This is a short tale of how one man exploited Japan's awkward relationship with sex to build an entire city dedicated to the possibility of seeing a breast, at a location that happened to constantly stink of a fat man's Gatorade and Soba farts. And, if that doesn't have you hopelessly aroused already, I've also thrown in some stuff about the collapse of the Japanese economy and some photos of a dilapidated hotel that I found. If you're reading this on a bus, I'd pretty much wait until you were somewhere a little more private before continuing.
This is Beppu, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. It's a beautiful sunny day and there's not a cloud in the sky. There are, however, openings in the sewer pipe every block or so, which makes everyone in the city smell great, all day, every day. Those plumes of smoke you can see are the eggy sulphur farts of Mt. Aso, a nearby volcano (more like Mt. Asshole, amirite?).
This is a statue of Beppu's famous "Shiny Uncle," Kumahachi Aburaya, noted (but not notorious) child-lover and the man responsible for making Beppu the depressed Blackpool-of-Japan that it is today. This guy was a very successful rice speculator in Osaka in the late 19th century, until he made a bad bet and lost every last penny he had.
Bummed out, he went to America at the turn of the 20th century and saw how places like Santa Monica were being built from scratch by urban boosterism. He saw ad men and property developers taking plots of unoccupied land, and selling a utopian vision of that empty land's future to young American couples and families. Moreover, as the houses were built and people moved in, he saw them getting filthy rich in the process.
Given that LA is built on a tectonic fault line and could be destroyed by an earthquake at any second, Aburaya probably figured tricking people into living in a place that smells horrible would be relatively NBD.
Of course, the great thing about the gases from the bowels of the Earth is that you can sit in them and be warm. Japanese people love this and there are hot spa onsen dotted all over the country. There are even TV shows where attractive people sit in the hot water together and look sexy, fostering the myth that a trip to a town like Beppu, with its multiple mixed onsens and thrill-seeking visitors, is the perfect outlet for all the pent up sex the Japanese traits of hard work and preschool-level bashfulness tend to nix.
When Shiny Uncle set up his first onsen hotel in Beppu, he knew that people with dreams of this....
would be able to ignore the smell of this...
And thus the pervy Beppu onsen hotel boom began. For a while, the good times rolled, and guys like this had a ball:
Anyway, that was all a long time ago, so by the time we made it there most people had already shot their load in the dipping pools and caught the bullet train back to their sexless urban realities in Tokyo. I'm not going to sit here and pretend Beppu is now a post-apocalyptic wasteland, because it's not – you can still find plenty of kitschy spa pools to live out your sleazy fantasies in if that's what you wish to do. (My friend genuinely got chased by a Japanese man with an erection when she dropped the towel covering her boobs at the mud bath we visited.) But loads of Beppu is also abandoned and falling apart, like this onsen hotel situated right in the centre of town.
This is Christina, she's really small. I convinced her to come and visit Beppu with me to see what it was like. She didn't look so thrilled when we got there and looked even less so when I told her this was where we'd be spending the weekend.
The front doors were overgrown with some kind of vine and padlocked shut, but after jumping a fence round the back, we found an open window to jump through.
This is what the reception looked like. It always bothers me when there are signs and sheets of paper left around in abandoned buildings. It's like everyone just got up and left without bothering to clean up after themselves. I guess when you live in a place that stinks of shit, you turn into a pig.
As we scaled the second floor, the mess – and the smell – got worse. It was like we were ascending the Tower of Babel and about the right altitude to get hit in the face with God's farts.
Not that this cat gave the slightest bit of a shit.
All the bedroom doors were unlocked, so we took a look inside....
And, to our surprise, we found a load of trash just strewn everywhere.
Wow, moody. IF THESE PAPER WALLS COULD TALK.
In the next room, we found this violated mannequin laying prone amongst the rubble. Her head had been disposed of and her vagina had been punched in :(
Christina attempted to rehumanise the mannequin with some old karaoke tapes she found. It was like Blade Runner, but with more Ugg boots.
We headed back downstairs and found the onsen out back.
It wasn't very sexy any more. It looked like something you might keep an animal in. Animals and captivity aren't sexy.
Dead leaves and dried out swimming pools aren't sexy, because they are metaphors for old people, and old people aren't sexy.
This isn't very sexy. Or is it? Reeking of primordial bestiality sounds like it could be quite fun, even though I could probably achieve the same results just by pissing myself.
Yeah, this might look sexy, but then the smell of it gets in your mouth or your nose or some other hole in your face and you are sick on your erection.
In the end, it was a struggle to get sexually motivated in Beppu. Aburaya never lived to see its decline, but then if he'd been alive now and just found himself bankrupt for the first time, would he have visited America and built a city devoted to sex on land that smells like farts, or would he have stayed at home with an old sock and a Google Chrome incognito window for company, instead?