On May 22, the Yomiuri Shimbun published a curious article about Kihei Maekawa, a former administrative vice education minister who has said that he is willing to testify under oath about the Kake Gakuen scandal dogging Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The Yomiuri Shimbun published its “expose” of Maekawa five days after the former bureaucrat told the Asahi Shimbun about the existence of eight documents that suggest Abe pressured the government to approve the opening of a veterinary medicine department at a university run by Kake Educational Institute, a school operator chaired by Abe’s friend Kotaro Kake.

The story in the Yomiuri Shimbun alleged that Maekawa frequented a shady dating bar in the Kabukicho district in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward for a few years until around the end of last year. The article implied that many of the women who come to the bar often invite the men out and offer sex for money.

Now, here’s the billion-yen question: Are such places illegal?

Putting aside for a second the Yomiuri Shimbun’s motivation in publishing the article, let’s focus on the nature of such “seedy dating bars,” or deaikei (deai means “to encounter another person” in Japanese).

In recent years, deaikei has been used to describe clubs, websites, bars, cafes or any place where people can go to meet other people. In the United States, such establishments would be called “singles bars.”

Kabukicho is famous for being Tokyo’s red-light district, but since the metropolitan government launched a cleanup campaign back in 2003, the area has become progressively less seedy. A new multiplex movie theater has even opened in the district, offering such titles as “Beauty and the Beast” — not exactly racy entertainment. So it’s a bit of a stretch to say that a bar is shady simply because it’s located in Kabukicho.

At a news conference on May 25, Maekawa admitted he used to go to a dating bar but said he went there to talk to the women and learn about poverty in the country. Maekawa said that he became interested in the topic after watching a TV documentary that said many women going to such bars are barely getting by.

“Sometimes I had meals with women and gave them some pocket money,” Maekawa said. “Talking to them, I have learned that child poverty is connected to the poverty of women.”

In this regard, he’s absolutely correct. In Japan, 50 percent of single mothers live in poverty.

However, this doesn’t mean that the women who frequent such bars do so solely for the purposes of prostitution. That’s a massive assumption to make.

Furthermore, let’s step back for a second and ask ourselves: What if someone’s real motive for visiting such a cafe was, in fact, to “hook up”? That is certainly not a crime.

Even if a man went to a bar, met a woman and paid her for sex, in most cases neither could be arrested.

Japan’s prostitution laws make the act itself a crime but the police don’t seek to prosecute the individuals, only the pimps or brothels involved. So unless the owner of a dating bar knows that prostitution is being conducted on the premises and takes a cut of the proceeds, they’re not doing anything illegal either.

In short, Maekawa doesn’t appear to have done anything illegal and the people frequenting dating cafes certainly aren’t criminals either. Being lonely is hardly a crime.

Dark Side of the Rising Sun is a monthly column that takes a behind-the-scenes look at news in Japan.

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