Schoolgirls for Sale in Japan

Narrator: Japan has an incredible tolerance for the sexual exploitation of young girls. Host: If somebody asked you what your job description was, what would you tell them? SCHOOLGIRLS FOR SALE ~Light Music~ Host: This is the Akihabara neighborhood in central Tokyo, and it’s ground zero for “JK”. Which is what the Japanese call “schoolgirl culture”. Schoolgirls are actually a really big business in Japan. They sell everything, including cartoons, comic books, they pack music venues, they advertise cafés and restaurants, but you may not have known that you can actually also buy the schoolgirls themselves. Narrator: JK stands for Joshi Kosei, or “high school girl”, and along this strip they’re everywhere. Not shopping or hanging out like schoolgirls in Toyko typically do, but selling various services. Everything from fortune telling, to massages, to a walk with a client around the neighborhood. All this is being sold in the open, and under the constant watch of a group of men who appear to be the girls bosses. Before long, one of them comes over and demands we stop filming. Host: But this is a public street, right? P: Yea, yea-yea. Host: So, why can’t we film on a public street? Host: I don’t understand. Translator: So, he’s saying that we can shoot that way. Host: That way. We can shoot that way. Translator: That way. Host: But he’s making out like he owns the street. Translator: He’s saying like, just don’t shoot the girls. Narrator: There’s clearly more going on beneath the surface, and we were determined to find out what we could. So we dropped into one of the busiest JK businesses we could find around here. One of several music venues where pop groups made up of school age girls play to packed houses most nights. Host: Alright well, we’re going to find out about JK culture in Japan. This is one of the JK bands. [To girls] Hi, my name’s Simon. Girls: Arigato gozaimasu. Arigato gozaimasu, arigato gozaimasu. (Polite greetings) Girl: Hello. Hello. Host: Nice to meet you. Girls: Nice to meet you! ~Musical intro.~ Yatta! (Exclamation of triumph. like “Alright!” or “Booyah!”) Chanting with music. The girls: Hai! Hai! Hai! The Crowd: Oo! Oo! Oo! ~Girls singing in Japanese with music.~ Crowd singing along/yelling approvingly. Narrator: The room was full of men, and many looked to be years older than the performers… …and they know the set-list by heart. ~Singing/music continues.~ ~Clapping with music.~ Crowd: Clapping in time and yelling. ~Singing/music continues, then begins to fade out.~ *Laughter, and background chatter.* Narrator: JK fans usually have a favorite girl, and they’re fiercely devoted to her. Some even pay money for a chance at a little face time after the show. *Crowd and band chattering.* Host: I guess this is an opportunity for all of the fan boys to get to know the band a little bit better. They can buy Polaroid pictures of them, they can meet them and speak with them, It’s pretty innocent when it’s just teenagers meeting teenagers, but …but that guy’s a little bit older. [Referencing the man they then pan in on.] *Crowd and band chattering.* ~Background music.~ Jake Adelstein: You have this woman [correction: they’re girls] who is your fantasy, and you have an opportunity to meet her, but it doesn’t seem real unless you actually touch the flesh. So that’s part of the deal. I mean, you actually get close enough to her, get a scent of her, look into her eyes, and it perpetuates the fantasy. Narrator: Jake Adelstein has spent more than 20 years reporting on Japan’s underworld, for Japanese and American press outlets, including VICE News. Jake: This is called “Dogenzaka”, the name ‘zaka’ means hill. This is called “Love Hotel Hill”. Narrator: He’s also on the board of the ‘Polaris Project’, a non-profit that helps victims of human trafficking. Jake: So, when the JK are taking their ‘ossan’ [men in their 40s-50s] for a little bit more than a stroll, this is probably where they’re going to wind up. Narrator: He’s tracked the evolution of JK culture, from its relatively benign beginnings, to a dark and lucrative business. Host: So, how old is um, JK, specifically the schoolgirl culture? Jake: This issue of like, young girls being paid by men to spend time with them, um first really came up in the 90’s, and the term was “enjo kosai”, which means ‘compensated dating’. So, there would be older men that would spend money for girls to walk with them, or talk with them, because I guess they’re lonely. Not every single guy who is paying money to spend time with a young girl wants to sleep with her, or is a pervert. I would say maybe 70-80% [do], but I don’t know. Host: So, do you think that a lot of these girls are being exploited? Jake: This is the tough part, there’s a real grey zone there. Obviously some of the girls are being exploited. the problem with the whole “ossan-to-no-sampo” [literally “walking with ossan”], referring to the practice of girls going for paid walks with men] sample, walking with these old guys, is the opportunities for that to turn into something really nasty are manifold. Host: How much of it is organized by criminal groups? Is it something that’s kind of naturally done by the girls themselves? They go out and find these dates? Or, is there a network profiting from the schoolgirl business? Jake: There’s no single network, but you have isolated cases of say, you know, a group of individuals starting with one girl, collecting sort of a harem of girls, and working them on the streets. I mean, there’s many, many, variations. It’s a business opportunity, and it can be a form of human trafficking as the State Department indicated in their last white paper on it. Narrator: The report, an annual review of human trafficking in Japan, singled out the JK walking dates, saying they are often fronts for underage prostitution. Host: So do you think that uh, there’s something that the government needs to do to rein the schoolgirl culture in? Is it getting out of hand? Jake: You could sort of encourage education that would let women think of themselves as something other than sexual merchandise to be purchased by men. Part of it the reason that you have this sort of Lolita culture in Japan is because the life and the opportunities for women are so bad. It’s a hard thing to stop. This society is one of the most misogynist, sexist societies in a developed country in the world. I would not want to be a woman here. Narrator: Tokyo police only recently began raiding JK businesses, that were fronts for prostitution. But many say the raids are largely for show, and walking around the Akihabara neighborhood it seems like the news stories should be about how many JK businesses are still open for business. We stopped by one, a tiny storefront on a busy street, with suggestive pictures posted in the window. Nothing remarkable in a neighborhood full of places like this. But we wanted to see what an average JK business looked like on the inside. Host: Shoes off, slippers on. And look, they’ve got “Hello Kitty”s on them. Thank you. Hi. Thank you. Apparently I can uh, chat for half an hour for 3000 yen, which is like $30. And uh, we can also do fortune telling. Host: Thank you. Girl: (in Japanese roughly) Here, have it. Host: That’s very kind. Ok, so, what’s next on the menu? Ok, that’s true. Host: This is um, a really uncomfortable experience. What other sort of things besides the uh, fortune telling is on the menu? Host: What sort of questions do um, your other clients usually ask you? Narrator: While we were talking there was another rented date going on across the room. Narrator: With a hidden camera we were able to listen in. But the conversation was pretty mundane. But it’s hard to overlook the very creepy fact that an adult man has paid for the company of an attractive schoolgirl. And JKs often think they’re agreeing to an innocent chat, when their employers and clients expect something entirely different. Host: And that’s your actual uniform which you wore to school as well? Narrator: That’s what happened to this young woman, who agreed to speak with us on the condition that we concealed her identity. Host: How old were you started getting involved with the JK walking? Host: What was your uh, home situation like? Why do you think you decided to get involved, when you were just 16 years old? So you understood that uh, you were supposed to walk with uh, these men but you though that that was all you had to do? When you were under the age of 18 did you ever take uh, money for having sex with these guys? Narrator: This is one of the few advocates for JK girls, her name is Yumeno Nito, and she says she’s rescued more than 100 girls from trafficking, with dozens more calling her for help each week. This girl is the latest. She’s hungry, and lonely, and ashamed about where life has taken her. Yumeno and two colleagues serve the girl her first home cooked meal in ages. Narrator: Japan has been described as a shame based culture, where the fear of letting down family or society dominates almost everything else. In the case of many JKs who’ve been coerced into sex like this girl, they’d rather go into hiding and face hunger, than seek help from family or friends. Host: Yumeno knows what it’s like to be all alone, as a teenage runaway several men tried to recruit her into the schoolgirl sex industry. Narrator: It would be easy and unfair to single Japan out as the only culture to sexualize young girls. Tens of millions of dollars have been made on American pop culture, exploiting the leering gaze of adults But there’s something unique, and especially unsettling about the fact that, right out in the open, schoolgirls are available for rent by the hour, in one of Tokyo’s busiest neighborhoods. Jake: I don’t think Japan has a very good set up for dealing with runaways, or children that are abused at home. And since there’s no really good support system one way they’re going to earn a living is doing this kind of JK business stuff. Host: What would you say to somebody who said that we’re just coming to Japan with our puritanical ideals and that we’re telling the Japanese uh, how to behave, imposing our culture on theirs? Jake: I would say that Japan has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it’s a member of the UN, it has agreed to uphold the Palermo Protocols against human trafficking, and, all we’re asking Japan to do is live up to the international agreements that they’ve agreed to, and, publicly at least, politicians profess that they want equality for men and women. So I don’t think we’re imposing our puritanical views on Japan, we’re just saying, “Do you really mean what you say?”


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