The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: Joan Sinclair’s ‘Pink Box: Inside Japan’s Sex Clubs’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Sep• 11•10

What struck us here at WoWasis about Joan Sinclair’s photo-essay book weren’t solely the photographs, but the glossary, referencing 177 terms used in Japan to describe the world of fuzoku, or commercial sex. That’s how we discovered mantaku, female anatomy ink prints, transferred from the lady’s posterior to paper, and sold to the customer as a souvenir. And Sinclair’s photos essentially become an illustrated glossary, giving the reader a sense of place in a world that relatively few Westerners will encounter (the signs are nearly all in Japanese, a sure indicator that Westerners won’t necessarily be welcomed in these establishments. 

Above all, Pink Box: Inside Japan’s Sex Clubs (2006, ISBN 13: 978-0-8109-9259-7) is a joyous romp through Japan’s commercial sex industry. Her photos are often garishly lit, purposely designed to copy the ambient light in these establishments, and contain images of customers, entertainment providers, and signs and “menus.” The menus themselves are fascinating in their depiction of an often complex set of options available to customers, including what the customers want the ladies to say — or not say — to them during the act. She reports on nearly fifteen different types of establishments, from mocked-up bullet train “grope” venues to soapy massage establishment. 

Sinclair focuses on the fun aspect of this world, and is non-judgmental, from a Western perspective: “All I ask is that viewers not assume that this profession is inherently degrading. It’s more complicated than that. These women are not powerless, they are not on drugs. They have made conscious choices; they have their own dignity.” This is underscored by James Farrer’s excellent opening essay, providing a history of Japan’s commercial sex industry, and its emphasis on “Play.” 

The West has always had an uncomfortable relationship with easily available commercial sex in its own hemisphere, and Western political, NGO, and religious organizations are rampant in trying to enforce their “moral colonialism” on the East. Sinclair, who lived in Japan herself, has given Westerners a unique introduction to this fascinating world by painstakingly making friends with people who initially were probably concerned that her work may result in another Western “hit piece.” Her social and political savvy resulted in this book, fascinating for readers, and important for researchers interesting in further investigations into this hidden realm. Buy it now at the WoWasis estore, powered by Amazon.

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