Ruins of the Queen Chateau Soapland, HDR

Mike GristHaikyo, Ibaraki, Sex Industry 9 Comments

It was my second time to visit the ruins of the Queen Chateau. It’s a bizarre abandonment, a giant soapland in the midst of a cluster of still-functioning soaplands presiding over them like the towering castle in the suburbs in Edward Scissorhands. Within its walls sex was transacted for money on a grand scale, on 6 floors of executive suites, four per floor, each kitted out with a large bath, private bar and a bed.

3 Venuses in the lobby, behind the fountain

It’s a little odd to talk about going to a soapland, even one in ruins. Perhaps it’s stranger to go to one in ruins than one that is still functioning. Why would you want to go there? Surely it’s just a sad place. Whether you think it was once a place of just-good-fun or a place of exploitation, you’d have to agree the ruins would have a bad vibe.

Well, yes. They do.

Why would I come a second time, then? It’s a good question. I started going to ruins about 2 years ago looking for some sense of adventure, and at times I certainly found it, along with camaraderie with friends, a new hobby, and a new (if small) audience for whatever I had to say about such places. After a while though the excitement of such explorations tended to fade away and be replaced with a desire to document them well on my blog, to get hits, and to add to the collection. Now I’ve visited around 50 ruins locations, and regularly wonder if I can get a book published. I’ve had brief feedback from Kodansha (a big Japanese publisher) that my idea was interesting but my photos weren’t up to it. I sent off a few more pitches to other publishers in the States, Chrysler was one, Things Asian another, and got some positive feedback but no buy-in.

So I started to work on my photography. All the while though I see other ruins posts on other sites far out-strip the kind of readership that my posts get. I suppose this is because they are posted on larger sites that take multiple articles from multiple blogs, and so have a much wider reader-base. You can’t argue with that. In fact, the only thing to do is to try to get on board. So I sent off pitches for some ‘Ruins of Japan’ compilation articles to various off-beat interest e-zines. I heard back from one who may yet take me on to some extent, so I’m excited about that.

So that’s basically why I went back. Simple really; to get better photos. In fact I killed two birds with one stone by bringing a visiting friend along, Maxx, who had never been in a ruin before.

Ladies with crude graffiti.

Before I get into explaining what a soapland is, and showing the photos, know that you can see my first post and original photos here. The text is more florid, the photos a bit starker, but it’s the same place alright.

So, what is a soapland? Well, it’s basically a Turkish water brothel. Until about 10 years ago they were just called ‘Turkish Baths’, until the Turkish ambassador made some formal complaint and the names were changed en masse. It’s a place to ostensibly get washed by a girl, with all kinds of other bits and pieces thrown in.

In Japan a certain degree of quasi-prostitution is generally and regularly overlooked. Massage parlors in the red-light district, ‘extra services’ available at hostess bars and love hotels, and of course soaplands, they all just about pass muster and manage to continue functioning, probably because the politicians who fail to go after them are all men and frequently use their services themselves.

As to the failure of the Queen Chateau, one can only think it was too grand a vision for the consumer base to sustain. There just wasn’t that much demand for it. Even all the smaller soaplands in the area, there’s probably 5 or 6 of them, won’t have as many rooms put together as the Chateau did alone. Certainly none of them as grand. So, it failed.

The bright red roof really makes it stand out.

The Queen.

Sad eyes, I think.

The lobby, fountain and mural to the right.

Lewd graffiti, the lobby.

‘You’ll die if you go up’ reads the graffiti.

A steam-chair and mural in one of the lower rooms.

Steam chair and mural in a higher room.

Up on the roof.

I realize now I didn’t take a single photo of one of the bath-tubs. How remiss of me. I guess they just weren’t very photogenic, looking much like a jacuzzi in any room, with a few leaves thrown in. You can see tubs though in photos from my first post.

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

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You can also read SF & Fantasy stories inspired by ruins.

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Comments 9

  1. A sad place, indeed. But I think that enhances the haikyo experience. Are there any happy haikyo?

    I appreciate this article for the insight it gives into what you are trying to do with your hobby and this site, Mike.

    The link to your earlier article is missing in the paragraph below the photo “Ladies with crude graffiti”.

  2. as with the comment above it is interesting to see where you are aiming for your work and hopefully that you can eventually get something in print. Most of the books I have seen on this subject fall in the photography category and some text, most of which relates to history and I wonder how much interest this may have to non-Japanese readers. As I read over your article, I thought about who worked there and wondered whether this be more of a selling point for haikyo, a kind of voices of the past ( i remember reading a japanese site with an interview of a worker from Nichistu) – although I guess the logistics of this maybe tough!

    Your photos have got much better since the first visit, although you seem to be doing a bit too much of the HDR and wide angles a little bit (the stairs from the top HDR is excellent). What ever happened to your natural light shots (?).

    Will have my license from next week so hopefully should have some posts up soon!!

  3. Wow, would have loved to have gone there in its heyday. soaplands are great! Oh well. Great pics! Especially the queen of (I think) diamonds.
    Keep up the great work!

  4. Often really enjoy your haikyo experiences! Towards the idea that they may end up in bookform at some point, what I often would like to know more about is that actual site and it’s history. You cover the actual experiencing of the haikyo so beautifully… and yet I’m often left with a wish for more concrete details of the location (ie, link to google maps, etc) and actual historical detail (ie, dates, people)… surely some of it would be discoverable. Best of luck with finding a publisher… I think Kodansha would be a good fit. 🙂

  5. Post

    David- Sad ruins true, sad as a kind of failure, passage of time, loneliness. This place has more of a ‘haunted by unhappiness’ feeling to it. Not just the usual time and neglect stuff, but a hangover from the days it was alive. Well.
    Thanks for the tip on the link, I knew it was supposed to go somewhere.

    J-eye- Cheers on the photos, I tend to agree with you on the style of these, I’ve been into HDR and wide-lens stuff recently, as they’re new additions to my tool box. Probably from now on they’ll integrate a bit more evenly in with the other styles.
    Driving license? Go to it! Sometimes still check your site, but nothing gone up for ages.

    Locohama- Ha, a soapland aficionado! Welcome. Cheers on the photos.

    Gassho- Thanks, and I appreciate the suggestions. To get to that detail on the past is probably possible, with some research, I’m sure you’re right, I just think it would be probably more effort than it was worth to fetch it. I try where I can to get info from the net, or even security people or neighbours at the locations themselves, but to get beyond that, local libraries, newspapers, I think would require many hours of effort. That said I would like to gather some ghost stories set in haikyo, would be an interesting read.

    1. Post

      Thanks so much! I had to check who Tony Montana was (*shame*), but saw some shots of his house in Wikipedia, and yeah, looks like he’d be right at home here.

  6. I’ve visited this place myself in 2013 and 2014, and would like to offer some small corrections.

    There are only 4 floors of customer rooms. The ground floor is taken up by the lobby, dormitories, bar, office, and various storage and utility rooms. The roof level just houses the boilers and other machinery, and the single window in the centre of the roof is apparently a dummy. There are only 3 rooms per floor, for a grand total of 12.

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