When it comes to prostitution, Japan is a country of contradictions. Although the Government has adopted a number of laws explicitly criminalising prostitution and related conducts, vast loopholes and the debatable enforcement of these provisions allow fuzoku businesses to proliferate.
The 1957 Law on the Prevention of Prostitution defines prostitution as the act of having “sexual intercourse with an unspecified person for compensation or the promise of compensation.” The law punishes related acts including public solicitation and operating brothels, but does not forbid the act of purchasing sex from a prostitute.
Moreover, the provision defining prostitution contains a number of important lacunas. In fact, besides including only ‘intercourse’ and therefore establishing that other paid sexual acts are not illegal, the law does not ban prostitution when the person involved is ‘specified’ – e.g. someone who has become an acquaintance.
There are a number of laws and provisions that specifically deal with the exploitation of children in prostitution, the most relevant being the 1999 Act on the Regulation and Punishment of Acts relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and for Protecting Children, and its 2014 amendments. Article 2 of the Act defines ‘child prostitution’ as “the act of performing sexual intercourse or similar acts, such as the touching of genital organs, in return for giving or promising to give remuneration to the child, the person who acts as an intermediary or a person responsible for protecting the child, including a parent, a guardian, or a person who takes care of or supervises the child”. The Act penalises persons who commit the above-mentioned act as well as those who engage in the business of facilitating or soliciting ‘child prostitution’.
Although according to article 2 of the law, child is “a person under 18 years of age”, the fact that the age of consent in Japan is extremely low -13 years old – poses additional difficulties in terms of prosecution, because cases of exploitation in prostitution may be disguised behind the mask of consensual sex.
Despite the legal framework in place, the exploitation of young girls in Japan is an established phenomenon which presents itself in many different and worrisome forms. Compensated dating or enjo kōsei is a practice where young girls – sometimes as young as 12 – date older men in exchange for money and gifts, which often leads to sexual activities. Another well-known example of exploitation of girls in prostitution is JK Business or ‘high-school girl business’ (joshi-kōsei business), where young girls dress in school uniforms and entertain customers in commercial establishments, go on dates with them (high-school girl walking date’ or joshi-kōsei osanpo), let customers take pictures and videos of them wearing the school uniforms(high-school girl photo session’ or joshi-kōsei satsueikai) or give them massages (high-school girl reflexology’ or joshi-kōsei rifure). Reportedly, often customers negotiate with the girls to establish a compensated dating-based relationship during the initial JK encounters.
Although not exhaustive, the list above presents a dramatic picture of the context of sexual exploitation of girls in Japan which shows how without rigorous enforcement of laws, girls will continue to be abused and exploited.
The term ‘fuzoku’, which literally translates to ‘public morals’, is commonly used to refer to the sex industry in Japan.
Peterfreund Tenica, “Japan’s Prostitution in Prevention Law: The Case of the Missing Geisha” (2010), http://scholarship.shu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1072&context=student_scholarship, accessed 25 April 2018.
The Act on Punishing Acts related to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and on Protecting Children (1999), Article 2, available at: http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/law/detail/?ft=2&re=02&dn=1&yo=prostitution&x=54&y=18&ky=&page=1, accessed 25 April 2018.
Ibid., Article 4, 5 and 6.
Ibid., Article 2 (1).
Penal Code of Japan (1907), Article 176 and 177.
Sparrow William, “The Young Ones” (2008), Asia Times, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Japan/JE10Dh01.html, accessed 26 April 2018.
Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children and sexual exploitation (2016), para 9, p. 4.
ECPAT International, “ECPAT Country Overview: Japan” (2018), available at: http://www.ecpat.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/ECPAT-Country-Overview-Japan.pdf, accessed 26 April 2018.
Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children and sexual exploitation (2016), para 9, p. 4; The Japan Times (2017), “Tokyo’s new ‘JK’ ordinance take aim at schoolgirl exploitation”, available at:https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/07/06/national/crime-legal/tokyos-new-jk-ordinance-takes-aim-schoolgirl-exploitation/#.WdWs9luCyCh. accessed 15 September 2017.