In always-efficient Japan, it took less than 10 seconds for someone to offer us a “no strings attached” meet-up at the terekura.
Telephone clubs, or, as they’re more commonly known, terekura (a contraction of the Japanese corrupted pronunciation terehon kurabbu), were once a major part of the landscape of urban Japan’s seedier neighborhoods. They reached their heyday in the early 1990s, near the peak of Japan’s bubble economy, and promised the opportunity for lonely city dwellers to talk to members of the opposite gender in hopes of forming a conversational connection that would lead to meeting up to start the ball rolling on romance or just some physically gratifying sex.
These days, what with Internet dating sites and online pornography aplenty, the terekura are slowly dying off. However, they’re not gone entirely, and so our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun decided to pay a visit to one such establishment that’s still open in Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment district.
▼ Now a loving husband and father, P.K. was only doing this to preserve the legacy of terekura for the edification of future generations.
Terekura exist, ostensibly, to facilitate meetings between men and women. However, they only accept male customers, who pay a few based on how long they want access to one of the facility’s phone equipped booths, to which calls from women seeking a match are directed. The terekura P.K. decided to visit, Rinrin House, charges 1,900 yen (US$17) for one hour of time, while two hours will cost you 2,900 yen and three hours will set you back 3,900.
The explanatory poster also explains that there’s a shower booth that’s free of charge, for those men who get particularly sweaty, or otherwise moist, from the excitement of talking to a woman over the phone.
▼ Or maybe it’s so you can clean your hand and ear really thoroughly after holding the phone’s receiver?
P.K. walked up to the front desk, gave his name and age (minors aren’t admitted), and asked for an hour of time. He was directed to booth number 12, which was located off a very narrow walkway lined with privacy-ensuring doors on either side.
▼ We guess Rinrin House isn’t interested in chasing after the sumo wrestler demographic.
Inside the booth is a desk with a chair where you sit and wait for a woman to call. There’s also a TV you can watch to pass the time.
However, no more than 10 seconds after P.K. has stepped into the booth, the phone began to ring! He picked it up, and was greeted by a cheerful voice that lacked even a shred of self-consciousness.
“Hi there! I’m 27, but is that OK with you? I’m nearby, so if you’re down for something with no strings attached, I’d like to get together. What do you say?”
P.K. was flattered and impressed by the woman’s forthcomingness, especially considering that not only had she never laid eyes on him, he hadn’t yet said even a single word other than “Hello.” But he wasn’t sure that he had the sort of bold personality required to mesh well with what she seemed to be offering, and so he politely declined. What’s more, customers at the terekura who ask for only the one-hour package don’t have in-and-out privileges, in the sense that aren’t allowed to leave the premises for a face-to-face meeting and then come back in, even if there’s time left on their hour.
In other words, had P.K. accepted this speedy invitation, instead of paying 1,900 yen for 60 minutes, he’d have been paying that price for 10 seconds (which, come to think of it, would be a great way to pump up a terekura’s per-booth hourly earnings, since if P.K. was no longer in the booth, it could then be rented out to someone else).
So P.K. replaced the receiver on its cradle, and was about to pull a manga out of his bag to read, when suddenly the phone rang again.
This time, the woman on the other end of the line was the polar opposite of the uninhibited first caller. “Hello?” P.K. said, but still the woman remained silent. P.K. asked her age and where she lived, to which she responded that she was in her 40s and live in Saitama Prefecture, often considered (somewhat unfairly) the dullest place in Japan.
Figuring nothing good would come out of trying to force a conversation with someone who didn’t sound like she actually wanted to talk, P.K. cut the conversation short at the earliest opportunity. Following that, he had about a five-minute wait until his next call came in.
This woman, who we’ll call “Sachiko” (not the actual name she gave P.K.), was a bit more outgoing. She said she was in her 40s, worked in the social welfare sector, and lived in the coastal city of Yokohama, two towns south from Tokyo.
She was also incredibly soft-spoken, with her voice often whisper-level quiet. Nevertheless, she and P.K. entered into the most extensive conversation yet of our reporter’s terekura visit.
P.K.: “Do you often talk to people through a telephone club?”
Sachiko: “No. This is my first time.”
P.K.: “What a coincidence. This is my first time to use one in 20 years. So why did you decide to try it?”
Sachiko: “I…want to fall in love.”
From what she was telling him, it didn’t sound like Sachiko was looking to exchange witty double entendres, so P.K. decided to play the conversation straight.
Sachiko: “So…what are your…hobbies?”
P.K.: “Oh, I guess I enjoy watching professional baseball. Reading books is also one of my hobbies.”
Sachiko: “Ah…I like to read too…I read paperbacks.”
P.K.: “I see. What genre do you read?”
Sachiko: “Detective novels, I guess you’d say…paperbacks.”
Sachiko’s unusual fixation on cover-type made P.K. lose confidence in his ability to parlay their literature parley into anything more interesting or entertaining, and so he decided to change tack and talk about the upcoming cherry blossom season.
P.K.: “So, I’m guessing you like flowers, right? Do you go to do cherry blossom viewing in the spring?”
Sachiko: “Yes…I do…”
P.K.: “Where’s a popular place for cherry blossom viewing in Yokohama?”
Sachiko: “… …Chidorigafuchi, I guess? Or the Skytree?
Let’s take a time-out for a quick Japanese geography lesson. The neighborhood called Chidorigafuchi is indeed famous for its cherry blossoms. The Skytree? Not so much, but there are at least some sakura trees in the area. The bigger problem, though, is that neither of them are in Yokohama.
▼ Chidorigafuchi (red arrow), Skytree (yellow arrow), and Yokohama (circled in blue)
P.K.: “Umm…isn’t Chidorigafuchi is in Tokyo?”
Sachiko: “They’re really relaxing…aren’t they?”
P.K.: “Uh, yeah. They sure are…”
At this point P.K. was beginning to suggest that Sachiko was either extremely scatter-brained or just really, really dumb. Either way, he decided it was time to say good-bye.
P.K.: “Well, if fate has it in store for us, maybe we’ll talk to each other again in the future.”
Sachiko: “Ah…is it OK if I go on?”
P.K.: “’Go on?’ You mean you want to keep talking. Uhh, okay…”
Sachiko: “Will you tell me…your phone number?”
P.K.: “What? Like my cell number? Well, okay. It’s [redacted].”
Sachiko: “Is your battery charged? What model is your phone?”
P.K.: “It’s an iPhone.”
Sachiko: “An iPhone…is it a smartphone?”
P.K.: “Do you know what an iPhone is?”
Sachiko: “Is it…relaxing?”
In total, P.K. ended up spending roughly 30 minutes on the phone with Sachiko, during which she said “I want to fall in love” and “Isn’t it relaxing?” more times than he could remember. He also got five unknown number calls to his cell over the next three hours.
Given her dubious grasp on the layout of the town she claims to live in, and the nebulous details of her self-professed hobbies, it seems like there’s a pretty good chance that Sachiko isn’t actually looking for a serious relationship, but is instead rotating between terekura customers all-day long and slipping into a new persona each time. As such, we have to conclude that a terekura probably isn’t the best place to find love, and also that you shouldn’t give your phone number out to strangers.
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[ Read in Japanese ]