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Coronavirus epidemic sends shivers through Japan’s red-light districts

TOKYO (TR) – Between January 24 and 30, some 700,000 Chinese tourists are expected to arrive in Japan to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Normally, Japan’s numerous red-light districts would be welcoming of the throng. However, as conveyed by evening tabloid Yukan Fuji (Jan. 26), proprietors of brothels and bathhouses this year are showing concern due to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China.

“With the outbreak, some girls seem nervous,” says a person employed in Yoshiwara, Japan’s largest soapland bathhouse district in Tokyo’s Taito Ward.

Thus far, Japan has confirmed four coronavirus cases. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfares said on Monday that the latest infected person is a man in his 40s who arrived in Japan last week as a tourist from Wuhan. He is in a stable condition.

Tobita Shinchii is a popular brothel quarter in Osaka City

“Close contact”

In addition to Yoshiwara, the other top fuzoku (commercial sex) districts include Susukino in Sapporo City, Sakae in Nagoya, Tobita Shinchi in Osaka City, Fukuhara in Kobe City and Nakasu in Fukuoka City.

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is calling on people to avoid “close contact” with others and wear masks and thoroughly wash their hands. However, such tactics are likely futile for the fuzoku trade.

“Foreign men are attracted to Japan’s high-level services,” says another person connected to the trade. “There are tours to certain establishments that cater to foreign guests. And, during Chinese New Year, there are a lot of Chinese guys [who take part].”

According to Fuji, just being seated next to an infected person at a karaoke box could put one at a risk. For proprietors in the sex trade, the situation is tricky.

“Parlors in entertainment districts cannot choose customers,” says Tadanobu Bando, an author and former member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. “If [a customer is] infected, the virus could spread to another customer. Maybe it is necessary to consider measures to protect adult establishments and their employees.”