Posted by debito on April 8th, 2007
Hello Blog. Here’s a recent article from the Mainichi talking about a man who apparently single-handedly got the word “Toruko” (Turkish bath) signs removed from what are now “Soaplands” etc.–places which offer deluxe massages, if you will.
I include the word “apparently” above, since article depicts Mr Sancakli as a man motivated by shame and love of his wife, country, and Japan. Fine. But somehow I don’t think it’s so simple that he spoke to some media and politicians and they automatically saw the error of their ways–and within a few months got “Toruko” nationwide to change their signs at their own expense.
Call me cynical, but it’s gotta be a little more behind it than that. A bit of pressure from the Turkish government, perhaps? Anybody out there know? (Citation from Wikipedia below the article.)
Anyway, I offer this up to show that once again, it is possible for one person to make a difference. Well done, Mr Sancakli. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
MR NUSRET SANCAKLI, THE PERSON WHO GOT “TORUKO” (TURK) REMOVED FROM “SOAPLANDS”
Mainichi Shinbun, March 7, 2007. Translated by Arudou Debito. Original Japanese at
The bright lights of neon signs fill the city streets. It’s been 23 years since he’s seen Tokyo Shinjuku so radiant. Cherry blossoms scatter about. “I feel as light as a bird. I don’t have to walk around and avert my eyes anymore.”
It was 1981 when Mr Sancakli came to Japan from Turkey [rendered in Japanese as "Toruko"] as an exchange student to study earthquakes, and had been here about six months. In the evening twilight he saw a place named after his home country and went to investigate.
“We got a gaijin here,” he heard from inside, and several women in their undergarments appeared. [It was a brothel.] He couldn’t understand how this country he loved and his home country could have gone so far off track. He thought about his 19-year-old wife, Hadie, who had also accompanied him to Japan, and locked his feelings deep inside.
But one day, when he and his wife on the way home by subway, an elderly woman asked where they were from. She was still a bit rusty in Japanese, so she answered, “I go to Toruko with him”. The old women began to shake and blush, to Mrs Sancakli’s embarrassment. So he explained to his wife for the first time what “Toruko” meant in Japan: “Turkish baths”–with sexual services.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” she said over and over, and said she wanted to go back home to Turkey. So Sancakli said , “If it’s the last thing I do, I promise you I’ll get ‘Toruko’ off those signs.”
He came back to Japan in the summer of 1984. He went on a pilgrimage to tell politicians and the media what a “hammam”, a real Turkish bath, was like. There were instant repercussions, and within a few months all “Toruko” signs were gone [changed into "Soaplands"].
He returned to Turkey feeling a great debt of gratitude to Japan. In 1992, he set about setting up a Japanese language department in his local university. He has written three textbooks himself and graduated more than 1500 students. “More and more people don’t know about this bit of history, but I’m still returning the favor.”
BIO: Nusret Sancakli, 53, is a specialist in earthquakes. Born in Montenegro, he moved to Turkey at the age of 6. He currently represents a hand-made carpet company.
Wikipedia offers up this information:
Soaplands were originally called toruko-buro (トルコ風呂), meaning Turkish bath. A Turkish scholar, Nusret Sancakli, set off on a newspaper campaign to denounce Japan’s Turkish girls and the so-called Turkish baths they worked in,” and the word “soapland” was the winning entry in a nationwide contest to rename the brothels.
Footnotes: Peter Constantine, Japan’s Sex Trade: A Journey Through Japan’s Erotic Subcultures, (Tokyo: Yenbooks, 1993), 37–8.