The relationship between the adult entertainment world and gangs in Japan

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In Japan, a “gang” refers to an organization that operates in the margins of society and that gains profit from antisocial activities. Gangs are widely known by names such as “yakuza”.

These gangs also have direct ties to the world of adult entertainment. Adult entertainment activities tend to take place in a legal gray zone, which gangs often take advantage of in order to demand protection money and solve problems with violence. When sex establishments pay this protection money, the gangs permit the establishment to conduct its business. The money is also called “operating fees”.

The adult entertainment world is not in a position to sever such ties unilaterally. Even in the future, it will probably remain difficult for the adult entertainment world to completely dissolve its relationship with gangs.

Let us take a closer look at how the relationship between the adult entertainment world and gangs functions.

Gangs taking control of the adult entertainment world

Because gangs make their profits from anti-social activities, their very existence is against the law. Complying with the demands of gangs is obviously illegal as well.

For that reason, all Japanese prefectures have proclaimed “Organized crime exclusion ordinances” with the aim of expelling gangs. Nominally, then, any ties between gangs and the general population are supposed to have been cut completely.

However, the adult entertainment world is not in a position to use these “Organized crime exclusion ordinances” as a shield against the demands of gangs. If establishment operators do refuse, gangs are guaranteed to exact revenge by, for instance, assuming the identity of customers and then violently attacking sex workers, or by dumping trash in front of the establishment.

In this situation, a sex establishment has no choice but to seek the protection of a gang. While this is a half-hearted motivation for getting involved with gangs, it is unfortunate common sense in the adult entertainment world.

The money that the adult entertainment world pays to gangs

When a sex establishment places itself under the protection of a particular gang, the gang demands protection money. The amount can range from ¥50,000 to ¥100,000 per month.

However, having to pass on money to gangs for no clear reason leads to accounting problems for sex establishments. The gang solves this by depositing hand towels or potted plants in the sex establishment. The sex establishment can then claim that it is leasing these items from the gang, and disguise the protection money as “leasing costs” in its company books.

Using this workaround, gangs can continue to exploit sex establishments. Some gangs also sell goods such as forks to the sex establishments every month, thereby extracting a higher amount of protection money than usual.

Sex establishments do not want to engage with gangs

Sex establishments that pay money to gangs every month do not do so because they want to. These establishments are also afraid of gangs. However, they cannot avoid maintaining some kind of relationship with them.

For example, sometimes the establishments experience problems with their customers. When there are customers who engage in vicious conduct, such as raping a sex worker, the sex establishment has to do something about it. However, because these establishments exist in a social gray zone, it is not easy for them to simply contact the police.

The sex establishments are then left with no choice but to turn to gangs for help. Gangs take an amount of money from the sex establishment that is proportionate to the intervention they have to stage, and attempt an illegal solution to the problem.

Even so, such cases are uncommon, and relying on gangs is truly a last resort. Getting more closely entangled with gangs has no benefits for sex establishments, because the risk of having the criminal behavior exposed becomes higher.

Recent years have seen stronger crackdowns on gangs, and it is becoming relatively rare to see gangsters solving problems through means such as causing injuries. Even then, gangs remain what they are, and there is no telling what might happen while such a dangerous element remains part of the adult entertainment world. Sex establishments still have a strong desire to not engage with gangs in any way at all.

While sex establishments maintain some relationships with gangs, they simultaneously maintain a close relationship with the police. That means sex establishments are perpetually torn between conflicting demands.

They must avoid cozying up too much to either the police or the gangs. For sex establishments, maintaining this delicate balance is the secret to their continued existence.