The Shinjuku area of Tokyo is a bustling shopping district with few equals around the world. The centrally located Shinjuku Station is famous for being the busiest station in the world, in terms of the number of passengers served.
Besides Japanese people, Shinjuku also attracts visitors from all over the world. Many are tourists, but there are also many who come to work in the neighborhood.
Here, we want to take a closer look at the foreign prostitutes who work in Shinjuku’s busy streets. The red light district called Kabukicho is one of Shinjuku’s most well-known attractions. Women from all over the world work here as prostitutes.
After years of intensive crackdowns on prostitution, the number of foreign women working in Kabukicho illegally is decreasing steadily. However, some foreign prostitutes are still eking out a living in the area.
What countries do these prostitutes come from?
Most foreign prostitutes in Shinjuku hail from other Asian countries. East Asian women are common, with Chinese and Korean women being particularly well-represented.
A smaller but still significant number of foreign prostitutes come from South-East Asia. Many of them are Filipino women, who seem to thrown themselves into the sex trade with a particular flair for business.
These women come to Japan because they can make more money here than at home. In other words, their goal is to make enough so that they can return to their countries and live a life of affluence there. This places them in a position very different from women forced into prostitution by poverty, which is an issue that is the object of much concern in Japan today.
Many of these foreign prostitutes also join the expat communities of their respective countries while they live in Japan. These communities function as support systems which help women from losing their bearings as they arrive in a completely unknown country and try to find work as prostitutes.
What is it like to buy the services of a foreign prostitute?
What impression do these foreign prostitutes leave on clients who have bought their services in Shinjuku? Most clients seem to have concluded that approaching foreign prostitutes is really a kind of lottery.
One man said that he was solicited by foreign prostitutes in Shinjuku during in the early 2000s. While he was propositioned several times, he usually avoided responding to the invitations of the foreign prostitutes after an unfortunate experience in the past.
One time, however, he decided to speak with a prostitute soliciting clients, purely out of curiosity. He ended up accepting her offer, and had an excellent time with a very lovely woman and was entirely satisfied with the experience.
The mixed-use building where he met the woman had no sign advertising the presence of a business, and the little room they used had only a very plain plywood interior. The man said he got very lucky: the “business” had all the hallmarks of an unlicensed and illegal operation, but he was extremely satisfied with what he paid for.
The rapid increase in Chinese prostitutes and the decline of prostitution
A very large number of Chinese prostitutes can be found in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho area at any time. Before, women who practiced street prostitution in the neighborhood were nearly all Chinese.
The post-2000 increase in Chinese foreign students in Japan is thought to be behind this. Data shows that number of Chinese studying in Japan tripled between 1998 and 2003, and that the number of Chinese women working in prostitution in Japan increased around the same time.
Tokyo’s former governor, Ishihara Shintarō, did not like this state of affairs. He ordered that action be taken to rid Kabukicho of unseemly signboards, an effort that became known as the “Kabukicho cleanup operation.”
As a result of this operation, there are now few streetwalkers and illegal sex businesses left in the area, and it has become rare to see foreign prostitutes plying their trade in Kabukicho.
The cleanup operation caused great upheaval in the sex business as a whole, because it also drove many brothels with Japanese prostitutes out of business.
It seems that for many foreign prostitutes, working in Japan was an excellent business decision. The sheer number of foreign prostitutes who used to work in Japan speaks for itself.
It is true that they made it slightly more difficult for the authorities to preserve public order in Shinjuku. However, the women were an acclaimed part of the area’s local color that has now disappeared.