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Will the 2016 G7 Summit sink Ise-Shima’s red-light island?

Shukan Post June 26
Shukan Post June 26

Following the announcement that Kashikojima in Ise-Shima City, Mie Prefecture had been picked as the site for next year’s G7 Summit, self-congratulatory signs appeared in the first floor lobby of city hall feting the occasion.

There was good cause for celebration: The previous conference at Lake Toya in Hokkaido brought the area an economic windfall estimated at 43.7 billion yen, and Ise-Shima, where tourist numbers have declined by about 10 percent over the past 10 years, is eager for some stimulus.

Speaking of stimulus, or perhaps “stimulation” might be a more appropriate term, Shukan Post (June 26) turns its focus to another, less known attraction in the area — a small island whose main industry for the past 400 years has been prostitution.

Watakano Island (with a resident population of 223), measures about 7 kilometers in circumference. While something of a black sheep among residents of the prefecture, that has not deterred male visitors from seeking out its pleasures.

In the late Edo Period (mid-19th century), the island was a popular stopover for sailors on ships that plied the coast, and at its peak was home to some 500 prostitutes. Its role continued into the modern era and even after the Anti-Prostitution Law went into effect in 1958, Watakano was able to exploit jurisdictional ambiguities to stay in business. During the bubble economy of the late 1980s it attracted hundreds of females, not only from Japan but also Thailand and other Asian countries.

From June 2012, a cleanup campaign by the island’s residents sought to shed its dark reputation. Nonetheless Shukan Post’s reporter found that old habits indeed die hard.

Taking a three-minute ferry ride from the mainland (cost: 180 yen), he checked into one of the small hotels on the waterfront. After ordering his evening meal in advance, he was approached by the hotel’s female proprietor, who asked, “How about some fun tonight? What kind of girl do you like?”

She explained that a 50-minute session would cost him 20,000 yen, with a 50-minute extension also 20,000 yen. Or, he could simply opt for an overnighter — which would run from 11:00 pm to 7:00 the next morning, for a flat 40,000 yen.

Out of a roster of 30, most of the women, he was told, were from Thailand, with three Japanese also available. The venue was a “snack” establishment with rooms upstairs.

A Thai sex worker, who appeared to be in her late 30s, told the reporter in broken Japanese, “Most of the men who come here are over 60 years old. They have a few drinks downstairs before coming up here and often doze off during sex.

“So it’s pretty easy work,” she giggled.

A Japanese hooker, who conducts her business from a separate apartment, told the reporter that “This evening’s unusually busy for a weekday.

“That one was my third customer today. I’m feeling a bit tired, so I don’t think I’ll accept any more calls,” sighed the woman, who also appeared to be in her late 30s.

Referring to her self as a “hostess,” the woman said she had been recruited to make up for a shortfall in Japanese women on the island.

“The money’s not bad, but as soon as another Japanese woman arrives to work on the island, I’m outta here,” she said.

The next morning the hotel’s proprietress told the reporter that since the 2016 summit venue was announced, business had actually “picked up quite a bit.” Apparently a group of men involved with the summit dropped by to stay (and play) overnight.

In the long, run, however, she worried that the hosting of the summit in nearby Kashikojima does not bode well for Watakano’s questionably legal goings-on. Among the prime concerns are that Japan’s international image risks being further tarnished through accusations of trafficking in “modern-day comfort women.”

While Ise-Shima City said it planned to engage in “positive publicity” to counter Watakano’s past history, the reporter’s queries to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Mie prefectural government regarding measures for dealing with the island received vague and noncommittal responses. What’s most likely to happen, the magazine concludes, is a typical show of ostentation flaunting the usual tradition and culture at the summit, while taking pains to avoid any confrontation with the sinister reality.

Source: “Samitto kaisai ni waku Ise-Shima wo nayamasu ‘baishunto’ ankoku-shi,” Shukan Post (June 26, page 48)