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Broker in human trafficking details Japan’s island of ill repute

Friday May 24
Friday May 24

On occasion, Japan’s tabloid media will profile the infamous Watakano Island, which is accessible by boat in Mie Prefecture’s Matoya Bay. With a circumference of a mere six kilometers, this tiny hideaway is home to a population of 300 people, most of whose livelihoods revolve around one trade: prostitution.

Keita Kuwata, a pseudonym, tells the weekly Friday (May 24) that he once made 50 million yen in a single year as a broker for the brothels on the island, which is in the process of reshaping its illicit image.

Kuwata began in the business in 1997. He had met a yakuza member who was in the process of sending prostitutes to the island. “The first girl I provided to a brothel was a runway from Osaka,” he tells the tabloid. “In order to ship a girl, one must first be referred by a female working for organized crime. She will then make an introduction to a madam who manages a brothel.”

At that time, one girl was worth two million yen, a sum that she would have to pay back by working. Even after he paid a tip of 10 percent to the madam, he was still left with a sizable 180,000-yen chunk of change.

It was easy work. “I thought this would be a great shinogi” — a yakuza slang term meaning money-making enterprise — “so I sent three more girls, representing a total of six million yen,” he says. “I continued on, supplying more than 30 women.”

Kuwata, who was arrested in 1998 on charges of violating employment laws, says that back then there were six brothels employing 200 women, of whom most were young Japanese girls. “Unbelievable, right?”

The former broker says that prior to World War II the island served as a port town for fisherman. The prostitution businesses sprang up soon after the war’s conclusion.

“Organized crime sent prostitutes to Watakano to target fishermen who had money — this marked the beginning of its legacy,” says Kuwata.

From Nagoya, access is via Ugata Station, which is on the Kintetsu Shima Line. A 10-minute taxi trip is then required to reach the dock, which ferries visitors across in roughly three minutes via small boats known as pon pon fune.

Snack clubs and pubs allow customers to peruse the ladies. Hotels, cafes, inns, and izakaya restaurants can also provide guidance on where to get it on.

During the “bubble” era of the 1980s, many Japanese girls were employed on Watakano, but ever since 2002 more Thai and Filipino women have been plying the trade.

“Back then, rates started at 12,000 yen for quickies, lasting approximately 60 minutes,” says the former broker. “For full service, which extended between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., the price was 40,000 yen. A girl could pull in 50,000 yen a day but half of that would go to the house, and after the broker’s fee and her living expenses were subtracted, she’d be left with 5,000 yen.”

While there are opportunities for girls to run away, local residents, boat captains, merchants, and cab drivers all have their eyes peeled for any suspicious activity. Further, assistants working beneath the madams take the working women on shopping trips to the mainland once a week to ease their minds.

Rumors circulating on the Internet say that customers are secretly photographed. “That’s not true,” says Kuwata. “But it is true that boat captains take photos of customers to prevent them from helping girls to escape.”

This may provide an impression that the concubines are imprisoned. “That’s not the case,” Kuwata says, who recalls one girl who took three months to pay off the fees she owed and left the island. Others, he says, stayed on to work as assistants.

With customers not visiting as frequently as before, Friday says that Watakano is currently downsizing its operations. Only 30 prostitutes are presently employed on the island. The local government is attempting a revitalization push by emphasizing beaches and hot springs resorts. Still, Kuwata believes that prostitution will never disappear.

“In one way, this island is a famous aspect of life in Mie,” he says. “It is legendary.”

Source: “Moto jinshin baibai burookaa ga akasu densetsu no baishunto no shinjitsu,” Shukan Post (May 24, pages 66-67)