After nine years of erotic adventure in Japan, Lydia Evans Yoshikawa is ready
to renounce past indulgences: sleeping with married men, miming sex acts at year-end
banquets, accepting money for sex. She decides to take as her model the heroine of
Ihara Saikaku's seventeenth-century erotic classic, The Life of an
Amorous Woman, who ended her lusty career as a nun in a mountain hermitage.
Lydia recalls the beginning of her love affair with Japan in "A Dancing
Girl of Easy Virtue," where an entire year "folds in on itself like a dancer's fan,
leaving one perfect day in high summer." This ideal day begins in her futon in the
company of a handsome and horny college student, continues with a flirtation on a bus
with a brawny American tourist and ends in an exclusive restaurant in the pleasure
quarters of Gion, where Lydia falls in love with an elegant older man
over a kaiseki dinner.
Gion is indeed much the same as it was then. Teenage maiko still glide down the
lantern-lit streets in their colorful kimono.
Chimoto, the restaurant where Lydia met her alluring older man, is still in business --
no surprise as it's been around since 1718. Twenty-four years ago,
I parted the curtains and went inside for a nine-course meal of summer delicacies.
This year I only glimpsed inside to be met with a curious glance from a passing waitress.
The unassuming entrance
But Lydia was more entranced with her dinner company and as the evening wore on and the saké flowed, her thoughts turned to other pleasures:
In spite of my protests, I realized I did want to dance for Dr. Shinohara, in an elegantly appointed tatami room, just like the geisha of Gion. I could picture the scene perfectly: the doctor seated on a cushion, me standing before him in the opening pose of the tea maiden dance I was practicing for my concert in the fall. Except, at his request, I wasn't wearing a kimono. I was wearing nothing at all. I want to see you as you really are, he whispered, and I wanted to show him. Everything. And so I dipped and turned and twirled my fan, my skin flushed pink under the warmth of his steady gaze. Could he hear the click of moist flesh between my legs as I moved? Could he smell my arousal? Of course he could, he knew it all, and when the dance was through, he would come and lift me from my low bow, and -- here my desire took a strange dental twist -- in my gratitude I would take his finger in my mouth and suck it, like a cock, to taste the complex, ancient flavor of his skin. I was sure his body would have many wise things to tell me. With the way things were going, I might even have the chance to hear them this very night.
On her perfect day in Kyoto, a Japanese dinner is followed by an American dessert and Lydia finds herself back at the Shijo-Kawaramachi intersection where she was to rendezvous with Jason, the friendly fellow countryman she met on the bus that afternoon. This photograph captures the neon glow of Japan's -- and Lydia's -- more modern evening diversions.
In "The Spell of the Mountain Demon," Lydia and her Japanese salaryman husband travel to a rustic inn in the mountains of Gunma prefecture, Japan's hot spring heaven, in an effort to recapture the magic of the early days of their marriage. Chojukan was built in 1875 and is considered to be one of the most beautiful inns in Japan. The inn continues an old -- and now rare -- tradition of a mixed bathing policy in the grand bath.
While her hard-working husband sleeps off a flu, Lydia slips down to the bath where she seduces an anthropology professor who joins her in a late-night soak. The nameless professor resembles the mischievous tanuki of Japanese folklore -- a raccoon dog known for his exceptionally large testicles that dangle to the ground -- but Lydia discovers he can express his legendary sexual prowess in other ways as well.
His finger grazed the opening. I whimpered and wiggled like a little dog happily greeting her master. Could it be I had second clit hiding back there undiscovered all these years?
I'm going to come this way. I'm actually going to come just by having a professor play with my asshole.
'May I kiss you here?'
How could I pass that up?
I gasped at the contact, the pillow-soft warmth pressing against that exquisitely sensitive area. The first kiss was chaste, a smack of lips against my tiny mouth. Then came the tongue, rolling over my ass crack like molten silk. My knees buckled. I clutched at the smooth, damp floor, nearly sobbing with desire.
He circled closer to the sweet spot, his tongue flicking and gliding.
'Now push open,' he commanded softly.
I moaned again in shame and desire. Had I ever done anything more perverse -- or more exciting?
More excitement awaits, as this is only the beginning of Lydia's extra-marital explorations, a "baptism into a new life." Upon her return home to Osaka, Lydia meets a new playmate in "The Lusts of Learned Men," her fellow teacher at a women's junior college. Since both are married, they must make use of that convenient Japanese institution, the love hotel. Here's a sign for a couple's hotel in Gion, called "For that Reason...." I imagine you're supposed to supply your own reason, but even if you don't read Japanese, you can see from the sign there are two options: a "rest" of a few hours starting at 2900 yen ($29) or an all-night stay for 7800 yen ($78).
The floating world, that's what they call it in Japan, the neon-lit world of dreams and desire and sex with people you aren't married to, all rolled up together. It really did seem like I was floating that autumn, my feet hardly touching the sidewalk as Matt and I hurried along the narrow streets to the love hotel of our choice, at a different stop along the Hankyu line, every Tuesday and Thursday at dusk.
I quickly discovered that Matt liked me to tie him up. S&M games were popular in Japan -- after all, Matt remarked, they even have a whole verb tense called the "suffering passive"--so the dungeon room was often taken when we arrived after our classes. But almost every room had handcuffs and tethers tucked in the nightstand and hooks at each corner of the bed for bad boys to get their just punishment.
Her kinky affair with her American colleague convinces Lydia monogamy is not for her. As "The Fair Concubine of a Provincial Lord," she trades the role of wife for that of hostess in an exclusive Gion club, taking the professional name of "Meg." There she meets the urbane Kimura, the modern-day embodiment of the tsű, a man who is very much at home in the world of Japan's traditional night life. With an uncanny knack for intuiting her desires, Kimura invites Lydia to a historical town in the Nagano countryside so she can indulge her fantasies of old Japan. That town is Tsumago, which was once a bustling stop on the highway from the provinces to the capital in Edo (now Tokyo). Although much quieter today, Tsumago preserves its seventeenth-century charms.
Lydia and her patron would have enjoyed the quiet streets and hiked a part of the ancient highway through the cedars. They certainly would have stayed in the town's finest inn, Fujioto, and it is in such elegant surroundings that they first make love.
For the appetizer, Kimura liked to caress me slowly, pausing now and then, as if his fingertips were listening to my flesh whisper its secrets. He put the messages to good use. On our first night together in Tsumago, he found out my left nipple was more sensitive and that quick flicks along the right side of my clit were just the trick to send me over the edge. In the discreet inn in Higashiyama, he learned how I mewed when he drew circles in the soft crease of my elbow, and shivered in delight when he stroked my shoulder and pinched my nipple at the same time. Later, in our private hideaway, he grew bolder. He liked me noisy then, coaxing out a melody of sighs when he spanked me lightly on my vulva, then soothed my burning clit with a gentle stroking.
Like any connoisseur of the pleasure quarters, Kimura's hobby is sex, and in Japan, hobbies are taken very seriously. Intent on fulfilling her every fantasy, he takes Lydia on another trip, this time to Tokyo. With Kimura, things are first-class all the way, so naturally they stay at the Imperial Hotel, which still serves Tokyo's well-heeled guests.
Once in their room overlooking Tokyo Bay, Lydia learns Kimura has arranged for additional services from a beautiful Eurasian prostitute named Naomi:
Surrounded by bodies, one behind and one in front, it was hard not to compare them. Kimura was a hard, hot wall pushing into me. Naomi, still in her silk teddy, was soft and faintly moist, drawing me toward her. Timidly, I reached out to touch her hair, but it was stiff between my fingers, from mousse or hairspray perhaps? What was she thinking as she fixed her hair for the evening ahead -- playing out a lesbian scene with an old client's girlfriend?
I moved my hand away. Maybe I shouldn't ask questions. Maybe it was better to lie back and let them do everything, drifting wherever their hands and lips would guide me.
I felt another hand creep between my thighs. Kimura paused mid-stroke, then dutifully pulled away.
'You're so smooth down here, Meg,' Naomi whispered, brushing my lips with her fingertips. Indeed, Kimura had shaved me earlier that day between our room service breakfast and our morning fuck. Then she took my hand and placed it between my own legs. 'I'd love to watch you touch yourself. Show me how you like it.'
Like her literary predecessor, Lydia's restless nature means she cannot stay with one lover for long and she is soon dabbling in prostitution herself in far less posh surroundings. The streets of Gion are not what they once were in one respect. In Lydia's time, gangster hawkers would have lined the streets urging passing men to come inside and sample the pleasures of such places as "The Banana Room." Conscious of international opinion of their sex trade, the Japanese government has made such noisy advertisements illegal and the Banana Room must rely on a discreet sign to convince customers to entrust their bananas to their temporary care. Although be warned, the eighty dollars for thirty minutes probably gets your banana a drink and conversation, but other services are certainly negotiable for an extra fee. For those of you who don't read Japanese, this advertises itself as an "honest" place. Services are decided and paid for in advance so there are no nasty surprises or surcharges, but you can count on a traditional warm towel to get your banana nice and tidy afterwards!
My journey through Gion at night ended here at the entrance to the Banana Room. I did not climb the red stairway to determine if these promises were kept -- perhaps in the sequel?