Issue No : 33 December 1999 - February 2000
The biggest challenge to the sex industry in Japan is that it is difficult to identify problems. Due to discriminatory attitudes of national legislation and society against sex work, sex workers cannot obtain information and do not have adequate systems for dealing with problems.
To identify problems, we launched a research project on sex workers in August 1999. The first phase of this project consists of interviews with 300 workers in the non-intercourse category, massage parlours, (known as 'Health'). 108 sex workers had been interviewed by 11 December 1999.
The sex industry in Japan is generally divided into intercourse and non-intercourse categories. Since sex work involving intercourse was prohibited by the Anti-Prostitution Law in 1956, the non-intercourse sector has dramatically developed. While there are no accurate data, it is estimated that the majority of Japanese sex workers are in the non-intercourse category, where Health is the most popular form. However, most forms of the non-intercourse category, which emerged in a loophole in the Anti-Prostitution Law, have become subjects of police control because of amendments to laws regulating businesses affecting public morals in 1948.
Working Conditions and the Thinking of Health Workers
There are various forms of Health parlours. Some businesses rent a floor of a building to make into an open parlour, while others provide services secretly in a room of a condominium. Most parlours are in entertainment areas. One of their most popular services is 'sumata' (dry intercourse), using the thighs and hands to stimulate the penis. Since this style involves direct contact of the sex organs, workers in the non-intercourse category who usually do not use condoms may be more likely to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases than workers in the intercourse category who generally use condoms.
Many Health workers do not have other occupations, and ages are lower than in the intercourse category. Most are in their lower twenties. More than 60 percent of the workers feel proud of their job, describing it as a kind of welfare work or counselling. This is contrary to negative images of some parts of society, which considers sex work as a kind of trafficking.
Problems Facing Health Workers
One of the serious problems facing Health workers is that most of them do not have ways to deal with victimisation by employers and customers because most Health parlours are not legally recognised. In cases of non-payment of wages or unfair dismissal, most workers are forced to waive their rights or move to another parlour. Also, since the police do not protect illegal parlours, they cannot deal strictly with customers who demand more than the prescribed services, therefore they cannot provide protection for their workers. The police protect legal parlours. This means that customer education becomes possible by decriminalising sex work.
Sex workers are not only victimised by employers and customers. They face discriminatory attitudes and misunderstandings by doctors when they go to hospital to have STD examinations. Since this makes sex workers less willing to go to hospital, it is necessary to educate doctors. We are planning to urge doctors to understand sex work and provide co-operation for the improvement of their working conditions at the Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists next spring.
We would like to publicise the findings of this research to make the Government and society aware of the necessity of decriminalising sex work and to advocate concrete policies and support systems for workers.