New book chronicles Tohoku sex industry amid ruins of 3/11

Shukan Post Mar. 11
Shukan Post Mar. 11

Over the past week, much has been written about the devastation that transpired five years ago on March 11, the day the magnitude-9.0 earthquake struck and sent a tsunami hurtling toward the coast of Tohoku.

The fallout was monumental: Entire cities were flattened; coastlines upturned; and a nuclear power plant irreparably damged. As of February 10, the number of deaths attributed to the disaster totaled 15,894, while 2,562 people remain missing.

Removed from mainstream coverage is the impact the disaster had on the sex industry in the Tohoku area. According to a new book profiled by Shukan Post (Mar. 11), business was booming as victims sought some solace in the closeness of a warm body.

Released on Wednesday by Ohta Books, “The Disaster’s Sex Workers,” authored by Ikko Ono, presents the stories of those employed in the commercial sex, or fuzoku, trade.

The author of the 268-page book, which includes one chapter ominously titled “The Job You Don’t Tell Anyone About,” speaks with one employee who lost both of her parents. Another discusses being a victim of the disaster as a high school student before turning to the sex industry. A shop that exists near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is also profiled.

“One customer relocated to the Kanto area after he lost his home and job,” one 28-year-old worker going by the name Chako is quoted. “There were a lot of people like that. Also, customers whose family members had died.”

On that day five years ago, the first floor of Chako’s two-floor residence in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture was wiped out. One week later, she returned to work at a “delivery health” business. The out-call service was forced to set up operations inside an apartment after the tsunami damaged its office.

Electricity was restored quickly, but resumption of water supply services took a significantly longer time. Crucially, two love hotels reopened on March 28 but people housed in shelters and lined up outside to use the bathing facilities.

'The Disaster's Sex Workers'
‘The Disaster’s Sex Workers’

It was later that the inns began being used for their intended purpose — and Chako noticed a surge in patrons.

“Before the disaster, I’d get two or three customers a day,” says Chako, “but after the disaster the number climbed to five or six.”

It was not entirely about satisfying the carnal urges of customers. The girls patiently listened to their stories as they rubbed shoulders, shampooed hair and washed torsos.

“Everyone was seeking comfort,” says a 21-year-old employee. “Out of their mouths came such things as, ‘I want to be healed’ and ‘Calm my heart.’ So that is exactly what I wanted to do.”

She remembers one customer in his late 30s telling her about how he lost his parents, wife and children.

“You do not know what to do,” she says frankly. “There is only knowing that without human warmth one’s spirit dies.” (A.T.)

Source: “Shinsai fuzoku-jo ‘hoshikatta no wa okane dakeja arimasendeshita,’” Shukan Post (Mar. 11, pages 138-139)

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.

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