Home Political science Capturing contemporary Japan: differentiation and uncertainty
The book in question was Sex Volunteers (2004), by journalist Kawai Kaori. Kawai herself was not in the sex trade but had become interested in the subject of “sex volunteers.” As described in her book, this term encompassed a broad range of activities from people who were merely willing to provide transportation services to soaplands and other brothels to able-bodied people who were having sex with or providing other forms of sexual services for men and women with disabilities. Despite the broad label of “volunteers,” the providers included the paid as well as the unpaid, depending on the circumstances.5
For example, Kawai followed a seventy-two-year-old man who was dependent on an oxygen bottle after a tracheostomy as he went to soapland with a care attendant. Kawai mused that even though he was putting himself at serious physical risk, this man's actions showed that sex remained one of the basic requirements of life. On the other end of the spectrum, she wrote about a woman with a “congenital dislocation of the hip” who hired a host from a host bar to come to her family home on a weekly basis. With the knowledge of her parents, the host would bathe her and then carry her to her bed, where he would sexually pleasure her. Kawai wrote that this woman waited all week for her Prince Charming to come. This second example, in particular, has angered feminist women with disabilities such as asaka yūho (2009), who argues that women (and men) with disabilities need to overcome their selfpity and passivity and take charge of their own sexuality by finding romantic partners who are willing to accept them as they are and have sex with them willingly and not for money or out of pity.
To be clear, some of the sites advertising “sex volunteers” on the internet are not distinguishable from the delivery health call-girl services, except perhaps for the lack of sophistication of their web sites and the personal services they claim to provide. For example, sexual volunteers (sv) sakura no Kai describes itself as an organization “that helps people with disabilities masturbate [ji'i].” The association's site has a price list for women “volunteers” that ranges between ¥6,000 and ¥7,500 ($75) for a single “care” session in the tokyo And Osaka areas. Care services can be provided in the handicap-accessible bathroom of the train station if the client doesn't have a private space at home. The association also qualifies that its services are only for people with physical disabilities (mostly cerebral palsy); it does not offer services for people with intellectual or psychiatric disabilities.
There are also organizations such as white Hands (described below) that emphasize the social welfare aspects of their services. Advertising that they are creating “a new sexual public,” they offer both masturbation assistance and something closer to what in america is called sexual surrogacy and sexual therapy counseling; white Hands also publishes white papers on the sexual needs of people with (physical) disabilities and manuals for other service providers on the appropriate way to provide masturbation services for people.
In February 2012, i traveled to the remote northern city of niigata to meet and talk with the president and founder of white Hands, sakatsume shingo. Even riding on the shinkansen super express, it still took me several hours to get to niigata from tokyo. This part of Japan was the location for Kawabata yasunari's
White Hands Web site Snow Country (Yukiguni), and true to form, once the train left the tunnel under the Japan alps, i was greeted by a landscape covered in several feet of snow.
Mr. Sakatsume met me at the train station, and we drove through the snow to his in-laws' house, where we could talk over lunch. While his mother-inlaw brought me a traditionally cooked meal and his father-in-law proudly bounced their newborn grandson on his lap, sakatsume and i talked about his business. He had originally been inspired to study sexuality when he was a college student at the prestigious University of tokyo, studying under famed feminist scholar Ueno Chizuko. Inspired by one of her seminars, he started doing research into the condition of sex workers and found that many were suffering from social discrimination. Sakatsume thought that he could perhaps change how society viewed sex work by emphasizing its social benefits. In thinking of how to merge the incongruous themes of sexuality and social welfare, he came up with the notion of creating a place where sex workers could cater to the needs of people with disabilities. In an interview for a magazine, sakatsume noted the following: “there are three aspects to sexual problems: expressions of affection [rabu], sexual gratification [erosu], and physiological phenomena [seiri genshō]. Much of the national conversation about the issue of sexual assistance [seiteki kaijo] has confused all three issues. White Hands was founded to assist people, such as those with cerebral palsy, who cannot ejaculate on their own, [and it deals solely] with the issue of the physiological phenomena [of ejaculation and not with emotional affection or sexual gratification]. By providing this type of sexual assistance, we hope to be engaging in a socially useful activity” (quoted in yorimoto 2010).
I asked sakatsume about his workers and their working conditions. He said that their average age was forty, that they were all women, and that he gave priority to those having Home Helper Level 2 certification or who were registered nurses. He operated under the delivery health model, with his headquarters above his parents' house in niigata, and he dispatched his staff by telephone to clients all across Japan. Under Japanese law, he was registered as a delivery health prostitution business, a category that rankled him somewhat as it made it difficult for him to both advertise for clients and recruit new workers. One of his main workarounds was to give public lectures and talks at college courses in social work, nursing, and disability studies. Mr. Sakatsume had self-published several manuals on sexual stimulation for people with disabilities by caregivers and had recently finished a book, The Unusual Passion of Sex Helpers (Sekkusu herupā no jinjō narazaru jōnetsu), that was published in 2012 by one of the largest publishers in Japan.
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