Press "Enter" to skip to content

Shibuya scouts roll with regulation

Shibuya scouts in Hachiko
Shibuya scouts at Hachiko Square
TOKYO (TR) – The train car doors open, dispensing hundreds of passengers in the direction of the Shibuya Station ticket gates. Meanwhile, a half-dozen young men standing and chatting in nearby Hachiko Square extinguish their half-finished smokes in anticipation of the exiting horde.

Often attired in well-worn black suits and sporting wavy dyed hair, these “scouts” repeatedly scan the oncoming crowd. Tokyo’s Shibuya district is the ultimate gathering point for young, fashionable females dressed for attention in remarkably short skirts and snug tops, and it is this demographic that comprises these scouts’ prime target.

If one spots a particular look or set of measurements that meets his company’s needs, he will quickly moves up beside and smoothly inquire as to whether she wants a part-time job. Should she stop, utter a peep, or acknowledge him in the slightest (all very rare occurrences), he will get down to brass tacks: “Do you like sex?”

The jobs he has are in the AV (adult video) industry. If she is interested, he will take her to his associate’s nearby office where her breast size, sexual preferences, and various other information will be recorded. As well, multiple photos of her stripped to her underwear will be snapped and eventually be shopped to AV media production companies.

“A photo I.D. card is always needed. Without that the photos cannot be taken,” explains Mr. A, a scout who wishes to remain anonymous, of the necessity that the girls not be minors.

Though employing girls under 18 in the porn industry was already illegal, a revision to a Tokyo Municipal Government ordinance now prohibits scouts from even soliciting such ladies in an effort intended to make Tokyo a safer place for young people. The measure has come as a result of less scrupulous practices by other recruitment companies. For scouts like Mr. A, this means that an already demanding job just got more difficult.

Mr. A says the area around Shibuya Station is patrolled by three types of scouts: fuzoku scouts recruit lively lovelies to work in establishments that provide sexual services; hostess and kyabakura (cabaret) girls are sought by scouts catering to the mizushobai trade; and AV scouts, such as Mr. A, hire for blue movies, porn rags, Web sites, and cable television programs.

Standard scout strategy is simple. For one, girls in pairs are untouchable. And, he insists, “make sure to choose the ones who are cute. A baby face and big boobs are the keys for AV. The gorgeous women are more for mizushobai, but we’ll talk to them, too.”

On the street a scout’s honor is always certain. “You never try to trick her or soften the description of the work,” Mr. A says. “You are always talk straight after the opening. Competitors often try to trick girls by lying. They might say, ‘Do you want to be a celebrity on TV?'”

Patience is a virtue as well. “The time it takes depends on the girl,” Mr. A explains. “It is case-by-case. Sometimes we can get an answer in 10 minutes, sometimes several days. Others will agree in 5 minutes and change their mind 10 minutes later after talking to a friend. It is difficult to build trust.”

Girls who do indeed enlist generally make between 100,000 and 1 million yen per AV movie, with wages for the various other media opportunities being much less. But Mr. A warns that this range depends on a number of factors, such as, experience, the activities she is willing to perform, and whether she will allow her face to be shown.

AV scouts work on a commission basis that typically amounts to 15 to 20% of his girls’ revenue. Spring, when new students arrive in Tokyo to begin the school year, is seen as the best time for pulling prime talent.

Drawbacks to the profession, which Mr. A has been engaged in for eight years, include the occasional punch, odd scream, and the relentless rejection. “I get blue,” says the scout, who indicates that he is very lucky if he can secure three catches during a month of working Monday through Saturday. “I talk to some of the other guys in the same business for encouragement.”

Such commiseration may be fine during breaks, but working atop Shibuya’s muck-covered streets is like engaging in battle. Stiff competition, maintains Mr. A, demands that a scout possess effort, a samurai soul, guts, and a hungry spirit. “We are all enemies on the street,” he says of his fellow hounds. “The first guy in has the chance to talk to her. We have to fight for that first chance.”

Getting started is as easy as getting a mobile phone, the tool of communication with the girls and the scout’s contacts back at the office. Getting territory in which to tout is another issue entirely.

“For a freelancer, it is tough to get a prime spot,” Mr. A explains. “The areas around Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro are all maintained by yakuza. So it is better to belong to a scout company that has mob ties because they will take care of access.”

On evenings and weekends the steady streams of humanity can be daunting. After the girls disappear across the intersection and into Shibuya’s jungle of shoppers and traffic-snarled streets, the scouts turn in the opposite direction, hoping to catch any prospective prey crossing back to the station. When the crossing light changes to red, he pivots and moves toward the station exits to repeat the process. “It’s like the ocean, and you roll with the wave,” Mr. A says of his surveying cycle.

The revised Tokyo Metropolitan Government ordinance, which began on June 1, levies a maximum fine of 300,000 yen and three years’ imprisonment for the solicitation (knowingly or unknowingly) of minors for sex-related businesses. This is making fishing in this sultry sea a much more difficult proposition, with the obvious problem being that one can’t tell who is under 18 just by looking.

The need to verify ages during the pitch, as was Mr. A’s standard practice even before regulation took hold, has always been an issue for him. “It (the scouting) doesn’t run smoothly,” he complains, “it is tough in the first place because you are on a street corner talking about money and talking about being naked. Asking about age just complicates things.”

Still, nothing has changed in Shibuya since implementation of the law’s revision, Mr. A claims. “Shibuya is always the one place in Tokyo where the scout business is done in front of the police,” he says, referring the police box typically staffed by two officers and situated next to the station building.

Mr. A, however, has heard of some scouts in other areas, like Ikebukuro and Shinjuku, who have quit since the beginning of June. But he views such a retreat as more a reflection of the critical gaze society may now cast upon scouts, who before the law more easily melted into the backdrop of typical Tokyo train station cacophony, rather than any real police clampdown. “Even though the general content of the job hasn’t changed,” he says, “the eyes of the people have changed.”

As a result, the revision will likely cause a disruption in the market’s economics, as opposed to a halt in the recruiting of minors, Mr. A predicts. “The demand for girls is always there,” he says, “and we supply girls. If this law results in us not being able to do that, then the market will get driven underground with the demand and price of the girls, including minors, increasing.”

Note: This article originally appeared in June 2004 on the Sake-Drenched Postcards Web page.