Supply and Demand – Girls for Rent

Today, I would like to focus on a topic that has been on my mind for quite some time. Ever since I started studying Japanese Studies at university, I wanted to do some research on a certain social problem of Japanese society. Finally, I am able to take a look at this topic after graduation and can explore some of the crucial points concerning the so-called JK business.

The term JK business consists of the abbreviation of the Japanese word for female high-school student (joshi kōkōsei), added to the English word business. Strictly speaking, JK business is a subcategory of a phenomenon, called enjokōsai, literally meaning “compensated dating”. In enjokōsai, a – in most cases – female person offers her services and time to a – in most cases – male customer. Services can include anything from conversation, massages, visits to the restaurant up to sexual acts. enjokōsai and similar services are said to have developed, because in Japan open prostitution has been forbidden by law since 1958. Of course, foreigners and Westerners may add enjokōsai to the wide range of strange and creepy things Japanese society has to offer. In bewilderment they could ask why a man would possibly want to pay a woman he doesn’t know for listening to his sorrows and woes. But I dare say that there is nothing wrong with this, provided that consent is given, rules apply and no minors are involved.

However, this precondition is very problematic in practice and it’s what I will be discussing in this article. In its very nature, JK business refers to services offered by high-school girls, who may be under the age of 18, to adults. Often, middle-aged men will pay girls to spend time with them and for offering different services. Officially, these services only include innocent-seeming things like visits to restaurants or karaoke-bars, strolls in the park, fortune telling or conversation. In many cases, men also buy presents and expensive items for the girls. The high risk and danger for young girls, who take up this kind of part-time job, of being put under pressure, getting themselves into dangerous situations or being exploited in some way, cannot be ignored. It has been reported by girls and activists against human trafficking that in many cases behind the scenes of JK business, obscure organizational structures can be found.

The established way to get into JK business is as follows: a girl can register in the JK business shops‘ list and then the shop will offer the girl’s service to customers. The shops will arrange meetings between the girl and the customer. Moreover, girls will stand in the streets distributing their pictures and handouts and calling out to possible customers. So if you walk through the busy streets of Tōkyō’s districts Ikebukuro or Akihabara, don’t be surprised if girls in school uniforms ask if you would like a massage.

There are no fundamental laws to prevent this kind of things, since it doesn’t violate the anti-prostitution law nor the child protection law in a direct way. However, some Japanese prefectures have tried to get rid of this problem and to minimize danger to young girls by trying to prohibit JK business carried out by minors altogether. Some JK business insiders and activitsts even claim the Japanese Yakuza has some interest in keeping these kinds of businesses running. There have been some raids portrayed by the media, where the police cracked down on JK shops. But nothing really seems to extinguish this phenomenon thoroughly.

One the issues concerning JK business may be, that society focuses too much on the girls’ behavior rather than questioning why it is tolerated of men to show and even cherish their not always innocent interest in young girl’s company and service.

At this point, I’d like to mention that I regard the whole way Japanese society boosts men’s attraction to under-aged schoolgirls problematic. Just take a look at the omnipresent pop bands consisting of teenage girls. Their target audience is stressed male office workers of companies, whose fantasies are fed by suggestive songs like “My school uniform is in my way” or “virgin love”, just to mention two.

Intentions may be diverse, but here, a similarity in the motives of these girl bands’ fans and the men who take the services of schoolgirls are to be seen. By getting in contact with young girls through JK business and such pop bands, men can feel like benevolent protectors of an innocent girl. This is a contrast to reality, because even in Japan, women now take on jobs and societal roles formerly just filled in by men. Women have more self-confidence and are learning to stand up for themselves. Some male members of society may feel like they are losing ground or something is being taken away from them through such developments. In this case, the girl functions as an affirmation of the man’s patriarchal beliefs. Sure, it is also conceivable that men just wish for interpersonal social contact without any sexual intentions. But to be clear, other customers just might be criminals who exploit a girl. Others may be misogynist individuals who, having paid for them, like the thought of power over women and girls.

Looking at a girls’ motive for working in JK business, it’s clearly a good opportunity to get money, high-brand clothing, accessories and the like. Moreover, young people’s naive curiosity might make girls try JK business. In that way, they can compare themselves to others and find out what they are “worth”. And working in JK business can be considered as a rebellious act against parents, school and family, making it an interesting tool to express one’s disagreement with society as a whole. Initially, it may also be a source of empowerment for young girls. And, after all, friends and others have done this and been alright, haven’t they?

Then, there is the type of girl whose personal background is unstable, who comes from a broken home and who is not able to find someone to trust or turn to at school or somewhere else. Those girls may feel valued and needed for the first time, since they have something to offer.

Poverty and former experiences of violence may play a big role in a girl ‘s motivation, too. Standing in the streets searching for a way to find food, who would not accept a stranger ‘s offer to buy a meal or a warm place to rest?

As mentioned before, there seems to be little police and social workers do or can do in terms of the legal situation. But private activism also targets at JK business. One example is COLLABO, founded by Ms. Yumeno Nito. Having been a runaway herself, she can relate to the girls’ desperate feelings. Also, some friends of hers ended up in JK business being hurt and exploited, some of them eventually committing suicide. Today, Nito tries to find and help girls in need of support. At night she goes out on the streets of Tōkyō, looking for girls working in JK business or similar jobs, and offers them a place to eat and rest. By attending and listening to them, Nito hopes that the girls will open up, learn to trust her and allow her to help them find ways out of JK business, pressure and shame. Nito knows it’s hard for a teenage person to find their way out alone, because in many cases, a girl who got herself in trouble would tend to blame herself for the situation and stay silent, ashamed of what happened to her. Nito emphasizes that the society has to stop blaming the girls and start looking at he men who are really the ones behind the scenes. People have to understand that girls don ‘t do this just for fun or for hedonistic reasons. Most of them were easy victims with a bunch of troubles who were lured into JK business by men. Nevertheless, in mass media, stories often concentrate on the girls who are “in trouble”, “being bad”, “suffering from bad circumstances”, “having no roots in family or school or friends”, leaving the question of men ‘s and society ‘s responsibility aside.

Some people both from inside and outside of Japan argue that people are making a fuss about something they don’t know anything about. In their opinion, the whole JK business is just some cultural trait that should be accepted by the outside world. But let me ask a simple question: is a cultural habit that allows or facilitates the exploitation of minors worth keeping? I don‘t think so. Moreover, Japan is a highly developed industrial nation proud to be a member of UN, having agreed to human rights and child protection standards. 
There is another argument that defends JK business from a feminist point of view. It says, that JK business and enjokōsai are ways of undermining patriarchal concepts of owning a woman. That this is a rebellious act since those services include everything a woman or girl in Japan shouldn’t do. So working in JK business is a means of claiming back the right over a woman’s body, because she can sell it and her service to anybody she pleases. Admittedly, there could be some truth in this as long as we are talking about grown-up women with experience and a strong will. But when it comes to girls and minors, this argument is rather ridiculous.

There is nothing left but to hope that Japanese society will stop blaming the victims and start asking how girls can be protected and offenders punished.

An earlier German version of this article can be found here Mädchen zu vermieten.

Sources and background information:

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