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:[album id=4 template=compact]