Japanese women’s attitudes towards the sex industry are undergoing considerable change. Today, sex work is starting to be seen not as something women do because they have no other choice, but as a valid career that women choose because they want it.
The development of the internet is one obvious reason behind the change, but the social advancement of women is also seen as an indirect cause. There is also the fact that women tend to be more supportive of the sex industry today.
Because the number of job seekers has increased, the sex industry now sees fierce competition among workers. As supply begins to outstrip demand, the sex industry turns into a buyer’s market, and selection criteria on the supply side become increasingly stringent.
In other words, the industry has transformed from a place that women “cast themselves down into” to a place where women compete to stay on top. This is why the quality of both the prostitutes and the services they offer has improved significantly in recent years.
The sex industry was originally a place where women competed with each other
Historically speaking, “sex industry” is a relatively recent term for the sphere of work where women provide sexual services to men.
Before that, areas were such activities took place were called yūkaku (pleasure quarters), and the women who worked there to service men were called yūjo (women of pleasure).
It is important to note that there were different classes among these yūjo. The lower ranks were often called jorō (prostitutes), whereas those of the highest rank were called oiran (courtesans).
In other words, this historical sex industry in Japan was a place where women had to put in effort to rise to the top.
How the sex industry became a refuge for poor women
A pleasure quarter known as Tobita emerged in Osaka during the Taishō period (1912-1926). Although nominally just an area with many restaurants, Tobita is of course a red-light district.
Historically, Tobita was a place of work for women who had debts to pay off. At the same time, Tobita was also a perfect meritocracy.
Whether a woman earned enough to pay off her debts depended on how many clients she could attract.
The women who earned enough could stay in meritocratic Tobita. However, there was no place in the district for those without sufficient earning power.
Such women ended up in “soaplands” (called “Turkish baths” at the time) or “health” establishments. This meant that soaplands came to be seen as the lowest of the low in the sex industry.
The sex industry’s image, revolutionized
As the years went by, the new “soaplands” and “health” establishments became very popular. The old red-light districts, on the other hand, gradually lost their influence.
The most popular brothels in this newly transformed sex industry were the soaplands. Soaplands’ popularity led to more and more of them opening all across the country; today, they are almost synonymous with the sex industry in general.
By some point, soaplands were no longer places were women with no other options worked with considerable reluctance. Soaplands became workplaces that one aspired to be a part of. As mentioned earlier, Japanese society is witnessing a transformation of its values.
One reason behind that change has been the influence of the internet.
Today, job offers for work in the sex industry circulate all over the internet. That means job information is only a simple search away, even for women who would have no opportunity to come into contact with the sex industry otherwise. Having such easy access to information has helped women reconsider their feelings about the sex industry.
As more Japanese women choose to attend college, there are also more who choose to work in the sex industry to supplement their funds.
After the year 2000, however, work in the sex industry became so popular that the number of prostitutes increased faster than the demand for their services. Operators of brothels had to select new workers based on strict quality standards.
As a result, women working in the sex industry are of increasingly higher class. This trend is likely to continue as sex work becomes more and more attractive to women.
Of course, this also means that some women who would have had no trouble finding employment before now have difficulty getting enough work. However, for male clients, this evolution is a good thing.