John Walsh: Geishas might not do what you think

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The niche eroticism of the Japanese never ceases to amaze, does it? Given the historic vulgarity of the professional British horizontale, the weirdness of Nipponese sexuality has always intrigued us. The 17th-century shoguns set up "pleasure quarters" where gentlemen could visit prostitutes (and wives were OK about it) but Japanese girls kept dragging the arts into the basic eroto-financial transaction, until male visitors could hardly find a genuine harlot anywhere among the dancers, singers, lute-fingerers and exponents of calligraphic skill.

Good-time girls evolved into geishas, who were awash with social accomplishments but wouldn't shag anybody. Far too grand. Men who came along expecting to divest a geisha of her kimono, and perform indignities upon her person, found themselves forced to sit through a four-hour tea-pouring ceremony, an hour of posh (non-erotic) poetry about Mount Fuji, climaxed by a 45-minute solo on the acoustic shamisen, at which they gave up in disgust.

The geisha's job was "to entrance with music, dance and elevated conversation". She was all about flirtation, promise, yearning and unfulfilment, nothing more. If you resented handing over £40 at the end of your session, you were just a barbarian.

The erotic possibilities of social chitchat survived into the late 20th century with the rise of Mama-san bars: the idea was still not to get laid in exchange for folding money, but to talk to the girls instead. The English author Angela Carter wrote an article about finding work at such a bar, where she was told to chat with intelligence and sympathy to the exhausted salarymen (and be paid for the conversation.) Sadly, Ms Carter was fired for being too acerbic, too back-chatty and insufficiently respectful about the mens' enormous, you know, stipends.

Then there was the karaoke bar (singing, but no sex.) Then the erotic haircut salon, where ladies would attend to your Barnet Fair without ever approaching your Hampton Wick. Now look what's happened. The hot "entertainment" for chaps in modern Tokyo is the Erotic Ear-Cleaning Salon. No really, it's true. About 100 such parlours have opened in the last six months. For a 30-second session, costing £20, a girl in a maid's outfit will lay your head in her lap and do intimate things to your ear with a bamboo pick, while chatting about the collapsing financial markets. No sex, once again, but some noisy scraping noises.

Does that appeal? It's a sophisticated extension of conversation, in which someone beguiles you through the earhole, but I can't see it catching on here – where the British equivalent is the metal syringe, the wax-extruding warm water and the kidney dish. And there's precious little erotic promise in that.

Beware flying bottles

I went to see the Kings of Leon playing their gruff, backwoodsmen rock as part of the Hard Rock Calling concerts, which last year brought The Killers, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen to Hyde Park. Then, it was idyllic. This year, it was gruesome. The band's sound quality was muddy, the crowd was full of tattooed, sexist thugs ("You in the hat – show us yer rack!" bellowed one at a passing beauty in a boater) and the hellish queues in the beer tent meant everyone bought multiple supplies, so as not to have to return.

As the bottles warmed up in the sun, and the beer became undrinkable, people began throwing them into the crowd. Others threw theirs back, until the air was full of flying Tuborg bottles and amber liquid (which you fervently hoped was beer.) It was not a happy scene. Then a stray, half-full beer bottle went sailing into the raised-up Handicapped Persons' Area, where disabled rock fans sat in seats behind people in wheelchairs. The bottle cannoned into someone's head – and the crowd held its breath. Some, you could tell, were thinking: "This is a good game – after all, they're sitting targets..." while the rest prayed that human beings couldn't really be such scumbags. Decency prevailed. The bottle-throwers resumed their assault on each other. The band played on, muddily. And we breathed out, thinking, "Well at least we're not that nasty." Not yet anyway.

Blue-sky thinking

While we're talking music, thank you to all who wrote expressing bewilderment at my suggestion that there are no songs celebrating the English summer in British pop, except "In The Summertime" by Mungo Jerry, "Sunny Afternoon" by The Kinks and "Lazy Sunday" by The Small Faces.

"How could you possibly have missed out The Beatles' 'Good Day Sunshine?'" inquired an incredulous Brandon Robshaw. Because it's a very thin song, Brandon ("I feel good, in a special way/ I'm in love and it's a sunny day,") that's why. An anonymous fan voted for Bananarama's "Cruel Summertime," which wasn't quite what I had in mind, and "Die In The Summertime" by the Manic Street Preachers (perhaps you should seek psychiatric help, sir) plus a couple of jolly tunes by that band whose name is on every sun-worshipper's lips, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci.

Ageing hippies waved a joint for Roy Harper's "One of Those Days in England" and "Sunshine Help Me" by Spooky Tooth (remember them?) but I doubt if they'll ever be end-of-the-pier favourites.

But there were two blindingly good songs I'd missed. "Pulling Mussels from a Shell" by Squeeze is a charming vignette of beach life and namechecks both Waikiki and Camber Sands, though I'm intrigued to discover, from online song-analysts, that the chorus refers to cunnilingus. And hats off to Chris Davies for reminding us that the best summer song of all is "Mr Blue Sky" by the Electric Light Orchestra. From the chopping cellos, the mad switches of key signature, the brilliant chorus and the Jaws-theme-meets-Gustav-Holst finale, it's a one-off masterpiece of sun-worship which I insist you check out on YouTube this very minute.

j.walsh@independent.co.uk

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