Warning: The following post is about the sex industry in Japan. Please be advised that there may be some content that could shock of surprise you. If you feel uncomfortable with the subject matter, catch up with me on my next post.
Hello everyone! I’m not quite over my cold yet, but I’m back on my feet and I’m sure I’ll be better soon. My family seems shocked that a cold can last more than a few days. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, it’s normal for a cold to linger for two or three weeks. Maybe I’m just weird.
Before I get on with the post, I’d like to remind you all to please start sending me questions that you would like me to ask a Japanese high school student. I’m hoping to interview one for next week’s post, or for the week after. I need to know what you guys want me to ask!
One thing has been impossible not to notice during my stay in Japan: The sex industry. Compared to America, Japan is both more open and more closed in regards to the sex industry.
After spending time with a few Japanese people, you would think that they have an oppressed, sex negative society. When I speak to Japanese college students, if the topic even approaches anything sexual, they get nervous and blush. It’s difficult to tell when Japanese guys are flirting because they’re so shy about it. When out and about, it’s noticeable that the Japanese girls show much less skin than most Americans do, even when the weather is very hot. This is partly to shield their skin from the sun in an effort to keep it pale, but it is also simply abnormal to show a lot of skin in public. The girls wear short skirts, but always wear stockings or leggings underneath. I’ve never seen a Japanese girl wear a tank top.
On the other hand, if you walk into a book shop or even a convenience store, you will very quickly stumble upon blatant pornography, whether you’re looking for it or not.
Every bookstore has a large manga (Japanese comics) section. Different manga genres cater towards people of any age. There is manga for young children, pre-teens, teens, young adults, and even for middle aged people. What’s astounding is that you can also easily find pornography right out in the open. In fact, I found this right next to the boy’s section (where you would find things like Naruto and Dragon Ball Z)
While this section is catered toward men, very close to it is a section of erotic manga for women. Most of this is a genre called “yaoi”, which features gay male relationships and sex, though it is written by and for females. It is much less conspicuous, but still easy to tell what it is when you see it. This was also close to the kids’ section.
When I asked a few Japanese friends about this, they told me that they also don’t check IDs when you buy this kind of thing. In fact, kids buy it all the time. It’s worth noting here that the national law for age of consent in Japan is 13 years old. Though most prefectures have overriding laws that boost it to 18.
It’s not just pornography that I see on a daily basis. I also see evidence of the prostitution industry on my walk to school. Japan is filled with what they call “hostess clubs”. In these clubs, you pay per hour that you stay. Beautiful women sit with you and talk with you, and if you like them, you can buy them expensive drinks. This is how the hostesses are paid. This is not necessarily prostitution. Many do not allow sex or outside contact with customers. But many are basically brothels calling themselves hostess clubs. It’s difficult to tell the difference.
There is also the male equivalent, called “host clubs”. Women go to these establishments and pay to be doted upon by handsome men. There is less frequency of sex with clients in host clubs, but it still happens there too.
Tokyo’s red light district, called “Kabuki-cho” (though it has nothing to do with kabuki), is where most of the brothels can be found. The streets are filled with gambling centers, hostess clubs, and “massage” parlors. Many victims of human trafficking end up here. It is common for girls from places like the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia to be lured into Japan and trafficked against their will. Many respond to adds promising legitimate work, but are then forced into sex work.
Prostitution is technically illegal in Japan. But the yakuza, the Japanese organized crime syndicate, are in charge of the sex industry, especially in places like Kabuki-cho. The yakuza have a powerful hold on Japan, and the police don’t bother them, no matter what they do. Luckily they don’t do anything to the average citizen, and certainly not to an American exchange student like me, but their power is still terrifying.
So while Japanese people seem generally repressed and shy when it comes to sex, one is also confronted with it everywhere. The sex industry is impossible not to notice. In a sense, it’s everywhere all the time, but no one will talk about it. I find this a very strange mix, and it’s a little unnerving.
How do you suppose a society could develop to become this way? How does it function? Could this kind of relationship with the sex industry be potentially beneficial, or potentially harmful, and in what ways? Why do you suppose America is so different?