With the passage of a new ordinance regulating underage schoolgirl dating services in the capital, there is fear the change will simply push such operations further underground, where illicit sexual activities will continue unseen.

Tokyo’s new ordinance, which took force on Saturday, prohibits girls 17 and younger from working in the “JK business,” which thrives on the use of joshi kosei, the Japanese term for high school girls.

But the problem needs a broader solution because business is seemingly booming on the internet, where an abundance of websites offer services from high school girls advertised with sexually implicit euphemisms.

And with the earning potential of such operations so much greater than what they can get from regular part-time jobs, many are still likely to be lured into the business.

“After the enforcement, there will still be high school girls out there who are going to want to earn pocket money, and the men who target these girls won’t disappear, either,” said an official from the Metropolitan Police Department.

On the night of June 23, about a week before the ordinance took effect, young girls dressed in maid costumes and other outfits solicited customers in Tokyo’s Akihabara district.

A Kyodo News reporter, 27, telephoned a JK business about organizing a “walking date,” a service in which a customer goes on a stroll with a young girl. After a short wait, a young woman clad in a uniform appeared in front of a ticket gate at the station.

After agreeing to an interview at a nearby restaurant, Ryoko (not her real name) said she had worked at another JK business until graduating from high school last year.

Asked about the “unofficial options” many girls use to provide sexual services, Ryoko said: “Everyone was doing it (at the other shop). There were girls who made more than ¥100,000 (about $880) per day through prostitution.”

She also appeared to be aware of Tokyo’s new ordinance.

“The police come inside, so there are no more real JK girls at the shop. Most of the business is being arranged over the internet, through enko (compensated dating) services.”

Compensated dating is the practice in which men provide money or luxury gifts, usually to adolescent girls or housewives, in exchange for companionship or sexual favors.

After calling on a “JK rifure” (reflexology) shop claiming to offer pseudo-therapeutic bed-sharing or massage services, a reporter waited inside a room rented in a building used by a range of businesses. The uniformed 19-year-old who arrived at the door said she attends college in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

After agreeing to answer some questions, she said she had been working at a family restaurant during high school but decided to go down the JK path because she makes much more money this way.

“The pay is totally different. You have to be an idiot to work in a regular job,” she said.

But when asked about her future, her gaze dropped.

“I don’t have dreams,” she said. “I wonder if it’s okay for me to continue with this kind of work.”

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, there were about 230 JK businesses at the end of 2016, but only 140 by the end of May. Of those that continue, 30 provide call-out services, meaning they do not maintain offices or rooms from which the young women work.

In April, 20 high school girls working in the JK business in four Tokyo districts including popular tourism and shopping hot spots like Akihabara and Ikebukuro, were rounded up by the police, who offered advice about their options outside the industry.

The police are hopeful the changes they suggested will stem the tide of exploitation.

“There were shops closing before the ordinance went into force, and there will be even more now,” said one police official.

In April and May, the Metropolitan Police Department visited students at 267 middle schools and high schools in the metropolitan area to warn them about the dangers of becoming drawn into and victimized by the sex trade via the JK and internet porn industries.

Police plan to continue efforts to educate young people to minimize the harm being caused.

Lighthouse, a nonprofit organization that provides counseling services to victims of human trafficking, especially in Japan, welcomes the ordinance but warns that more is needed to keep children from being taken advantage of.

“For the children who might inadvertently take this path, we need to create an environment where it is easy for them to talk to someone,” said Shihoko Fujiwara, who heads Lighthouse.

Last week, the U.S. State Department issued its 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report, which placed Japan in Tier 2, the second level of its four-tier scale of nations that fail to “fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” The report said variants of the JK business continue to facilitate the sex trafficking of children.

The new ordinance breaks down the JK industry into five types of businesses, including reflexology, walking dates and photography shoots. Maid cafes and cosplay restaurants do not fall under the ordinance.

JK operators are now obliged to register with the Tokyo Metropolitan Public Safety Commission and submit a list of employees, allowing their ages to be verified. Police officers are also entitled to conduct on-site inspections.

The safety commission can issue administrative guidance or order such businesses to shut down for violations. Business owners and employees who do not comply could face up to a year in prison or a fine of up to ¥1 million ($8,900).

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.