Healing Labor
Japanese Sex Work in the Gendered Economy
Gabriele Koch



ON SEPTEMBER 18, 2006, two days before the scheduled election of the new leader of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party—a position that, then as now, led to the prime ministership—the frontrunners appeared on a special television program entitled “Ask Japan’s Next Leader.”1 The host played prerecorded voiceovers with questions from the public, which were put to the three male politicians on stage: Chief Cabinet Secretary Abe Shinzō, Foreign Minister Asō Tarō, and Finance Minister Tanigaki Sadakazu. One question came from a twenty-four-year-old female office worker, or “office lady,” who said that she was barely making ends meet on her monthly salary of ¥140,000. Although she had clearly defined plans for her future, she saw no way of pursuing the qualification she needed and realizing her intended career. Her parents were unable to help her. Would it, she wanted to know from Japan’s next prime minister, be immoral to begin working in the sex industry (fūzoku) several days a week?

Finance Minister Tanigaki, the first to be prompted, agreed that the woman’s salary was very low.2 “It’s a tough salary to live on,” he said. “But,” he continued, “isn’t it a bit hasty to immediately look to the sex industry? There is the issue of whether it goes against morals to consider, but, well, what is the sex industry? To use an older word, it’s prostitution (baishun), after all.” Tanigaki warned that the stigma around the work could do significant harm to the woman, signaling potential damage to her social relations, marital prospects, and laboring future. “Of course, there are many kinds of work in the sex industry,” he qualified, to audience laughter. But Tanigaki made his opinion clear: “I do not recommend it.”

But where the finance minister was unequivocal, his counterparts were far more ambivalent in their advice. Secretary Abe, who would be elected party leader, explained, to further laughter, that the forms of sex industry work are diverse.3 “The law legally permits these businesses. There are people in this industry who take pride in what they do, and the industry also includes ‘traditional’ Japanese occupations”—a reference to how commercial sex has long been recognized as part of the economy. Abe suggested that the woman carefully consider the potential effects of the work on herself and perhaps consult with the government-run unemployment agency, “Hello Work,” first.

The third politician, Foreign Minister Asō, likewise observed that sex work was a broad category.4 “The sex industry includes everything from prostitution to other things, so I’d like to ask the woman what, exactly, she’s considering.” Asō reasoned that “fundamentally, if she can have a conversation with her parents about it—if it’s something she can talk about with them—that’s a good indicator of what she should do.” If the woman had a guilty conscience, on the other hand, she should give the idea up.

When the program host tried to elicit further commentary from his guests, pointing out that he thought there were many young women in similar situations, the female moderator impatiently cut him off and moved on to the next voiceover.

Working Women

A young woman, struggling on the feminized wages of an office lady and wondering whether she will ever achieve her dream job, asks three powerful men—one of whom is about to lead the country—about entering the sex industry. The sex industry has a visible, public presence and is known for its high earnings. But the woman is concerned about the possible moral implications of the work and asks for advice. If behind her question is a critique of a limited labor market for women and young people—or of the political party responsible for the recent restructuring of the economy and the welfare system—none of the politicians engage with it. All three men appear at ease and smile when they draw audience laughter at their apparent familiarity with the varieties of sexual commerce. One politician sternly advises the woman against the work, yet offers no alternatives, while the future prime minister speaks of the positive feelings of many sex workers and of the sex industry’s long-standing role in Japanese life. The lone woman on stage is the only one who seems uncomfortable and rushes on to the next topic.

What is noteworthy about both the politicians’ responses to the anonymous woman’s question and the fact that it is asked at all is how they signify an acceptance of commercial sex as part of social life and, by extension, of the economy as always being sexual. The recently retired sex worker Sachiko captured this sense of the industry’s basic importance. Sachiko could not keep herself from laughing when I asked her about the state of Tokyo’s sex industry in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster—an event that occurred in the midst of my fieldwork. Across the nation, cherry blossom–viewing parties, festivals, and other celebrations were canceled following the “triple disaster,” in an exercise of jishuku (self-restraint), which calls for sobriety out of a collective sense of solidarity in the face of national loss.5 But Sachiko assured me that this collective disciplining stopped short at the sex industry: “Commercial sex will outlive every other industry,” she explained, suggesting she believed that while the satisfaction of some desires was optional, male access to sex was not. Sachiko understood the male search for intimacy and gratification—and for the feminized care of sex workers—as an exception even to calls for restraint in other areas of leisure and enjoyment.6

Contemporary Japan is home to one of the world’s largest and most diversified markets for heteronormative sex. Widely understood to be socially necessary, the sex industry operates and recruits openly, with messages about the availability of commercial sex—and its attractiveness as short-term work—circulating throughout public space. A diverse group of young Japanese women staff this industry, attracted by its high pay and by the autonomy they see it as offering. Although some women engage in sex work only for a brief amount of time, others may spend years in their twenties and/or thirties—when their youth may translate to substantial earnings—working in different genres of the industry.7

The work of these women, however, remains stigmatized and unmentionable. In spite of the acceptance of male consumption of commercial sex, women’s participation in sex work transgresses widespread norms of respectable feminine behavior. Moreover, in many ways, the same things that make sex work appealing to some young women are also those that make it problematic as work. Women’s experiences of pride and satisfaction in their work may go hand in hand with stinging social isolation; as Sayaka, a veteran sex worker, told me, “The good days can be very good, and the bad days can be very bad.” Although sex workers’ lack of formal recognition as laborers engaged in an “ordinary” category of work shapes their lucrative and flexible working conditions, women in the sex industry also face vulnerabilities and abuses due to this reality. Despite the skill that many women develop at the work, they define themselves as amateurs rather than as professionals. And, although they labor in risky and insecure conditions, largely to public indifference and apathy, sex workers show little interest in or engagement with the rights rhetoric and interventions of either an anti–human trafficking or a sex workers’ advocacy campaign aimed at addressing conditions in the sex industry.

This book explores how adult Japanese women working in Tokyo’s sex industry experience and understand these contradictions in their work and in its social value. It argues that these contradictions matter because they reveal the socially and historically specific dynamics of how the concept of gender remains fundamental to the economy. Thinking about what the simultaneous importance and marginality of female sex workers in Japan exposes about the nature of women’s work more generally, in other words, helps us to understand the processes by which the gendering of the economy is continually reconstituted.

What I call healing labor centrally illustrates many of the contradictions that define female sex work in Japan. Healing labor refers to how sex workers articulate what it is that they offer to their customers as a reparative, feminized care that is necessary for restoring both the well-being and productivity of men. Specifically, women working in Tokyo’s sex industry narrate their contribution to Japanese society in terms of iyashi (healing), a carefully constructed performance of intimacy that commingles maternal care with sexual gratification. Sex workers invest considerable effort in making their care emotionally authentic, but the value of this labor rests on their successful enactment of the very assumptions of naturalized femininity commonly used to justify women’s exclusion from the professional economy. Even as women in the sex industry view their intimate encounters with customers as socially and economically essential, the value of their labor depends on their marginalization.

Collectively, these various contradictions offer a view onto the gendering of the economy through manifesting the relationship between how sex workers think about what sex is and what it does and the roles and possibilities that they imagine for themselves. Women in Tokyo’s sex industry must engage with distinctions—their own and others’—between the kinds of work they participate in and the valorized and protected areas of the economy that are implicitly gendered male. How they do so illustrates the political and economic consequences of sex workers’ care for everything from how they constitute themselves as moral persons to the kinds of futures they envision and to the rights claims that they choose to make. In this way, focusing on sex workers—a group of women that might at first seem marginal to the economy—offers us a way to consider the gendered interdependencies and inequalities that shape the Japanese economy more generally.

The economy is not a natural entity but a rhetorical object and a set of relationships that are enacted and reenacted.8 Although in Japan (and elsewhere), the national economy is imagined as a genderless abstraction, in practice male labor comprises the default idea of what constitutes productive work. And yet, such imaginings conceal both the public secret of (some) men’s reliance on the sex industry and the crucial role of the underrecognized feminized labor that produces the contemporary Japanese political economy more broadly. This book thus underscores the relationship between erotic life and how people understand the gendering of the economy—or, to be more precise, the ways in which people think about the linkages between women’s work, sex, and the economy. Ultimately, paying attention to these linkages exposes underlying ideas and assumptions about how people think they should relate to one another and how that reproduces social life, in ways that inevitably rely on gendered performances and expectations.

Tokyo’s Sex Industries

According to the most recent statistics published by the National Police Agency, there are approximately 22,200 legal sex industry businesses across Japan today.9 Although there are no official data on the number of women working in the sex industry, an estimate of at least ten women working at each business yields upward of 222,000 female sex workers employed in legally registered businesses nationwide—and this is surely a considerable underestimate.10 Customers, of course, as the unmarked category, are much harder to tally, and any man is potentially a customer.11

The history of commercial sex as an organized institution in Japan dates back at least to the late sixteenth century, when the first instantiation of what would develop into a system of licensed prostitution was established in Kyoto. In 1956, Japanese members of parliament—including a coalition of the nation’s first female elected parliamentarians—passed the Prostitution Prevention Law (Baishun Bōshi Hō), against the protests of prostitutes themselves.12 But although the anti-prostitution law, which took full effect in 1958, prohibits prostitution, the law’s narrow definition of “sex” as penile-vaginal intercourse has allowed for the gradual proliferation of a sex industry offering any and every service short of this act.13 Today, the Law Regulating Entertainment Businesses (Fūzoku Eigyōtō no Kisei oyobi Gyōmu no Tekiseikatō ni Kansuru Hōritsu) recognizes and oversees businesses in which women offer male clients a range of explicitly sexual services under the legal category of seifūzoku (colloquially often shortened to fūzoku). Many of these businesses are owned by corporations that standardize services among their holdings and set prices in relation to market demand. Moreover, employment and promotional media serve as important sources for recruiting women into commercial sex and advertising businesses to consumers. The cohesiveness and degree of organization at play with regard to commercial, labor, and regulatory practices warrants the use of the term sex industry.14

Today, cisheteronormative commercial sexual services are available throughout urban Japan via both brick-and-mortar businesses that are highly integrated within the dense urban landscape and escort services accessible through the phone or the Internet. Physical storefronts exist in every major urban center as well as in many prefectural capitals and in regional towns that rely heavily on tourism. Streets or areas with high concentrations of sex industry businesses are known as fūzokugai (sex industry area or street), but more often sex industry businesses are only one form of entertainment or nightlife among many in a kanrakugai (entertainment area or street). Until a nationwide crackdown in the mid-2000s, the sex industry asserted its presence through flashy or gaudy store signs, touts who aggressively pursued passersby while bearing albums filled with photographs of sex workers, and advertisements placed in phone booths, public bathrooms, and mailboxes. Since the early 2000s, however, the industry has overwhelmingly shifted to a “delivery” (deribarī), escort-based model and restrictions on advertisements and touting have considerably increased.

Numerous other forms of sexual commerce exist around or outside of the margins of the mainstream sex industry. Some women engage in a form of amateur prostitution through monetized “one-night stands” (warikiri) with men whom they meet through “encounter-type” (deaikei) websites or “encounter cafés” (deai kafe, deai kissa).15 Street solicitation by Japanese women is rare—and criminalized under the anti-prostitution law.16 Sexual services (including intercourse) may be purchased from non-Japanese women working illegally in underground businesses.17 At the time of my fieldwork (2008–13), Chinese and South Korean women constituted the two largest non-Japanese populations in the sex industry.18 A diverse and diffuse male same-sex sex industry as well as a transgender (nyū hāfu) sex industry operate nationwide.19 Women seeking to purchase sexual services have few options, limited to male escorts (who may be known as shutchō hosuto, deribarī hosuto, or rentaru kareshi), gay male sex workers who accept female clients (urisen), and informal arrangements with male hosts off-premises of their clubs.20

More generally, the mainstream sex industry exists at one end of a spectrum of a larger market for eroticized intimacy in Japan, in which cisgender women and men as well as transgender women provide affective labor and sexualized services. For example, the proliferation since the 1990s of host clubs, where female customers pay for intimate conversations and romance with young men, shows that Japanese men may also be affective-erotic laborers.21 Although these host-customer relationships mostly stay in the realm of romantic fantasy, they can occasionally involve sex. Many host club customers are themselves hostesses or sex workers.22 The diverse range of nightlife businesses that include, among others, host clubs (hosuto kurabu), cabaret clubs (kyabakura), snack bars (sunakku), girls’ bars (gāruzu bā), and S&M show pubs (SM shō pabu) are collectively known as the mizushōbai.23

In this book, I follow the convention of my field site in distinguishing the explicitly sexual services on offer in the sex industry from the forms of flirtation, sexualized banter, and intimacy available in the mizushōbai. For my interlocutors, this is a meaningful and socially significant distinction—when Chie told me about how she had worked at a cabaret club before entering the sex industry, for example, she emphatically added, “But that’s not the sex industry,” peering closely at me to make sure I had understood. Legally, these businesses are also subject to different forms of oversight by the Law Regulating Entertainment Businesses. In practice, there is certainly some ambiguity and overlap between these two industries, despite regulatory and social distinctions: both exist in yoru no sekai (“the night world”) and are not considered to be respectable forms of labor—although hostess work has recently become more normalized through a range of media that portray it as glamorous and exciting, and hostesses as a source of lifestyle inspiration.24 Women working in both industries share a male gaze and offer forms of feminized care. Moreover, as with Chie, it is not unusual for a woman who has worked in the mizushōbai to enter sex work. Critically, however, not only are services in the seifūzoku explicitly oriented around sexual gratification, but the effects of working there also differ both in degree and in kind, from the forms of social stigmatization and isolation that women may experience to the kinds of violence and risks to their health and safety they may encounter. It is women working in the sex industry who are the subject of rights rhetoric and intervention by activists focused on Japanese women. Given the much deeper degree of stigma associated with the sex industry, women in the mizushōbai themselves draw a line between themselves and women in the seifūzoku.25 Thus, for clarity’s sake, in these pages, when I refer to sex work, commercial sex, or the sex industry, I am referring specifically to the seifūzoku—even while recognizing that the bounds are not always so clearly defined. In cases in which I refer to both the sex industry and the mizushōbai, I will refer to these collectively as the sex and entertainment industries.

Labor Markets

With the development of a strong postwar male breadwinner ideology, employment experiences in the Japanese labor market have long been heavily gendered.26 In the period of high economic growth in the 1960s and 1970s, women were subject to pervasive expectations that they leave the workforce at marriage and commit themselves to caring for their husband and children before returning to part-time positions years later—thereby constituting a striking “M-curve” of labor market participation.27 In 1963, Ezra Vogel provided the first ethnographic portrait of what would become the paradigmatic Japanese middle-class household, anchored by a housewife whose reproductive labor freed her husband for total dedication to his workplace.28 Women largely formed a reliable source of cheap and expendable labor, allowing Japanese firms to devote considerable resources to their (male) full-time employees.29 The economic restructuring of the 1990s, however, led to a dramatic expansion in irregular labor overall. In the recession that followed the bursting of the asset bubble in 1990, corporations moved to protect the job security of middle-aged employees by freezing the hiring of new high school and university graduates into full-time positions and filling their labor needs with part-time and temporary workers.30 As such, insecure labor in Japan is no longer the domain of women alone but of young people generally. As labor sociologist Mary Brinton has observed, “The increasing peripheralization of young people in Japan’s labor market is indicative of the trend toward ever-greater dualism in the employment structure—the increasing polarization of labor into ‘core’ and ‘noncore’ jobs in one of the world’s most important postindustrial economies.”31 These shifts in employment status among the young have had a seismic effect on Japanese society, affecting marriage and childbirth rates and leading to a wide-ranging discourse on social insecurity, alienation, and inequality.32 As young people in particular struggle with what Anne Allison has described as “a sense of being out of place, out of sorts, disconnected,”33 they have questioned long-standing assumptions about the meaning and purpose of work to individual identity.34

However, even as economic restructuring has degendered nonregular employment among the young, female workers are still typically the first to be downsized and constitute the bulk of flexible labor.35 For example, in 2011 a staggering 54.6 percent of all female workers were “nonregular,” meaning part-time or temporary workers, in contrast to 20.1 percent of male workers.36 At large companies, where a two-track system separates employees into career (sōgōshoku) and noncareer (ippanshoku) tracks, women constituted only 6 percent of total career employees in 2010 (up from 2.2 percent in 2000) and only 12 percent of new career-track employees hired that year.37 The feminization of poverty—long the overlooked norm—has become increasingly apparent.38 The situation is particularly unstable for women outside of normative family forms, especially single mothers, 80 percent of whom are divorced.39 Welfare restructuring, for instance, has diminished the already minimal financial assistance given to single mothers, even at a time when the number of female-led households is on the rise.40

Even as Japanese women have increased their participation in the full-time, professional labor market, any number of indicators signal the enduring strength of norms valorizing women’s primary identity as wives and mothers. A few examples will suffice. From 2010 to 2014, 23.6 percent of first-time (married) mothers were already unemployed when they became pregnant, while 33.9 percent of first-time (married) mothers had quit their jobs by the time their child was one year old.41 Despite the fact that the largest Japanese firms (those with over one thousand workers) have widely implemented generous parental leave policies, few professional women make use of them due to their lack of legitimacy within the workplace.42 Discriminatory workplace practices—including demotion, salary reduction, and pressure to retire—often compel newlywed women who attempt to balance career and family to quit. In 2014, the Supreme Court of Japan ruled for the first time on a “maternity harassment” case, deciding in favor of a physical therapist who said that she had been unfairly demoted from her managerial position after taking a year of maternity leave.43 The lack of adequate childcare facilities likewise remains a pressing political issue across Japan. The assumptions underpinning such workplace struggles are reflected in the responses to a 2016 government survey, in which 44.7 percent of male respondents and 37 percent of female respondents agreed that “husbands belong at work and wives belong at home.” 44 Finally, many women are simply not hired into career-track jobs—a stubborn reality exemplified by the scandalous August 2018 discovery that Tokyo Medical University had for years systematically discriminated against female applicants due to assumptions about their future priorities (for example, that they would quit working upon marriage and childbirth).45

Thus, women are largely not seen as economic actors in the formal labor market in their own right, but as caretakers of children, husbands, and the elderly. Although occupational roles for women have greatly expanded, women who pursue careers are still burdened by assumptions about where their true commitments lie, and many women are not encouraged to consider themselves as having a “professional” identity in the first place. It is against the backdrop of this labor market in which many of the jobs available to women are low wage and nonregular that women make decisions about working in the sex industry.

The Gender of the Economy

Since the 1970s, scholarship across the social sciences has demonstrated how socially and historically constituted ideologies of gender deeply shape notions of who should or should not properly be engaging in what kinds of activity and how individuals imagine, experience, and value those roles and their possibilities. Early feminist anthropologists observed that, across societies, men’s activity is consistently represented as more socially significant than women’s activity, thereby turning women’s work into an important site of inquiry.46 Although women and men everywhere participate in creating economic life, women’s labor is often made invisible through its circumscription to particular ideological domains.47 When women’s labor contributes to men’s projects, feminized productivity may be “eclipsed” by the forms of male prestige it generates without this being understood as exploitation or alienation48—even as this may be hard to account for through the assumptions of liberal feminism.49

Discussions of gendered labor under capitalism rest on the basic conceptual framework given by Friedrich Engels of how industrial capitalism constituted the modern family as defined by the ideological differentiation between a public and private sphere and, subsequently, between the valuation of the paid (waged) labor of the former and the unpaid labor of the latter.50 Marxist feminist approaches have examined how women’s work is “marginalized by, but nonetheless fundamental to, capitalist valorization processes.”51 Within this tradition, the international Wages for Housework campaign called for wages to be paid for women’s domestic labor as recognition that it is work obscured by a rhetoric of love and feminine “nature.” As Silvia Federici has written, “It is the demand by which our nature ends and our struggle begins because just to want wages for housework means to refuse that work as the expression of our nature. . . . ​When we struggle for wages we struggle unambiguously and directly against our social role.”52

Women’s labor in the sex industry, however, both shares continuities with and is crucially different from other forms of reproductive labor—which I use here in the Marxist sense to mean all work that reproduces labor power, including housework, the care of family members, and procreative labor. Sex makes it different, and not just sex itself but the specific context and relations of sex.53 That is, the fact that participation in sex work engages Japanese women in a stigmatized sexual activity and thereby removes them from the dominant accepted standard of female sexual morality in Japan distinguishes it from other kinds of women’s work and requires that we conceive of it in alternate ways.54

How, then, can we think about the healing labor of sex workers as work? The interrelated concepts of emotional, intimate, caring, affective, and performative labor account for the nature of production in (feminized) service sector work and can help us to make sense of the labors involved in generating healing labor. Emotional labor refers to how workers manage their emotions so as to generate a particular state of mind in their customers.55 Intimate labor, of which caring labor is one manifestation, “entails touch, . . . ​bodily or emotional closeness or personal familiarity, . . . ​or close observation of another and knowledge of personal information.”56 Affective labor refers to how the ability to make human relationships itself has become a primary site of labor in postindustrial economies.57 More than just “selling personality,” affective labor facilitates the well-being of others, sustains personhood, and reproduces sociality.58 And, finally, performative labor, as theorized by Gregory Mitchell, refers to how sex workers, in catering to customers’ desires, stage relational aspects of their identities, especially race and gender.59

These analytic concepts address the question of how to expand the category of labor to account for feminized affective and caring labors, a question that has long concerned feminist theorists of the gendered division of labor under capitalism.60 With the recent mass movement of middle-class women into the full-time workforce in many postindustrial contexts, the identification of unacknowledged forms of women’s work remains pressing, as unpaid reproductive labor previously relegated to the domestic sphere—itself a culturally and historically specific phenomenon of capitalist relations61—is increasingly subject to the market and filled by a global supply of flexible workers.62 As Melinda Cooper and Catherine Waldby note, “Domestic tasks, sexual services, care provision, and . . . ​the process of biological reproduction itself have migrated out of the private space of the family into the labor market and are now central to post-industrial accumulation strategies.”63 At the same time, despite these changes, conventional gender norms and ideologies of intimacy from the private sphere—especially the naturalization of care as feminine—continue to be reproduced via their movement to the marketplace, thereby obscuring the roles of sex workers and others as skilled professionals.

As with other forms of feminized labor, the qualities that make the healing labor of Japanese sex workers effective rest precisely on its being downplayed as labor. Women working in the sex industry go to great lengths to produce something understood by their customers as based on an effortless and intrinsic femininity, even as its successful achievement obscures the labor involved in their work. What is notable about iyashi, then, is how Japanese sex workers’ discourses about the importance of their work for male productivity are related to their own insecure and unstable laboring conditions. Sex workers themselves believe that there is a connection between their healing labor and male white-collar productivity. The goal of supporting male workers who labor in “important” areas of the economy is privileged in ways that naturalize feminized forms of economic productivity and that reflect gendered hierarchies of the value of labor.64

Economic and Erotic Life

What does it mean to see sex as socially productive? Productive of what, and for whom? This entails attending to the specific things that sex—setting aside for the moment the question of definitions—is understood to do. Early anthropologists treated the structures of relatedness created through sex as central to forms of social organization and as indicative of a society’s “stage of development.”65 Claude Lévi-Strauss famously argued that the exchange of women between men in marriage is the most basic form of reciprocity in kin-based societies. “Because women have an essential value in group life,” Lévi-Strauss wrote, indicating their reproductive capacity, “the group necessarily intervenes in every marriage. . . . Where relationships between the sexes are concerned, a person cannot do just what he pleases.”66 Gayle Rubin took up Lévi-Strauss’s model of the sexual economy to argue that marriage produces gendered persons and that kinship—as the system that organizes “obligatory sexualities”67—is thus at the basis of an oppressive sex/gender system.68 Rubin’s critique implicitly raised the question of how female sexuality is valued within kinship structures and who gets to realize that value—an issue that feminist anthropologists have addressed through examining women’s value via kinship in different sexual economies.69

To examine what sex does—its effects—is simultaneously to challenge the notion that sex simply is. This has been critiqued as “sexual essentialism”—that is, “the idea that sex is a natural force that exists prior to social life and shapes institutions” and that “consider[s] sex to be eternally unchanging, asocial, and transhistorical.”70 Sexual essentialism maintains that, because we allegedly already know what sex is, there is no reason to think about it further, justifying a lack of curiosity and, due also to its associations with the private, the dismissal of sex and sexuality as irrelevant to supposedly more significant domains of social life. Through feminist and queer scholarship, it is abundantly clear that sex has a history.71

Likewise, thinking about widespread notions in Japan of the basic social necessity of commercial sex, or about how sex workers narrate their industry’s contribution to society, means seeing sex as part of social life and not as divorced from it, or as narrowly circumscribed only to the “private” domain. Instead, it compels us to recognize how sex is directly implicated in the central institutions of human life and may have enormous public consequences. “Sex” and “the economy” are not separate categories but overlap and mutually constitute one another. Here, I focus specifically on the economy as a rubric for thinking about productive activity of all kinds and its valuation. The sexual economy is a useful term for thinking about this mutually constitutive relationship. By this term I mean all the exchanges that happen around sex, and the subjective meanings associated with them.72

Sex is also productive of intimacy. As with any other form of intimacy, the intimacies provided by sex workers are socially and historically contingent and emanate from particular political-economic moments.73 In this ethnography I approach the sexual services provided by women in Tokyo’s sex industry as a form of feminized care offered against the backdrop of shifts in family life and a globalizing service industry.74 The healing labor of these women is a specific kind of care particular to the postbubble-economy Japanese sex industry. Importantly, this healing labor is understood to do things—to repair the well-being and productivity of men against what sex workers regard as the harsh and exhausting conditions of male work in postindustrial capitalism. Sex workers’ healing labor is thus deeply implicated in regimes of precarity in contemporary Japan. In providing this intimacy, Japanese sex workers rely on both normative, middle-class family tropes of nurturing—especially the reified mother-child relationship within the nuclear family unit—and on forms of feminine care linked to relations that are possible only outside of households and domestic units.

At this juncture, it is important to note that it is not only women who offer this sort of feminized care via commodified intimacy. Akiko Takeyama has shown how male hosts face stigmatization because they offer emotional labor, care, and, sometimes, sex to their female clients—what is typically coded as women’s work.75 Takeyama does not discuss iyashi either in relation to how hosts describe their services or to what customers desire. This is not a maternal care and is also not theorized in terms of productivity, as that is not a valued association with femininity. What is similar, however, is how the emotional labor of hosts provides a gendered recognition of the mainly middle-aged women Takeyama describes, which allows them to recoup their feelings of vitality as youthful and attractive subjects.

Although the healing labor and other contradictions that define sex work that I describe in this book are specific to the postbubble-economy sex industry, more generally, postwar Japanese corporate settings have long relied on forms of commodified erotic intimacy to motivate or reward male productivity. In 1981, anthropologist Anne Allison worked at an elite hostess club in Tokyo’s Roppongi area and detailed how corporate after-hours entertaining in such a mizushōbai site was understood as fostering social attachments within and between companies.76 Hostesses’ feminized and often highly sexualized conversations facilitated lively group banter and flattered male egos, catalyzing a corporate masculine bonding that produced committed workers for Japanese companies and nourished business relations. According to Allison, “The hostess’s role is to help create a group out of a table of individuals. To restate, the role most basic to her is to change and vitalize the relations among men by her act of serving.”77 Allison underscored that this institutionalized practice is simultaneously relaxation and work—that men “get away from work, and they get together in ways essential for work.”78 Highlighting how women’s sexualized labor is understood as economically productive, the Japanese government created favorable corporate tax laws that facilitated this corporate entertainment.79

In other ways as well, in Japan, male sexuality has long been seen as something that should be managed so as to productively direct the energy of men, whether in the service of wartime empire or the postwar economic “miracle.”80 For example, the 2013 blustering of Osaka governor Hashimoto Tōru, who suggested to a US military commander that US troops stationed in Okinawa would be more easily managed if they were permitted to patronize local sex industry businesses, was just one episode in a long history of ideas about how to productively canalize men’s energy by controlling their sexuality.81

Work and Rights

What is the relationship between rights and how people assess the value of their work? How do specific understandings of work lend themselves to—or disengage individuals from—ideas and articulations of rights?

When Carol Leigh coined the term sex work around 1980 as a reaction to hostility and discriminatory attitudes toward prostitutes from within the North American feminist movement, she did so in order to provide new language through which to think about the value of commercial sex and the dignity of those engaged in it.82 Sex work was not only a move away from derogatory terms and euphemisms for prostitution but a gender-neutral alternative that foregrounded that diverse kinds of transactional sex are a means of supporting oneself. As Leigh writes, “It acknowledges the work we do rather than defin[ing] us by our status.”83 Work becomes a basis from which to point out the inadequacy of the conditions under which commercial sex typically occurs and to call for better ones.84 Since the early 1980s, an international sex workers’ rights movement has adopted this approach of treating sex work as work.85

Although a number of Japanese activists have taken up the international rhetoric of sex work as work and sex workers’ rights as human rights,86 the vernacularization of these ideas has not yet had broader impact.87 Within Japan, sex industry work is widely regarded as disreputable, shameful labor, even if, as I will discuss, women’s participation in it may be viewed sympathetically under certain circumstances.88 Women working in the sex industry are not politicized and, for the most part, disassociate themselves from their work. Although in this book I will use the term sex worker interchangeably with the much bulkier phrase, “woman (working) in the sex industry,” the latter is truer to the Japanese term for women engaged in sex industry work—fūzokujō (sex industry woman), an apolitical female-gendered term that, in contrast to the rarely used transliterated term sekkusu wākā (sex worker), does not imply a consciousness of a particular laboring identity.

Questions of work and rights in relation to sexual commerce have been raised prominently in recent scholarship on women’s international migration.89 In response to a vigorous global anti–human trafficking discourse that casts all migration into diverse forms of sex work as exploitation, ethnographers and others have highlighted the forms of agency that migrant women have—and their desires to pursue adventure, travel, and romance—while also underscoring how the circumstances of their migration and the informal and (usually) underground nature of the work leave women vulnerable to abuse and exploitative labor. Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, for example, has forcefully challenged blanket depictions of migrant Filipina hostesses in Japan as victims of human trafficking.90 Instead, Parreñas characterizes their labor migration in terms of an “indentured mobility”—“a middle ground that recognizes the agency of migrants without dismissing the severe structural constraints that could hamper their freedom and autonomy.”91

The circumstances of the adult Japanese women working in the mainstream sex industry who form the focus of this ethnography are not those of foreign migrant women in an underground industry. Nevertheless, as non-regular workers in stigmatized labor that is formally differentiated from “ordinary” categories of work, women in the Japanese sex industry have little control over the frequently risky and insecure conditions of their labor. This book therefore tracks the strategies of two competing rights campaigns to draw attention to forms of vulnerability and abuse in the sex industry and remake laboring conditions. The first is an anti–human trafficking campaign, which seeks to reframe the normalization of short-term employment in the sex industry as exploitation. The second is a sex workers’ advocacy campaign that uses a labor rights framework to demand legal protections and benefits and that works to improve the everyday conditions of sex workers. The activists behind these campaigns define what they consider to be problematic about sex industry labor in very different ways that hinge on their respective understandings of the relationship of sex to a gendered economy.

Women working in the Japanese sex industry are deeply preoccupied with navigating the risks of an industry with few protections. And yet, these same women are largely uninterested in the rights rhetorics that seemingly might address such problems. Many women in the Japanese sex industry, that is, do not engage with or even recognize themselves in the advocacy of either this human rights or labor rights campaign. Why not? The contradictions that define female sex work in Japan offer us a way to understand sex workers’ lack of politicization in this context insofar as they illuminate how a willingness to see oneself as a politicized subject of rights may rely on the content of what one imagines oneself as offering and how it fits into a particular moral universe.

A Typology of Sex Work

In the vignette that opened this Introduction, each of the three senior male politicians notes, in his response to the anonymous woman asking for advice, that there are many kinds of work in the sex industry. As I have already mentioned, the anti-prostitution law narrowly circumscribes sex as penile-vaginal intercourse. Thus, legally, the services of the sex industry do not include this act—although, of course, just because heterosexual intercourse is prohibited certainly does not mean that it is not being transacted. With the overwhelming transition of the sex industry to “delivery”-based services, which remove the sex worker and customer from the oversight of management, this is perhaps particularly true, as I will discuss in Chapter 6. More significant, however, is how the existence of a large and diverse cisheteronormative sex industry organized around such a prohibition directs our attention away from intercourse as the referent of sex.92 How, then, is sex constituted in this industry? Here I will provide a brief overview of some of the major genres of business within the legal sex industry and the standard services associated with them—although it bears mentioning up front that there is also stratification within and across different genres of sex work, from high-end to low-end businesses, and from lesser and more stigmatized forms of work.

Soaplands (sōpurando) were the first type of sex industry business to appear after the Prostitution Prevention Law took effect. Originally referred to as “Turkish baths” (toruko buro), these are businesses at which a sex worker bathes and massages a customer. Due to a legal loophole, these businesses are widely known to include (illegal) intercourse (honban) as a standard feature, as well as oral sex and/or manual stimulation.93 Hotetoru and mantoru businesses involve soapland services but at a hotel or an apartment, respectively, instead of at a brick-and-mortar sex industry business. Strip theaters (sutorippu gekijō) followed the proliferation of soaplands, although they have faced a steep decline recently, due to a lack of customers and sporadic police enforcement of public indecency laws. Some dancers perform sexual acts on stage with paying customers (for example, allowing a customer to touch and penetrate them with a vibrator). Many more permit customers to take a polaroid photo of or with them, in a desired pose, for a small fee.

In the early 1980s, the sex industry diversified heavily. Among the new types of businesses emerging, many were characterized as representing a nyū fūzoku (new sex industry) organized around role-playing, arousal, and what sociologist Miyadai Shinji has called “changing one’s day-to-day frame.”94 These businesses included fasshon herusu (“fashion health,” often abbreviated as herusu), at which a sex worker provides the customer with oral sex and/or a hand job. An imekura (“image club”) is a fasshon herusu business that offers costumes (for example, school girl uniforms, office lady uniforms), role-play, and rooms designed to cater to fantasy scenarios (for example, a clinic, a train). Kaishun massāji and seikan herusu (also known as seikan massāji) are both types of fasshon herusu that include a prostate and anal/perineal massage. SM kurabu (S&M clubs) involve bondage and sadomasochism. At pink salons (pinku saron), sex workers offer customers oral sex or hand jobs in a partially cordoned-off area, while the customer can order drinks (for example, coffee, alcohol).

Finally, deribarī herusu (“delivery health,” commonly abbreviated as deriheru, and also known as shutchō herusu), are escort businesses in which a sex worker is dispatched to a hotel, rental room, or private home. The standard service is the same as at a fasshon herusu, and includes oral sex and hand jobs.

Studying Sex

In Euro-American film, literature, and news media, Japan is often portrayed as radically alter, especially on the subjects of sex and sexuality.95 Sensitive to these problematic depictions, in this book I take care to ground my claims in the experiences of Japanese sex workers and others as articulated to me by them directly and in the diverse and long-standing Japanese-language debates and writings on the sex industry.

The analysis in this book is based on twenty-one months of ethnographic fieldwork that I conducted in Tokyo from 2008 to 2013, in addition to several short return trips in 2016 and 2017. My fieldwork took me to sites in and around the sex industry, including diverse establishments where women offer sexual services to male customers, a training session for new employees, a sex industry exhibition show for customers, and venues on the peripheries of this industry (for example, swingers’ clubs, “encounter-type” cafés), where I observed and spoke with sex workers and others. In addition to spending time with adult Japanese women working in the sex industry when they were not at work, I conducted formal and informal interviews with sex workers, sex industry business managers and support staff, sex industry journalists, police officers, lawyers, activists, the staff of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and scholars and researchers. For comparison, I also conducted a handful of interviews with male and nyū hāfu (transgender women) sex workers. I also attended public events hosted by grassroots organizations and NGOs, closed-door police conferences, “opinion exchange” meetings between government bureaucrats and anti–human trafficking advocates, and hearings at the National Diet.

I met the sex workers who took part in my study in several ways. Many of my interlocutors were initially introduced to me through the prolific networks of two sex worker advocates, one of whom I consulted with throughout my fieldwork. As my contacts expanded, I used some snowball recruiting and, in other cases, met women who agreed to speak with me about their experiences simply by socializing with sex workers. I met numerous of my interlocutors several times; others I only met once. My interviews with women in the sex industry typically took place at a café or restaurant of their choosing. Some women carefully selected a secluded site or asked to meet at times when a particular venue would be relatively empty, but others seemed unconcerned over being overheard by strangers at a neighboring table—once they had ascertained that no acquaintances were present. A few interviews took place at individuals’ homes or at the home of a mutual acquaintance. My interviews with managers, male staff, journalists, and others also typically took place in cafés or restaurants. One unusual interview—with a soapland manager who evidently suspected that some ulterior motive lay behind my questions—took place entirely in a van parked on the side of the road.

From March to August 2011, I conducted a six-month internship at the anti–human trafficking organization that I refer to by the pseudonym Let’s Fight Slavery Japan (LFSJ). During this time, I worked at the LFSJ office for twenty hours a week and participated in all normal staff activities. At the time that I began the internship, I had already been acquainted with LFSJ’s activities for some time, having first attended a talk by the director in August 2008 and interviewing her shortly thereafter. In the summer of 2009 and autumn of 2010, I regularly attended LFSJ events and met numerous staff and supporters. When I applied for the internship in January 2011, the director and I had already discussed the possibility several times, although the relatively brief nature of my previous research trips had made me an unattractive candidate. On the six-page application form, I wrote that I hoped to learn firsthand about the daily operations of an anti–human trafficking organization that deals with exploitation in the sex industry and is trying to reshape attitudes about what constitutes commercial sexual exploitation. In a separate research request letter that I sent with my application, I explained the nature of ethnographic research (including participant observation) and my project in greater detail. Throughout the internship, I was transparent about the fact that I was also doing fieldwork with sex workers, managers, and others. The staff and I sometimes discussed these research experiences while doing office work. Following the conclusion of my internship, I stayed in contact with LFSJ staff and supporters and continued to follow their activities.

As a woman in my mid-to late twenties during fieldwork, I was roughly the same age as—or slightly younger than—many of the women working in the sex industry whom I spoke with and roughly the same age as—or slightly older than—many of the supporters and staff of LFSJ. Being unmarried and not tied to a formal workplace (as a graduate student), I also shared a similar social status with many of my interlocutors in not being regarded as having quite achieved social adulthood yet. These similarities eased my entry into the relatively young and highly feminized circles of both sex workers and the anti–human trafficking advocates of LFSJ. Being non-Japanese, moreover, I was also situated in relation to my interlocutors in particular ways that, I believe, ultimately aided my research. Given the concerns of women working in a stigmatized industry in maintaining privacy and protecting their identities, my status as an outsider seemed to grant me access to hear from women who otherwise may have been much more reluctant with a Japanese peer. Although I do not doubt that the sex workers with whom I spoke carefully managed what information they shared with me, it also seemed to me that many of my interlocutors enjoyed being able to speak relatively freely about their work—work that most of them hid from their loved ones—with an attentive listener. One woman told me during our interview that she was having the “strangest feeling, like being in a dream” at being in the unlikely scenario of talking about her work openly with an American woman informed and knowledgeable about the Japanese sex industry. Many women were very curious to hear about my experiences conducting fieldwork in Japan and interested in hearing an outsider’s view on their industry.

Finally, my analysis is also informed by the prolific Japanese-language commentary on the sex industry and related topics. In addition to reading contemporary publications, I also conducted archival research at the Tokyo Women’s Plaza, the National Women’s Education Center, the Tokyo Metropolitan Library, and the National Diet Library, as well as through the online archives of numerous Japanese newspapers.

Overview of Chapters

Chapter 1 considers how ideas about the social value of the sex industry drive its regulation as an organized sector of the economy in contemporary Japan. Despite widely held assumptions about the basic necessity of providing men with access to particular kinds of gratification, regulatory strategy has reflected a reluctance to fully sanctioning commercial sex. This contradiction manifests in the common description of the sex industry as occupying a legal “gray” area that mirrors the social position of sex workers and that creates an uncertain environment for those working in this industry. This chapter argues that the grayness of regulation reflects ambivalence about the importance of women’s commercial sexual labor to the organizing logic of the economy.

Chapter 2 explores the diversity of those in the sex industry and what attracts them. In the context of a limited labor market for women, sex workers foreground the highly remunerative earnings and the forms of autonomy and flexibility offered by sex industry work. Many of the same aspects that women in the sex industry find appealing about sex work, however, also reflect its marginalization from the dominant norms that structure the male-gendered economy. This chapter examines how this contradiction reveals how sex workers imagine what “work” can and should be.

Chapter 3 examines how sex workers manage a problem central to their work: it is both uniquely lucrative and stigmatizing, opening up possibility while simultaneously being unmentionable. Sex workers go to great lengths to separate their working lives from their “real,” socially legitimate identities. The stigma of working in an illicit industry contrary to normative notions of feminine respectability is always on women’s minds as they maneuver the moral conflicts that accompany their entry into and departure from the sex industry. This chapter argues that the sexual economy is always also a moral economy, and that how women talk about their work is shaped by moral ideologies of whom and what women’s labor should be for.

Chapter 4 looks at how sex workers themselves understand the services that they offer to their customers in terms of healing labor. Women working in Tokyo’s sex industry value the care they provide for what they see as its contributions to the well-being and productivity of male white-collar workers. Their services center on iyashi (healing). Sex workers regard iyashi as a form of women’s socially necessary care of men and centrally assess the value of their work in terms that foreground its contributions to men’s work. Although sex workers may devote considerable effort to cultivating their skill at providing iyashi, they conceal this labor so as to engender the appearance of a naturalized femininity.

Chapter 5 follows the advocacy of an anti–human trafficking organization that seeks to reframe the normalization of women’s work in the sex industry as exploitation. The individuals involved in this organization are deeply concerned with the vulnerabilities of adolescents and young adults in Japanese society and with how forms of neglect, marginalization, or lack of social connection may lead them into situations in which they can be taken advantage of by others. As with the healing labor of sex workers, the human rights advocacy of the organization’s staff and supporters is also a form of feminized care set against the backdrop of a restrictive female labor market. This chapter contrasts the organization’s anti-prostitution rhetoric with the responses of sex workers who describe these activists as fundamentally misrecognizing who they are and what they do.

Chapter 6 explores the issues that women working in the sex industry themselves identify as subjects of concern and how these derive from sex work’s place in the gendered economy. Sex workers’ rights advocates maintain that women in the sex industry should have access to the same dignity afforded by legal protections and benefits as individuals in other categories of work. These advocates recognize the social value of sex workers’ healing labor and argue that the sex industry should be treated as a quotidian sector of the economy. Women working in the sex industry, however, regard themselves as transient workers and are largely uninterested in defining themselves as professionals. This chapter argues that the contradictions implicit to healing labor create an impediment for labor rights in this particular context.


1. I thank the sex workers’ rights advocate Tomoko for sharing a clip of this segment with me. To protect the identities of research participants, pseudonyms are used throughout this book. In a few cases, some identifying information has been altered for the same reason.

2. Tanigaki went on to serve in many high-ranking political and governmental positions, including president of the Liberal Democratic Party and minister of justice.

3. Abe served as prime minister from 2006 to 2007 and assumed this office again in 2012. At the time of this writing, he is still prime minister.

4. Asō was prime minister from 2008 to 2009. At the time of this writing, he is deputy prime minister and minister of finance.

5. See Norma Field ([1991] 1993: 21–25) for her account of jishuku in the period immediately before and after the death of the Shōwa emperor (Hirohito).

6. In fact, anecdotal and other data suggests that, following the March 11, 2011, disaster, there was significant demand for commercial sex, although sex workers were not always willing to return to work. Freelance writer Ono Ikkō (2016) has described how sex workers in the disaster-struck areas of northeastern Japan were deluged with customers, often serving at least twice as many per day as they had before.

7. Although my focus is on younger women, there are also some women in their forties and older working in the sex industry.

8. Appel 2017; Bear et al. 2015; Holmes 2014; T. Mitchell 2002.

9. The National Police Agency lists 31,925 businesses under the legal category of “sex industry” (seifūzoku) for 2018. However, this figure includes roughly 9,500 love hotels and motels, adult shops, “encounter-type” cafés, and adult video sites. Women working at these businesses are not considered to be sex workers (fūzokujō) (Keisatsuchō 2019: 9–11).

10. As Peter Andreas and Kelly Greenhill (2010) point out in their discussion of quantification in relation to illicit activities, the production of statistics is often fraught. Similarly, in his classic study of American rhetorical claims surrounding threats to children, Joel Best (1990) has illustrated how statistics, once in circulation, often take on a life of their own, regardless of their provenance (see also Feingold 2010 in relation to human trafficking statistics). Aware of these politics of numbers, I have attempted to be as transparent as possible in my calculations of the scale of the legal, heteronormative sex industry.

11. The sex workers’ rights activist Cheryl Overs (2012), for example, made this point effectively in her plenary speech at the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC: “[Clients] are not hard to reach. I’m sure I’m reaching hundreds [of clients] in this very room right now.”

12. Rowley 2002; Shiga-Fujime 1993; Shin Yoshiwara Joshi Hoken Kumiai 1989.

13. Since they do not involve heterosexual intercourse, same-sex commercial sexual services are not regulated by the anti-prostitution law.

14. In contrast, in other global contexts of sexual commerce, the uniformity and organized nature implied by sex industry make it an unproductive term. Svati Shah (2014: 15), for instance, writing about three distinct spaces in which migrant women in Mumbai, India, transact sex—brothels, the streets, and public day-wage labor markets—has observed that, “the term ‘industry’ was not helpful in the context of this research because the sale and trade of sexual services in the three ethnographic sites was highly irregular and did not produce the same outcomes for the individuals who participated in these transactions.”

15. Ogiue 2012; D. Suzuki 2010.

16. In 2000, Japanese women made up only 4 percent of those arrested for street prostitution in Tokyo (3 of 68 arrests), being far outnumbered by non-Japanese women; in 2010, they made up over 70 percent of a larger number of arrests in Tokyo (93 of 130 arrests) (Tōkyō Shimbun 2010, 2011).

17. Aoyama 2011, 2013; Yagisawa 2006.

18. Both the Chinese and Korean communities are well established in Japan, and the existence of a visa exemption for South Korean tourists since 2006 has reportedly made the Japanese sex industry a popular destination for women with deep credit card debts. In 2010, the South Korean police estimated that there were 30,000 Korean women working in the Japanese sex industry (Searchina News 2010).

19. On same-sex and transgender sex workers in Japan, see McLelland 2002; McLelland, Suganuma, and Welker 2007.

20. On the types of sexual relationships that hosts may enter with their customers, see, for instance, Takeyama 2016.

21. Akiko Takeyama (2016: 3), writing about host clubs in Tokyo, has compellingly illustrated how what is produced and consumed in these sites “is based on a promised future wherein host and client build a dream world together and set one another’s fantasies into motion.” According to Takeyama, it is not only customers who are seduced by their fantasies in these clubs but also the hosts themselves who draw women into spending large amounts of money on their behalf in the pursuit of their own hopeful desires for a self-realized and successful future.

22. Clennell 2006; Sawamura 2008.

23. A range of ethnographies and documentary films have explored host and hostess clubs, including Allison 1994; Clennell 2006; Faier 2009; Longinotto and Williams 1996; Parreñas 2011; Takeyama 2005, 2010, 2016.

24. For example, television programs—such as TV Asahi’s 2007 summer drama Jotei (Empress), about a young woman who ascends the ranks of a hostess club in Tokyo’s Ginza neighborhood—and popular fashion magazines—such as Koakuma Ageha (Little Devil Swallowtail), which centrally features hostesses as models—make hostess work seem glamorous and desirable and allow the most elite hostesses a form of public success unimaginable to sex workers (Momoka and Yashiki 2009; Tabuchi 2009). In 2007, hostessing was listed as the ninth most popular dream profession among adolescent girls and women aged 15 to 22 (Miura and Yanauchi 2008: 15).

25. The same is true of hosts who, as Akiko Takeyama (2016: 95–96) details, make distinctions between the forms of sexual labor they may engage in with high-spending clients and the forms of labor associated with male sex workers.

26. Ochiai 1997.

27. Brinton 1993.

28. Vogel 1963.

29. Brinton 1993.

30. Genda [2001] 2005.

31. Brinton 2011: 30.

32. Kadokura 2009; NHK 2010; Satō 2000; Yamada 2007.

33. Allison 2013: 14.

34. Cook 2016.

35. Brinton 2011: 30.

36. Shimizu 2013: 166.

37. Steinberg and Nakane 2012: 19.

38. Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Center 2009; Fujiwara 2009.

39. Kōseirōdōshō 2012.

40. Fujiwara 2008.

41. Additionally, 28.3 percent of first-time (married) mothers were still employed at their child’s first birthday and had taken parental leave, while 10 percent were still employed but without having taken leave (Naikakufu Danjo Kyōdō Sankakukyoku 2018: 118).

42. Mun and Brinton 2015.

43. Osaki 2014.

44. These percentages include both those who responded “agree” and “somewhat agree.” In the same survey taken in 2012, 55.1 percent of male respondents and 48.4 percent of female respondents agreed with the statement, while in the 2014 survey, 46.5 percent of male respondents and 43.2 percent of female respondents agreed (Naikakufu Danjo Kyōdō Sankakukyoku 2018: 117). The decline in respondents agreeing with the statement over a relatively short period of time reflects the success of Prime Minister Abe’s “womenomics” policy push in encouraging women’s continued participation in the labor force even after marriage.

45. McCurry 2018; Yomiuri Shimbun 2018.

46. Reiter 1975; Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974.

47. Weiner 1976.

48. Strathern 1988.

49. Mahmood 2005.

50. Engels [1884] 1978.

51. K. Weeks 2011: 26.

52. Federici [1975] 1995: 190–91.

53. Rubin 1984.

54. As Gayle Rubin (1984: 279) observes, “Sexual acts are burdened with an excess of significance.”

55. Hochschild 1983: 7.

56. Boris and Parreñas 2010: 2.

57. Hardt 1999; Hardt and Negri 2004.

58. Buch 2013; Hardt 1999; Muehlebach 2011; K. Weeks 2007.

59. G. Mitchell 2016.

60. Delphy 1984; Kuhn and Wolpe 1978; Malos [1980] 1995.

61. Donzelot [1977] 1997; Uno 1991.

62. Constable 2009.

63. Cooper and Waldby 2014: 5.

64. Koch 2016a.

65. Morgan [1870] 1997, [1877] 1964; Trautmann 1987.

66. Lévi-Strauss 1969: 43, emphases in the original.

67. Rubin 1975: 204.

68. As Rubin has articulated elsewhere, “In a Lévi-Straussian sense, kinship is a way of generating a social and political structure from manipulations of marriage and descent” (Rubin and Butler 1994: 86).

69. Groes-Green 2013; Ramberg 2014; Wardlow 2006. See also Roberts 2012 for a discussion of exchange, kinship, and social relations through what she calls “a traffic between women.”

70. Rubin 1984: 275.

71. Abelove [1989] 2007; D’Emilio [1983] 1993; Foucault [1978] 1990; McIntosh 1968; Rubin 1984; Walkowitz 1980; J. Weeks 1977, 1981.

72. Sexual economy is a capacious term that can account for many different kinds of economies. For example, George Paul Meiu (2017: 33) has coined the far more specific term ethno-erotic economy to refer to the “extensive circulations of money, goods, and desires that, while anchored in the commodification of ethnosexuality, move far beyond sexual transactions to shape subjectivities, identities, and social worlds.”

73. Bernstein 2007b; Brennan 2004; Cabezas 2004; Hoang 2010, 2015; Parreñas 2011; Zheng 2009.

74. Boris and Parreñas 2010; Rivers-Moore 2016.

75. Takeyama 2016.

76. Allison 1994.

77. Allison 1994: 65, emphasis in the original.

78. Allison 1994: 42.

79. Allison 1994: 9. In other contexts, women’s sexual(ized) entertainment is similarly recruited as part of male after-hours work practices. Kimberly Kay Hoang (2015) describes how an ascendant Vietnamese business elite uses the labor of bar hostesses—who may choose to negotiate on their own with men for sex—to impress clients through conspicuous consumption. Tiantian Zheng (2009) and Elanah Uretsky (2016) show how the fraternizing that attends elite male work culture in China, and which often involves commercial sex, plays a crucial role in building personal relations.

80. Frühstück 2003, 2015; Y. Matsui 1993; Soh 2008; Yoshimi [1995] 2000.

81. In his comments to the press, Hashimoto reported that he had told the US military commander, “In Japan there are places [sex industry businesses] that are regulated and where you can legally go to release your sexual energy. If you don’t make use of such places, you won’t be able to control the sexual energy of hot-blooded marines” (Asahi Shimbun 2013). US Department of Defense regulations place sex industry businesses off-limits to service members stationed overseas.

82. See Bell 1987 and Nagle 1997 on the exclusion of sex workers from mainstream North American feminism. For Japan, see Matsuzawa 2000 for pro-sex work critiques of anti-prostitution feminists.

83. Leigh 1997: 230. As political theorist Kathi Weeks (2011: 67) observes, “Rather than a character flaw that produces a moral crisis, sex work is reconceived as an employment option that can generate income and provide opportunity. . . . ​For those involved in sex worker advocacy, the term can serve not only as a way to foreground the economic dimensions of such labor practices, but as a way to insist on their essential worth, dignity, and legitimacy.” Weeks goes on to caution, however, that the validation of sex work on the basis of its categorization as work valorizes, rather than challenges, the dominant discourse of work as virtue (67–68).

84. Work is, of course, not the only basis on which sex workers’ rights can or should be recognized. Human rights are another basis and “sex workers’ rights are human rights” is another slogan used by an international sex workers’ advocacy movement. Entrenched stigma against sex workers, however, has made this effort less successful in places like Japan. As one sex worker advocate explained to me, it is much easier to get members of the public to agree with improving working conditions for sex workers than for them to embrace an idea of the human rights of sex workers.

85. Delacoste and Alexander 1987; Kempadoo and Doezema 1998.

86. Haha no Kai 2005; Matsuzawa 2000; Momoka 1997; SWASH 2018.

87. Merry 2006a, 2006b.

88. Koch 2016b.

89. Agustín 2007; Cheng 2010; Hoang and Parreñas 2014; Kempadoo, Sanghera, and Pattanaik 2005; Zheng 2010. For discussion of questions of agency and exploitation in relation to migrant women’s work more generally, see also Constable 1997; Ehrenreich and Hochschild 2003; Parreñas 2001.

90. Parreñas 2011.

91. Parreñas 2011: 7. See also Aoyama 2009 on migrant Thai women in the Japanese sex industry.

92. Although I do not discuss this further, women working in the male-centered sex industry also represent diverse gender and sexual subjectivities, which may diverge starkly from those they perform at work. As one sex worker explained to me, “As a lesbian, it’s easier to be clear-sighted about what’s necessary to do well at the work.” In other words, sex worker’s gendered and sexual performances are part of the service they provide. See also G. Mitchell 2016.

93. Honban can be translated as “the central performance itself,” as opposed to a rehearsal or practice session.

94. NHK 2002: 152–153.

95. See, for example, Allison 2001. See Alexy (2019: 1–2) on representations of intimate relations in Japan by the Anglophone media.