Home Political science Capturing contemporary Japan: differentiation and uncertainty
Fight! Takeda Mayumi's Story
In 2001, a twenty-nine-year-old Japanese deaf woman named takeda Mayumi wrote a short autobiography named Fight! The similarities between Mayumi and the fictional Chieko in Babel are quite striking. The very real takeda Mayumi was born on May 27, 1970, in tokyo. When she was just three years old, she apparently had a high fever and lost her hearing as a result. She learned how to speechread and speak and went to a public elementary school as a mainstreamed student (cf. Nakamura 2006). When she graduated from high school in 1989, she went to a four-year technical college to learn fashion design.
After Mayumi graduated, she started work at a major advertising company but had dreams of going to new york to pursue her fashion design career. In order to do that, she needed to save up some money—more money than her office job would provide. She quit and became a fūzokujō, a girl in the sex trade. Fight! Chronicles her journey through the Japanese sex trade industry, where she became (in her own words) an “extremely popular, idol fūzokujō” nicknamed Hyō-chan (“Miss Leopard”). Using the money earned from her customers, Mayumi traveled to new york, where she hooked up with an african american man and gave birth to a daughter. At one level, Fight! Was a rather simple autobiography, but it had the right mixture of female sexuality, race relations, and disability to catch the imagination of the Japanese public.
At this point, i need to turn briefly to a tangential discussion of prostitution in Japan because without our understanding its quasi-legal nature under Japanese law it will be very difficult to understand the intersectionality of the sex trade and disability.
Prostitution in contemporary Japan is technically illegal, but there are rarely any arrests of prostitutes or their clients (except in the case of underage solicitation). If one goes to a police officer in the red-light district of any major city and asks him where a particular “health center” is by name, he will give directions, even perhaps show a map with the names of all the various brothels marked on it. Touts in the red-light districts openly solicit passers-by with photos of the girls, and neon signs advertise services provided. It's not quite as open as amsterdam, where the women solicit themselves in windows, but it is fairly close. In prewar Japan, many forms of voluntary and involuntary sex work were not only legal but also fell into the domain of government promotion and regulation. Soon after the military defeat in august 1945, the Japanese government helped establish the recreation and amusement association (raa), a system of brothels for the use of american occupation forces (sanders 2005). The allied General Headquarters (GHQ) did not express concern over the raa brothels until the number of prostitutes with sexually transmitted diseases (stDs) rose to unacceptable levels, threatening the fighting readiness of the american forces (Fujime 2006). As a result, the government system of licensed sex work was formally abolished by GHQ decree in January 1946. The decree, however, did not criminalize acts of prostitution where “individuals acted 'of their own free will and accord'” (Kovner 2012, 30). As to why prostitution itself was not abolished in the same decree, the chief of intelligence for the allied forces, Charles willoughby, noted at the time that “public sentiment in general [in Japan] is non-committal or in favor of prostitution” (Kovner 2012, 36).
Part of this neutral or slightly positive attitude toward prostitution in Japan is due to a lack of any deep history of moral crusades against it. Neither the shinto religion nor Buddhism as practiced in Japan have specific proscriptions against prostitution. There were never any laws against prostitution before the twentieth century, although registered prostitution was often restricted to certain “red line” (akasen) districts (iwanaga 2009).
In 1956, four years after the Occupation ended, the Japanese government passed the anti-Prostitution Law (Baishun Bōshi Hō). Public (and political) sentiment apparently had not changed, as there was not much enthusiasm behind the passing of this law, with the result that one gaping loophole remained: prostitution was narrowly defined in terms of payment for the act of coitus. Thus any sexual act that did not involve an actual penis engaged inside an actual vagina and the simultaneous transaction of money was by definition not prostitution. Another loophole was that the 1956 law never stipulated any sort of punishment for the act of prostitution itself, only for the crimes of establishing a brothel and solicitation.
The market quickly responded to the new regulatory environment. Patrons were no longer promised vaginal sex but instead were offered a wide variety of other options: manual stimulation, oral sex, intercrural sex, anal sex, sadomasochism (s&M), role playing, and anything else imaginable (cf. Sinclair 2006). Businesses that provided these services were licensed and regulated by the government as “businesses that affect public morals and practices” (fūzoku eigyō or fūzokuten). Of course, it would be naïve to assume that coital sex does not ever happen in the establishments. But as anything beyond the standard menu items on the price list is technically a private matter between the sex workers and their clients, soapland operators and their staff are generally shielded from police prosecution.
In the late 1950s, steam saunas, where the female staff would wash down patrons' bodies in private sauna rooms and perform some other services, became popular. The first of these businesses, toruko yoshiwara (the turkish yoshiwara),1 opened in the former red-light district of tokyo in July 1958 (iwanaga 2009, 108). Other steam saunas opened and identified themselves, as the first one had, as “turkish baths” (toruko buro). They offered a bath + washdown
+ nominally non-vaginal sex combination, which became one of the predominant postwar forms of prostitution in Japan. “turkish baths” became so popular, in fact, that in 1985 there was an aggressive lobbying campaign by the turkish government to change their appellation in Japan. The new label that was chosen by popular vote was “soapland”—a moniker that remains to this day.
Another type of brothel is the so-called fashion health club. The rooms at the fashion health clubs do not have any bathtub or shower, just a bed, but the same types of (nominally) non-coital sexual services are offered. One variation on the fashion health club is delivery health, whereby the women will travel to hotels or homes to perform (again nominally non-coital) sexual acts. According to Japan's national Police agency, which regulates and monitors these businesses, in 2010 there were 1,238 soaplands, 836 fashion health clubs, 139 strip joints, 3,692 love hotels, and 303 sex item shops licensed and operating in the country. In addition, there were 15,889 delivery health clubs, almost double the number just four years before. in all of 2010, there were only 4 arrests for managed prostitution (i.e., prostitution in a managed establishment such as a soapland), 246 arrests for streetwalking, and 35 arrests for delivery health services (nPa 2011, 100). Including the crimes of solicitation and providing a place of prostitution, there were 727 arrests for sex work in all of Japan. In comparison, there were 62,688 arrests for prostitution in the
United states in 2010, according to FBi data (FBi 2010, table 29).
Although the Japanese national Police agency report does not break down the statistics by gender, the vast majority of these services were undoubtedly provided by females for male clients. There exist only a very small number of “host clubs,” which provide male companionship for women (takeyama 2005).2 Host clubs are the male version of the hostess clubs, in which titillating conversation is the main commodity sold on-site; but it is common knowledge That one can take the hosts and hostesses out on dates, with more intimate services provided individually by agreement (allison 1994; Longinotto et al. 1996; takeyama 2005).
There was apparently one and only one “soapland for women,” which opened in Fukuoka City in February 2007. There, women could purchase a nice bath and sexual services from ikemen (good-looking) soapboys. Rates apparently started at ¥30,000 ($300) for ninety minutes—a rare case of economic gender equity. According to a newspaper article, the soapboys described the work as “living hell” because of the emotional and physical needs of the clients. Not surprisingly, though, the club shut down in October, after only eight months in business (realLive 2007).
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