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2011 Trip Report - Allan Wicker - What I really did in Japan

What I Really Did  in Japan

by Allan Wicker , 2011

Ever since the Desert Explorers Newsletter ran a photo of  me seated with two young l women in a traditional restaurant in Fukuoka, Japan,  a couple of years ago, there has been a clamor to know just what I was doing  there. 

Well… it wasn’t really a clamor.  Actually, it was only one  telephone call, earlier today, from Neal Johns, asking me to give an account of  my activities for an article for the current Newsletter.  And, could I please do  it today?   If I didn’t, he said, he would spread all sort of scurrilous rumors  about me.   For those who don’t know Neal, this translates into “we really need  an article to help fill up the next Newsletter.”

One of my duties at Kyushu University was to advise several  graduate students on their research projects in environmental psychology.  One  student was studying a shopping street where street vendors sold fruits,  vegetables, flowers, and the like from carts that they wheeled in daily.  The  street was reserved for pedestrians during the day.   Among other things, the  student was interested in how the vendors and merchants having shops on the  street displayed their goods. 

Another student’s focus was the city’s entertainment  district, which came alive at night to provide food, drink, and a variety of  diversions for visitors to the area.  Among the other establishments are hostess  clubs and love hotels.  She and a friend gave me a tour of the area one night,  and told me a bit about what goes on there.  Hostess clubs are places where  groups of businessmen go to drink, converse with one another and with pretty  young hostesses who pamper them.    The sexual activity is pretty much limited  to conversation, I was told.  Each club has a mama-san, or chief hostess who  welcomes visitors and oversees the operation.  (I never entered such a place,  but did have my picture taken with a mama-san in front of one of them.)  Love  hotels rent luxurious rooms by the hour, and they tend to foster anonymity.  For  example, their entrances are usually obscured, and the person at the front desk  (if there is one) may be behind an opaque screen.   These places are said to  serve a variety of clients, including young couples living with their parents,  the people you’re thinking about, and groups who go there to watch sports events  on large screen TVs.   The student was investigating the network of support  services in the entertainment district. 

A student project that I visited, but did not assist on,  was the establishment of an afterschool activity center for children on a street  where small shops sold produce and everyday items.  At the center, children  could come and go as they wished, and engage in impromptu activities with one  another and with adults from the neighborhood. 

Of course I did a lot of other things in Japan, some of  which are reflected in the accompanying photo(s).