Prostitution in Japan has existed throughout the country's history. While the Anti-Prostitution Law of 1956 states that "No person may either do prostitution or become the customer of it", loopholes, liberal interpretations and loose enforcement of the law have allowed the sex industry to prosper and earn an estimated 2.3 trillion yen ($24 billion) per year.
In Japan, the "sex industry" (fūzoku, 風俗, literally "public morals") is not synonymous with prostitution. Since Japanese law defines prostitution as "intercourse with an unspecified person in exchange for payment", most fūzoku offer only non-coital services, such as conversation, dancing, or bathing, to remain legal.
This practice later continued among visitors from "the Western regions", mainly European traders who often came with their South Asian lascar crew (in addition to African crew members, in some cases). This began with the arrival of Portuguese ships to Japan in the 1540s, when the local Japanese people assumed that the Portuguese were from Tenjiku (天竺, "Heavenly Abode"), the ancient Chinese name, thus later Japanese name, for the Indian subcontinent, and thus that Christianity was a new "Indian faith". These mistaken assumptions were due to the Indian state of Goa being a central base for the Portuguese East India Company and due to a significant portion of the crew on Portuguese ships being Indian Christians.
Portuguese visitors and their South Asian and African crew members often engaged in slavery in Japan. They bought or captured young Japanese women and girls, who were either used as sexual slaves on their ships or taken to Macau and other Portuguese colonies in Southeast Asia, the Americas, and India, where there was a community of Japanese slaves and traders in Goa by the early 17th century. Later European East India Companies, including those of the Dutch and British, were involved in prostitution while visiting or staying in Japan.
In 1617, the Tokugawa Shogunate issued an order restricting prostitution to certain areas on the outskirts of cities, known as yūkaku (遊廓、遊郭, pleasure quarter). The three most famous were Yoshiwara in Edo (present-day Tokyo), Shinmachi in Osaka, and Shimabara in Kyoto.
Prostitutes and courtesans were licensed as yūjo (遊女), "women of pleasure", and ranked according to an elaborate hierarchy, with tayū and later oiran at the apex. The districts were walled and guarded for taxation and access control. The prostitutes were rarely allowed out of the walls, except to visit dying relatives and, once a year, for hanami (viewing cherry blossoms).
Prewar modern era
The opening of Japan and the subsequent flood of Western influences into Japan brought about a series of changes in the Meiji period. Japanese novelists, notably Higuchi Ichiyō, started to draw attention to the confinement and squalid existence of the lower-class prostitutes in the red-light districts. In 1872, the María Luz Incident led Government of Meiji Japan to make a new legislation, emancipating burakumin outcasts, prostitutes and other forms of bonded labor in Japan. The emancipating law for prostitution was named Geishōgi kaihō rei (芸娼妓解放令). In 1900, the Japanese Government promulgated Ordinance No. 44, Shōgi torishimari kisoku (娼妓取締規則), restricting the labor conditions of prostitution.
In 1908, the Ministry of Home Affairs' Ordinance No. 16 penalized unregulated prostitution.
Karayuki-san was the name given to Japanese girls and women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who were trafficked from poverty stricken agricultural prefectures in Japan to destinations in East Asia, Southeast Asia, Siberia (Russian Far East), Manchuria, and British India to serve as prostitutes and sexually serviced men from a variety of races, including Chinese, Europeans, native Southeast Asians, and others.
Immediately after World War II, the Recreation and Amusement Association was formed by Naruhiko Higashikuni's government to organize brothels to serve the Allied armed forces occupying Japan. On 19 August 1945, the Home Ministry ordered local government offices to establish a prostitution service for Allied soldiers to preserve the "purity" of the Japanese race. This prostitution system was similar to the comfort system, because the Japanese police force was responsible for mobilizing the women to serve in these stations similarly to the way that Japanese Military during the Pacific War mobilized women. The police forces mobilized both licensed and unlicensed prostitutes to serve in these camps. The official declaration stated that "Through the sacrifice of thousands of 'Okichis' of the Shōwa era, we shall construct a dike to hold back the mad frenzy of the occupation troops and cultivate and preserve the purity of our race long into the future." Such clubs were soon established by cabinet councilor Yoshio Kodama and Ryoichi Sasakawa.
SCAP abolished the licensed prostitution system (including the RAA) in 1946, which led to the so-called akasen (赤線, red line) system, under which licensed nightlife establishments offered sexual services under the guise of being an ordinary club or cafe. Local police authorities traditionally regulated the location of such establishments by drawing red lines on a map. In other areas, so-called "blue line" establishments offered sexual services under the guise of being restaurants, bars or other less strictly-regulated establishments. In Tokyo, the best-known "red line" districts were Yoshiwara and Shinjuku 2-chome, while the best-known "blue line" district was Kabuki-cho.
In 1947, Imperial Ordinance No. 9 punished persons for enticing women to act as prostitutes, but prostitution itself remained legal. Several bills were introduced in the Diet to add further legal penalties for soliciting prostitutes but were not passed due to disputes over the appropriate extent of punishment.
On 24 May 1956, the Diet of Japan passed the Anti-Prostitution Law, which came into force in April 1958. The Anti-Prostitution Law criminalized the act of committing sexual intercourse in exchange for actual or promised compensation. This eliminated the "red line" and "blue line" systems and allowed a number of paid sexual services to continue under "sexual entertainment" regulations, e.g., "soaplands" and "fashion health" parlors.
In 2013, Toru Hashimoto, co-leads the Japan Restoration Party proposed "There are places where people can legally release their sexual energy in Japan", and "Unless they make use of these facilities, it will be difficult to control the sexual energies of the wild Marines." The U.S. Department of State later criticized Hashimoto's remarks.
Buddhist teachings regarding sex are quite reserved: "It is true to say that Buddhism, in keeping with the principle of the Middle Way, would advocate neither extreme puritanism nor extreme permissiveness." Buddhism has rules and protocols for those that are to live the Buddhist principles in the monasteries and the secular part of the [Shanga]. For the Buddhist monks or nuns, chastity is mandatory since they live on the premise of getting rid of any feelings of attachment. Their way of living is regulated by very strict rules concerning behavior and this includes sex.
As for the secular Buddhists, there are no specific rules to be followed about sex; although any kind of abuse is regarded as "misconduct".
Article 3 of the Prostitution Prevention Law (売春防止法, Baishun Bōshi Hō) 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.
The definition of prostitution is strictly limited to coitus with an "unspecified person". This means sale of numerous acts such as oral sex, anal sex, mammary intercourse and other non-coital sex acts are legal. Paid sex between "specified persons" (acquaintances) is not prohibited. Soaplands exploit this by providing a massage, during which the prostitute and client become "acquainted", as a preliminary to sexual services.
The Businesses Affecting Public Morals Regulation Law of 1948 (風俗営業取締法, Fūzoku Eigyō Torishimari Hō), also known as the "Law to Regulate Adult Entertainment Businesses", amended in 1985, 1999 and 2005, 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; image clubs are themed versions of the same. Call girls operate via delivery health services. Freelancers can get in contact with potential customers via deai sites (Internet dating sites), and the actual act of prostitution is legally called enjo kōsai or "compensated dating" to avoid legal trouble.
Kabukicho, an entertainment and red-light district in Shinjuku, Tokyo, measures only 0.34 km2, and has approximately 3,500 sex parlors, strip theaters, peep shows, "soaplands", 'lovers' banks, porno shops, sex telephone clubs, karaoke bars and clubs, etc.
It was reported in 2003 that as many as 150,000 non-Japanese women were then involved in prostitution in Japan. According to National Police Agency records, out of 50 non-Japanese people arrested for prostitution offences (売春防止法違反) in 2013, 31 (62%) were mainland Chinese, 13 (26%) were Koreans and 4 (8%) were Thai.
Businesses related to prostitution voluntarily (i.e. despite there being no regulation requiring it) ban entry to foreigners, including tourists, people who cannot speak Japanese, and even people who do not have Asian traits.
In Tokyo, prostitution dates back several hundred years. In the early 17th century, the first attempts were made to regulate prostitution in the Yoshiwara district of Edo (present-day Tokyo). A law was passed that required prostitutes to register and work in secured facilities, its main purpose being for tax collection.
Because of Tokyo's position as a top five global business and trade city, prostitution continues to thrive in Tokyo.
Several terms have been used as euphemisms for the sex industry in Japan:
- Baishun (売春), literally "selling spring" or "selling youth", has turned from a mere euphemism into a legal term used in, for instance, the title of the 1956 Anti-Prostitution Law (Baishun-bōshi-hō, 売春防止法); the modern meaning of the word is quite specific and it is usually only used for actual (i.e., illegal) prostitution. The word for "prostitute" in Japanese is baishunfu (売春婦).
- Mizu shōbai (水商売), the "water trade", is a wider term that covers the entire entertainment industry, including the legitimate, the illegal, and the borderline.
- Fūzoku (風俗), literally "public morals", is commonly used to refer specifically to the sex industry, although in legal use this covers, e.g., dance halls and gambling, and the more specific term seifūzoku (性風俗), "sexual morals", is used instead. The term originates from a law regulating business affecting public morals.
Japan is a destination, source, and transit country for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Men, women, and children from Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, South America, and Africa travel to Japan for employment or fraudulent marriage and are subjected to sex trafficking. Traffickers use fraudulent marriages between foreign women and Japanese men to facilitate the entry of women into Japan for forced prostitution in bars, clubs, brothels, and massage parlors. Traffickers keep victims in forced prostitution using debt bondage, threats of violence or deportation, blackmail, passport retention, and other psychologically coercive methods. Brothel operators sometimes arbitrarily impose "fines" on victims for alleged misbehavior as a tactic to extend their indebtedness. Trafficking victims reportedly transit Japan before being exploited in onward destinations, including East Asia and North America.
Japanese citizens—particularly runaway teenage girls—are also subjected to sex trafficking. Enjo kosai, also known as "compensated dating", and variants of the "JK" business continue to facilitate the sex trafficking of Japanese children. Highly organized prostitution networks target vulnerable Japanese women and girls—often living in poverty or with cognitive disabilities—in public spaces such as subways, popular youth hangouts, schools, and online, and subject them to sex trafficking. Private Japanese immigration brokers help Japanese-Filipino children and their Filipina mothers move to Japan and acquire citizenship for a significant fee, which the mothers often incur large debts to pay; upon arrival, some of these women and their children are subjected to sex trafficking to pay off the debts.
The United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ranks Japan as a 'Tier 1' country.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Prostitution in Japan.|
- Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific Facts and Statistics Trafficking and Prostitution in Asia and the Pacific, See under Japan category. Accessed online 27 September 2007.
- Sex Industry category, Japan Subculture Research Center—a news blog on "the hidden side of Japan".
- Fact-book on global sexual exploitation
- Global March Statistics