Friday, September 21, 2018

Night Stroll in Nakasu, Fukuoka's Red Light District (Kyushu, Japan)

Naka River from Fukuhaku Deai Bridge

Someone wrote about Nakasu as "the underbelly of the dregs of Japanese society" where yakuza and the local mafia rule alongside street walkers and geishas. It is this picture that fueled my imagination. I've been to Quartier Pigalle of Paris, Reeperbahn of Hamburg, Soho of London, Kabukicho of Tokyo, Nagarekawa of Hiroshima, Tobita Shinchi of Osaka, and Centro Novo and Republica Square of Sao Paulo. I've always been fascinated with the psychology behind the kitch and sleeze of a big city as much as I am with places of worship. Having that in mind, I wanted to see it. I was a bit wary and debated if I should take my camera with me. 

I took the subway to Tenjin eventually strolling along Naka River. The neon lights on the Naka River are famous. They get visited by over 60,000 visitors a day. It has the busiest street in Kyushu. But the crowd that night wasn't big. It doesn't compare to the manual traffic of, say Shibuya or Dotonbori. It provided a leisurely stroll for me. 

Kuroda Nagamasa (Wikimedia)
Nakasu is actually an island flanked by the sandbanks of Hakata River and Naka River, thus its name, "Nakasu" which literally means "the island in the middle". 

In 1600, Kuroda Nagamasa, a daimyo of Fukuoka, created Nakasu. There was once a huge department store and rows of cinemas lining its streets. But the entertainment epicenter of Fukuoka has since moved to Tenjin and Daimyo districts in Chuo-ku. Nakasu is the country's 3rd biggest red light district after the ones in Tokyo and Osaka.

Nakasu's streets were full of brightly lit restaurants and bars beside each other. I saw what looked like a tombstone that read "Tenjin Central Park" which was just a row of potted flowers on a bridge to the other side of the river. The yatai (food cards) seemed few. Officially, there are about 150 of them left since the government's crack down on new mobile food stalls.

Nakasu, Fukuoka's red-light district, was an easy walk. It has about 3,500 restaurants, shops, go-go bars, pubs and beer gardens. And there's the sex trade that mostly caters to locals. Many of these sex-oriented establishments refuse entry of foreigners. 

Some areas were intimidating so I tried to keep a low profile, walking faster, and kept my camera away. But this was unlike Tokyo's Kabukicho where touts and pimps would follow me around, peddling their trade. Nakasu was a lot more chill.

Clearly, Nakasu wasn't a place you could take your children to. You need to be vigilant. Mostly, it felt safe. But the face of risk never looked scary. 

Naka River

A trio of geishas as the symbol of Nakasu

The scope of Tenjin Central Park is this row of flowers on the foot bridge crossing to the other side of the Naka River.

The bright lights of the Naka River is host to 60,000 daily tourists... supposedly.

Back to the Tenjin area where the subway entrance is close by.


Anonymous said...

Nice article and really great pics! However I wonder if the title is a bit misleading: Night Stroll in Nakasu, Fukuoka's Red Light District (Kyushu, Japan). Perhaps a more realistic title (for the vast majority of visitors) might be: Night Stroll in Nakasu, Fukuoka's Night Life District (Kyushu, Japan). I mean, it's a really common place to hang out for couples and families. Its main business certainly isn't prostitution. I often stroll around there with my wife after dinner. Just my input as someone who lives here, not a criticism.

eye in the sky said...

Thank you for your comment. I get what you mean. But I really wanted to focus on my experience walking around Nakasu, the red light district. The photos may not be thoroughly representative of the piece (this post looks wholesome and bright), but they were part of the journey to the seedier lanes which, looking back, I should have taken photos of.

To be honest, I was unnerved by some places there. The leering eyes; the dark corners with shrouded creatures. They were there alright - at 10, 11 PM. The post should have documented that, but I'd rather not get myself hauled off some corner because I was being too intrusive; not in a place with pimps, bouncers and gangsters. I am not an expert walking around the area, but my visit to the red light district took me to these places - photos found in this post. The sex clubs and shops were adjacent, parallel and in the back roads. Perhaps the title should more appropriately read "In and Around Nakasu". It could also be a picture-less piece, but I'd rather not have that.

But thank you for your thoughts.