Studies in recent years have shown just how important physical affection is for our physical and mental well-being. An intimate touch can inherently transmit a sense of being accepted or cared for and can boost our self-esteem in a very real way.
Touching someone’s hand, giving them a hug, or putting your arm around them can make them feel more loved and cherished, and that can lead to a stronger sense of self-worth and happiness. It goes further than that, though. Physical touch can also lead to lower cortisol (the hormone associated with stress) levels in the brain, studies show. This can result in people feeling more relaxed, more alert, and more content.
Other studies have shown that decreasing one’s cortisol levels through physical touch can result in measurable health benefits, including reduced heart rate and blood pressure. Reducing cortisol levels may also be beneficial for easing symptoms related to back pain, headaches, insomnia, upset stomach, and skin irritation.
So, is intimate touch an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle? Should we all be holding hands and cuddling as much as possible? The nation of Japan seems to think so.
A new kind of business has popped up in Japan in the last decade where men can pay to sleep with women. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not that. They’re really doing just that: sleeping.
Well, there’s also a fair bit of cuddling going on as well. Cuddle cafes offer people the opportunity to snuggle up next to the warmth of another person’s warm body, typically the body of a young and beautiful girl, for a price.
Right off the bat, it’s hard to know how to feel about this. Is it cute that people crave physical touch in such a strong way? Is it sad that people can’t find genuine companionship and need to pay for simulated affection? Is it creepy that men can pay money to curl up next to a girl that may be half their age? It’s probably a little bit of all three.
What Is a Cuddle Cafe?
A cuddle cafe is a place where you can pay to go and cuddle someone for an hourly rate. Some clients will go for a quick 30-minute cuddle sesh while others will spend large amounts of money to cuddle all the way through a 10-hour night’s sleep.
Many of these cuddle cafes will also offer their clients other services for additional prices. Again, yes, I know what you’re thinking. But, no, most of these additional services are not explicitly sexual.
While many have falsely accused these cuddle cafes of being fronts for brothels. And while prostitution (defined as exchanging intercourse for money) is illegal in Japan, practices like offering oral sex at massage parlors or running an escort service that stops short of intercourse is perfectly legal. However, neither of these services are offered at most cuddle cafes. They are, in fact, mostly just for cuddling.
Inside a Japanese Cuddle Cafe
Imagine this: you’ve been working hard all day selling toys in Tokyo’s Akihabara district (the central hub of electronics, otaku culture, and other Japanese eccentricities) and all you want to do is cuddle up next to a beautiful woman and fall asleep. Unfortunately, you’ve been single for a few years and, instead of going home to a wife or girlfriend, you’re headed back to your dark, empty apartment.
But wait! As you’re walking along your route home, you notice a storefront with a sign that reads “Soineya” and, after reading some information on the front window, you realize that this establishment offers you the opportunity to cuddle up next to a gorgeous young woman for an affordable price. So, you check your wallet, see a couple of 500-yen notes with the face of Iwakura Tomomi staring back at you, and decide that you’re going to go for it.
First and foremost, Soineya identifies itself as a “co-sleeping specialty shop” that offers people “the simple and ultimate comfort of sleeping together with someone.” But let’s get specific.
When you walk into Soineya (a real cuddle cafe in Tokyo that opened in 2012), you’re confronted with a menu of offered services. You can start by paying 3,000 yen for 20 minutes of cuddling, which comes out to a little under $27. The menu also states that you can bump that up to 40 minutes for 5,000 yen, unless you’re a first-time visitor, in which case you still only pay 3,000.
Want to cuddle for an hour? That’ll cost you 6,000 yen. Two hours is 11,000 yen, three hours is 16,000, four hours is 20,000, five hours is 25,000 yen, and so on. Hold on, though; If you want to choose which of the employees you cuddle with, that’ll run you an additional 1,000 yen.
The shop doesn’t specify what you’re allowed to do during these “standard courses,” but it seems like you aren’t allowed to do much more than close your eyes and sleep (or pretend to sleep).
Going beyond the standard courses, however, you can pay for some special services if you have a little extra dough to spend. To sleep in the arms of the girl for three minutes, you’re looking at paying 1,000 additional yen, which is equivalent to a little under $9.
For the same price, you can have the girl pat you on the back for three minutes, pet the girl’s head for three minutes, stare into the girl’s eyes for one minute, have the girl change clothes (out of view), have the girl give you a foot massage for three minutes, or sleep on the girl’s lap for three minutes.
For 2,000 yen, you can have the girl sleep with her head on your lap for three minutes or you can give the girl a foot massage. So, how much do you have to pay to have sex with the girl? Well, you can’t, at least not at Soineya. Innocent cuddling only.
Japan’s Celibacy Syndrome
Why is there such a demand for cuddle cafes in Japan? Well, it seems to have a lot to do with the fact that people in Japan just aren’t really dating or having sex, making the country largely devoid of cuddle buddies. As a result, there’s a high demand for love (which stems from loneliness) and a low supply of real relationships. These are the economics that have allowed cuddle cafes to thrive.
It seems that the younger generation in Japan, generally, just doesn’t think that love can lead anywhere. A revelatory study conducted in 2011 found that 45% of women in Japan ages 16 to 24 were “not interested in or despise sexual contact.”
The study showed that over 25% of men in the same age group felt the same way. Additionally, 61% of men over the age of 18 in Japan were unmarried and 45% of women aged 18 to 34 were not in any kind of relationship. In the last decade, it wouldn’t appear that the celibacy syndrome issue in Japan has not improved whatsoever.
Personally, I find it incredibly sad that people in Japan (and perhaps all over the world) are growing less and less interested in love, and instead turning to cuddle cafes to get the simulated feeling of being loved or loving someone.
If someone wants to pay to cuddle and someone is willing to be paid to cuddle, then they should have every right to do so. But, it’s no replacement for cuddling up with someone that you love and care for. While cuddling with a stranger may help improve your emotional health, it certainly won’t make you as happy as being in love.