Japanese Museums: Hihokan
Japanese Hihokan 秘宝館
Sian Thatcher visits the "House of Hidden Treasure"
Unfortunately this museum closed in 2011 and is presently an exhibition space for Buddhist art, run by a Buddhist sect
Things are never as they seem in Japan. People so coy and innocent about some things, such as revealing whether or not they have a partner, will shock you in the next breath by telling you about their recent trip to a sex museum.
Sex museums, like love hotels and porn vending machines are a staple attraction in Japan, although they exist in far fewer numbers.
Hihokan is the standard Japanese euphemism that sex museums go by, meaning 'house of hidden (or, "secret") treasure'. They appear all over the islands from the 'Beppu Hihokan' in Oita-ken, Kyushu, in the south up to the 'Hokkaido Hihokan' near Sapporo in the far north.
An avid collector of sexual artifacts founded the hihokan in Beppu in the 1980s. This man decided to turn his hobby into a business by creating a gallery for the public to appreciate and enjoy.
Inside there is a strange mix of exhibits, ranging from the odd to the downright silly. As you enter the museum, two mild mannered old ladies welcome you behind glass cases crammed full of dildos, costume uniforms and naughty videos.
You begin your tour looking at the rows of phalluses and statuettes in different and incredible positions. The next display features a huge nine-foot wooden member and shelves of smaller, twisted, ridged approximations of the Appendage behind it. Unfortunately all the signs and descriptions are in Japanese, so you might feel like you're missing out on something - however small.
Next is a small room with four exhibits of female mannequins posed in themed scenes, from bondage gear to fur to a model reclined in her chair, cigarette in hand and a dog in front of her. Press the button and the dog's head bobs back and forth pulling at her panties. Bizarre.
The movie theater is the next stop, with its endless, looping porno depicting three girls taking turns with the same guy. Puffing their way through no less than 12 different positions, this very much has the feel of an educational video you might have been shown at a very liberal minded school - especially with the play-by-play commentary provided by a very enthusiastic oldish-sounding woman. "Good luck, Yuki-san!" she shrieks.
The universal preoccupation with size is very much shared by the Japanese. The next exhibit features a comparison of penis sizes and shapes from the animal kingdom. Whales are the biggest, followed by elephants, with the poor, and very little, rabbits at the other end of the scale.
Things take a more twisted turn at the "Snow White" exhibition. Here, our heroine can be seen with her seven dwarfs hard at work on her disrobed body. She seems to be enjoying herself immensely.
The second floor of the museum houses the older exhibits such as intricate and colorful scrolls of bygone days displaying couples in coitus. Surprisingly explicit, their modern day counterpart would be something of the order of a late night television show or hardcore magazine.
As you may have picked up on, sex museums are not your traditional staid museums. They are bawdy, fun places where people come to have a giggle - and perhaps a bit of a thrill - looking at larger-than-life phalluses or perhaps a particularly inventive sexual position.
There are, however, usually a few really impressive pieces of historical art available to view. In the Beppu Hihokan, they have a truly great collection of woodblock prints. These prints leave nothing to the imagination and give you a good insight into what nights in old Japan were perhaps made of.
The museum assistant, and resident sexpert, said that mainly couples and groups of women frequented the museum. She said, Some come to laugh, they find it amusing. Others are serious and visit for ducational purposes. Some just come to buy sex aids. It's a fun job and I have interesting conversations with lots of people."
The museum is as much about kitsch novelty and fantasy as it is about rare traditional exhibits. It is primarily a novelty attraction, but also an ideal date spot for an open-minded couple and possibly a nice change from Sunday afternoon at the pachinko parlor. One thing's for certain, a trip to Japan is not complete without a visit to a sex museum.
Beppu Hihokan: Oita Prefecture, Kyushu
338-3 Shibuyu Kannawa
Prices: 1,000 yen
Atami Hihokan: Atami City, Izu Peninsula
8-15 Wadahama Minami-cho
Prices: 1,700 yen
Hokkaido Hihokan: Jouzenkei near Sapporo
2-1-101-1 Higashi Jozankei-Onsen
Prices: 1,500 yen
Onsens can be erotic places and it's no surprise that two of Japan's best known sex museums are located in hot spring resorts.
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