Sex is big business in Japan.

We’ve all heard stories about Japan’s bath houses, booby bars, massage parlours, peep shows and roleplay clubs. We all know they exist, and very few of us are even shocked any more; but for some reason it’s taken me more than six years of living the country to realise just how much a part of everyday life Japan’s sex industry really is…

Perhaps it’s because I spent so long living in the Japanese countryside before moving to Tokyo, perhaps it’s because I just haven’t been paying enough attention, but it struck me just this weekend: there’s a ton of sex for sale in Japan. Or, rather, “sexual relations” since selling intercourse is, technically, illegal here…

Sure, on my evenings out with friends in Tokyo we’ve strolled through the red light district, ducked into sex shops and laughed at some of the bizarre fetish videos, even been taken to clubs where drop-dead gorgeous girls offer to straddle you while you pretend to be focused on just your cocktail…

But, for some reason, I never realised just how widespread- not to mention socially accepted- the sex industry in Japan really is.

Just this weekend, though, when arriving home from a shopping trip with my wife, I found something unusual waiting for me.

Stepping into the apartment and removing my shoes in our stupidly narrow genkan entrance-way, I picked up the small pile of mail that was lying on the floor.

Gas bill; water bill; postcard from honeymooning friends; some random junk mail.

I was about to slip the junk mail into our little paper recycling box– which we keep right next to the door due to the sheer volume we receive– but then I noticed that one leaflet was something I’d never seen before. This wasn’t just a random pizza menu or an ad for a newly built apartment complex; this one was tiny, printed on lilac-coloured paper and featured not just prices, but the line “8,000 yen (US$100) per 40 minutes.”

After a quick scan of the flyer, I surmised that it was for a home massage service. It advertised that I could have a “specialist” come to my home any time from 9 a.m.until “late”, that there was no fee to join the service (should there be?), and that, for a little extra money, I could select which “specialist” I wanted. The price seemed a little steep, though…

“8,000 yen for 40 minutes!? That had better be a seriously good massage,” I said to my wife who was busy trying to pull her own shoes off. She peered over at the flyer in my hand before giving me a look somewhere between “aww, aren’t you cute” and “are you stupid?”

“Well, it’s not just a massage, is it?” she said, realising that I hadn’t quite caught on. “It’s for sex.”

▼This is no pizza menu…

I looked back at the flyer, probably wearing an expression similar to a kid who’s just heard for the first time that babies come out of women. Sure enough, there were a number of subtle hints:

“Girls wanted- experience not necessary. Details given upon inquiry!”
“Drivers needed.”
“Options available.”

Less subtle was the title hito zuma (“married women”) across the top of the page, which for some reason I’d failed to notice…

I thought about the old lady who lives across the hall. Were this my native UK, any self-respecting 70-year-old picking up a flyer delivered through her door discreetly offering sexual services would either pass out in a blur of blue hair dye and floral print or immediately pen an angry letter to their local member of parliament…

I sat down on the couch chuckling at the flyer in my hand while my wife went about making a cup of tea, completely unfazed.

And why should she be? For all the talk of manners, politeness and social etiquette we hear in Japan, sex is almost everywhere, tucked in between the everyday, but rarely paid much attention to. After all, making a fuss and pointing it out would be just as bad, if not worse, than the material itself.

Porn mags, although usually sealed shut with tape, sit beside comics and hobby magazines in 7-Eleven, Love Hotels are sandwiched between respectable businesses in busy city areas or adorned with electric pink roadside signs with names like “Raccoon” and “Pink Paradise” in the countryside; skinny men with ridiculously well styled hair stand outside major stations pestering young women to work in their hostess clubs. Just last month, a friend and I were walking through a crowded Shinjuku street one evening when, among the throng of pedestrians, a small voice offered us oral sex…

I’m no prude. I’ve been around during my 30 years on this planet, witnessed sights that have, for better or worse, seared themselves into my retinas forever and I dread the thought of ever going senile in my old age and telling my kids what I’ve seen… And yet I still found myself shocked that someone’s walking around my town casually posting flyers that subtly offer sex in exchange for money…

Japan, you never fail to surprise me.

 This Week’s Best Bits: Top 5 Most Popular Articles from Nov 4 – Nov 11

1. 【Only in Japan】There’s Something Terribly Wrong With This Whac-A-Mole Game

If you’ve ever wanted to smash a penis with a foam mallet, you’re in luck!

Quite possibly the most bizarre arcade game we’ve ever seen replaces little moles with giant man poles. Click the link above to see the full, terrifying video…

2. Japanese Man Caught on Camera While Filming Up Woman’s Skirt on Train

One peeping tom learned how it feels to be secretly snapped this week when a fellow passenger took a photo of him pointing a camera up a young woman’s skirt. Our man Steven has the full details on the story here.

3. Most Patient Bank Robber Ever Arrested in Fukuoka, Foiled by Courteous Staff

“Robbery, you say, sir? Right you are. Take a seat and we’ll be right with you!”

I think we’re going to have to dubb this week “Dumb Crime Week”; not only have we seen a man taking the least subtle up-skirt photos ever, but this bank robber was tricked into arrest by little more than good manners and the offer of a seat. Never underestiate the power of Japanese politeness!

4. Sh*t Japanese Girls Say and Other Hilarious Truths From an American Living in Japan

“Sensei! Sensei! Girlfriend!? Woooooo!”

The guys behind these videos are geniuses, capturing the character traits of Japanese students, Asian mothers and many more. Easily my favourite article of the week.

5. Gangnam Style as Performed by an Adorable 4-Year-Old Japanese Girl

Cutest. Video. Ever.

Rounding up our top five this week is a four-year-old girl mimicking crazily popular video Gangnam Style. Whether you care for the track or not (not!), this is too adorable to miss!

▼ Honorable Mentions!

■ Instant ramen noodle restaurant opens in Tokyo!

Just last week, a brand new restaurant opened up in the centre of Tokyo. The twist? It sells nothing but shop-bought instant ramen noodles. Our camera crew headed in to Shibuya to experience the quirky new venue first-hand.

■ Twin Tails FTW!

Pigtails are back! Our writer Michelle explains how “twin tails” are making an enormous comeback in Japan, prompting us to show you lots of photos of cute girls. It’s a hard life…

That’s it for another week of RocketNews24, kids. We hope the week ahead is a good one!

See you next time!

Title image from the incredible book Pink Box by Joan Sinclair