There’s a side street off Dogenzaka in Shibuya, up towards Maruyamacho, where there lurks a strange, strange shop.
It is one of the last of its kind, certainly in Shibuya. Once upon a time it had many competitors, even vending machines selling similar wares (way back before my time here, but I’m sure at least one of the other Beats can attest to the truth of what I say – right Jim??;-) , that was before Governor Ishihara, the well know morally upstanding mayor of Tokyo decided the area needed cleaning up, but now it stands alone. Its hard to find, you have to know its there or you’d never suspect what lies within.
‘Rope’ is a used womens underwear shop.
I had heard fabels of its existence and being the naturally curious fellow I am, I began trying to discover its location. Purely in the interests of completing my cultural education of this land of the rising sun you’ll understand.
My wife (at that time still my girlfriend) discovered my quest and insisted she be allowed to accompany me, should we be able to discover its location. So one night we spent a few hours in the area asking the suited gentlemen on the street in that area if they knew of it. We got some pretty funny looks even from those open minded souls and most of them denied any knowledge of it, but eventually one kind fellow told us where it was, however, he informed us, it was late and Rope was closed.
Undetered we went back the very next afternoon, ascended the stairs and went tentatively inside.
The guy sat reading some kind of porno manga behind the counter looked briefly up, slightly puzzled by the cute little Japanese girl and the big white foreigner, mumbled something and then went back to reading his porn.
It was tiny, barely enough space to move around, but it was a treasure trove of used uniforms of every kind, with that distinctive smell of used clothes.
Towards the back we discovered what we had come for, a wall of video cassettes and clear PVC packets fronted with a picture of a girl taking off her underwear, and carefully folded inside each packet the underwear from the picture.
Would you believe our luck, there was a sale on!
Still, the prices ranged from 4 or 5000Y (50 bucks or about 25 quid) to 10s of thousands of Yen, each pair graded, so I am told, on smell:- the more pungent the more expensive.
(As a small aside, whose job is it to grade them? I have visions of some huge yakuza guy, in a plush office somewhere, sniffing panties all day, like “ok, 5000Y”, “hmm…..10,000Y” and “Oh wow! these ones are good!! I think I’ll keep these for my personal collection”)
While my accomplice distracted the seedy guy behind the counter I managed to fire off 2 shots. Neither of them was particularly good, but they didn’t need to be, I felt as if something dirty (in the sense of not clean) had seeped into my body and mind.
We left and walked down the stairs back to the street outside in silence.
Now, I pride myself on being a pretty open minded guy when it comes to that kind of thing, I’ve seen things that would make most people feel distinctly uncomfortable, like they’d crossed some invisible line and I felt nothing, but I have to admit I felt weird.
There is something, to me at least, wrong on a fundamental level with buying used underwear for sexual pleasure, no matter how good they smell.
Sure, there are much worse perversions and this one wasn’t harming anyone, but it gave me a disturbing insight into the psyche of the Japanese that I can’t seem to shake.
We walked away in silence, only discussing the shop a few hours later, both agreeing that it had made our skin crawl and made us feel more than a little seedy.
I’ve never been back inside although I have walked past many times (on the way to another secret place on the same street that I may well write a post about at some point) , Even this open minded guy has to draw the line somewhere.
I have to admit I do religiously scour the job pages tho, just in case that big yakuza guy ever decides he’s had enough, now there is a career I could dedicate myself to. ;-)