Ruins of the Queen Chateau Soapland

Mike Grist Haikyo, Ibaraki, Sex Industry 43 Comments

Japan’s Queen Chateau Soapland is at once a grand but squalid folly; a ruin rising 5 fairy-tale stories into the sky, cornered with towers and capped with bright red tile, representing an era gone mad with indulgence, audacity, and hopefulness.

Flanked by bamboo forests.

A soapland is a kind of Japanese water-brothel, wherein customers (men, basically) go to a bedroom equipped with a bath and shower, possibly also bed, and engage in various sexual activities.

Soaplands seem to exist in Japan in a curiously open fashion, flaunting the law with their obvious but veiled allusions to the services available inside. Prostitution is illegal- but they get away with it by simply stating something like “the girl is paid for a massage, but if she wants to do something more, that’s hardly our business, is it?”

Roof-tiles crumble while the Queen’s face sags.

The Queen Chateau was a mega-soapland, abandoned over 10 years ago, was plainly intentioned as a competition-killer of all the other little soaplands in the area. I couldn’t find out much about it through online research- and suspect its founder companies were as criminally borderline as its purpose, probably yakuza, and so unlikely to leave much by way of records.

Down on the trashed central lobby.

Not welcoming in any language.

Now the Queen Chateau lies in crippled ruin, its bright colors fading, its halycon days of glamor and glitz surplanted by ghost-like hangings in its dim and dusty bars. Its grand playing-card Queen still stands emblazoned across the front of the building, but her stare is now more that of the toothless Ozymandius than a haughty mademoiselle.

Toothless playing-card Queen.

Now the area around it is still filled with smaller less consolidated soaplands. Clearly the area is able to draw a large clientele, something like a two or three block red light district. It was odd to wander through in the middle of the day, and even odder once inside the haikyo itself.

Across the main fountain- to the client stairs heading up.

I wasn’t alone on this haikyo- I went with Su Young, for whom the experience was probably more powerful than for me. We entered from round the back, through a small bamboo forest, past a series of large vats and pipes- presumably for storing heated bath-water, then into complete darkness through the girls service entrance.

The first room was a cramped kitchen, adjacent to a tightly packed-in bedroom filled with about 6 bunk-beds, room for 12 girls at once. Beyond that was a small dining room and bathroom. I don’t know for sure, but surmised that some if not all of the girls actually lived there full-time, sleeping, eating and working within the buildings claustrophobic innards.

This led me to wonder about the nationality of the girls, their visa status, and their legitimacy within the country. Were any of them sexual indentured servants/slaves? It was strange to walk through there, seeing here a slip of a gown, there a tiny high-heeled shoe. What kind of sad lives passed through here, or were forced to pass through here?

Seeing some of the clothing and shoes hit Su Young pretty hard, particularly the small size of the shoes. How old were these girls? How able were they to look after themselves?

Of course, I’m only guessing and judging them to be victims. It’s possible they were all empowered women, there by choice and not financial dire straits, making good money and only sleeping over if the last train had already gone. Somehow I doubt that though.

Crumbling concrete service corridor.

The girls small wing led through a raw concrete passage and through a ragged curtain into the spacious red-carpeted lobby, where a large and complex chandelier once hung, judging from its spiky metal remnants in the defunct fountain-place below. A mural stood behind the fountain, the first sight greeting men as they entered the large double-doors, of 3 full-figured naked women, now dotted over with crude grafitti.

Crude graffiti anoints everything.

Ladies and the fountain filled with metal chandelier shards.

Paper trash and bits of broken furniture lay strewn across the floor. In the concierge’s small office there were small limey stalactites and stalagmites forming. On the wall by the stairs up to the rooms was the Japanese graffiti- “If you go upstairs you will die.”

The girls’ view as the johns came up the stairs.

Behind the mural facade were 3 dim bars, each of which was hung with ghost-like white sheets. I ventured in and discovered these were the light-fixtures come loose and hanging by the wires, having brought the white wall-paper from the ceiling down with them in shrouds. It was otherworldly to walk between them, something the photographs only slightly capture.

Creepy ghost-like sheets.

Up the stairs, we began entering the sento bedrooms. They all followed the same plan, a simple bed and mini-bar, marble bath, small windows, steam-chair, and bright tile pattern on the wall. We entered a good number of them, took larking-around photos in the bath of a few, but any high-jinks were somewhat dampened by the memory of what these places had been used for, all of it tinged by the possibility that it might have involved bad exploitation.

A plastic steam chair, within which one person can be fully enclosed, like an iron maiden.

Bland red-mosaic bath.

Brightened up by flash.

Another vivid mural.

On the roof we passed through a machine-room and up a rung-ladder to the very top. Su Young climbed up the white water-tower 7 stories up and completely exposed while I ducked and weaved between the towers afraid of being spotted from the ground. I joined her briefly but the extreme height and vulnerability of that windy position, with soapland teamsters on the streets below pointing up at us, soon forced us both down and back into the building.

Here’s the video-

After that it was the usual movement back through the haikyo, snapping final photos and taking the full measure of the place and its atmosphere, then rolling out and heading home.


You can explore more Japanese ruins (haikyo) in the galleries:

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Comments 43

  1. Actually, those would be stalagmites (as they are forming from the floor).

    The video provided a good look inside. I still don’t quite understand how a soapland works, so it’s just a hotel room with a large bathtub? No special apparati?

    S-Y is quite brave. Good to see her be more daring than you! But maybe put a tether on her next time, just in case.

  2. Awesome–can’t believe how close that is to central Mito–you can se it right there from the top!

    Glad you manned up and went back to the top 🙂

  3. It seems pretty neat.. where do you find these places? 😛 I have to admit, i probably wouldn’t go without a face mask as there is a ton of asbestos in that place.

  4. Awesome! Where on earth do you find these places though, I would love to go visit some around Kyoto! Know of any around there?! I think visiting an abandoned love hotel is certainly on my to-do list this summer!

  5. Hey,
    Good post! I thought we were going to that one together? Guess it’s good to go with SY though. Kumi wouldve freaked out in that place. Even just looking at the pics and your description I could feel the negative energy coming off in waves. Nasty little set up for those poor girls. I doubt any of them was empowered like you say.

    Anyway great post and pics! No overnight stay I guess right?

  6. Post

    Tornadoes- Thanks, and yeah it had a weird vibe in there.

    Alice- Cheers, and yes SY and I are seeing each other now.

    Neil- Thanks for comment, and yeah- I think a good chunk of the appeal of this post is not just the haikyo element- but just the chance to see inside a soapland- forbidden territory to most of us I gather.

    Fatblue- Thanks, it took a while yeah, glad you enjoyed it!

    Jason- Stalagmites, good call. It actually had both, from ceiling and on the floor, just not shown in the video. Soapland protocol- my guess is probably as good as yours- but seems from the layout that yes- men come in, go to room, get cleaned up, who knows what sexual activities take place- perhaps there was a menu- then pay their bills.
    SY is crazy yeah, I wanted to grab her when she was on the egde, but didn’t want to accidentally nudge her off!

    Delayedead- Thanks, and thanks for fashion kudos ;). Those books, I have one of them- It has maps and advice about getting into the haikyo (all in Japanese of course).

    Jei- Can we call it manning up if I’m laughing like a maniac and dizzy with the height? If we can, awesome, then that’s what I did!

    Lazykitty- It was neat yeah- I find these places through a haikyo guide-book I’ve got, the link to it is just above.

    Jamie- Thanks, it was a good time yeah. There are definitely some around Kyoto- not that I’ve been to though. Check out the link above to the haikyo guide-book I have- that’s how I find them.

    Danny- Thanks, it wasn’t so scary though, just a bit of a weird vibe. Scary is going in solo at night and staying over.

    Japanese Eye- I agree- the best ones are often way off the beaten track, requiring a bus or a car, or even a boat! (Gunkanjima)

    the Can- Thanks Mike, I forgot I’d suggested that for us to do- but no worries, there’s still plenty more, especially if we rent a car and take the weekend. Freaking out- SY did a bit- you could hear her talking about the tiny shoes, but not so much I suppose.
    Overnight stay at that place- no way!

  7. Post

    Hey Rob (Wonderboy)- I find them through a haikyo guidebook I’ve got- the link’s in the comments above. As for joining- well, maybe we can arrange that, though normally (the Soapland being one exception) I go solo.

    Jamaipanese- Thanks a lot, glad you enjoyed it.

  8. If I saw that building I would have assumed it was a Love Hotel.

    Amazing that such a large and blatant Soapland could be built! I thought they kept a fairly low profile, being only quasi-legal.

  9. It’s Japanese who lives near here.
    Work is the vicinity soon.

    Here is further in the back street about the back street.
    In addition, it is a building on the site that has built in putting.

    Here steps into a bath with the woman, and buys sex intercourse.
    It is a money source of S or N-Korean Mafia usually.
    The citizens do not want to approach.

    20 ago Old story. Economy grew up to Japan, and it had made a roaring trade
    in those days.

  10. Pingback: Negishi Caverns Haikyo, Kanagawa | big red dot

  11. Post

    R Milner- I know what you mean, in fact that whole block of soaplands existing at all seems so dubious. We all know what is happening inside. But, I guess the guys who should be shutting them down may also be the guys who like to patronize them. So…

    SENSEI- I can understand most people don’t want to go to these areas. I feel a lot of sympathy for any girls caught in this situation who don’t want to be there.

    Jon- Thanks!

    Sigsy- Cheers, the whole adventure was pretty curious really.

    Tony- Scary, I know. Su Young doesn’t seem to have any fear though- either that or she’s just more reckless than me!

  12. Does Japan have any reclaiming organizations like they do in the US, where groups go in to salvage tile work and stuff? It seems like the murals that are still intact could be put to some good use or something, rather than just sitting there wasted. Some of them were quite pretty. If I went in there I’d be tempted to try to pull some tile off the walls to salvage it. Well, that, and I’d be horribly depressed seeing all those bunk beds and the horrid conditions. The pictures are sad enough, I can’t imagine how upsetting it would be seeing it in person.

  13. Oh, and I meant to mention, *please* where some kind of mask next time! I was cringing while watching the video, there are all sorts of nasty contaminants in there!! Asbestos is nothing to play around with, cause trust me, cancer sucks big time.

  14. Post

    Hi Heather, thanks for your comment and concern- to your points:

    About reclaiming organisations, do you mean like an officially sanctioned group? Or more of a guerilla thing? If official, I suppose not, as most of these places just lie there. If unofficial, who knows- but again I doubt it, as these places still just lie there- mostly unscavenged. I understand what you’re saying though. The last haikyo I went to, a Russian village theme park, was replete with big screen TV’s, beds, furniture, kitchen stuff, and basically everything that was there when it was closed down. And it was only closed recently, so the gear is in great condition. A few vandals have gotten in sure, but most of the gear is still there.

    I think it’s a question of cost-effectiveness- it would probably be easier and even cheaper to buy new stuff than to go to all the trouble of stripping some out-of-the-way place of all its second-hand goods.

    About a mask- thanks again for your concern- I’m certainly taking safety more into account these days, especially as I take other people with me.

  15. Thanks for replying! I didn’t really mean any of the furniture or anything, that stuff must be pretty well destroyed by now. I was referring more to the structural aspects of the building. There are a lot of companies over here in the States that go around to old buildings and scavenge various architectural elements, clean them up, and then resell them as “vintage”. You can find some really cool stuff that way – a friend of mine when I lived in Tucson had a rammed earth house that had these gorgeous old carved wood front doors reclaimed from an abandoned convent in Mexico. That’s more what I meant, like some kind of company that could go in and salvage some of the gorgeous tile work (like the big mosaic murals behind those weird steam chairs.) Some of it, I’m sure, isn’t really worth much and would be easier and cheaper to just reproduce, but some of those mosaics looked interesting.
    Anyway, I was just curious if the had the same fad type companies over there. It’s been super popular here for a while now and I’m always interested in seeing if fads translate to other countries.

    Well thanks again, and I’m definitely glad to hear you’re going to think about those masks! 🙂 Keep up the great work – I love the blog! You’ve definitely got a new devoted reader.

  16. Post

    Heather- I think that’s a cultural difference about Japan- maybe sort of unique to here- they don’t go in for ‘vintage’ stuff in their buildings at all. Generally speaking, it’s all new and on the go. Buildings get old, fall into dis-use, they are very quickly torn down whole-sale and replaced with something else. It’s the same for shrines and temples, which are almost all made of wood, and so rebuilt every 60 or so years.

    It’s something to do with living in a country with so little usable space, and so many strong earthquakes. You can’t build things that last a long time, so why try. This leads to a housing market where anything once built and occupied has its value instantly marked down. Buildings don’t appreciate here, they only lose value. This creates a mind-set of avoiding anything used or old. Though there are bustling small shops for vintage clothes- it’s chiefly a niche thing, and doesn’t extend to anything much more expensive.

    One more on this note- there is little interior decorating or DIY going on here. There are no TV shows about it. There is not the culture of showing off your house to your friends and guests. Most Japanese houses on the inside are very plain and simple, and that’s how they like it. So adding old-culture garnishes just wouldn’t go over well. It’s a shame.

  17. To MJG
    Thank you for the answer.

    Every worker in Japan before was a middle class. Therefore, everyone becomes a small king, and every small poor person becomes it.
    Here is facilities that can become kings of one country only one o’clock if paying though had been called such a commercial establishment “Turkish bath” before.

    The amusement facility on which only the character and conduct doing
    bears not the purpose but worker’s enjoyment.
    Therefore, an ostentatious decoration and extra service overflowed.

    Compiler soft use

  18. Post

    Video, yeah, was worried about providing incriminating evidence of myself or SY in the location. There’s still a few photos, but the video was too blatant. Future videos will be more careful I guess.

  19. Post
  20. no problem, Its just i live near Mito and haven’t seen this Building yet, but I keep searching;)
    Like your Haiyko stories, and if you decide to come back Ibaraki again let me know;)

  21. Pingback: out of ruins - Stories and Images from the Edge

  22. ..Great pictures..let me fill you in on this I was in Mito for 3 months in ramp up to the bubble peak in Japan. In those days I was a mere 21 yrs old..teaching English. Mito was kinda hell for a 21 yr was boring..Japanese there whom were young and had any brains had left and you had a town with a population of government bureaucrats and rice/natto farmers..there was a lack of people between 19 to 40, except what I would call “bozos”..whom were drop out..unable to get into Uni in Tokyo. I taught English at a cramp school..I had being recruited in paid 400K a month..was 9 hrs a day..included accommodation..I foolishly thought I would master Japanese and learn the culture being in was so wrong..I instead as a white guy discovered racialism..this strengthened me in understanding how that felt..In Mito people would avoid the foreigners..they were unkind and not friendly..I would take “kiten sushi”..which is revolving sushi bar and would often have seats next to me keft empty and a queue outside of clients waiting to sitdown..old people dominated Mito..there were rude, horrible and small minded for most of it..but there were some exceptions..some old kind ones whom were exceptions and people under 19 were..high school students..with zeal for knowledge. The soapland and red light boomed in those days..I meet many “touts”..i was in that bar zone drinking at dives sometimes to let ouyt stress..the zone was full of Phillipines and Thailand ladies..brought in by Yakuza..most were cheated and held against their will no doubt..almost zero Japanese and no Koreans..Mito was a farming town and J and K girls could easily work in Tokyo for more and better conditions. The soaplands clients were J old farmers and government guys..that was all Mito had..they were crude, rich ..but low class, chumps for the doubt they abused those girls..Mito men were known for their rude “kusou inaka” manners..they were hated by Tokyoites or educated Japanese as a whole. Luckily I met a decent J girl on a weekend to Tokyo and got a job there in Finance and moved out of Mito for good..Mito was a is history..I now live in Tokyo still..are successful and happy with a great Family. Funnily the Japanese complain that Mito ids overtaken by Phillipinos..they deserve to succeed there given how they were abused..Phillipinos are married to old farmers there and mixed children take over the land..Japanese young ladies leave Mito for soon as can..with few Mito is dying..only the old and Phillipinos or poorer races with little choices want to work fields..the racial Japanese in Mito and the whole countryside fear this..but it is day the foreigners will control here in 50 yrs time, as the old people die out and are not replaced..hope this is regards everyone..btw..if you like Mito natto..its the best in Japan..only decent thing that ever comes out of Mito!

  23. I love the pics but hate the puritanical judgment. Of course, if they are sex slaves that’s one thing but we don’t know that to be the case. Please stop the judgments.

  24. I too find the puritanical judgements annoying. The simple fact is that we have no evidence at all regarding the identity or working conditions of the employees. As you noted, everything that you wrote on the topic is just guesswork.

    The dormitory isn’t evidence of anything. Since such employment carries a social stigma, a lot of women who work in soaplands prefer to work some distance from home, to minimize the chance of bumping into people that they know. Perhaps the Queen Chateau provided basic accommodation for its employees so that they wouldn’t have to spend their hard earned money on hotel rooms. The dormitory appeared to be quite comfortable and well equipped. It would have been a little crowded when full but that’s hardly unusual for Japan.

    I too have visited the Queen Chateau a few times in recent years, most recently in January 2016. If anyone is interested, you can find an extensive photo gallery covering the whole building here:

    I’m not trying to sell anything, but a few comments would be appreciated.

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