Dr. ARUDOU, Debito's Home Page

From Debito's doctoral research:

Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination

  • Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination
  • (Lexington Books, Rowman & Littlefield HB 2015, PB 2016)

    Click on book cover for reviews, previews, and 30% discount direct from publisher. Available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle eBook on

  • Book IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan
  • Fun Facts #10: Excellent Japan Times FYI column on the sex industry in Japan

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on June 8th, 2008

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan

    Hi Blog. Yet another excellent and informative Japan Times FYI column, this time on the sex industry in Japan. I’m not going to comment specifically on why I’m reposting it on (because anything I say will just be misconstrued). It’s just a great article on a pervasive topic in Japan. Arudou Debito


    Law bends over backward to allow ‘fuzoku’
    By JUN HONGO, Staff writer
    The Japan Times May 27, 2008

    Some desires money can’t gratify, but for appetites of the flesh, there are ways in Japan to legally sate one’s carnal cravings.

    News photo
    Hey sailor: Two men stroll among “soapland” parlors in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, last year. JUN HONGO PHOTO

    Like many countries, prostitution is illegal in Japan, at least on paper. Brothel-like “soapland” and sexual massage parlors get around these barriers.

    And the overt, erotic services of the so-called fashion health venues found in Tokyo’s Kabukicho district and the soaplands in the hot springs resort of Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, ensure that the world’s oldest profession lives on, only under another name.

    The context of Japan’s legal definition of prostitution is narrow enough to provide ample loopholes for red-light district operators.

    Following are questions and answers regarding Japan’s sex industry — commonly known as “fuzoku” — and the attempts or lack thereof by the government to curb them:

    What law bans prostitution in Japan?

    The Prostitution Prevention Law, enacted in 1957, forbids the act of having “intercourse with an unspecified person in exchange for payment.” It also punishes acts including soliciting by prostitutes and organized prostitution, such as operating brothels.

    Legal experts say it is hard for police to crack down on prostitution because it is tricky to verify if a couple had consensual or compensated sex.

    The law meanwhile does not ban paid sex with a “specified person,” or someone who has become an acquaintance. It also defines sex exclusively as vaginal intercourse. Thus other paid sexual acts are not illegal.

    Soliciting sex on the street could be punishable by a maximum six-month prison term or ¥10,000 fine. Parties who provide locations for prostitution could face a maximum seven-year sentence or ¥300,000 fine.

    According to National Police Agency statistics, 923 people were arrested for violating the Prostitution Prevention Law in 2006.

    How many types of fuzoku businesses are there?

    Enacted in 1948, the Law Regulating Businesses Affecting Public Morals breaks down the sex industry into several major categories, including soaplands, “fashion health” massage parlors, call-girl businesses, strip clubs, love hotels and adult shops.

    Soaplands, the “king” of fuzoku, are where clients have sex. “Fashion health” massage parlors offer sexual activities other than straight intercourse.

    The law requires such businesses to register with police and operate only within their registered category. It also bans people under age 18 from working or entering fuzoku establishments.

    All sex businesses except soaplands abide by the prostitution law because they do not provide straight intercourse and limit other services to mainly massages.

    So how can soaplands operate legally?

    To dodge the law, soapland operators claim their male clients and their hired masseuses perform sex as couples who have grown fond of each other.

    A customer entering a soapland, legally registered as “a special public bathhouse,” pays an admission fee “that holds the pretext as the charge to use the bathing facility,” Kansai University professor Yoshikazu Nagai said.

    The client then is usually asked to pay a massage-service fee directly to the masseuse — giving the pretense that the woman is working on her own and the soapland owner is not running a brothel.

    According to Nagai, who authored “Fuzoku Eigyo Torishimari” (“Control of Sex Business Operations”), the process also allows the two to be deemed as adults who became acquainted at the soapland.

    The law is conveniently interpreted to mean the male customer is having sex with an acquaintance, not with an “unspecified” person in exchange for cash.

    Is that an acceptable justification?

    “Is it nonsense to deem that the couple fell in love while massaging at a soapland? Yes. But that is how things have operated inside the Japanese legal framework for over five decades,” Nagai said.

    Nagai noted the legal framework on prostitution varies worldwide. Sudan, for instance, punishes prostitutes with death, but the same act is legal and out in the open in the Netherlands.

    Many observers say police avoid cracking down hard on prostitution mainly because it is considered a necessary evil and they would rather keep the industry on a loose leash than let the market go underground.

    “Putting aside the debate of whether it is right or wrong, the definition of prostitution differs greatly by country and is influenced by cultural, historical and religious backgrounds,” Nagai explained.

    When did the sex trade begin in Japan?

    Prostitution goes back to ancient times, and there were only local-level laws against selling sex until the prostitution law was enacted in the postwar period.

    According to Nagai, 16th century feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi was the first to demarcate part of Kyoto as a red-light district.

    “Hideyoshi knew that it would be easier for him to supervise the brothels if they were concentrated in a single location,” Nagai said. “It also made it easier for him to collect levies from business owners.”

    What are the health concerns at fuzoku establishments?

    In regards to sexually transmitted diseases, most fuzoku businesses conduct comprehensive medical tests when hiring a female worker. Soaplands undergo monthly inspections by public health centers to maintain hygiene.

    Some establishments turn away foreign clients.

    “This is because of the worldwide outbreak of AIDS in the late 1980s,” Nagai said, noting some premises continue to ban foreign nationals because of the misguided fear that AIDS is spread by them.

    How big is the sex industry?

    There were approximately 1,200 soaplands in Japan and 17,500 sex-related businesses, including massage parlors and strip clubs, in 2006, according to statistics released by the NPA.

    While some have suggested the sex business is a ¥1 trillion industry, Nagai said coming up with an accurate estimate is difficult because of the diversity.

    But it is still a way for women to make quick cash, as a soapland “masseuse” can make ¥10 million or more a year, he said.

    The sex industry also remains a source of funds for the underworld. According to the NPA, 20 percent of people arrested in violation of the prostitution law in 2006 were related to the mob.

    But Nagai believes the industry may be facing a downtrend, since information technology has made it easy for amateurs to operate as freelancers.

    Many outdated sex businesses will face such competition in the future, he said.

    “One only needs a cell phone to secretly start a call-girl business,” Nagai said. “It has become so convenient and there is no need for professional knowledge or the effort to maintain a bathhouse.”

    The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays (Wednesday in some areas). Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to National News Desk
    The Japan Times: Tuesday, May 27, 2008

    8 Responses to “Fun Facts #10: Excellent Japan Times FYI column on the sex industry in Japan”

    1. jim Says:

      i live in osaka city and this is a really dirty city over here, there is prostitution and pimps everywhere over here, and they
      openly operate over here, the only people that are given a hard time over here is law obeying foreignors, the police continue to racially profile and sterotype foreignors in osaka and ask for are ID card or passport at any sudden checkpoint, but they let the gangsters and the prostitutes do whatever they like…thats why osaka has such a bad rap in japan, and kobe is not that far behind, have you ever wondered why so many foreignors left the kobe area about 10 years ago? no its not because of the great hanshin earthquake, its because of the decline in the society over here in kansai..and the police are a big part of the decline in values and corruption..

    2. Jeff Says:

      I find it completely sad that while I visited Tokyo, I was stopped by police in front my hotel to have my passport checked for no reason, while 5-6 hookers stood across the street asking people if they wanted sex.

    3. jim Says:

      yes its called racial profileing, because you look like a foreignor and the hookers look like japanese..
      the keystone j-cops will never ask to see the hookers passports because there business is provideing a valuable service for the keystone j-cops..thank god that you only visted tokyo and not osaka, then place is 10 times worse…

    4. Ken Says:

      Jeff: Of course you shouldn’t be asked to show your ID without reason, but why on earth would police pay attention to prostitutes who are not breaking the law? There are about a million other things they could be focusing energy on.

    5. jim Says:

      they are not breaking the LAW when the hire underage prostitues?
      they are not breaking the LAW when police in fukoka moonlight as PIMPs? YES there is a million other things the police are focusing there energy on, like for example checking foreignors ID cards without any reason….I respectfully disagree with Kens comment, because his japan is not the japan i know..

      –I think (in fact, I know) that Ken’s being sarcastic…

    6. GC Says:

      > Jim
      I’m a white gaijin and I lived in Osaka for four years and in Kansai for most of my life but I was never treated poorly like that. Ever.

    7. GC Says:

      Where are the underage prostitutes? Where are the police moonlighting as pimps? The latter isn’t even happening in Osaka for crying out loud. As much as I agree that profiling foreigners as illegal is bad, you shouldn’t be profiling fuzoku as being automatically illegal also. They also are law-abiding citizens too. And don’t let your western value get in the way of understanding them: Japan has a different cultural attitude towards prostitution. Deal with it.

    8. Manule Says:

      The minors may not be in the streets but certainly on scort, sex related delivery services or freelancing, do not deny the fact that Japan is very lenient in dealing with this issue of underaged prostitution, the problem is that the same people who should be policing and preventing are usually the willing costumers right? I’m talking about law enforceres, politicians, public servants. Cannot say about pimping though…

    Leave a Reply


    The requested URL /sites/debito.txt was not found on this server.

    404 Not Found

    Not Found

    The requested URL /sites/debito.txt was not found on this server.

    Not Found

    Not Found

    Not Found