Sexual Cultures in East Asia: The Social Construction of Sexuality and Sexual Risk in a Time of AIDS

By Evelyne Micollier | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3

JAPANESE SEX WORKERS: BETWEEN CHOICE AND COERCION

WIM LUNSING

As I have described in an earlier paper, one may look at love and sex as commodities that can be exchanged for others, such as money, food, security or goods, regardless of whether it takes place in a marriage, a love affair or in the context of prostitution (Lunsing 2000). This view goes hand in hand with a very practical outlook on life, in which power and money are the central ruling principles. Recent developments in Japan suggest that the economic aspects of sex have become more explicit than they may have been for some time, which may be closely related to a change in discourse. While prostitution has not featured prominently in the media for a long time, nowadays it has come to the forefront. This media attention does not go so far as to prove that there is an actual increase of sex being traded for money. My fieldwork findings, however, suggest that, indeed, there is.

In any investigation of sex work, the question of whether people engage in it of their own choice or because of coercion is asked more than in the case of most other occupations. A major reason for this is that sex work is widely regarded as demeaning and humiliating. In this sense Japan is no different from most countries. As Jo Doezema suggested, this question may be divisive, as it glorifies the victims of forced prostitution and damns those who engage in prostitution by choice. As a result, international organizations like the UN have focused entirely on forced prostitution, while neglecting any problems of those who chose the occupation whom they may encounter (Doezema 1996). This is not an open and shut case as I believe that choice of occupation is often limited and that therefore some measure of coercion is usually present, as is some measure of choice. After all, the vast majority of people are forced to make choices about what to do with their lives. If given the option, many would choose to be millionaires but few are. For most the choice simply is not there. Therefore, I believe that the question of whether people do what they do by choice or coercion provides an excellent angle from which to highlight differences among the various types of sex workers.

In this paper, I first provide a historical background to which my investigation of the actual situation of various sex workers in relation to

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