Prostitution in Japan
has a long and varied history. While the Anti-Prostitution Law of 1956 made organized prostitution
illegal, various loopholes, liberal interpretations of the law and loose enforcement have allowed the sex industry
to prosper and earn an estimated 2.5 trillion yen
a year. That equates to 1% of Japan
's GNP and roughly equals the country's defense budget.
Many terms have been and are used for the sex industry in Japan.
, literally "selling spring" or "selling youth", has turned from a mere euphemism into a legal term used in, for instance, the name of the 1956 Anti-Prostitution Law (); the modern meaning of the word is quite specific and is usually only used for actual (i.e., illegal) prostitution.
, the "water trade", is a wider term that covers the entire entertainment industry, including the legitimate, the illegal, and the borderline.
, literally "public morals", is commonly used to refer specifically to the sex industry, although in legal use this covers also e.g., dance halls
and the more specific term , "sexual morals", is used instead. (The term originates from a law regulating business affecting
public morals; see Legal status
faith does not regard sex
as a taboo, while the impact of Buddhist
teachings regarding sex has been limited.
In 1617, the Tokugawa Shogunate issued an order restricting prostitution to certain areas located on the outskirts of cities. The three most famous were Yoshiwara in Edo (present-day Tokyo), Shinmachi in Osaka, and Shimabara in Kyoto.
Prostitutes and courtesans were licensed as , "women of pleasure", and ranked according to an elaborate hierarchy, with oiran and later tayū at the apex. The districts were walled and guarded to ensure both taxation and access control. Rōnin, masterless samurai, were not allowed in and neither were the prostitutes let out, except once a year to see the sakura cherry blossoms and to visit dying relatives.
The Opening of Japan
and the subsequent flood of Western influences into Japan brought about a series of changes. Japanese novelists, notably Higuchi Ichiyo
, started to draw attention to the confinement and squalid existence of the lower-class prostitutes in the red-light districts. In 1908, Ministry of Home Affairs Ordinance No. 16 penalized unregulated prostitution.
Karayuki-san (からゆきさん, 唐行きさん) (lit. "Ms Gone-overseas") were Japanese women who travelled to East Asia and Southeast Asia in the second half of the 19th century to work as prostitutes. Many of these women are said to have originated from the Amakusa Islands of Kumamoto Prefecture, which had a large and long-stigmatized Japanese Christian community.
Many of the women who went overseas to work as karayuki-san were the daughters of poor agricultural or fishing families. The mediators that arranged for the women to go overseas would search for young girls of appropriate age in poor farming communities and pay their parents money, telling them they were going overseas on public duty. The mediators would then make money by passing the girls onto people in the prostitution industry. With they money the mediators received some would also go on to set up their own overseas brothels.
The end of the Meiji period was the golden age for karayuki-san, and the girls that would go on these overseas voyages were known fondly as joshigun (娘子軍), or "army girls". However, with the internationalisation of Japan things began to change, and soon enough karayuki-san were considered shameful. In 1920 prostitution was outlawed which included the closure of Japanese brothels overseas. Many returned to Japan, but some ended up staying on.
After the Pacific War, the topic of karayuki-san was a little known fact of Japan's pre-war underbelly, but in 1972 Tomoko Yamazaki published Sandakan No. 8 which raised awareness of karayuki-san and encouraged further research and reporting.
The main destinations of karayuki-san included China, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Borneo, Thailand, and Indonesia. They were often sent to Western colonies in Asia where there was a strong demand from Western military personnel. There were also cases of Japanese women being sent to places as far as Siberia, Manchuria, Hawaii, North America (California), and Africa (Zanzibari).
Non-Japanese Asian women working in Japan as dancers, singers, hostesses, and strippers in the second half of the 20th century were, and still are, called japayuki-san (Miss Gone-to-Japan), and have become the subject of much controversy.
- Main article: Comfort women
During World War II, the Japanese military procured prostitutes for its soldiers in China. More than half were Korean, but the other were gathered from other countries occupied by Japan. Many if not most of these so-called "comfort women" were tricked or coerced into service. Some of them were kept until they contracted diseases and then discarded. Many survivors are still seeking compensation in Japanese courts.
Immediately after the war, the Recreation and Amusement Association
was formed by the Japanese Home Ministry to organize brothels to serve the Allied armed forces occupying Japan. However, SCAP
abolished the licensed prostitution system (including the RAA) in 1946. In 1947, Imperial Ordinance No. 9 punished persons for enticing women to act as prostitutes, but prostitution itself remained legal. Only the Anti-Prostitution Law of 1956 (No. 118, passed May 24
)—reportedly spurred by alarming rates of sexually transmitted diseases
among troops—made organised prostitution illegal, at least in some forms.
Article 3 of the Anti-Prostitution Law of 1956 states that "No person may either do prostitution or become the customer of it
", but no judicial penalty is defined for this act. Instead, the following are prohibited on pain of penalty: soliciting for purposes of prostitution, procuring a person for prostitution, coercing a person into prostitution, receiving compensation from the prostitution of others, inducing a person to be a prostitute by paying an "advance", concluding a contract for making a person a prostitute, furnishing a place for prostitution, engaging in the business of making a person a prostitute, and the furnishing of funds for prostitution.
However, the definition of prostitution is strictly limited to coitus. This means sale of numerous sex acts such as oral sex, anal sex, intercrural sex and other non-coital sex acts are all legal. The Businesses Affecting Public Morals Regulation Law of 1948 amended in 1985 and 1999, regulates these businesses.
The sex industry in Japan uses a variety of names. Soaplands are bath houses where customers are soaped up and serviced by staff. Fashion health shops and pink salons are notionally massage or esthetic treatment parlors, and image clubs are themed versions of the same (see Cosplay). Call girls operate via delivery health services. Freelancers can get in contact with potential customers via telekura (telephone clubs), and the actual act of prostitution is legally called enjo kōsai or "compensated dating" in order to avoid legal trouble. One "sex zone" in Tokyo, only 0.34 km2, has 3,500 sex "facilities"; strip theaters, peep shows, "soaplands," "lovers' banks," porno shops, sex telephone clubs, karaoke bars, clubs, etc.
Over 150,000 non-Japanese women are in prostitution in Japan. According to National Police Agency records, out of 165 non-Japanese people arrested for prostitution offences (売春防止法違反) in 2007, 37 (43.5%) were mainland Chinese and 13 (15.3%) were Thai , while Taiwanese and Koreans made up 12 (14.1%) each.
Japanese men constitute the largest number of Asian sex tourists.
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