Prostitution in Japan

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. [ [ Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific Facts and Statistics Trafficking and Prostitution in Asia and the Pacific] , See under Japan category. Accessed online 28 September 2007.]


Many terms have been and are used for the sex industry in Japan.

nihongo|"Baishun"|売春|, 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 (nihongo|Baishun-bōshi-hō|売春防止法|); the modern meaning of the word is quite specific and is usually only used for actual (i.e., illegal) prostitution.

nihongo|"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.

nihongo|"Fūzoku"|風俗|, 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 gambling and the more specific term nihongo|"seifūzoku"|性風俗|, "sexual morals", is used instead. (The term originates from a law regulating business "affecting" public morals; see Legal status below.)


The Shinto faith does not regard sex as a taboo, while the impact of Buddhist teachings regarding sex has been limited.

hogunate era

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 nihongo|"yūjo"|遊女, "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.

Meiji era

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.

War era

: "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, 1956)—reportedly spurred by alarming rates of sexually transmitted diseases among troops—made organised prostitution illegal, at least in some forms.

Prostitution today

Legal status

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 (nihongo|"Fūzoku eigyō torishimari hō"|風俗営業取締法|), 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. [ [ Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific Facts and Statistics Trafficking and Prostitution in Asia and the Pacific] , See under Japan category. Accessed online 28 September 2007.]

Over 150,000 non-Japanese women are in prostitution in Japan.Fact|date=August 2008 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. [ [ 来日外国人犯罪の検挙状況(平成19年)] , p.20 ]

Japanese men constitute the largest number of Asian sex tourists. [ [ 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.]



* [ 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.

See also


Further reading

* Araki, Nobuyoshi. "Tokyo Lucky Hole". Köln; New York: Taschen, 1997. ISBN 3822881899. 768 pages. Black and white photographs of Shinjuku sex workers, clients, and businesses taken 1983–5.
* Associated Press. [ "Women turn to selling sexual favors in Japan"] . "Taipei Times", December 9, 2002, p. 11. Accessed 11 October 2006.
* Bornoff, Nicholas. "Pink Samurai: Love, Marriage and Sex in Contemporary Japan". New York: Pocket Books, 1991. ISBN 0-671-74265-5.
* Clements, Steven Langhorne. "Tokyo Pink Guide". Tokyo: Yenbooks, 1993. ISBN 0-8048-1915-7.
* Constantine, Peter. "Japan's Sex Trade: A Journey Through Japan's Erotic Subcultures". Tokyo: Yenbooks, 1993. ISBN 4-900737-00-3.
* " [ The Day the Red Lights Went Out in Japan] ". MSN-Mainichi Daily News. April 1, 2008. Accessed April 2, 2008.
* De Becker, J. E. "The Nightless City ... or, The "History of the Yoshiwara Yūkwaku.", 4th ed. rev. Yokohama [etc.] M. Nössler & Co.; London, Probsthain & Co., 1905. ISBN 1933330384.
* De Becker, J. E. "The Nightless City: Geisha and Courtesan Life in Old Tokyo" (reprint). Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2007. ISBN 0486455637.
* De Mente, Boye Lafayette. "The Pleasure Girls and Flesh Pots of Japan." London: Ortolan Press, 1966.
* De Mente, Boye Lafayette. "Sex and the Japanese: The Sensual Side of Japan" Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing, 2006. ISBN 0804838267.
* De Mente, Boye Lafayette. Tadahito Nadamoto (illus.). "Some Prefer Geisha: The Lively Art of Mistress Keeping in Japan". Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1966.
* Fitzpatrick, William. "Tokyo After Dark". New York: McFadden Books, 1965.
* French, Howard W. [ "Japan's Red Light 'Scouts' and Their Gullible Discoveries"] . "The New York Times". November 15, 2001. Accessed 11 October 2006.
* Goodwin, Janet R. "Selling Songs and Smiles: The Sex Trade in Heian and Kamakura Japan". Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007. ISBN 0824830687, ISBN 0824830970.
* [ Japan The Trafficking of Women] .
* Kamiyama, Masuo. " [ The day Japan's red lights flickered out] ". MSN-Mainichi Daily News. February 25, 2006. Accessed 11 October 2006.
* Kattoulas, Velisarios. [ "Human Trafficking: Bright Lights, Brutal Life"] . "Far East Economic Review". August 3, 2000. Accessed 11 October 2006.
* Longstreet, Stephen, and Ethel Longstreet. "Yoshiwara: City of the Senses". New York: McKay, 1970.
* McMurtrie, Douglas C. "Ancient Prostitution in Japan". Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1425372066. Originally published in Stone, Lee Alexander (ed.). "The Story of Phallicism" volume 2. Chicago: Pascal Covici, 1927. Reprinted Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0766141152.
* MSN-Mainichi Daily News. " [ Ambiguous attitudes vex kiddy sex laws] ". MSN-Mainichi Daily News. December 20, 2001. Accessed 11 October 2006.
* Seigle, Cecilia Segawa. "Yoshiwara: The Glittering World of ihe Japanese Courtesan". Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993. ISBN 0824814886.
* Talmadge, Eric. "Getting Wet: Adventures in the Japanese Bath". Tokyo ; New York: Kodansha International, 2006. ISBN 4770030207.
* Yokoyama, M. "Analysis of Prostitution in Japan". "International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice", 19, no. 1 (1995): 47–60.
* Yokoyama, M. "Emergence of Anti-Prostitution Law in Japan—Analysis from Sociology of Criminal Law". "International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice", 17, no. 2 (1993): 211–218.

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