Scenes from Department H, a monthly fetish event in Tokyo. Photo: Jake Adelstein

When it comes to be being spanked silly by a professional mistress, few countries can beat Japan for premium quality BDSM services.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article reports on an unusual niche in Japan’s sex trade. Reader discretion is advised.]

While Tokyo has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in the world, it offers bargains for travelers with unusual tastes.

Want to be humiliated and whipped in Singapore? You may have to slap down US$800-US$1,000 for a session. Mistresses in Hong Kong can charge as much as US$2,500. In the United States, while some “dungeon” S&M clubs go as low as US$250, real pros charge US$700- US$1,000. But in Japan, those with a masochistic bent can be “disciplined” by a quality mistress for as little as US$150 an hour.

Welcome to a new travel niche: “Dominatrix Tourism.”

There are no hard figures on the numbers visiting – but the spankees are coming.

“It’s a much better deal to be whipped in Japan than whipped at home,” says Bernie, an asset manager from Singapore who frequently patronizes mistresses in Tokyo.

So why are prices so cheap and the quality so good?

The master mistresses

Leh, a fashion photographer, clothing designer, and dominatrix, and Mistress Iris, superstar dominatrix, offered Asia Times some expert opinions while hanging out at Department H, a monthly BDSM/cosplay event in Tokyo that attracts crossdressers, drag-queens, masochists, sadists and exhibitionists.

Mistress Iris, clad in leather, slave on hand, surveyed the scene. On the stage below, bondage artist Mr. Mushroom was tying up a young lady and dunking her into an empty washing machine, using a rope suspended from the ceiling.

Sending her slave away and tugging on her gloves, Iris, from Los Angeles, got down to business, explaining how the BDSM scene had deteriorated and why prices are being slashed.

Mistress Iris is holding a riding crop. She knows how to use it. Photo: Sara Sani

“Tokyo is a terrible place for a professional dominatrix! They’ve turned the whole bondage and discipline scene into a series of fast food chains where the slaves order what they want off the menu, and the doms (dominatrices) fill the orders. It’s as little as US$100 dollars for a session. It’s appalling. It’s gone from an underground scene with refined aesthetics to a mass-market service.”

It’s all wrong, Iris insists. In the classic mistress/slave dynamic, the dominatrix determines what is right for the slave and the slave’s pleasure is derived from serving her. She gives the orders; the slave obeys. But not in Japan. Here, customers are demanding. Here, they expect service.

Iris really only comes to Japan these days to study shibari, the traditional art of rope tying. This was once how Japanese police restrained criminals but is today a key niche in sex-play in Japan; shibari has a following all over the world.

Mistress Leh, who is shorter but every bit as steely a dominatrix as her cohort, agrees.

“It used to be that a session in Japan cost a minimum of 50,000 yen (US$470) but now you have the big chains offering a session for as little as 14,000 yen,” Leh, a native New Zealander, said indignantly. “Sometimes even less if they print a coupon off the website!”

I turned to Iris to ask a question – and ceased paying attention to Leh. Mistake. Suddenly my hands were tied behind my back. So was one foot. These mistresses, it seems, are masters of their craft.

She spun me like a top, but, mercifully, the torture didn’t last long: being a slave isn’t my idea of a fun – even though Leh was demonstrating her services pro bono.

But for some – and visitors come from as far afield as Germany and the US – Japan is a great place to get tied up. Why so?

Japan’s dungeons and S&M clubs are well-managed, big businesses that are quasi-legal. In Japan, any sexual service bar vaginal penetration can be legally sold, advertised, and bought. Therefore, a domination session in Japan in which the customer is manually brought to climax by the mistress – something which crosses the line in the US and other countries – is legit. However, whether the orgasm is a “happy or unhappy ending” depends on the mood of the mistress, who might decide to punish the customer for climaxing without her permission.

Slashed prices

Short of cash? No problem.

In one club in Minato-ku, for a mere 15,000 yen, two mistresses will bind you in saran-wrap, abuse you verbally, humiliate you in “mummy play” and possibly pinch your nipples and other body parts. Or, you can be a guinea pig for a newbie mistress for 60 minutes, for 16,000 yen. This compares to 18,000 yen for a pro’s 60-minute course – where you can be whipped, covered in hot wax, spanked, tied-up in ropes, offered a quaff of “holy water,” have your face ridden, wear costumes, and possibly worship the mistress’s legs.

For the ultimate masochistic adventure, slap down 19,000 yen and you can script your own humiliation. The mistress will be whatever you want her to be: wicked school teacher, dictatorial lady boss, evil stepmother. And prices are still cheaper than any quality dungeon in Los Angeles.

Of course, the options add up. For a fistful of yen, a fistful of options are available. Want to (literally) kiss the mistress’s buttocks? That’s another 5,000 yen. For 20,000 yen, you can be treated like a dog for 70 minutes. That includes toilet training – and you can take home one item that the mistress has personally imbued with her scent, for no extra cost.

Japan is famed for martial arts, so if you want a mistress to put you in holds or choke you out, you are catered for. One establishment charges 32,000 yen (that’s US$300) for the 120-minute deluxe course of ultimate humiliation.

Whips and chain stores – and sado bars

Some storefront operations let you print off an online discount ticket and save 2,000 yen. You can also ask for one of the girls to come to your hotel. The website lists hotels with reasonable rates.

And many women in the business can’t be beat for good looks.

“The professional mistresses in Japan are really incredible. Some could be models,” said Scott, who works in Hong Kong for an asset management fund, though he cautions: “A lot of establishments will only take a foreigner if there’s an introduction. And they tend to stick to the menu because obviously, you can’t really obey the mistress if you don’t know what she’s saying.”

Mistress Iris (left) and Mistress Leh enjoy a night out in Kabukicho, Japan’s red light district. Photo: Sara Sani

“You can go to their Twitter accounts or the club web page and you know exactly what you’re going to get,” said Singaporean Bernie. “I know that if I find a good club in Japan that the service will be good, my desires will be met, and the dominatrices well trained and attractive.”

Working in the sex or BDSM industry in Japan isn’t a career destroyer; most such jobs are legal. They also pay very well. One reason Japan gets good talent is that the mistresses typically collect 70% of what the customer pays – much better than in the US, where if a customer pays US$200 at a commercial dungeon, the mistress is lucky to get US$75.

The sector is not just about S&M dungeons (many of which refuse foreign clients), though. Another option is an S&M bar. But you need to be a bold masochist to go to these: the mistresses summon volunteers on-stage, where they whip them for the entertainment of other bar-goers.

Department H is another option. Show up as per the dress code – costumes are practically mandatory – and you’ll find any number of lovely Japanese women happy to whip and kick you, for free.

Service mentality undermines sado-masochism

Leh, the Kiwi based in Japan, has customers from Dubai, Iran, and around Asia. She was told that in Iran there is a black market in mistresses, but the fees are astronomical. Leh is selective in her clientele and definitely doesn’t do discounts. Likewise, Mistress Iris, a very established dominatrix, charges US$700-plus for a session.

Both take pride in their craft. Leh says that the service mentality of Japanese dominatrices makes them more like submissives. “In Japan, there is a saying  Okyaku-sama wa Kamisama—‘the customer is God.’ In the world of domination, it doesn’t matter if the slave is a customer – the mistress is God! She is the only God! Slaves pay and they obey. They are lucky to lick my boots. That’s how it should be.”

However, Leh notes that the willingness of Japanese doms to follow a prix-fixe menu makes them popular with tourists.

Sexism dominates sex sector

Dr. Gloria G. Brame, a noted sexologist and the co-author of ‘Different Loving Too: Real People, Real Lives, Real BDSM,’ says dominatrix tourism isn’t that unusual, but that lower prices and better service make it more feasible.

“Dominatrix tourism has been around as long as dominatrices have existed. People will travel great distances to find an authentic experience of their sexual fetish or kink. For some clients, it’s the exoticism of being with new thrilling women. For others, it’s lack of availability in their area. For still others, it’s privacy concerns: you might not want to risk being seen going to a known dungeon in your own backyard. I’ve talked to many married men, and men who are the proverbial ‘pillars of their community,’ who save up BDSM/fetish adventures for times when they’re traveling on business as a matter of discretion. If you were a lonely fetishist, married to someone who wasn’t even aware you had a fetish, living or working in a conservative and conformist community, traveling for pleasure may indeed be your best option.”

Mistress Iris in Kabukicho. Photo: Sara Sani

She continued: “It’s a fallacy that successful men want to be dominated more than poor/unsuccessful men. However, successful men have the economic power to indulge their sexual fantasies to the maximum and are more likely to visit professional dominatrices – who represent an expensive luxury to the average kinky guy.”

Hence, for the less wealthy wannabe spankee, Japan offers a chance to enjoy an expensive luxury at affordable prices.

But is Japanese BDSM a slap in the face to BDSM tradition?

“There is some truth to Iris’s comments in that, in the US, we do see a dominatrix as an authority figure, not a sexy playmate,” said Brame. “So in that sense, she’s right. In the US, pro-doms (professional dominatrices) usually live out the fantasy that the client is a powerless slave/sub and the dom is in total control.”

In the World Gender Equality Ranking, Japan is listed 114th out of 144 countries. This may be why even the country’s mistresses aren’t really in control.

“Japan is a more male-dominated culture,” said Brame. “Even a pro dominatrix is perceived as someone who is expected to serve men, even when she’s whipping them.”

Photos by Sara Sani. Follow her on Instagram.

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