Japan’s Soapland

Soaplands came about in Japan when prostitution was made illegal there in 1958. It was a bath service where women washed men’s bodies.

Soapland sign.| Yo Jimbo

Many foreigners such as Chinese, East Asians, and Koreans frequented brothels in Japan during the 15th century. This practice continued with Westerners, mostly European traders. This began with the arrival of Portuguese ships to Japan during the 16th century. The Japanese initially thought that the Portuguese were from Tenjiku (天竺, “Heavenly Abode”), the historical East Asian name for India due to its significant importance as the birthplace of Buddhism, and that Christianity was a new “Indian Faith.” This was the initial thought of the Japanese because the Indian state of Goa was the central base for the Portuguese East Indian Company and many of the crew members of the Portuguese ships were Indian Christians.

Soapland. | Richard Cawood

Soapland (ソープランド sōpurando), or sōpu is derived from the words soap and land and is a part of Japan’s evening entertainment industry. It was derived from the Turkish water brothels, where hard-working Japanese men would go to get themselves bathed by young women.  Soaplands were formerly known as toruko-buro, meaning Turkish bath. Turkish scholar Nusret Sancaklı began a campaign in 1984 denouncing the use of the term and winning a nationawide contest to rename them, hence changing it to Soapland.

Soaplands are usually run by the Japanese mafia or Yakuza and are often situated in Japan’s redlight district.  There are also soaplands specifically catering to female clientele. Prices in Sopalands vary depending on location, rank of provider, time of day and length of session. A once grand establishment, the Queen Chateau Soapland Haikyo, (haikyo, meaning ruins in Japanese), in Ibaraki stands abandoned, a testament to the follies of the flesh. It is a five-story fairytale themed building that is reminiscent of an era of indulgence and audacious grandeur. There are other more discreet soaplands around Japan that have withstood the test of time. They are usually situated in complexes in the cities’ red light districts.