Jun 8, 2017

Strange or novel ways to relax in Japan, what they might say about society

Of course, Japan likes to relax and unwind in ways shared by many nations around the world; booze, cigarettes, sports, meditation, yoga, walks in the country, the occasional massage … but in attempts to keep people from going completely mad from overwork, isolation, and social dissolution, more creative minds have introduced into the relaxation / de-stress market in Japan some more … interesting techniques.

Strange or novel ways to relax in Japan, what they might say about society photo

Animals in the workplace


Nothing new here really, but over the last month media have been rushing to publish stories on a company in Japan that allows cats to roam free throughout the office. It’s all very soothing watching the cats take a snooze in the office, apparently. Well, what the hell else are they going to do? OK, so cut phone calls and switch off computers with all the insouciance one might expect of a cat, it turns out.


Still, it was only a matter of time before cats made it out of the nation’s cafes into its offices. It seems to be the natural progression, and is perhaps a sign of a market that must have surely reached saturation point by now. Look out in the future then for owls, hedgehogs and reptiles coming to an office near you.


Ear Cleaning


Granted, taking to your ears with some cleaning buds is one of life’s simplest yet greatest pleasures. Having them ‘industrially’ cleaned at an ENT clinic (jibika in Japan) borders on the cathartic.  


Why not set up an industry then where you can place your head in the lap of an attractive young thing and have them tenderly de-wax your ears? Well, because that would be weird, wouldn’t it? Before you all scream, ‘Yes!’, it’s worth bearing in mind that ear cleaning (mimi souji) has a strong maternal flavor to it in Japan, reminding some Japanese of when their mothers would clean their ears as children. That we might then turn this into a paid service that takes place in someone’s lap is something that Freud would have gotten a kick out of.


Actually, there seems to be two strands to this ear-cleaning industry in Japan - one that, from appearances at least, has the look and feel of something, shall we say, less clinical.  Service homepages here feature images of girl-next-door types in cosplay and kimono doing their best to look submissive.  Many of the these places can be found in Akihabara, Tokyo.  Sessions look to start at around 3,000 yen for 30 mins.

The other strand to this kind of service seems to be far more clinical and veers into ENT territory only with a more relaxing 'esthe' kind of bent.  Prices reflect this with basic courses at around 7,000 yen.  


The Japan Ear Esthetique Association which as well as the service itself, offers schooling on the techniques. Head over to the homepage and you can see a video of some TV celebs getting the treatment.


Someone to make you cry


Too many people around the world have been saddled with idea that crying is somehow for wimps. Well, this is certainly not the case in Japan. They like a good cry over here, and there’s rarely a day goes by when you don’t turn the TV on to see some form of celebrity shedding well-trained tears at a story of hardship or a terminally sick dog. 


So, instead of gently sobbing into a post-work beer about just how awful work is, why not cry more constructively? Cathartically, if you will.  


In this article from the BBC published last year we learn about “ikemeso danshi” or what might translate to “handsome weeping boy”, a modern day superhero if you will, rushing between company workshops to wipe away the tears of participating employees. These are not tears of boredom after a half-day of having ears assaulted by empty business jargon. No, during these workshops “handsome weeping boy” screens some weepy films and begins to cry thus encouraging others to follow suit. He then goes around the room using a handkerchief to wipe away the collective tears. Quite why “handsome weeping boy” has to be handsome, we’re not sure, and quite why he should be required to wipe away the tears we’re still not sure. Anyway, movie selection seems to be the real key here, and finding something that could have the desired effect on all attendees seems to be tricky. Any suggestions? Ghost, perhaps?


Strange or novel ways to relax in Japan, what they might say about society photo

Adult Wrapping


This bizarre form of relaxation therapy took the Internet by storm early this year with its rather future dystopian images of the human form in tied up in sheets in a kind of fetal position.


According to Kyoko Proportion, a company that holds and guides sessions of adult wrapping (Japanese - おとなまき / otonamaki), the idea stems from the practice of まるまる育児 / marumaru ikuji, where babies are in a curled up position when given hugs and put to bed. This is believed, in some quarters, to encourage good skeletal structure and bodily function. Adult wrapping then is said to bring back similarly comforting feelings as well as induce sleep. Concerns about how tightly one is wrapped and the potential for feeling claustrophobic seem to have been allayed thus far by just how comfortable it all is. Sheets for adult wrapping are the same that many in Japan use to carry around their babies, a kind of mesh cloth. A 60-minute session of adult wrapping is 5,400 yen for first-timers at Kyoko Proportion in Ikebukuro, Tokyo.


Strange or novel ways to relax in Japan, what they might say about society photo

Cuddle Cafes


Hip hop mogul Puff Daddy, Puffy, P. Diddy, Diddy or his actual name, Sean John Combs, once said that everyone needs seven hugs a day. Powerful stuff indeed. The problem with this in Japan is that people are so bad at hugging, that the only way to get it done properly, it seems, is by visiting the professionals. I know, you’re about question this but there’s some truth in both parts of that sentence. Once you get past about the age of, say, nine there’s very little hugging done in Japan. The only chance one has of a genuinely mutual cuddle is to get yourself a love interest because you’re not going to get it from siblings or parents. No, not even your mom! The coldest example you can find of this lack of intimacy is on TV shows in which production crews fly young daughters and sons out to visit a dad they haven’t seen for a couple of years due to working on the other side of the world. I urge you to watch it. It’s genuinely astonishing TV. You get all warm and fuzzy at the prospect of the ‘meet’ only to be plunged into a bucket of ice when all dad can muster is an awkward pat on the head. It’s like two elementary school kids getting into a relationship for the first time. "Hold hands?!!! Ewww!!!"


Anyway, I digress. Back in 2012 the Internet wet itself at the news that an establishment providing the service of allowing customers to lie, sleep (in the literal sense) and cuddle with girls / women from high school age to somewhere in their 30s had opened its doors (and arms) in Akihabara, Tokyo. A sensible spot to pick with Akihabara being full to the brim with lonely, socially stunted young men. The name Soineya (from 添い寝 / soine: lit. sleeping together) became something of a viral hit with media around the world sneering at the weirdness of it all.  


In trying to find a link to the shop itself we ended up at somewhere called Black Pink (アイドル添い寝屋 BLACK PiNK 秋葉原店 /Idol Soineya Akihara Store), the homepage that is.


At Black Pink it seems that punters can snuggle up to potential stars of Japan’s idol scene.  


The charges at BLACK PINK are:


Refresh course (リフレコース) - 4,000 yen / 30 mins

Soineya + Refresh course: 5,000 yen / 30 mins

 Soineya + Refresh course: 8,000 yen / 60 mins


There are also cosplay and ear-cleaning options as well as those where you get to lay your head on a girl’s lap / shoulder. Courses that included guided tours of the area go up to 37,000 yen for four hours.



Such services have now found their way to New York and Toronto. 


The same kind of services are available for ladies in Japan, too, although some of the outcall services we found weren’t half expensive - starting from two hours for 20,000 yen and going up to 16 hours for 100,000 yen.


Strange or novel ways to relax in Japan, what they might say about society photo 



Moving from the latter to a service involving paying dogs by the hour, one would be forgiven for thinking we’re about to enter some very nefarious territory. Rest at ease. This about simply petting and taking dogs for a walk.  


At Dog Heart in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo customers can rent golden retrievers, beagles, and toy poodles for 3,600 yen per hour and take them for a walk around nearby Yoyogi Park. Customers can also choose to just hang out with dogs at the facility. 30 mins - 950 yen / one hour - 1,550 yen.

 Strange or novel ways to relax in Japan, what they might say about society photo

Urban Fishing


I don’t know how you feel about fishing for pleasure. Is it relaxing, a sport, boring or sadistic? Either way, it’s incredibly popular in Japan. So much so that enterprising types have taken to gathering up fish, plonking them in small, man-made bodies of water, and renting out time, equipment and space to people who garner pleasure from this sort of thing. It all seems a bit like cheating if you ask me.


The typical deal is to pay a few hundred yen by the hour and a bit more for rod and bait. In some places, at the end of your time, you can take your catch to be weighed and maybe get a prize. The fish are then lobbed back into the water ready to be caught again. It sounds like a sorry life for the fish, but then, if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, Japan has never been a place to spare much sympathy towards aquatic life.  



What do these strange or novel ways of relaxing say about Japanese society?


It’s become too easy and somewhat lazy to attach the adjective ‘weird’ in front of aspects of life and culture in Japan. However, sometimes it just can’t be helped and is perhaps deserved? Walking dogs, being in the presence of cats, and fishing have long been seen as ways to relax, and gain joy or a sense of calm. Renting dogs by the hour though has raised questions from welfare groups about the potentially unsettling and traumatising effects it might have on the animals. The same kind of concerns have also been raised about the nation’s myriad animal / reptile cafes. Proponents for these places might suggest that the animals have been born into this kind of environment and are comfortable with the interaction.  


What kind of debate we might have about ear cleaning and paying for cuddles I’m not sure. Certainly the former seems innocent enough in itself, a bit like having your nails done, or getting a massage (although there have always been those who are skeptical about putting anything into one’s ears, and when you see some of the terrifying ‘cleaning devices’ you can buy in Japan such skepticism can easily become outright fear!). In the case of that first strand of ear cleaning service we talked about, it’s arguably not so much the service, rather the target client that might be the ultimate cause for raised eyebrows, in the sense that there are people out there willing to pay for this kind of thing. The “cuddling” takes things to another level. That there should be a market in Japan for this level of affection, and by this I mean a much deeper level of psychological intimacy than one imagines could ever be afforded by, say, a sexual service, surely reflects that something has gone wrong, somewhere, somehow. And while the latter kind of service has always been swamped in controversy and allegations of exploitation, it seems to me that selling to the lonely the false intimacy of a hug or cuddle from someone who just working is beyond weird, it’s cynical and cold to a quite staggering degree.  

Have you discovered any novel ways to relax in Japan?  Let us know in the comments.

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(Cuddle): Tomohiro Ohtake Flickr License

(Dog): Richard-G Flickr License

(Fishing): elminium Flickr License



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