Teen Prostitution in Japan: Regulation of Telephone Clubs

Article excerpt


Originally, in telephone clubs, a man could pay a fee and then wait in a room for a call from a woman, frequently a young girl. Once the woman called, the two would have a conversation that often resulted in an arrangement to meet at another time for an enjo kosai (compensated date). Telephone clubs have diversified, however, making it even easier for men to arrange such contacts. The clubs now sell "two-shot dial" telephone cards that allow men to call from anywhere and be connected with women. Another recent development is the dengon dial, a message system that allows men to call a designated number and, for a certain fee, listen to messages left by women and then leave a message. Again, the ultimate goal is to meet later for a compensated date.

Realizing their business hinges on a constant supply of women, telephone clubs allow women to participate in calls at no cost. In addition, the clubs solicit women by advertising in magazines, in newspapers, on subway trains, and by direct mail. They also distribute tissues with the club's telephone number at train stations and hang announcement signs on utility polls. Thus far, these tactics have been successful in recruiting women and teenage girls to call the clubs to meet men.

In response to the significant impact telephone clubs have had on the number of teenage girls engaging in prostitution, juvenile welfare groups, parent-teacher associations, and legislatures throughout Japan have worked together to pass laws regulating the telephone clubs.


Virtuous men have said both in poetry and classic works that houses of debauch for women of pleasure and for streetwalkers are the worm-eaten spots of cities and towns. But these are necessary evils and, if they be forcibly abolished, men of unrighteous principles will become like ravelled thread.(1)

A. Japan Before National Regulation of Prostitution

In 1612, Shoji Jinyemon, a wealthy pimp, petitioned Japan's feudalistic government for the right to build a red-light district in Edo, the capital.(2) Five years later, the government granted its consent but mandated that the area be regulated.(3) The regulations required the licensed quarter, Yoshiwara,(4) to be walled, surrounded by a moat, and open only during the day. In addition, the brothels had to be of a predetermined size and devoid of decoration.(5) Prostitutes could not work outside the area and could only work at one brothel within the area.(6) The regulations further provided that all patrons had to register and could not stay in the area longer than twenty-four hours.(7)

This system continued until 1657, when much of Edo burned to the ground.(8) After the fire, the government provided financial compensation, enabling the Yoshiwara to be rebuilt.(9) This time, despite placing the Yoshiwara farther from the downtown area, the government was more lenient in its regulations.(10) Most notably, the brothels were larger and the gates could stay open all night.(11)

As a result of these changes, prostitution flourished and innovative brothel-like establishments emerged.(12) These new establishments often were disguised as machiya (meeting houses), or chaya (tea houses), but were in essence nothing more than brothels.(13)

As the industry grew, so did the need for women.(14) To fill their needs, brothel owners sent agents to the country to buy young women from their families, using indentured service contracts.(15) The reality, however, was that the girls were being sold into slavish bondage to brothel owners.(16) This practice continued until the end of the feudal era.(17)

In 1868, Japan, at the prompting of Western forces,(18) adopted a modern government based on Western ideals of human rights.(19) Four years later, in 1872, the new government demonstrated its dedication to these principles of freedom and human rights by freeing 231 Chinese coolies(20) from a Peruvian ship. …