In a previous blog post, we discussed another hidden part of Japanese culture, cheating in Japan, and why it’s more tolerated here than in other countries. In that blog post, the definition of cheating we used was “having a romantic/sexual partner on the side”. But is that the one, true definition of cheating? More importantly, is there a one, true definition at all? Some say it’s only cheating if sex is involved, while others won’t tolerate even flirtatious texts. The lines get even blurrier in Japan where there are host clubs, hostess bars, girls bars, soaplands, and robotic sex dolls.
These are some of the ways Japanese people “cheat without cheating”. As a (fun?) exercise, go through the list and decide for yourself (with your partner if you like!) what is cheating and what isn’t.
Host clubs and hostess bars
First and foremost, hosts and hostesses are not sex workers. At least in principle. Your host/hostess simply sits and talks with you, and acts as a boyfriend/girlfriend. They get you your drinks, they pamper you, they listen to you (“Wow, you are so beautiful/handsome!”, “Hey sweetie, how was your day?”, “What are you thinking about?”).
In the CNN docuseries, Sex & Love Around the World (2019), CNN’s Christian Amanpour asks a host, “What do women want when they come [to host clubs]?” to which the host, Icci, replies, “They come here to experience something they can’t get in their ordinary lives. They talk about things they can’t talk to their husband, boyfriend or friends about.” For a few hours, you can talk about whatever you want and pour your heart out to your host/hostess who will make you feel like you’re the only person that matters, at a price and the cost of a few drinks.
It’s not all talk and no play; there’s some touching. Hand-holding, touching thighs, arms wrapped around waists or shoulders… When asked what all this would lead to, Icci answers with a laugh, “Taxi, bye-bye.” And that’s where a host club/hostess bar experience ends. No sex.
It may be difficult for some of us who grew up in different societies and cultures to grasp the idea of paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars to just sit and talk with someone. But as Icci explained, this is something people “can’t get in their ordinary lives” in Japan, a country where emotional and physical intimacy is sorely lacking.
If it remains a business transaction (though there are some cases of clients falling in love with their hosts/hostess), is it cheating? Would it be akin to visiting a strip club in other countries, and is visiting a strip club cheating? Food for thought!
A step-down from hostess bars are girls bars. There’s less intimacy and grandeur in girls bars. In fact, many look just like regular bars, unlike the fancy, elegant hostess bars with leather seats and chandeliers. I once entered a girls bar without realising it was one until the cute and bubbly girl bartender informed me it would cost around USD$15 for every half hour I spent there (this fee does not include the costs of any drinks).
Japanese businessmen frequent girls bars for conversation. The ladies will sit with them, talk with them and laugh at their jokes. Compared to hostess bars, girls bars are a lot more innocent, sometimes visited by groups of friends just for fun. The conversations are lighter and more on the friendly side, so much so that interactions with the ladies in girls bars can be downplayed to harmless flirting, albeit bought flirting.
Is visiting a girls bar to flirt with girls more scandalous than flirting in a regular bar? Or is it less scandalous because it’s a business transaction and can’t lead to sex? I suppose the most important thing to consider here is the person’s intent. You could argue that a person flirting in a regular bar flirts because they have the intent to sleep with their flirtee, but that a person visiting a girls bar has the intent to just flirt, and nothing more. Let us know what you think!
Though prostitution is illegal in Japan, some establishments such as soaplands have found loopholes. The law defines prostitution as penetrative sex between two unacquainted people. In soaplands, men pay a fee to use their “bathing facilities” where they are bathed and serviced by a woman’s hands or mouth (no penetration!). The customer then usually pays another fee for a massage, and during the massage, the customer and masseuse become acquainted. Now that they are “acquainted”, any penetrative sex that follows is therefore legal.
While many people may view sex with another person as a form of cheating on one’s partner, that isn’t always the case in Japan. Some Japanese women see it as a business transaction and say that as long as there’s no emotional connection between the two, it doesn’t count as cheating.
In this article, a 29-year-old Japanese woman told her boyfriend specifically to go for hostesses or prostitutes in soaplands if he wanted to sleep with someone else, instead of seeking out other women. She says, “Paying for sex from a professional is just a service,” and thus is not cheating.
Another Japanese woman says, “I don’t care if my boyfriend goes to a soapland as long as I don’t know about it. It’s not cheating, it’s just what Japanese guys do.”
To some, this is a business transaction. To others, it may be a betrayal. What do you guys think?
Robotic Sex Dolls
Japan’s sex dolls are some of the finest in the world. They look more lifelike, are soft to the touch, will talk to you and, recently, have been programmed to reject your advances if they aren’t turned on enough or if you get too violent with them. With each passing year, robotic sex dolls are becoming more intricate, advanced and human-like.
Due to this likeness, there may be some who are uncomfortable with their partners using sex dolls as they feel it too closely resembles an actual person. In fact, a survey revealed that 6 out of 10 married people in the UK believe that having sex with a doll counts as cheating, as their partners’ use of these dolls “denies them of love and attention in favour of an inanimate object (Cuskelly, 2017).”
In Japan, an increasing number of men—albeit a small number—are choosing to have relationships with sex dolls instead of with women. In an interview with the New York Post, Masayuki Ozaki says that he and his wife stopped having sex after they had their child, and so he turned to sex dolls. He now claims that Mayu, his sex doll, is the love of his life.
He takes her out on dates, dresses her up, and shares a bed with her instead of with his wife. “I can’t imagine going back to [being with] a human being. I want to be buried with [my sex doll] and take her to heaven,” he says.
Another Japanese husband in his 60s has also developed an emotional relationship with his sex doll. On why he prefers sex dolls to women, he says, “Human beings are so demanding. People always want something from you—like money or commitment. […] I’ll never date a real woman again—they’re heartless. ” His wife has banned his sex doll from their home (Allen, 2017).
Clearly, for some of these men, these sex dolls aren’t just sex toys meant to be used for masturbation. One man even says he has sex with his sex doll less frequently now and that “it’s more about connecting on an emotional level for me now.”
Just for a while, I’d like to steer this article away from “cheating or not cheating” and talk about the potential threat sex dolls pose. A number of men have said that they prefer being with their sex dolls to being with their actual partners. Pieter Steenkamp, a businessman, told the Sunday Times, “My wife is a nag. I get tired of her nagging. […] [My sex doll] doesn’t.” At the end of a long day, he makes himself a drink and then tells Madre, his sex doll, about his bad day. “She never says anything negative,” he says.
Yourdoll, a sex doll store, lists several reasons men should get a sex doll instead of a partner. Here are some of them:
- Sex dolls aren’t batshit crazy. Women tend to be crazy mostly on issues pertaining to relationships (as compared to sex dolls). […] Sex dolls are amazingly free from this craziness that is associated with women. These aid dolls are cool, calm and collected at all times regardless of the situation, which definitely gives them an upper hand over women.
- Sex dolls will never bitch when you play video games or decide to spend time with friends. […] The sex doll will never argue with you over your life choices but is actually supportive of them (taking silence as confidence in you).
- Sex dolls will never whine for attention. […] This [sic] sexual aids lack life and will, as a result, co-exist together in harmony.
Preference for sex dolls because they don’t have thoughts of their own can be dangerous. It could push some men to believe that good girlfriends and wives have to be quiet, shouldn’t speak up, shouldn’t ask for things and should never question a man—a throwback to decades ago when women couldn’t talk back to men, own property, vote or have a say in anything meaningful.
Back to the topic of “cheating or not cheating”… Taking into consideration how Japanese sex dolls can look, sound and maybe even act like us, and that some people fall in love with them, does having sex with them count as cheating? Or are sex dolls just another type of sex toy?
These are some of the ways Japanese people can “cheat without cheating”. Ideally, a couple would sit down and discuss what is cheating and what isn’t before doing anything, and we recommend you do it with your partner too, to avoid misunderstandings and heartbreaks.
There are all kinds of relationships out there, and not all of them monogamous. If you and your partner want to experience something different romantically and sexually, maybe give the things in this list a shot. If not, we hope you found this blog article interesting at least!
Let us know what you guys think of Japan’s “cheat without cheating” methods in the comments, DM us on Instagram or message us on Facebook Messenger! If you think we got anything wrong or if you have anything to add/share, feel free to reach out to us, too! We’d love to hear from you.
Belle moved to Tokyo, Japan in 2016. She has studied various aspects of Japan including history, literature, gender, culture, media, politics, and more. Find her on Instagram @coinlockerbelle.