Kyoto is located in the central section of the island of Honshū. It covers an area of 828 square kilometres and serves as home to 1.5 million people. For over a thousand years, the city was the Imperial capital of Japan. It is currently the capital of Kyoto Prefecture and is renowned for its stifling summer nights. It is also the only major Japanese metropolis which still features a profusion of pre-war architecture like the machiya (traditional townhouses). In a nutshell, Kyoto is old Japan with massive temples, serene shrines, sublime gardens and geisha dashing to secret liaisons.
Kyoto has two red-light areas.
For those who don’t know how to read Japanese, the telltale signs of the RDLs include bright neon signs with numbers that indicate cost and time; a male tout often donning a white shirt and tie; and men entering and exiting quickly, usually with their heads down.
History of the RLD
Japan has a long and storied relationship with the sensual arts and the oldest profession in the world. Until 1958, when the government outlawed prostitution, virtually every Japanese city had red light areas. Kyoto’s most popular akasen or yukaku (both terms signify a red light area) was Shimabara. It still exists but today but there’s nothing sleazy about it. However, several of the former red light areas have reinvented themselves, often having run-ins with authorities and official laws and statutes.
In the past, a leisurely walk from tree-lined Kiyamachi to the shopping stalls along Kawaramachi Street was an exercise in professing not to notice the mini-sex establishments that were confined to these alleys. Middle-aged touts stand in front of each brothel to invite prospective clients. Today, they have moved to Kiyamachi and the aforementioned fashion health spas, blowjob factories, pink salons, and soaplands have spilled out of the streets and took over many of what used to be bars and restaurants. At least seven sex establishments currently dot the eastern section of the street south of Shijo all the way up to the Kiyamachi-Shijo intersection.
How to Find the RLD
Stay Safe in the RLD
Kyoto is a safe city and even the prostitutes rarely try to steal their clients’ possessions. However, if you’re meeting someone who is a total stranger, don’t disclose any type of personal information or any other important details. Always use a condom even if HIV/AIDS is low-risk in Japan’s sex trade. Bear in mind that prostitution is illegal and will be punished by law if discovered, so be smart, be safe and be discreet. Prostitution is defined as intercourse involving penetration of the female genital, so the “everything but” approach is in full effect in most establishments to avoid any legal issues.
Prostitution has existed in Kyoto throughout the city’s history. The adult entertainment industry is booming, with ‘Soapland’ resorts becoming increasingly popular. These bathhouses/sex parlours offer services with escorts with whom clients will be covered in lubricant then massaged to orgasm. The district of Kiyamichi serves well to this type of venue, although foreign clients often have a hard time getting in. If you don’t know how to speak the Japanese language, it is advised to have a local host to vouch for you. Then there are also the red-light districts with a menagerie of brothels, strip clubs, and erotic massage parlours.
Finding sex on the streets of Kyoto is a more discreet undertaking than in other Asian nations, but it is not impossible. Majority of street hookers hand out what appears like a baseball card that contains a photo, phone number, and pricing/agency details. The cards are either handed directly to a prospective client or left in bars, clubs, and pubs within the red light district.
Most swinging activity in Kyoto is organized online. However, it is possible to find a swinger-oriented club in the Gion sex scene, but then again your best chance is going directly online on sites like The Adult Hub Kyoto. Note that most of these clubs are exclusive to members or are strictly by invitation, and because of the nature of the gatherings, all guests are expected to observe a certain degree of discretion and confidentiality. Moreover, aggressive or overindulgence in alcohol or illicit drugs won’t be tolerated so everyone can feel comfortable.
The Anti-Prostitution Law of 1956 clearly states that "no individual may either do prostitution or become a customer of it." However, loopholes and lax enforcement of the law have enabled the sex industry to thrive. Note that the sex industry in Japan is not synonymous with prostitution. Since the law defines prostitution as intercourse in exchange for payment, most fūzoku only offer non-coital services like bathing, conversation or dancing to remain legal. It is also worth noting that geisha and maiko are not prostitutes; they are well-trained performers.
Aside from penetrative intercourse, pimping and brothel ownership are considered criminal offenses. The Penal Code has set the minimum age of consent at 13. Violations of the prostitution law entail a maximum prison sentence of less than 10 years or a fine of ¥300,000. However, law enforcement sources claim that violators usually pay the fine and don’t serve any prison time.
As for gays, they face some legal hurdles not experienced by straight individuals. The government legalized same-sex sexual activity in 1880 following the installation of the Napoleonic Code. However, same-sex couples and families headed by them don’t have legal protections enjoyed by opposite-sex couples.
The nightlife scene in Kyoto is largely dominated by chic bars and clubs that offer varying atmosphere and ambiance; an extensive selection of beers, wines, and spirits; impressive local and international cuisines; and all sorts of music genre. The venues attract both local and international acts. The most popular include the
In recent years, dance theaters have increased in popularity as shown by the high ticket demand. The Gion Kaikan Theater and the Miyagawa-cho Kaburen-jo Theater are both fantastic venues to witness traditional geisha and maiko dancing. It is also worth visiting the Minamiza Kabuki Theater which is regarded as the birthplace of kabuki, one of the most popular traditional performing art forms in Japan. It combines music and dance with high drama in an extremely stylized manner. Visitors also enjoy going to concerts, rakugo (traditional comic storytelling) performances, classic and modern western musicals and plays.
Japanese culture and major religions don’t have a history of hostility towards gays and lesbians. In fact, a majority of Japanese citizens are in favour of accepting the concept of homosexuality. A recent poll revealed that 54% of the respondents agreed that homosexuality must be accepted by society while 36% disagreed. Although the poll was conducted on the national level, the results and the situation in Kyoto is pretty much the same.
General Attitude Towards Gays
Kyoto has a sizable gay community and there are several establishments where gays congregate, but they are not in the open with the exception of the monthly ‘Diamonds are Forever’ drag night at Club Metro. You’ll need to do some research and digging to discover the gay venues because there is usually no sign on the outside that a certain establishment is not just another Japanese-style bar. Moreover, there is a more active scene in Osaka so many of the gay residents of Kyoto make the trip there. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that gays are generally welcome and accepted in the city. Reports of aggression or discrimination against them are rare.