OnPoint by Keith Ng


The reasonably seedy underbelly

When I decided five years ago that I wanted to be able to work and travel at the same time, I hadn't envisaged myself working in a Tokyo porn parlour servicing clients while sexually frustrated Japanese salarymen... relaxed around me. No, I really didn't see it coming.

It's one of the strange little ironies of the tech age that the more prevalent a technology becomes, the more difficult it is to publicly access. In India, internet cafes and phone booths were all over the place and cost next to nothing. In Japan, making a 5 minute call to Hong Kong cost about $15. It's not that I was cheap (well, not *just* because I was cheap), but I had to put in coins so often that it might as well have had a hand-crank. Internet cafes have a status closer to cinemas - small ones don't exist, and you really have to go out of your way to find the big ones.

Then I found a "private internet/DVD booth" place that was actually a really good deal. For about $6/hr, you got your big-screen multimedia computing suite with internet access, a completely private booth, a wee bed, and, um, as much porn as you can stuff into a shopping basket (that's a lot). There were also four boxes of tissues, which I used liberally to wipe my chair.

You could also purchase underwear from a vending machine. Fresh, clean underwear, that is. Not the other kind.

I suppose that it's no seedier than any other adult entertainment establishments around the world. It's just like a Love Hotel. By yourself. It was, however, a strange place to conference call with clients. Clients who don't ask you what you are wearing, anyway.

The question that remains is obvious: Can I bill my client for this?

"Telecommunications cost, ¥1000, Porn Parlour."

I'm sure accounting will understand.

I also resided in a capsule hotel in Nagoya, featuring rooms large enough for four coffins, if you emptied their contents and cremated them.



I was giddy at the prospect, as I'd always just assumed that we'd all be living like this in the 21st century. The actual 'hotel' was a bank of about 80 of these, which were actually quite comfortable and no more claustrophobic than a bunk bed. The straw 'door' - rather than, say, an air-tight steel door with no handle on the inside - helped.

The hotel is built around its spa and sauna, where everyone is naked, so there's pretty much naked men going to and from every part of the hotel (and, for that reason, no women). That's just the norm. There's also a lounge full of reclining chairs where the more budget-conscious guests slept.

It's all been weird, but I do feel that I'm having an authentic Japanese experience: Working all day, emerging from a seedy hole-in-ground at odd hours, stumbling out to find that everything is close and resorting to yakitori pork and expired onigiri from the 7-Eleven. It's not a *real* salaryman's experience, but as a tourist-version, it's getting close.


Random dinner report: Random dinner for tonight at a reputable soba restaurant in downtown Kyoto. The meal was an unusual combination of chili on salmon sashimi with soba and tea. Or that's what the picture looked like. Turns out, it was a spicy raw fish-egg sausage on udon with unidentified legume, and a side of grass soup. Classy, exotic, but nigh on inedible.


Random robot report: Inside this plush robo-mansion, we met the model-M robot Hemming-San. Unfortunately, he declined to be interviewed.


And if you're feeling stressed this Friday, have a Japanese garden.


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