Just How Many Japanese Women Work in Prostitution?

In Japan, the term "fuzoku" refers to the sex industry. It's different from the term "mizu shoubai", which refers more to the type of hosting you'll see in Sega's yakuza games. Fuzoku is sex, in its many forms and flavors.

According to an estimate by a woman's fashion website, it's possible one in ten Japanese women in their twenties have worked in the sex industry.

Caution: what follows is not suitable for work or young children.

Hostessing has been called "psychological prostitution", and the focus is on flirting with the all-too-often unfulfilled promise of sex. Fuzoku is sex, in one form or another, for money. As long as it's not vaginal sex, which is illegal, fuzoku is technically legal, meaning that paying for oral or, ahem, anal sex falls into a gray area.

Japan's Model Press wrote that it recently seems like that one in ten women in their twenties have worked in the fuzoku industry. There's some fuzzy math involved, and the number is based on a guestimate more than anything else. I don't quite buy it.

Model Press pointed out that there are over 5,000 fuzoku businesses in Tokyo. "Of course, it depends on the establishment how many girls are employed, but it seems like there are ten girls in their twenties for each shop," wrote Model Plus. "A simple calculation puts the number at 50,000."

Five thousand seems slightly high for the number of fuzoku establishments, but then again, I haven't counted. If Model Press said there were 5,000 hostess bars in Tokyo, I might find that a little easier to believe. Also, if Model Press used facts and not hearsay, the number wouldn't seem so farfetched.

However, according to this wiki on "Prostitution in Japan", Shinjuku alone has 3,500 fuzoku businesses. The figure does not have citation.

Outside Tokyo, the number of fuzoku business drops sharply. The numbers in small cities and small towns are either low or non-existent. Since so many people go to Tokyo, it's understandable that the city would have a high concentration of nightlife entertainment.

So don't assume fuzzy math is true outside Tokyo, let alone in Tokyo. There are not 5,000 fuzoku business in, say, some sleepy town in Gifu.

Reasons listed detailing why young women go into fuzoku include the desire to purchase brand-name goods or even supplementing their day-job's income. One woman I once interviewed told me she works in fuzoku simply because she's interested in S&M. It depends on the person.

There are websites and magazines, like Vigor, dedicated to help women finding fuzoku jobs. On the Vigor website, women are lured with the promise of money and designer goods.

In a way, working in fuzoku, I guess, would be the equivalent of working as a stripper in the U.S.. Exotic dancing, which was popular for a period after World War II, isn't a big business in Japan. Fuzoku, with it's "health clubs" and "image clubs", apparently accounts for 2 to 3 percent of Japan's GDP.

So, perhaps, the question should not how many work in fuzoku, but how many patron it?

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(Top photo: Katsumi Kasahara | AP)

You can contact Brian Ashcraft, the author of this post, at bashcraft@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.