There was a traditional love song playing. The man collecting tickets recognized Tony and flashed a big smile, embellished with gold teeth. The room was smaller than I’d expected, with a low ceiling. A dim spotlight glowed over a tiny, semi-circular platform which projected several feet into the first few rows of the audience. Only the front half of the room had any seating; the rest was filled with men standing in groups or alone, smoking cigarettes and talking excitedly. Those sitting closer to the stage were gazing at the curtains behind the spotlights. Some of the men in the front row were leaning against the stage itself.

I followed Tony as we made our way to the far side of the room. There were no seats available, so we positioned ourselves against a wall. It was crowded; more than a hundred men pressed into the cramped space. Tokyo rents are expensive. I made a quick calculation: half a million yen for a couple of hours’ basement space, three or four times an evening. It was a respectable return per square foot – probably a lot better than the return on the floor space at the office where I worked.

In front of us two men, who looked like construction workers, were talking in Korean. The music disappeared into the babble of the audience’s conversation. The spotlight grew brighter, there was a movement behind the curtain, and a dwarf with a painted clown’s face stepped into the circle of light.

The Lens Factory