Tag Archives: discrimination

Sex in Japan: An Introduction


SEX IS EVERYWHERE IN JAPAN. But the country suffers from a declining birthrate.

JAPAN’S COMMERCIAL SEX INDUSTRY ACCOUNTED FOR $20 BILLION IN 2001. But they’re strictly off-limits to foreigners.

IT’S LEGAL TO POSSESS CHILD PORNOGRAPHY IN JAPAN. But the distribution of it became illegal due to UN and international pressures.

Sex is everywhere in Japan. Stores like Don Quijote have a sex toy section that’s cordoned off by merely a thin curtain, not even three feet away from the area selling portable air conditioners and imported Pringles chips. Behind the main streets of Akihabara, Shibuya and Shinjuku, an adult video store is just as common as a Lawsons or a 7-Eleven. And let’s not forget about those Love Hotels, catering exclusively to ‘couples,’ offering rooms for both daytime ‘rest’ or a night-time stay.


Anyone who has traveled to Japan knows tissue packets are given out like condoms at Columbia University (very freely and frequently). But did you get the ones that advertise hostess clubs, oral-sex parlors, and “soapland” bathhouses? Walking through Yokohama or Shinjuku at night, you see  hundreds of neon signs that light up the streets pointing you, a potential customer, to one of the many karaoke clubs or an upscale restaurant. But have you ever seen a sign that pointed to nude theaters, peeping rooms, “touch pubs”, and “image clubs” with elaborately decorated fantasy theme rooms? Probably not.


Joan Sinclair, author of Pink Box: Inside Japan’s Sex Clubs, explains that the sex industry in Japan is “not an underground industry” but a heavily quarantined one. Sex paraphernalia such as adult videos, erotic magazines, sex toys, condoms, and used schoolgirl panties are easily accessible to everyone, including minors and foreigners, but the actual act of sex itself is tightly controlled.

Japan is one of the few modern societies where the social contract and the influence of social norms outweigh market forces. The uniquely Japanese phenomenon of honne and tatemae is still considered to be of paramount importance in Japanese culture. How individuals portray themselves in public became a cultural necessity resulting from the large number of people living in a comparatively small island nation. Thus, the Japanese tend to go to great lengths to avoid conflict, especially within the context of large groups through cooperation and sincere consideration.

Being able to navigate these complex situations is quintessential to being a “good” Japanese person. The great complexity and rigidity of Japanese etiquette and culture is very difficult to grasp for foreigners, even for a Japanese-Americans like myself. How to politely refuse a gift before accepting it, to remembering where a person with the highest seniority sits in restaurant, or how long and how deep you are supposed to bow before parting ways with a coworker are just a few of the many rituals one has to remember in order to maintain an awkward-free encounter. In short, Japanese people don’t want individualistic, hedonistic, narcissistic, and obnoxious Westerners completely oblivious to these social rituals to trample over their existing delicate and intricately woven social fabric. Simply, they don’t want foreigners to come fuck up what they have come to perfect. Almost all establishments will actively discriminate against foreigners, from refusing service to blocking the entrance outright (there are a few that cater specifically to foreigners but those are few and far between). And since its almost impossible to prove discrimination in court, they have no problem keeping their establishments exclusive.


So the sex industry in Japan is not only a product of society, but a part of society. The clubs are a reflection of modern Japan: a xenophobic, literate society where the rules are written out, prices are not negotiable, and fantasies are predetermined, pre-scripted, and prepaid. The menu at sex clubs take the form of breaking rigid societal rules the Japanese abide by on a daily basis, with a common theme of fondling the cleanest and purest teenage girls in role-playing scenarios. Clients immerse themselves in fantasies and surreal fetishes, from hospitals settings with nurses without panties, naughty stewardesses and elevator attendants, bondage, softcore groping, and kinky stages with elaborate sets, the list goes on. But to all foreigners wanting to experiment with their sexuality the Japanese way, better luck someplace else.

Everybody’s got a dark side
do you love me?
Can you love mine?
Nobody’s a picture perfect
but we’re worth it
you know that we’re worth it
Will you love me?
Even with my dark side?
– “Dark Side” by Kelly Clarkson
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