From Edo onward: The legality of prostitution in Japan

Shukan Post June 7

Shukan Post June 7

Last month, Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto suggested that U.S. troops stationed on Okinawa may wish to utilize Japan’s sex industry in lieu of sexually assaulting the local female population.

In light of such comments, questions have been raised about what is legal within the nation’s elaborate adult-entertainment industry.

Weekly tabloid Shukan Post (June 7) examines how the brothel area of Tobita Shinchi in Osaka can operate a mere 300 meters from the Nishinari Police Station.

Ritsuko Inoue is the author of “Tobita: The Last Red-Light District,” a report from the quarter where women seated in brightly lit first-floor ryotei doorways wait for passing customers. She asks: “Why is it that prostitution” — which is illegal only if intercourse takes place — “is not cracked down upon when it is obviously taking place on the second floor of the buildings in Tobita?”

Each young woman, attired in revealing clothing, sits on a pillow next to an elderly female proprietor who verbally solicits clients.

The magazine asks the station’s Community Safety Division about its position from a legal standpoint. “If there is no report of a victim we cannot do anything,” says a representative of the division. “Of course, we can imagine what is going on upstairs but we cannot intrude upon someone else’s territory.”

The representative says that it is up to the ryotei to report a disturbance before the police can take action: “For example, if there is a report about stimulant drugs or other crime. After the raid, each suspect will be interviewed and their testimony recorded.”

Shukan Post sees this out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality as blatant complicity between the brothel operators and law enforcement. Fumio Iwanaga, who wrote “The New Economics of the Sex Industry,” points out that such a relationship dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1868).

With its grip on power slipping, the Tokugawa shogunate, which took power in the early 17th century, collected and enclosed Tokyo’s brothels in the area known as Yoshiwara in 1617. “It was necessary to keep dangerous elements that could counter the existing power structure collected in one place,” says Iwanaga.

Similar initiatives were carried out in later years in Osaka (Shinmachi) and Kyoto (Shinbara).

“In short, it was due to the rule of the authorities,” says Iwanaga. (K.N.)

Source: “Baishun to fuzoku Nihon no ‘joshiki’ ha sekai no ‘hijoshiki,’” Shukan Post (June 7, page 158)

Note: Brief extracts from Japanese vernacular media in the public domain that appear here were translated and summarized under the principle of “fair use.” Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy of the translations. However, we are not responsible for the veracity of their contents. The activities of individuals described herein should not be construed as “typical” behavior of Japanese people nor reflect the intention to portray the country in a negative manner. Our sole aim is to provide examples of various types of reading matter enjoyed by Japanese.

Related articles:

Written by on June 7, 2013. Filed under Fuzoku,Japan Smut Portal. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry.

4 Responses to From Edo onward: The legality of prostitution in Japan

  1. taro nombei Reply

    June 16, 2013 at 1:07 am

    “With its grip on power slipping, the Tokugawa shogunate, which took power in the early 17th century, collected and enclosed Tokyo’s brothels in the area known as Yoshiwara in 1617.”

    Surely, in 1617, the Tokugawa shogunate had only just seized power. Hardly slipping. Or is that date a misprint?

    • Tokyo Reporter Reply

      June 17, 2013 at 8:01 pm

      The date is not a misprint. I suppose one could debate the extent of any crisis that might have been taking place.

  2. thedudeabidez Reply

    June 16, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    “Of course, we can imagine what is going on upstairs but we cannot intrude upon someone else’s territory.”

    Funny, that never seems to hold true when it comes to clubs and people dancing after midnight.

  3. Pingback: Akihabara sleaze to be targeted in countdown to 2020 Olympics | The Tokyo Reporter

Leave a Reply