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A Tour of a Japanese Sex Museum

By Lisabet Sarai

Anyone who hangs around at my blog Beyond Romance knows that I was gone for the last two weeks in November on a trip to Japan. Although part of the journey was business, my husband and I were able to devote more than a week to touristic types of activities and overall, had a wonderful time. One of the places we visited was Beppu, a famous hot springs resort area on the east coast of Kyushu island.

As we were reading what our guidebook had to say about Beppu, we noticed a paragraph about an infamous "sex museum", smack in the middle of the largest concentration of hot springs and geysers. The guidebook warned that it was tacky, but hey, I write erotica and erotic romance. I certainly wasn't going to miss the chance to check it out. Besides, the entry fee was tax deductible!

The Japanese have a strange reputation with regard to sex. On the one hand, they're responsible for the most outrageous and artistic bondage techniques on the planet. Supposedly there are vending machines in Japan where you can buy used women's panties. (I didn't see any.) Japanese sex manga gets pretty extreme, from the little I've sampled, and I've seen several Japanese "art" films that challenged even my generous sexual standards. On the other hand, prostitution is illegal in Japan (although geisha clubs, hostess clubs and "soaplands" are not) and most Japanese men that I've met seem painfully shy and socially awkward - sort of the way I was in high school. (Of course, this judgment is terribly biased since I can't speak more than a few sentences in Japanese - I might seem very shy when I try.)

Anyway, I was very curious about this so-called sex museum (labeled a "gallery" by its English sign). The visit began extremely well. The middle-aged woman selling tickets had two gorgeous cats in the ticket booth with her, who were not at all averse to being petted. Talk about positive reinforcement! (The woman was friendly too. Ailurophilia is definitely a cultural bridge!)

The museum had two floors. The first set of "exhibits" presented a miscellaneous selection of sculpture and ritual items related to genitalia: lingams and yonis of stone and wood, African fertility figures with pendulous breasts and massive buttocks, and so on. There were few if any English labels, so I don't know where the two statues below came from, but I'll admit I kind of liked them.

The next segment was devoted to animal sexual organs. A glass case provided models of the male members from various species: whales, elephants, hippopotami, horses - you get the picture. Above most of them were photos of the species in question copulating. There was also a life-size display showing a pair of amorous zebras:

I must admit, I was beginning to agree with our guidebook. Things weren't helped by the fact that three young Japanese guys came in after us and were acting really silly.

The next exhibit was a set of erotic wax work scenes, more or less as large as life. They must have been fashioned by different artists, because one or two were really excellent while the others look like - well, wax. One which depicted a woman who reminded me of Marlene Deitrich masturbating was incredible. I could sense her excitement - her face portrayed a desperate bliss and her gestures were totally natural. I couldn't snap a picture because she was behind glass - but I might use her as a character inspiration in a future book! Another display showed a couple entwined on a bed in a room full of mirrors. Once again, the expressions and positions had an impressive realism, while the mirrors meant that you could see their faces and bodies from a range of different directions. On the other hand, the "S & M" diorama (labeled in English!) depicted a woman suspended in a way that I think defied physics. Her stiff body and vacant face were about as realistic as a blow-up love doll. And then there was the X-rated scene of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, complete with sound effects...I'll stop there and let your imagination take over!

Most of the upstairs was dominated by shunga: exhibits of actual Japanese erotic paintings, engravings, and wood prints. I've included a couple of examples below (from the web). You can find many more, for example here and here. These images were fabulous. They were wildly varied and captured a broad range of moods from romantic to raunchy. There were same-sex and mixed sex couples, ménages, voyeurs, and orgies, and individuals involved in self-pleasuring. The characters in each picture had unique faces and bodies and represented all ages and degrees of beauty, always executed with exquisite craft.

I truly enjoyed this part of the museum. For an erotically inclined author, it was inspiring. Unfortunately, the Japanese split-personality regarding sex reared its head. In front of each picture, the museum had placed a transparent sheet of lucite - mostly transparent, that is. The region in front of the genitalia was frosted, in a ridiculous attempt at censorship! Of course if you looked at the exhibit a bit from the side, you could see the areas that were semi-obscured, but very attempt was annoying and definitely decreased our enjoyment. Basically what was going on was a manual version of the pixelation we saw in the pay-for-view sex movies in our hotel room (but that's a story for another blog post). Very silly!

Actually, it was quite odd, because the second floor also included a screening room where they were showing what must have been (from the clothing of the characters) classic Japanese adult films. Those movies were explicit - no pixelation applied. Go figure.

Near the exit from the "gallery" we found a shop selling cheap, low-quality sex toys and lingerie. The Japanese guys caught up with us there, pointing and snickering. My husband and I shrugged and went out to find lunch, bemused by the contradictions of a foreign culture.

I should say that the rest of Beppu fit better into our preconceptions regarding Japan. Just so that you know it wasn't all tackiness, I've included a photo from a garden around one of the nine jigoku or "hells" for which Beppu is famous.

Looks like Japan, doesn't it? Much more so than the photos above!


Margaret Tanner said...

Wow Lisabet, what an experience for you. I liked the statues too. This should give you plenty of fodder for your next book.



L. K. Below said...

Fascinating -- thanks for sharing!

Fiona said...

Fascinating. I lived in rural Japan for three years and visited a sex museum down in Shizuoka. It was a little museum in one of the temples. One room was beautiful watercolors depicting the downfall of a local woman at the hands of an American military man (the inspiration for Madame Butterfly). The next room was just full of hundreds of phalluses, ranging in size from a few mm to six feet high!

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Lisbet. Great post, thanks for sharing your experience with us. It is very odd that they would have such explict items, then try to hid areas of the paintings.

M. L. Archer said...

That is really interesting! Thank you for sharing!

Nina Pierce said...

Lisabet - What an odd contradiction. I'm very visual and just from the few pictures you were able to share, I'm sure I would have enjoyed the museum despite it's "tackiness". Thanks for sharing.

Cat Lovington said...

This was really interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Greetings! Thanks to all for your comments!

Fiona - now I want to know what you were doing in rural Japan! I think they had some of those phalluses in this museum as well.

Nina - when you're traveling, everything is interesting - even the tacky stuff!


Maggie Nash said...

Thanks for sharing that Lisabet. Japan is definitely a country of contradictions. Beppu is a beautiful city and I wish I'd had a chance to check this place out when I was there several years ago.


Lisabet Sarai said...


Sounds like your trip was pretty exciting even without the museum.

Thanks for visiting.


Lisabet Sarai said...


Sounds like your trip was pretty exciting even without the museum.

Thanks for visiting.