I’m not sure that I’ll ever be okay with paying a stranger to gaze deeply into my eyes.
Can you purchase intimacy? What are patrons of a cuddle cafes or host clubs really expecting out of their visits?
It’s said that prostitution is ‘the world’s oldest profession’ but historically has been associate with exclusively physical pleasure, not emotional intimacy. Emotional connections might even be discouraged. How can non-physical desires be commodified and still believable? The cuddle cafe worker admits she has no emotional attachment to her clients, yet she makes her living by convincing them otherwise. I am shocked by the ease that emotional intimacy can be ‘faked’. Intimacy doesn’t sound congruous with stranger.
A quick Google search tells me that intimacy means “close familiarity or friendship, closeness.” Unless the definition is intended to invoke the literal definition of closeness- physical proximity- intimacy cannot be achieved without some degree of familiarity. Clients are paying to be fooled into forgetting that they’ve just paid for this service; they’re purchasing intimacy. I’m having trouble reconciling the need for an emotional (and physical) connection with purchasing an hour’s cuddle time with a stranger.
Is this really enough to satiate those who claim they don’t want or have time for a partner? I respect that this is a short term, immediate gratification solution to the problem of lacking intimacy in other parts of life. What has happened to Japanese culture that has led to this and other commodified physical and emotional intimacy experiences? I want to acknowledge the cultural differences between Japan and the United States that create different expectations for social interactions, and my own person biased perspective on these differences. In many of my gender studies classes, we talk about the public/private sphere divide. Sexuality has been moved to the private sphere in United States mainstream culture; we don’t talk about sexual intimacy in public spaces. It seems that this isn’t the case for Japan. A willingness to talk about, be around, and experience, a wide variety of sexualities and sexual experience in the public sphere makes this more easily commodifiable. The ‘intimacy’ barrier that I was so initially shocked at looses some of it’s strength when I consider that sexuality is much more open and visible in this culture than ours. Sexuality, when reserved for the private sphere, presumes intimacy. Different sexual experiences, when brought into the public eye, might be more accepted in the context of Japanese culture.
Why does the demand for such an industry exist? Host and hostess clubs seem to point to a generational divide that create friction between citizenship and individual freedom. Twenty somethings in Japan are not getting married nor reproducing. Japan’s population is aging rapidly, but those of a traditional marrying age are not stepping in to rebuild the population. This country developed and globalized rapidly, empowering the younger generations to join a bustling workforce. I think this is especially true for women, who, for the first time ever, are allowed to build their own identity without shaping it around their partner. This liberation and power to choose personal wants and needs over the obligations of family and citizenship have led to a commodified sexual experience. It provides some satiation of the desire for sexual and other forms of intimacy, without the time and monetary commitment that a ‘real’ relationship demands.
Are all relationships headed in this direction? For the Japanese, I think this trend will continue to grow and unfold. For Americans? I think there’s still too much religion influencing (and holding back) capitalism from this industry, rather than vice versa. Sexuality, relationships, and intimacy are still very much tied to the private sphere in American culture. Until this changes, our conception of a ‘relationship’ won’t be commodified. You can’t sell what you can’t talk about. Can you?