Clean ears, healed spir­its

Lov­ing moth­ers used to do it to their chil­dren. now you can pay for it.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By YUKA ITO

WHEN 30-year-old Ja­panese salary­man Takahisa Kobayashi places his head on the lap of an at­trac­tive young wo­man, he is think­ing of his mother.

The sum­mer ki­mono cov­er­ing her thighs brushes against his face as he lies on the tatami mat floor and briefly looks into her el­e­gantly made-up eyes.

A tra­di­tional al­cove dis­plays an or­nate um­brella from years gone by, sooth­ing away the mem­o­ries of the gar­ish neon of Tokyo’s streets as 24-year-old Amane talks softly to her cus­tomer.

Then she be­gins scrap­ing wax from his ears with a sharp bam­boo stick.

“I’m com­ing here to re­lax my mind. Most Ja­panese as­so­ci­ate ear clean­ing with their child­hood,” says Kobayashi, who man­ages a con­sult­ing com­pany in Tokyo.

As a young child, he re­calls sit­ting on his mother’s lap as she gen­tly re­moved the daily build-up. “My wife oc­ca­sion­ally cleans my ears but that is dif­fer­ent with­out the tra­di­tional Ja­panese-style room and its tatami mat­ting.”

Kobayashi is one of up to 150 peo­ple – most of them men – who come to the flag­ship par­lour of Ya­mamoto Mimikakiten (Ya­mamoto Earpick Shop) in Tokyo’s bustling Ak­i­habara district ev­ery day. The par­lour, one of 11 in the chain, has 16 rooms and is of­ten fully booked by cus­tomers pay­ing 2,700 yen (RM110) for a half-hour ses­sion.

Amane – who de­clines to give her real name – wears a light sum­mer ki­mono, known as a yukata, as she wel­comes her clients with a cup of green tea.

She lays their heads gen­tly on her lap and talks to them as she selects the right kind of metal or bam­boo pick to re­move the par­tic­u­lar wax she is try­ing to ex­ca­vate.

“Cus­tomers say it is heal­ing and com­fort­able, with some even fall­ing deep asleep and snor­ing dur­ing the ses­sion,” she says.

Amane, who also works part time as a masseuse, first en­coun­tered the chain as a cus­tomer, a rare wo­man among the men who make up the bulk of its clien­tele.

Store man­ager Sa­toru Taka­hashi says even though only 5% of cus­tomers are fe­male, the men who come know that there are lim­its to the ser­vices on of­fer.

“Af­ter the ear-clean­ing, the girls blow in the cus­tomers’ ears to re­move any re­main­ing dust. Lots of guys ask the girls to blow a lot,” he says.

A sign in the re­cep­tion sets the bound­aries: “We are not a sa­lon of­fer­ing sex­ual ser­vices. We will stop ear clean­ing when­ever there is an act that of­fends women.”

Ear clean­ing has boomed in Ja­pan since it was dereg­u­lated six years ago and peo­ple with­out med­i­cal train­ing were al­lowed to be­gin of­fer­ing it as a ser­vice.

Like the bars where hostesses coyly serve their male cus­tomers and laugh oblig­ingly at their jokes, mimikaki oc­cu­pies the grey area in Ja­pan be­tween in­no­cence and com­mer­cial sex.

The so-called “float­ing world” where men pay for the min­is­tra­tions and com­pany of women has its roots in the cul­ture of geisha, highly trained artistes whose skill in mu­sic, dance and con­ver­sa­tion was – and in rare cases, still is – highly prized by those with the money to pay for it.

For those work­ing at the higher end of the in­dus­try there are very good re­wards – a highly trained geisha could ex­pect to earn per­haps hundreds of thou­sands of dol­lars a year, and she would en­joy the re­spect and pro­tec­tion of peo­ple around her.

But for those at the other end, the “float­ing world” can be an al­to­gether darker place, where a reg­u­lar cus­tomer can mu­tate into a dan­ger­ous ob­ses­sive.

Two years ago, the mimikaki in­dus­try was rocked by the mur­der of 21-year-old Miho Ejiri, who was stabbed to death along­side her grand­mother by a cus­tomer whose ad­vances she had re­buffed.

For Amane, her part-time job is a place where she can of­fer com­fort and help to those who come to her, in an environment where she does not feel threat­ened. She sees noth­ing sex­ual in what she of­fers; for her it is all about re­lax­ation and mak­ing some­one’s life bet­ter.

“Cus­tomers come here to be healed,” she said. – AFP

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