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Shanghai massage parlors target Japanese
Updated: 2005-01-16 10:49

After midnight at a building in central Shanghai that is a shopping mall by day, a Japanese-language poster in the elevator invites men up to Big West Ocean club on the seventh floor.

Upon entering the club, a string of saunas with tropical garden decor and corridors lined with private rooms, the receptionist suggests a full-body massage for 680 yuan (about $85), more than 10 times the going price of foot massages and cosmetic services.

This top price buys "anything you want," the receptionist says. Workers inside the private rooms say the price includes sex .

About half the customers are Japanese, and the rest are local Chinese or Westerners.

Big West Ocean is one of an uncalculated number of recently established Shanghai massage parlors geared toward Japanese people, about 40,000 of whom live in the city.

Although no one knows the number of massage parlors catering to Japanese, people familiar with Shanghai's nightlife unanimously say they exist.

Some tell stories about masseuses starting from the feet and working their way up, raising the price as they go. Some offer prices so high, from 500 yuan to 900 yuan, that customers can be sure they will get more than a back rub, which usually costs 50 yuan to 100 yuan.

Some send masseuses to customers' homes, while others ask customers as soon as they arrive whether they want sex.

"You're not under any pressure, but it's generally a pretty frank question," said a Shanghai magazine editor who was asked once. "I was in a place the other day, and they asked me 'do you want the full service?'"

"A very high number (of massage parlors) do extras," he said.

Despite China's ban on prostitution and occasional crackdowns, in cities throughout the country entertainment venues from neighborhood karaoke bars to five-star hotels offer under-the-table services to male clients. But the Shanghai massage parlors stand out in the sex service scene because they target and live off a group of expatriates.

"You get a lot of married but single Japanese people in Shanghai," said a foreign-born lawyer who has lived in Shanghai seven years.

"More than in any other city in China you find that (prostitution) is more targeted toward Japanese people," he said.

Shanghai's massage scene attracts Japanese expatriates because the prices are lower than those in Japan and the service is just as professional, a staff member of the local Japan External Trade Organization said.

He said that the massages, including a light-touch, oil-free set called "Japanese style," can soothe overworked businessmen.

The Japanese-language entertainment magazine "My City" runs ads from 18 massage parlors. Half want men only or charge more than 500 yuan for service. An editor at the magazine editor said it was likely some of the parlors offered illegal services but did not know how many.

Massage parlor employees normally decline to discuss specific services by phone, saying they do not know exactly what they are or suggesting an in-person visit for an introduction.

They welcome Japanese clients with quiet cleanliness, Japanese-style furnishings and Japanese-language service.

"The Japanese work hard, they get tired and there's a lot of work stress," said a staff member surnamed Zhang with the 24-hour Beautiful Women Workshop massage parlor. Zhang declined to describe her job but said all services were legal.

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