For years, Japan has dealt with a serious problem of an underground economy consisting of underage girls. This economy is known by the umbrella term "JK Business" (JKビジネス), with "JK" standing for joshi kousei (女子高生), or high school girls.
I talked a little bit about some of Japan's legitimate adult businesses in our biography on porn star and TV talent Iijima Ai, herself a teen runaway who survived by working as an underaged hostess at cabaret clubs. Obviously, while the clubs Ai worked at were legal, her hiring as a minor wasn't. By contrast, JK Businesses are barely legal businesses, all of which offer "secret" services in violation of Japan's Sex Industry Law.
This type of business first reared its head around 2013 with the rise of "JKリフレ" (JK rifure), or reflexology shops, where minors were hired to give massages to businessmen who were generally 30 to 50 years of age. However, most stores also offered a so-called 裏オプション (ura opushon), or "secret options", in which various sexual services were offered. When authorities got wind of these businesses, they swiftly shut them down.
However, that didn't stop JK Business - it simply changed form. JK Observation Clubs sprung up, giving men sneak peeks at young girls. JK Walks (JKお散歩; JK O-Sampo), in which girls would meet men on the street, became a highly popular option, as it didn't require a fixed, visible storefront. All of these offerings also came with "secret options" that wound up with both participants in a love hotel or an Internet cafe, where the male clients would engage in clearly illegal sexual activity with their underage companions.
Other forms of the business include JK Commu, JK Shared Table Rooms, and even "JK Fortune Telling" - all, of course, sponsoring "secret options". Police have moved against some of these businesses - the Shared Table Rooms were supposedly all shuttered in 2016 - but new variations pop up as fast as police can shut them down. The Japanese government estimates that 9% of high school girls in metro Tokyo - around 14,000 girls - participate in JK Businesses. It's loosely estimated that 300 million yen (appr. USD $3M) is exchanged in JK Businesses every year.
(JP) Link: Reflex, Walk, Secret Options - The Big Market for "JK Business"
If it wasn't hard for police to crack down on such illegal sexual activity in the past, the Internet has made it even harder. A new hashtag phenomenon, specifically involving runaway girls or girls in troubled families, is exposing more girls to danger - and threatening to drag them into the JK Business lifestyle.
Back in October, Asahi Shinbun reported how young girls who have encountered family troubles have taken to the Internet advertising that they need a place to crash for the night. The girls use well-known hash tags such as #神待ち (kami-machi; "waiting on God"), #家出少女 (iede josei; "runaway girl") to attract the attention of strangers. Men are also using the hashtags to announce "room shares" to girls looking for refuge.
The offer of "refuge" comes with a "tacit understanding," as one man put it, that sexual favors would be exchanged. The Twitter hashtags mentioned above also contain brags from men who admit to fondling the girls who stay with them while they sleep.
Needless to say, this is morally wrong and illegal, and police are doing everything in their power to crack down on it. One man recently busted in Kanagawa Prefecture had two different girls staying with him, one for up to two months, before one of them was taken into protective care by the police.
According to Asahi, this phenomenon isn't totally new. Back before the advent of social media, "runaway" message boards were host to such traffic. But the advent of public forums like Twitter and chat apps like LINE make it easier for girls who are facing trouble at school or at home to find a sympathetic ear. Unfortunately, those sympathetic ears are attached to the heads of perverts looking for something in return.
(JP) Link: With a Night's Stay, Sex is "Tacitly Acknowledged" - The Adults Who Take Advantage of Runaway Girls
As Business Insider JP reports, Various non-profit and government agencies are attempting to reach out directly to runaways and girls involved in JK Businesses. The NPO Colabo recently opened a microbus called Tsubomi Cafe in Shibuya, which offers food, counseling, toothbrushes, clothing, and even condoms to girls who are caught in the kami-machi life.
While respecting the girls' wishes, the organization does intervene in emergency cases, taking girls under protective care, and has established relationships with lawyers and child case workers to help. They aren't looking to provide one-off problem solving or assistance, but to build relationships, getting close when the girls experience issues or are upset.
(JP) Link: Food and a Safe Space for the #WaitingonGod and #RunawayGirls - Intervening Before Snared by JK Businesses
While Colabo is doing great work on the supply side of the equation, nothing will change until authorities and Japanese society finds a way to address the demand - or at least bring enough social shaming to the practice that the risk involved far outweighs whatever reward these creeps think they're getting.
I'm the publisher of Unseen Japan. I hold an N1 Certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and am married to a wonderful woman from Tokyo.
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