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Prostitution in Japan

They say it's the oldest profession. Some also say, knowingly, prostitution is ubiquitous on this planet. So what makes me discuss all anew this oldest and widely-"accepted" activity of mankind? But actually I am not talking about prostitution in general, but the particular form it takes in Japan.

In this self-deceptive nation, sex slavery carries distinctive features that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. They are:

1) Prostitution is not called that because within this supposedly homogeneous community, it's not even a necessary evil. It's next to non-existent. The 1956 Anti-Prostitution Law was enacted at the height of the epidemic of syphilis. But once the epidemic was gone, the law became as useless as the human rights and dignity in this country.

2) But it's a different story when it comes to tens of thousands of hookers that yakuza syndicates keep bringing in to ghetto-like "designated" areas from "backyard" countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, etc. The Immigration Bureau of Japan and prefectural/municipal police departments are more than willing to cooperate with yakuza mobsters on the condition they see to it that these dominantly East Asian sex slaves be quickly, and temporarily, evacuated to other cities whenever the likes of the International AIDS Conference or the World Cup take place in the nearby venues. By the same token, Japanese pedophiles buying children abroad, most typically in the Philippines, or 400 Japanese company employees having a company-paid orgy with 500 Chinese prostitutes at a Beijing hotel are also a different issue. These downright prostitutes are a necessary evil as were the wartime "comfort women" procured from the Korean Peninsula.

3) Thanks to the close ties among yakuza, law enforcement and the media, prostitution is subtly institutionalized and legitimatized here. As a result, Japanese prostitutes are always disguised as something else, something a little more decent. It's almost four decades ago that a French correspondent stationed in Japan observed: "These bar hostesses are prostitutes who do not think they are prostitutes".

Under the circumstances it's taboo especially for major media organizations to discuss the whole truth about Japanese prostitution. Half a century ago, a French philosopher argued, when discussing anti-Semitism in Europe, that there is a thing to be called the chain of oppression. And you cannot reveal the truth about prostitution in Japan without unearthing the truth about the entire socio-economic mechanism for oppression. That's why it's a taboo issue here.

But every once in a while some foreigners dare to touch on the issue because foreigners, like the French correspondent stationed in Japan four decades ago, don't have to be prepared for "ostracism" in doing so. In its July 8, 2001, issue, the Japan Times ran an informative report on disguised prostitution by Mark Schreiber. In the absence of the reliable official statistics, Schreiber cited these figures from surveys conducted by the weekly magazine "Spa!" and the Bank of Yokohama:

- At least, an estimated 215,000 women aged 20-24 were working at disguised whorehouses around the nation. Schreiber quickly added that this could be a gross underestimate. I would even put it somewhere between 500,000 and 700,000, including teenage prostitutes, "independent" ones and those in upper age brackets.

- A huge amount of money changing hands between professional prostitutes and their customers escaped income taxes. The bank of Yokohama estimated the annual unreported earnings of these women at JPY 945 billion, or USD 8.5 billion at the today's exchange rate.

Let me also add another piece of statistics here to help you gauge the size of the sex industry extended to include amateur prostitution. According to the official statistics, Japanese women's monthly salaries averaged JPY 222.4 thousand in 2001. (Income gap between genders, as such, is not that far apart from that of other OECD countries). Perhaps this roughly translated into a take-home salary of JPY 180K, or USD 1,600. You may wonder how come Japanese women could afford to satisfy their enormous appetite toward luxury goods with this relatively small salary. These days the vendors of luxury goods, such as Luis vuitton, are lamenting over the consistent decline in their business in Japan since it peaked at a little over USD 16 billion in 1996. But believe it or not, Japanese women, in 2003, still bought the likes of pricey Luis vuitton bags worth USD 10.8 billion, or 40% of their total sales world-wide, according to Merrill Lynch.

Is it a far-fetched interpretation of these numbers to assume that this is where widespread prostitution comes in? If not, this society is already rotten to the marrow.


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Prostitution in Japan
Authored by: Jaffer on Wednesday, December 14 2005 @ 02:18 PM EST
I am sure we all understand prostitution can not be abolished, nor can everyday crimes and war. It’s in the nature of humanity for greed, lust, hate… sin. But we’ve all grown up from natural instants and became a better civilized society. We were taught to behave proper with morals ideally which reflect the different cultures and complex societies we all live in. From England to The United Stated to Japan, democratic governments still have a long way ahead of them to enforce and punish their troublemakers.
We can’t attack this problem world wide because the world is too complicated, too many differences to cooperate. Every country has their problems and priorities. We are talking about the differences in governments, laws, customs, culture, society… it is hard and unfair for one nation’s law to suggest upon another just because they think it’s better to unite an international like utopia. A powerful nation imposing international laws on the submissive because they think is better for the world. But this is another topic, discussed another day.
Before I begin criticizing a country I do not know fully of, and never lived in to understand the culture and society. I am Chinese, immigrated to the United Stated when I was two years old. I have lived in New York City most of my years with some time spent around other states and countries. I have witnessed the craziest things in NYC alone. From street hookers to whorehouses, small time drug dealers to organized kingpins, assaults to murder. I am a police officer of the New York City Police Department and I’ve recently returned from a year deployment in Iraq. I have seen and experienced the horrific terrors of war, and I have seen the dark side of city crimes. And the ironic part of all these problems, if you get the chance to ask them… they seem to have an answer justifying their unlawful actions, no matter how insane those answers are, they reason their actions with full confident sanity. It’s unbelievable.
About the Japanese prostitution problem… What are the options? International conventions are just politics, all talk and not enough action, because of a nation’s sovereignty and international laws and cooperation are sometimes slow. Local law enforcement agencies are corrupted (you claim). And the local media are politically lopsided.
Back in the United Stated, in the mid 19th to 20th century, Women’s Rights activists demonstrated for women’s right to vote, work, equality, better treatment, and of course… abolishment of prostitution. Their unity of one force was powerful, though some faced jail time, others beaten by their fathers or husbands because of the way they were back then. But no matter the obstacles and opposition from the public and government (men ruled), women kept on protesting and voicing out.
Eventually, through gradual legislations, media pressure and boycotts, women won voting rights, jobs, better equality, and managed to close down many saloons and whore houses. But the results take time, decades of voicing their cries for change. And till this day we are still trying to improve. But nothing is perfect.
I see this problem in Japan goes root deep and it’s hard to fix effectively in a speedy time. Maybe several decades are needed with international pressure. I believe young women are part of this problem, their greed for Yen. Then let’s have every conscious women willing to put effort and time in this, unite and protest peacefully in Red light districts in the masses, have organized leaders to target the areas of prostitution. Imagine the masses? Blocking men and hookers from entering these establishments and walking away in shame hoping their wife/friends or coworkers/company won’t find out they were there? Imagine photos and undercover news on these areas showing the men and hookers on public TV? Imagine the shame, these men and women will face. International media are always hungry for this kind of news; demonstrations for women’s rights are like revolutions. The world wants to see this, then by inviting international pressure because local groups are pressuring their own governments to do something. Boycotts internationally may arise. (Though boycotts will cripple the Japanese economy and damage the world’s market, I doubt the international community will risk that, it’s too pricy to mess with).
The people must be vigilant and pro-active. And so will a domino effect will begin rolling the wheels for change. International news, world support, governmental pressure, and maybe one day… the fall of the yakuza gang.
The world can not help Japan, the Japanese must help themselves, unite and call to the world for help in one loud powerful voice, no matter the cost… that’s the price of freedom of speech for the world we live in. Not every country can practice this method, but its worth trying, what do we all have to lose? Just the eradication of prostitution… hopefully closing down 90% of these places.
But I don’t know if this proper for the Japanese women, it maybe too taboo or unheard of, or not practiced because it is not their place in society to voice such opinion, or maybe… they like it this way, everybody is happy, the men with their fun and the women with their money… good for the Japanese economy… built from prostitution the backbone of consumer spending. I don’t know because I am just a dumb American.

Is the world willing to cripple the Japanese economy and damage the world market just to involve in the internal affairs of the Japanese Government? The answer is NO.
Prostitution in Japan
Authored by: Y.Yamamoto on Wednesday, December 14 2005 @ 04:42 PM EST
Many, many thanks, Jaffer, for taking time to write on this unpopular topic. I'm really impressed by your sober way of viewing things. And yet your views are not infected with cynicism. So I have very few things to add to your comments on prostitution in Japan.

It seems to me you are telling us your viewpoint based on your first-hand experience as a NYC police officer. Presumably you must have noticed subtle differences between Japanese prostitutes and their New York counterparts when you visited Kabuki-cho district in downtown Tokyo. These are cultural differences. And yet as you seem to be saying, prostitution is prostitution everywhere in the world. As long as the society is rotten to the marrow, this lucrative business will continue to prosper. So it would be totally useless if I visited one of those yakuza mobsters, or his close friend at the police precinct in Kabuki-cho, to preach morality.

That's primarily why I started this blog. It's a grass-roots thing. But the root-problem facing us here is that there are a bunch of preachers, and yet very few grass-roots activists, primarily because of the immaturity of a civil society. So I sometimes think, or even act, like the taxi driver in the Robert De Niro's film.

Talking about films, a cheap, and yet controversial film, "Memoirs of a Geisha" was released yesterday here. Geisha are a special kind of prostitutes. I don't plan to see this film because it would be a sheer waste of time, and dough. Hollywood seems to have run out of bright ideas these days. That's why filmmakers are increasingly turning to Orientalist fantasies about Samurai and Geisha. They are untiringly falsifying the hardships these victims are going through into romantic fantasies. But actually the Japanese do deserve this Orientalist bias because I'm sure it's going to be a smash hit here, and perhaps in China.

BTW: A couple of days ago, the Koizumi government decided to extend the Iraq deployment of what I call "plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc. all disguised in khaki". While young Americans and proud Iraqis are risking their lives to build a democracy, these toothless Self-Defense Forces of Japan are stationed in Samawah under the wing of British and Australian soldiers just as a token of Japan-U.S. "alliance". And very few locals appreaciate their contribution. At least until our government and its media lapdogs stop this stupidity, hypocrisy, and self-deception, elimination of slavery is a distant dream.

Keep your precious thoughts coming from NYC. I think the "Broken Window Theory" Rudolph Giuliani put into practice has made your life a little easier.