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Notorious ‘JK’ business exploits troubled high school girls for sex

by

Staff Writer

Seventeen-year-old Momo shrugs and says she was aware of the dangers when she decided to join other girls in Tokyo’s Akihabara district handing out racy fliers to male passers-by and flashing them coquettish smiles.

The schoolgirl knew men would occasionally try to talk her into sexual activities. She even knew that she might be assaulted.

Nonetheless, she willingly put herself in harm’s way. With a wry smile, Momo said if a rapist had attacked her, she wouldn’t have minded.

“I was so depressed at the time that I didn’t mind (being raped) if that’s what a guy needed me for,” said Momo, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym rather than her real name.

“I was desperate. And if sex was all it took to make me stop feeling so worthless, I thought I was game for anything.”

Momo is among the schoolgirls whom experts warn are prone to gravitate toward the notorious “JK” business — JK being short for “joshi kosei” (high school girls) — rampant in Akihabara and other parts of central Tokyo.

Even though police have cracked down in recent years, experts say the shady part-time job industry featuring high school girls remains a hotbed of teen exploitation and sex trafficking. And the traffickers, ever wary of law enforcement, appear to be changing their tactics to stay one step ahead of the police.

The JK business has variants, including JK “rifure” (reflexology), where the girls give massages and lie next to their clients, and JK “osanpo” (tour guide), where the girls stroll with customers as if on a date.

But be it massaging or sauntering, the men often exploit their privacy with the girls to pressure them for sex or outright assault them, experts say.

In an annual report on trafficking released in June, the U.S. State Department cited JK osanpo for the first time as it slammed Japan for child prostitution.

“Sophisticated and organized prostitution networks target vulnerable Japanese women and girls in public areas such as subways, popular youth hangouts, schools and online,” the report says.

In January 2013, Tokyo police raided 17 JK rifure parlors in pursuit of alleged violations of the labor standards law.

The following April, they began to take girls who work at such establishments into custody to persuade them to quit the industry.

Last December, police started rounding up girls who engaged in osanpo.

In response to the heightened police surveillance, traffickers who hire the girls have changed tactics to make their business look more innocuous.

Instead of asking male passers-by if they want a massage or to take a stroll, many girls distributing fliers now say their job is simply to “chat” with the men, or, bizarre as it may sound, “tell their fortune” in a cafe-like setting.

But even those purportedly harmless pursuits lead to child prostitution, according to Yumeno Nito, a 24-year-old activist who runs Colabo, a support group that helps to rehabilitate exploited teenage girls.

“Granted, it’s not like there are actual sexual activities going on in those places,” she said, but men go there with the aim of meeting girls and exchanging contact information so they can later meet elsewhere and negotiate for sex directly.

“So in a way, tightened regulations made a (sexual) exchange between the girls and customers more private and therefore harder to detect,” Nito said.

In the latest development, two men were reportedly arrested in October for running what they touted as a JK “komyu” (communications) parlor in Tokyo’s Takadanobaba district. Despite its name, it invited customers to help the girls change into bathing suits and then sniff them.

Since founding Colabo in 2011 while still in college, Nito said she has encountered many girls in the industry who have been sexually victimized while working.

“Some men forcibly undress or kiss them, but that’s not the worst. Some girls are raped. One girl was even tied up sadomasochistic-style as photographs were taken,” she said.

“Unlike professional hostesses in the adult entertainment business, these girls are still naive in a way that they, for example, recoil in fear when guys try to touch them. The men apparently find this kind of naive reaction a turn-on.”

A former high school dropout herself, Nito said most girls who get into the JK business do it because they feel isolated and have few people they can trust. Others are drawn to it for money for college, or out of curiosity.

But the girls in the business by and large have poor human relationships and feel neglected both at home and at school, thus taking emotional refuge in the backstreet industry, Nito noted.

“These girls are in a way homeless. They have a physical house, yes, but they have no home where they can build actual human bonds,” she said.

Momo is a case in point. She lives with her mother, who suffers extreme mood swings, and Momo has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. She said she has few friends at school and once tried to kill herself with a drug overdose.

“It’s not like I joined the industry just out of curiosity. I wanted to know if there is really somebody out there who needs me, even if it’s just sexually,” she said.

One of Momo’s few friends, 15-year-old Kaori, has a similar story.

She said she was in the throes of despair and loneliness when she and Momo together signed papers to join one of the most notorious JK komyu parlors in Akihabara in early October. Like Momo, Kaori asked to be identified only by a pseudonym.

Kaori’s parents divorced when she was a child. “I was in a dark place,” she said, and has lived with her father since the split.

“My dad is rarely at home, always busy with his work. And he doesn’t seem to notice me. So I thought, if I got into some trouble by engaging in this sort of shady business — like being taken into police custody or something — then he will finally begin to pay attention to me.”

She said she feels her teachers at school are avoiding her, and with a resigned tone acknowledged she has no adults around her with whom she can have a heart-to-heart talk.

Both girls said they doubt they could work normal part-time jobs because of having to turn up at a set time. The thought of that, they said, makes them panic.

Many JK parlors allow girls to show up for work whenever they feel like it, or at least so they claim in online recruitment ads.

“I feel many girls in the industry are in one way or another mentally depressed,” Nito said. “And just when they’re so disappointed with their inability to engage in shift work, they realize the JK business offers a very flexible working style. That’s how they’re drawn to it.”

Nito believes rampant child prostitution in the JK business will not die out unless both the facilitators and customers are punished.

“The traffickers run their businesses in a way that keeps them just within the law. So it’s hard to bust them,” said Kosei Uchida, the Tokyo police officer in charge of the section that addresses the well-being of adolescents, in a statement delivered by fax.

Likewise, lawyer Kozue Hattori said police usually do not move against male customers for alleged sex with minors unless there is a compelling case — such as when a girl reports being sexually assaulted, when parents file a report and when girls are found during a raid.

“It’s true some (sexual offense) cases are not investigated and end up in a void,” said Hattori, whose clients include men accused of sex with minors.

She said she believes the girls are not entirely blameless: When lawyers meet the girls to discuss an out-of-court settlement, the victims sometimes say they wish the man had never been arrested as it represents a loss of their “cash cow.”

But Nito said adults must shoulder the blame.

“You might think the girls are to blame for selling their bodies,” she said. “But the girls are teens who are still too immature to understand the gravity of what they’re doing. The guys, on the other hand, are grown-ups. They should know what they’re doing. There is a huge difference.”

  • leconfidant

    There are several assumptions

    1) Women are purely victims. In no sense can they be held responsible for their choices or behavior.

    2) Male sexuality is basically exploitative and predatory unless it can be yoked to family living. There might be some nice guys out there, but there are so many weirdos, we’re on a state of high alert.

    3) If the government could punish the right people enough for their activities, all these problems would disappear.

    4) Any sex which involves money is immoral and destructive. Sex can only be productive making babies within families.

    6) Women don’t enjoy sex at all unless it’s part of a romantic drama. Ever. Men are just so physical, and they’re basically bullies, but women live in a world of candy floss and they have to be protected all the time.

    7) The fact that so many families aren’t able to live out Hollywood fantasies of family life and romance has nothing to do with the problem. No. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with our ideals.

    8) ‘The whole problem is these pesky criminals are awfully clever. Heck, if we could just get rid of them, the whole world would be beautiful’.

    • Boey Kwan

      I read #6 in a sarcastic tone, so I think you mean it to be sarcastic?

      A lot of people believe in the characteristics of women as said in #6. I don’t know about you, but #6 strikes me as stereotypical and sexist. Why are all women immediately labelled as living in a world of candy floss? There are several strong, independent woman who wouldn’t be fazed by anything, and they can certainly PROTECT themselves.

      Of course, you posted a summary of main ideas from the article :) This helped me understand the article. So, thank you. I don’t think you actually meant everything, I’m assuming you were simply helping us all understand it better? If so, thanks! :D

      • leconfidant

        No I just noticed that there seem to be several assumptions or perspectives which drive the article. They aren’t lies or completely wrong. They’re just worth examining in themselves. If they’re not held up to the light, we can’t question them, we just absorb them, until we actually believe them. As a guy who has no interest in assaulting anybody, I notice that men’s sexulity is only reported as “Man got married, raised kids” or “Man caused scandal”. The narrative “Man had brief romantic affair with secretary. They both had fun” can’t happen within these assumptions. Now I never had a secretary at all, but I’m sure some secretaries do have affairs with their bosses and it isn’t harmful, but we can’t call it “fun”, because going by the agenda above, they’re both evil people. Who says so? I think people can’t make positive arguments to justify those prejudices. They can only imply them between the lines. But I say, if the writer’s so sure of their assumptions, lets discuss them openly.

      • Guest

        Yeah, I agree. While there are definitely men that cause scandals and have affairs, that’s not true for every man. It’s just that these acts reflect poorly on the rest of the male population (I know lots of upright, integrious men

      • Boey Kwan

        Yeah, I agree. While there are definitely men that cause scandals and have affairs, that’s not true for every man. It’s just that these acts reflect poorly on the rest of the male population (I know lots of upright, integrous men!).

        By the way, I love your straightforward attitude :) Awesome way of approaching highly debated concepts.

    • rossdorn

      Yes, that pretty much sums it up..
      But, the philistines are the majority, always, and at all times…
      What to do…

    • Paul Johnny Lynn

      So what you’re saying is these “businesses” are legitimate, and their male clients free of any wrongdoing?

      • leconfidant

        No, I’m not saying that at all. They’re not legitimate are they?

        If you get to know people who work in the sex trade, they will tell you that some clients are very friendly and are prepared to pay good money. Others are psychopaths. Some women are perfectly businesslike in their dealings and others are clearly victims. The whole problem with legislating on it is people like you who imagine that if we don’t condemn the whole thing as utterly evil, we support trafficking and exploitation and whatever else you can remember.

        What I’m saying is the world isn’t that simple, and we should allow for that. That’s all. I’m sorry if that sounded like fighting talk to you.

        Try this – in the drugs market, we blame the dealers. In the prostitution market, we blame the customer. Why do we blame the purveyor in drug crime and blame the procurer in prostitution? Surely that’s a contradiction.

        Do you believe that all of the women working in sex trade have no control or responsibility whatsoever for their own actions? Why so? There must be some exceptions, surely.

        Why do you assume that the entire sex trade is completely exploitative and harmful?

        Instead of boxing me in with “Either-you-agree-with-me-or-you’re-evil” type rhetoric, why on earth do you believe that this situation is simple and involves black-and-white morality?

      • soudeska

        I think the point you are missing is that the girls in question are underage and often suffer from depression or other mental illness, which makes “JK business” more exploitative and disturbing than other forms of prostitution.

        You make the drug dealer comparison, but in this case, the girl is not the dealer–she is the drug. The dealers are the people running the businesses, that is, “The traffickers [who] run their businesses in a way that keeps them just within the law.” Obviously, this is not a great comparison because the girls also have some degree of free will and responsibility, as is mentioned in the article.

        Fundamentally, this is not an article about prositution. It is an article able exploitation of troubled high school girls. I hope you can see the difference.

      • leconfidant

        That’s a pretty reasonable reply and fair shout. Personally, having dealt with enough Japanese teenage girls, while I don’t want any of them to be exploited sexually or otherwise, there are two issues which the police have nothing to do with and the government is doing nothing about –

        a) Many young people lack the life-skills to make their own way if they can’t fit with the mainstream. They have been taught to fit in or… well nothing really. If they had been taught to have ideas and take initiative, they’d be making plans of their own instead of being mopped up by hoods.

        b) The emotional culture is likewise, an official assumption that everybody wants to fall in love, marry and have kids (as I noticed between the lines in the article). This is often true, but like the career plan, there’s no default for how to relate to people if you can’t achieve this or don’t want to.

        Given that both kinds of exception are so common, scenarios like the one described ought not to be a surprise. The problem, as I see it, isn’t that the cops can’t get their hands on the bad guys (although there is a role for that). The general problem – and this is much wider than teenage exploitation – is that when all your emphasis in education and communication is on conformity, there’s no telling what’s going to happen when people can’t fit in.

      • soudeska

        I agree. It is easy (well, sort of) to change the law, but much harder, I think, to change cultural norms and people’s mindsets. I think the pressure towards conformity and doing everything right is hard for people at all levels of Japanese society.

      • Paul Johnny Lynn

        While of course I agree that every case is a different story, the article, and my point, is not about the sex trade as such, but the exploitation of under-age girls (children by Japanese definition actually) by slimy perverts. Adult women who choose this as a job are a whole different kettle of fish, to conflate the two is hardly right.

  • Eagle

    The poor and mentally weak will very often fall victim of sex trade. Sad thing.
    In many countries even in the wealthy ones young high school students and university undergraduates often prostitute themselves to be able to make both ends meet.

    And more importantly, not only females.

    Now, some of them do it to get money enough to stay alive, some do it to cover their luxury expenses, some ’cause they have no choice or tricked into it.

    I personally don’t think too much about the police, but in this case I wouldn’t leave them with the blame. Police has never been able to handle the serious problem of prostitution and rape. This is rather a social and medical issue.
    I mean, I don’t have accurate data about how many percent of the population suffers from deep depression, schizophrenia, BPD or any other mental disease but in my guessing the figure is high. Very high.

    Don’t expect the police to solve this problem. That takes more, much more.

  • Boey Kwan

    Yes, media has definitely formed an idealized image of ‘pure girls’ or ‘cute girls’ in Japan.
    As shown by the recent ban of possession of child pornography in Japan (‘recent’ being ‘this June’… far too late in my opinion) children and females, and even males are sexually portrayed and available in anything from manga, to commercial merchandise. There is a desensitization, starting from a very young age, of such concepts; as well as exposition to children of how they should and should not act/look/etc. For example, the ‘pure girl’ image is enhanced by the oft-occurring roles in dramas, manga, anime, music and music videos, literature, and basically everywhere in Japan. Obviously not everybody is affected by these, but it is a huge issue in Japan and one of the sources of such common sexual exploits.
    I’m not saying that pure girls are bad (purity is always good if it’s actually pure… does that sound somewhat logical?). It’s absolutely lovely, if that’s one’s preferred style. However, like you said :) ‘they’re not necessarily naive’.

  • DeAnn Falvey

    In a country as wealthy as Japan, few if any young girls need to engage in this trade to obtain the necessities of life. And while I don’t have a problem with adults using their bodies any way they wish, without harming others, it’s sad that some underage girls feel so lonely and neglected emotionally that they will become quasi-prostitutes. If their families were more loving, this would not happen. All too often, family life in Japan is an emotional straitjacket.

    • Eagle

      The country is wealthy as you put it but not the people. Just the country.

    • ishyg

      “In a country as wealthy as Japan”

      That’s assuming everyone is wealthy. Even one Japanese colleague of mine said that there are many within the Metropolis who are under poverty. It might not be as apparent, but it’s there. Also, most of the time girls who are in JK for the money aren’t doing it for necessities, but rather for things they want. Like, you don’t see young girls using LVs and Coach brands all the time, but the one time you see one it’s either they look really sophisticated or they look like shady kids.

      But I have to agree with the negligence part. It often happens because of work. Japan has a notorious reputation of having a “work>life” culture.

  • Nishi Drew

    What seems to go unmentioned as to why these businesses aren’t enforced well or men taken accountable is because the age of consent in Japan is so low; can even be 13 depending on situations. Generally it’s 18 but “In a romantic relationship” (which of course can always be bent) the age can be 16, or less. And as mentioned, unless there’s a report made of it then no one steps in. Especially so if parents don’t care, which is so common with so few families where children have good relationships with their parents.