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NAKASU

IN THE CENTER OF THE SANDBAR NEIL WITKIN


WORKERS OF NAKASU THE SOUTH SIDE


WORKERS OF NAKASU THE NORTH SIDE


WORKERS OF THE FESTIVAL EAST OF NAKASU


GAMBLERS WEST OF NAKASU


A man works the entrance of a brothel on the south side of Nakasu, the entertainment and red light district of Fukuoka, Japan. The north side of Nakasu is home to the hostess, host, and “cabaret” clubs. On the south side, the streets are lined almost exclusively with brothels. Women who work in northern Nakasu march south in a procession through the streets with a portable Shinto shrine as part of the annual Nakasu Festival. It is said that only women of high status are allowed to participate. There are 3,500 businesses in Nakasu, employing 30,000 people. It is considered to be the largest red light district in all of western Japan until one reaches Osaka. Two men work at the entrance of the Chocolat brothel in southern Nakasu.

A man who works in Nakasu steps out of a brothel called Virgin in southern Nakasu.

Two men work the entrance of the Artemis brothel on the south side of Nakasu.

Three men prepare to assist during the marching of portable Shinto shrines in the Nakasu Festival.

Three men work at the entrance of a brothel in southern Nakasu.

A man who works in Nakasu leaves a brothel called Virgin in southern Nakasu.

Women of Nakasu carry a portable Shinto shrine south through the streets as part of the Nakasu Festival. These women all work in northern Nakasu, largely as hostesses, managers, and owners. The shrine they are carrying has been blessed by Shinto priests and purified with sea salt and rice wine. A man works at the entrance of a “soap” brothel called Sexy Bath Jack Bubble in southern Nakasu.


Two men work at the entrance of a brothel on the south side of Nakasu.

A man steps out of the information booth where he works on the south side of Nakasu.

A US Navy serviceman following the Nakasu Festival procession through the streets of southern Nakasu walks by a brothel which lies on the path taken by the festival marchers. The people inside invited the serviceman to pet their dog. He did so and then continued to walk with the procession. Young men (on the right) work in front of a brothel in southern Nakasu. Nakasu Festival spectators walk by (on the left), following the festival procession.

Two marchers in the Nakasu Festival procession stop to take a break in a park on the southern tip of Nakasu as police officers maintain order.

Three young men play during the Nakasu Festival as they work at the entrance of a brothel called Sexy Paradise on the south side of Nakasu.

Two men work the entrance of the Artemis brothel on the south side of Nakasu as a woman exits the establishment. Later this evening, two men pointed to the gentleman on the left and jokingly said in English, “He is yakuza.” They all laughed.

One man laughs at another as they work the entrance of a brothel in Nakasu.

Two men work the entrance of the Increst brothel on the southern tip of Nakasu. The man on the right introduced himself as Tom. When asked if his full name was Tom Cruise he replied, “No, Tom Hanks.” Tom Hanks has worked at this brothel for five years. He was able to get this job through his older brother’s connections. He said that he doesn’t like the job, however, because it is boring. A hostess who calls herself Ui walks on the streets of the north side of Nakasu.


Mr. Masa-aki Yukizaki, owner of the nation-wide Yukizaki jewelry store chain stands with his assistant outside of his new shop on the North side of Nakasu as he celebrates its grand opening. Many customers in Nakasu purchase gifts for their hosts and hostesses at shops such as this. A woman who works in Nakasu walks with a man through the streets of northern Nakasu.

A man works in an information center on the North side of Nakasu. Information centers connect customers with the establishments they wish to visit.

A man and a woman who work in northern Nakasu watch the Nakasu Festival procession.

A man leaves a hostess club on the north side of Nakasu. As is customary, the hostesses see him out. They will remain there until he can no longer see them.

A hostess on the north side of Nakasu relaxes at work after closing time.

A woman who works in Nakasu walks through the streets of northern Nakasu.

A hostess who calls herself Ui heads to work in northern Nakasu. Her high heels are filled with small artificial flowers.

Customers in northern Nakasu take a break outside to watch the Nakasu Festival procession.

A hostess who calls herself Ui walks down stairs before heading to work in northern Nakasu.


Three young men stand on the northern side of the street which divides Nakasu into its north and south sides. They are probably there to “catch” potential customers and direct them toward establishments on the south side.

Martha was as an office staff worker in a Tokyo host club. She began working there when she was a teenager. She has some fond memories of the job, but said that it was hectic and that she would get called in at odd hours to deliver alcohol and provide logistical support. She has since moved on to another profession. A man who works in Nakasu stands outside and watches the Nakasu Festival procession.

After visiting a hostess club, a man dines in a casual restaurant in northern Nakasu and chats with the chef.

A man sells freshly roasted chestnuts from a very small shop in the heart of Nakasu on the north side. He is rarely if ever without his black cap.

A hostess who calls herself Yuri (Lily) sits in her apartment after returning home from work at 5 am and counting her earnings. Shortly after this photograph was taken she began to cry.

The Snake Woman performs her act in the freak show at the Hakozaki Shrine’s Hojoya Festival. She entertains crowds by eating snakes and drinking their blood.

A woman sells corn at the Hakozaki Shrine’s Hojoya Festival. Many such vendors travel perpetually from town to town, following the seasonal Shinto festivals across the country. They are reviled by many in Japan who believe them to be unhygienic, unclean, uneducated, unable to speak proper Japanese, of a low class, and lacking in both manners and morals. A woman sells fresh French fries at the Hakozaki Shrine’s Hojoya Festival. The 1km road leading up to the shrine is lined entirely on both sides with vendors during this festival.

A woman runs a cork gun carnival game booth at the Hakozaki Shrine’s Hojoya Festival.


Two men run a ring toss carnival game booth at the Hakozaki Shrine’s Hojoya Festival.

A young woman runs a carnival game booth at the Hakozaki Shrine’s Hojoya Festival.

A girl plays with her mother, who runs a shooting carnival game at the Hakozaki Shrine’s Hojoya festival.

A boy sells waffles at the Hakozaki Shrine’s Hojoya Festival.

Two young women sell drinks at the Hakozaki Shrine’s Hojoya Festival.

Two men run a ring toss carnival game booth at the Hakozaki Shrine’s Hojoya Festival.

A mural outside of the Hojoya Festival freak show depicts “The Jungle Woman.”

A man with a baby looks at promotional material outside of the Hojoya Festival freak show.

A carnival barker advertises the night’s attractions at the freak show. He is pointing to signs that read, “Today’s Lineup: The Snake Woman, Special Guest: The Skewer-Stabbed Chinese Man, Mekong Delta Head Hunters, and Pyonko The Jungle Woman Amazoness.” Admission for adults: 700 yen, children: 500 yen, and toddlers: 300 yen. The Amazon performs her act at the Hojoya Festival freak show. In this portion of her act, a metal-beaded string is inserted through her nose and then out her mouth. The string is then used to lift a bucket filled with water.


The Snake Woman watches the act before hers at the Hojoya Festival freak show.

Customers watch one of the first freak show performances at the Hojoya Festival.

The Snake Woman performs her act at the Hojoya Festival freak show. She had been performing as the Wolf Woman until her supply of live chickens ran out.

The Snake Woman performs her act at the Hojoya Festival freak show.

The Wolf Woman performs her act at the Hojoya Festival freak show. She has just bitten the head off of a chicken.

Gamblers play pachinko slot.

A lone man sunbathes at the Saga Horse Races near the starting gate, which is being pulled out and set up in preparation for a race.

A well-known horse named Namurabakusai and his jockey prepare for a race at the starting gate of the Saga horse race track.

Mr. Okawa, a retired ten-year veteran of Australian horse racing displays one of the large wounds on his legs from a horse racing accident in which his horse slammed into a wall. He remarked that it still causes him pain. Mr. Okawa did not have the right connections to attend the exclusive jockey school in Japan, so he trained and worked as a jockey in Australia. He has returned to Japan and now works in security. Saga horse racing gamblers wait in the stands for another race to begin.


A young spectator watches a horse return to the starting gate at the Saga horse races.

A young girl plays at the Saga horse races while her parents gamble.

The owner of a mahjong parlor gambles with customers.

A woman plays mahjong in a gambling parlor.

A mahjong player gambles.

A man reads race results displayed on a large monitor outside of the Kokura keirin bicycle racing velodrome.

In a photograph on display at the Kokura Keirin Velodrome, Mr. Seiji “Yamasei” Yamamoto is seen at his award ceremony at the first official keirin event held in Japan (between 1948 and 1950) at the Kokura Velodrome. This photograph has been defaced by race spectators using free pencils available for filling out wager forms. The Hiro Standing Bar is located right next to the Fukuoka Motorboat Races, and many motorboat race gamblers stop by for inexpensive drinks and snacks while they watch the live race feed on monitors in the bar. Among the three figures in the lower left corner of the photograph is a regular (center) who is grabbing the arm of a female Fukuoka Motorboat Races security guard (left). A motorboat race gambler drinks and watches a race at the Hiro Standing Bar. When asked for his name, the man responded, “I am a descendent of Al Pacino.”

A motorboat race gambler drinks and watches a race at the Hiro Standing Bar. He is known as “Uncle Clip-clop” because he often wears traditional wooden sandals.


The owner of the Hiro Standing Bar waits for a customer to make a purchase. His bar is located next door to the Fukuoka Motorboat Races, and the vast majority of his customers are gamblers who enjoy the food and very inexpensive alcohol before, during, and after the races. Monitors have been placed around the bar so that customers may view live feed from the motorboat races. A woman studies a boat race data sheet at the Hiro Standing Bar in preparation for placing a wager.

Customers at the Hiro Standing Bar drink and watch live motorboat races on monitors in the bar.

A regular at the Hiro Standing Bar drinks and watches a motorboat race.

The daughter of a Hiro Standing Bar worker plays with a friend.

Two friends embrace at the Hiro Standing Bar.

A motorboat race gambler drinks inexpensive rice wine at the Hiro Standing Bar.

A man tries to kiss a woman in the Hiro Standing Bar.

A taxi driver smokes in the Hiro Standing Bar.

A girl leaves the Hiro Standing Bar with relatives.


Motorboat race gamblers at the Hiro Standing Bar watch the final moments of a live motorboat race on a monitor.

The daughter of a Hiro Standing Bar worker waits behind the counter with the owner.

A motorboat race gambler watches the final moments of a live motorboat race on a monitor.

Cigarettes and ashes lie on the concrete floor of the Hiro Standing Bar.


NAKASU IN THE CENTER OF THE SANDBAR In Fukuoka, Japan there is a narrow, slit shaped river island called Nakasu. A small pleasure quarter was established there in the mid 1800s, despite the fact that the island itself measures only 0.15 square kilometers. Today approximately 30,000 people work in Nakasu, and it has become the largest entertainment and red light district in all of western Japan. The northern side of Nakasu is home to the hostess, host, and cabaret clubs. They offer alcohol, entertainment, and instant friendly companionship at exorbitant prices that many are happy to pay. The streets on the south side of Nakasu are lined almost exclusively with brothels that loudly advertise their services with names such as Sexy Bath Jack Bubble and Satisfaction Palace. As it is a red light district, the people who work on this island have poor reputations. The women of the north side are said to be beautiful, fashionable, clever, and promiscuous. The men of the south side are said to be dangerous, extortionist thugs. Less than three kilometers to the east of Nakasu is a major Shinto shrine called Hakozaki. This shrine hosts the massive Hojoya Festival, and traveling vendors flock to this festival by the thousands to sell their wares, run carnival games, and entertain crowds. These vendors perpetually travel throughout the country (often as families), following the seasonal Shinto festivals from city to city in order to earn a living. They are regarded by many in Japan as being unhygienic, unclean, uneducated, unable to speak proper Japanese, and lacking in both manners and morals. Less than one kilometer to the west of Nakasu are the Fukuoka Motorboat Races. While gambling is technically illegal in Japan, government-run gambling operations such as motorboat racing, horse racing, and keirin bicycle racing enjoy protection under the law; so long as they contribute to society while providing citizens with wholesome entertainment. (Motorboat racing is said to make this contribution to society through the promotion of maritime enterprises, horse racing contributes through the promotion of stockbreeding, and bicycle racing contributes to society through the promotion of the machine industries). Gamblers in Japan also have poor reputations. They are often thought of as shiftless addicts who have little else in their lives beyond gambling and drinking. In a culture where belonging is among the greatest of virtues, who are these people that don’t belong? This book explores the worlds of these people who are of such ill repute that they live on the edges of society. Nakasu can be translated as, “the center of the sandbar,� and in this sense the title of this work conceptually links all three of these reviled groups to an old and isolated island. Neil Witkin



Witkin