying away.
The Japanese striptease industry has shrunk over the years, but New Dogo Music in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, has managed to stay afloat by changing the perception of its offerings.
It has sought to diversify its clientele by presenting itself as an attractive entertainment option for men and women from a wide age range.
"We want to keep the strip culture alive," said Koichiro Kimura, president of the theater's operator.
Once a strip club is gone, it cannot recover, New Dogo Music's website says, calling its culture "indispensable to hot spring resorts" in Japan and "necessary for entertainment."
The dancers live on the theater's second floor when they are not traveling the country to perform, and the venue itself stands mere steps from Dogo Onsen Honkan, the first public bathhouse in Japan designated as an important cultural asset, and among various eateries.
The theater, which is believed to be the last of its kind in the Shikoku region, has stood in the same place for about 50 years, having undergone various name changes.
Around 40 seats surround a circular stage, which is linked to the main stage by the hanamichi, or a kind of catwalk extending into the audience usually seen in a kabuki theater.
Kimura took over as the club's manager from a friend around 15 years ago. As many other strip clubs in Japan closed, he tried to drum up business through a trial and error process.
"In order to survive, we tried to clean up our image so more women could enjoy our shows," the 55-year-old said.
The theater has worked toward including unique events, such as "nude art" where an artist paints dancers, as well as band and horror shows with other performers, which have helped expand its customer base.
The theater even installed toilets for female crowd members for the first time two years ago.
However, New Dogo Music continued to struggle to make headway as costs associated with maintaining the aging building piled up.
When the business put the call out for help, around ¥2.4 million ($22,200) in donations flowed in from 169 people, allowing the building to be spruced up.
But just as the theater had been whipped into its best shape in years, the novel coronavirus struck.
With people worried about falling ill with the COVID-19 disease, the theater's clientele dried up and led management to decide to temporarily close from March 30 due to the risk of spreading the infection.
With no government compensation to ride out the storm, and concerned about how it would pay its dancers' salaries and maintenance costs, New Dogo Music turned to crowdfunding.
It hopes to reach its target amount of ¥5.5 million by mid-June when it will end the push.
As of late April, it has already received more than ¥3.6 million from some 150 people, of which half were women.
"My heart was almost broken numerous times, but we are so thankful," said Kimura. "We just don't want to turn out the lights."