Today, a growing number of Japanese women work in the sex industry for economic reasons. More and more of these women are female college students who do sex work in order to pay their college tuition.
Let us take a look at the case of one former female college student who is now employed at a large company, but used to work at a brothel in Yoshiwara, the Tokyo neighborhood well-known for its abundance of soaplands (a kind of Japanese brothel). We will call her Y.
Impossible to get by with regular part-time jobs
In high school, Y. was a hard-working student like any other. Her studies earned her a spot at the university she had been aiming for: Keio University in Tokyo. Readers of this article may be aware that Keio University is a prestigious private institution. It attracts all kinds of students, from the children of wealthy families to those who hail from typical middle-class homes.
At the time when Y. attended Keio University, its entrance fee was ¥200,000. On top of that came ¥1,300,000 in tuition money, every year. This ¥1,300,000 must be paid in two instalments during the academic year, meaning students have to pay ¥650,000 every six months.
Y.’s family had a slightly above-average income, at around ¥6,000,000 per year. Her parents could pay for the entrance fee, but they found themselves unable to pay for tuition.
Y. was determined to study at Keio University, so she paid her first batch of tuition with a scholarship. Once she had entered the university, she took part-time jobs to pay for her living expenses and save for future tuition payments.
However, she needed ¥140,000 for her monthly living expenses, even without saving for the tuition payments. She paid ¥60,000 in rent, ¥20,000 for transportation, ¥30,000 for food, ¥10,000 for her cellphone, and ¥20,000 for clothes and leisure. Her parents sent her an allowance of ¥50,000 per month. She also worked part-time jobs at a restaurant and as a tutor, but even then, she struggled to cover her living expenses and could not even begin saving for tuition.
Working at a soapland to raise money for tuition
Y. finally looked into working at a premium soapland. She did feel some reluctance at the idea of selling her body, but she decided to explore sex work in order to ensure her own future. Y. chose a soapland in Yoshiwara, a neighborhood in Tokyo that is famous for its many premium soaplands.
Her status as an active university student, and the size of her bust–a G-cup–made her very attractive. She was also smart, stylish, and young. A soapland accepted Y. after interviewing her, and she began her work as a “soap lady” (a prostitute who services clients at a soapland).
Y. took her new job seriously. She told herself that if clients liked her enough to ask for her again and again, her income would go up. Two clear goals were at the forefront of her mind: to save enough for tuition, and then some more to finance the job search she would begin as a third-year student at the university.
The soapland where she worked charged ¥65,000 for every 120-minute session. After subtracting the price of toys and consumables needed for sessions, Y. was left with ¥30,000 for every session. Y. worked diligently, serving two clients per day for 15 days every month. This allowed her to make ¥900,000 per month. After a year and a half at the soapland, she had made ¥16,200,000–enough to cover all her tuition, and still have ¥5,000,000 in savings left.
After success at saving came success at job hunting
Y. quit her soapland job so she could focus on finding a post-graduation job. The money she had saved allowed her to follow every lead aggressively, and she ended up landing a provisional job offer from a large company, just like she wanted.
Y. says that of all her friends, the ones who ended up choosing sex work were also the ones who were the most serious about preparing for the future.
As Y.’s story suggests, for some people, sex work is a chance to turn their lives around. Obviously, not everyone has Y.’s goal-oriented mind, or the dedication with which she applied herself to her work at the soapland. However, female college students who are worried about their future may find her an inspiring example.
For men, a prostitute like Y. is a kind of goddess who can fulfill his every sexual desire. For her peers, however, Y. is a shining example. There are many beautiful women working in Yoshiwara’s soaplands, and many of them are people with a goal in mind, just like Y.