Thu, Jun 20, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Schoolgirls for sale: Tokyo struggles to stop the ‘JK business’

The persistent practice of paying underaged girls for sex-related services has seen charities step in where police have come up short

By Tash Reith-Banks  /  The Guardian, TOKYO

Illustration: Mountain People

On a humid Wednesday night the streets of Kabukicho, Tokyo’s most famous red-light district, hum with people. Some are tourists, here to gawp and take selfies, but others are customers. Adverts for clubs flash and sing, and girls dressed as maids hold signs offering deals for local bars.

In a grubby shopfront a perky cartoon featuring a cute Mr Men-style creature offers part-time work. The ad, which has an alarmingly catchy jingle, does not specify what the work is, but it does not need to: The answer is all around us on the brightly lit billboards advertising the charms of male and female bar hosts.

Tokyo is famous for its fairly wild red-light scene. You can find anything from a handsome man to make you cry and wipe away your tears to a maid to pour your drinks and giggle at your jokes and an encounter in one of the notorious “soapland” brothels.

You can also pay to spend time with a schoolgirl. Services might include a chat over a cup of tea, a walk in the park or perhaps a photograph — with some places offering rather more intimate options.

Or at least, you can for now — unless the people inside the garish pink bus have their way.

Run by the charity Colabo since October last year, the pink bus appears in strategically chosen spaces in the city once a week; tonight it is parked outside Shinjuku City Office.

Volunteers hope to use it to provide a safe space for school-aged girls at risk of being lured into the joshi kosei, or JK business, as the schoolgirl-themed services are known.

“JK business scouts tend to be men in their 20s and 30s,” Yumeno Nito of Colabo said.

“They are very aware of trends and are good at knowing the girls’ economic status by looking at their clothes and makeup,” she said.

Poverty and low self-esteem are often factors in the manipulation of young girls by scouts, Nito said.

The fetishization of Japanese schoolgirls in Japanese culture has been linked by some academics to a 1985 song called Please Don’t Take Off My School Uniform, released by the female idol group O-nyanko Club, and re-released by no less mainstream a group than AKB48, one of the highest-earning musical performers in Japan and whose single Teacher Teacher sold more than 3 million copies last year.

The term “JK business” has become a catch-all for cafes, shops and online agencies that provide a range of “activities,” many of which are not overtly sexual.

Young women in school uniforms can be offered for reflexology and massage treatments, photography sessions and “workshops” in which girls reveal glimpses of their underwear as they sit folding origami or creating jewelry.

While many of these have a strict no-touch policy, a proportion do lead to physical encounters. And while non-physical encounters might make up the majority of reported cases of JK activity, the fact that sex does not take place does not mean no harm is done.

In 2016, UN special rapporteur on child sex trafficking and sexual abuse Maud De Boer-Buquicchio raised serious concerns about Japan’s JK and pornography industry.

She highlighted the lack of up-to-date official data and called for a comprehensive strategy to tackle the root causes of exploitation, adding that other forms of popular Japanese entertainment, including “junior idol culture,” are worrying examples of children being treated as sexual commodities.

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