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Hitting the skids: The demise of Japan’s used underwear trade

Spa! Dec. 9
Spa! Dec. 9

Last month, the government of Japan reported that the gross domestic product for the nation shrank by an annualized 1.6 percent in the July-September quarter.

With Japan now in a technical recession, Spa! (Dec. 9) provides more grim tidings: The nation’s trade in illicit secondhand goods is teetering on the brink.

In a special section covering the decline of a number of erotic businesses, including pink film theaters, strip clubs and telephone clubs, the magazine says that the once-thriving trade in used underwear, socks and uniforms from joshi kosei, or high-school girls, is also nearing extinction.

“The police have been issuing warnings,” sighs the manager of a venerable shop now operating on the sly. “So we resolutely deny all offers to obtain those items.”

In the early 1990s, the trade by the shops, referred to by the name burusera, an amalgamation of “bloomer” and “sailor” (in referring to the uniform), reached its peak. School girls could readily sell their worn undergarments to merchants in heavily trafficked metropolitan areas, such as Tokyo’s Shibuya district.

The shop displayed the merchandise in see-through plastic wrappers along with a photo of the onetime owner. The goods were then snapped up by middle-aged salarymen, with the going rate being around 5,000 yen per pair.

A trend later emerged whereby a customer would arrange to meet a girl directly via digital communication in an effort to persuade her to provide a provocative removal process.

According to Spa!, the beginning of the end came in 1993, when public outrage at the practice caused law enforcement to crack down on dealers under a used-goods trading law. (This coincided with the scrutiny placed upon used-panty vending machines.)

Inside a burusera shop
Inside a burusera shop (via the National Police Agency)

In 2004, the market worsened after a revision to a Tokyo Metropolitan ordinance regarding the well-being of youths went into effect. The measure banned the purchase of used underwear from minors and any practice that might facilitate such a sale.

Since then, says the magazine, the trade has moved online, and sales at the shops have withered, but overall demand remains firm.

“There is still a circulation of school-girl goods, such as uniforms and other clothing,” says the aforementioned shop owner. “But it is all under the radar. If done in public, of course, it will enter the spotlight.”

Driving sales is verification of authenticity, which, says the aforementioned manager, gives shops a distinct advantage over the online market.

“I want to continue as long as the market exists,” ensures the manager. (K.N.)

Source: “Sutare yuku ‘dento no ero sangyo’ wo iku,” Spa! (Dec. 9, pages 30-33)